FIRE Philosophy, Purpose, and Perfection

Hey Folks, long time lurker, first time poster.

I find I appreciate the encouraging nature (and inclusivity) of this site. I would also think that this topic would elicit lots of logical responses to a soft-skills problem at the other site.

I have always been a saver, but I have been pretty heavily involved in the pursuit of FIRE for the last 8 years or so. Ignoring the inflation of the last few years, the goal has been met. I always thought I would use the freedom purchased with investments to go save the world or something equally noble. I acknowledge the hubris and naivete of that aim, but there are aspects of the FIRE path that I don’t see discussed much so I thought I would broach the conversation here.

Philosophical Questions I don’t see discussed much in FIRE communities:

  • What is important/enriching/fun/beneficial/fulfilling enough to turn off the money hose?
  • If there are a lack of positions for one’s skillset/passion to serve the greater good, does it make sense to walk away from steady income?
  • When is it ethical and/or moral for someone to walk away from contributing outward?
  • How do you weigh the head and the heart when it comes to early retirement?
  • How do you compare the value of disposable income donation to the value of donating time/effort/expertise?

More troubling internal dialogue:

  • With a compulsion to be helpful, what is more helpful than donating part of a salary?
  • With a compulsion for all action to be purposeful, how do I find purpose without my job or a replacement job?
  • My expectations are out of sorts with my abilities/influence (e.g. if I do not achieve something solving-world-hunger scale, it is not good enough).
  • It feels destructive and selfish to become unemployed by choice. That does not mean it is not compelling.
  • I feel like the only worth I have to my family (and probably the world) is what I contribute through work.
  • Quitting feels like turning off my purpose (which is not the best for my mental state)
  • Realizing I have a very digital utilitarian view of myself (i.e. if I am not adding value, I am worthless)
  • This sort of zealous effective altruism is obviously impossible and leaves nothing for me, and yet…

I fully acknowledge the privilege that got me here. I know lots of folks face far greater headwinds in life.


ohhh I really want to hear thoughts on this… especially from some of our FIRE’d folks that are smart about this kind of stuff


i am not FIREd yet but i am picking up what you are laying down! for my entire life, i felt that in order to deserve love / attention / care, i needed to perform / provide / entertain / earn / be amazing in some or possibly many ways.

at the age of 50, i am finally starting to get that, for me, the reason i’m here is not to achieve, but to hang out and enjoy the people i love and help where i can help. it’s ok – possibly even preferable – to just be a human, and not a Great Human. after all, how many things have people fucked up trying to be great? why isn’t it enough to just be alive and present, to be open to what is happening, and to be kind?

earlier this summer i attended a workshop where the leader talked about how maybe the purpose of life is to be part of the choreography of life itself, to marvel at the choreography, and not to control it. i wrote a post about it on my journal if you’re interested.

bottom line is that i think that most of us who were raised in capitalism (especially in the US) look at ourselves like we should always be achieving, serving the greater good, making a dent in the universe. but i am not sure that is correct. and i am positive that it’s not the healthiest or the funnest way to live, at least for me.


I never really FIREd by choice. Health issues put me in retirement early. Hubby FIREd just 6 months shy of actual retirement…with a defined benefit pension…ie. a nice pension that keeps on giving.

Having said that I align with this board because Hubby’s so called defined benefit pension does not keep track with inflation exactly. And because of early health issues our insurance is crappy. I find the frugal mindset and the goal setting on this board very helpful. We still save money to cover medical expenses and maintenance and repairs on the property.

Once I was forced retired I had to make a mindset change. I was not physically or mentally capable of helping anyone until I helped myself. I had to realize I am more than a job or career, or even what I do for others. I have value just because I exist. Being able to do for others - whether financially or physically - is icing on the cake. It’s more important to be kind and encouraging, to speak truth in love to others. Helping one-on-one is the real gift we give to the world. It’s like a ripple and spreads.

I have a sister, however, who says she’ll never retire. She makes a good income and loves her job, which involves helping others. She is not interested in and does not intend to FIRE.

ETA: you can always do what I’ve done and take a hobby and turn it into a quasi business, if you feel you have to keep giving/producing. I am an artist, but it’s on my own terms. I work when I want, though it roughly works out to part time employment. It’s about all I can handle stamina wise.


But the trains have to run on time! :rofl:

This is the heart of the matter; you put it well here. I don’t know, but I feel (internal, I think) responsibility to contribute way more. Rhetorically, where did that internal pressure come from? Society or a reaction to the parts I don’t like? Upbringing? Personality?

I had not considered capitalism’s effect on motivational factors for individuals. Is this mindset equivalent to the impossible goal of perpetual growth for a company? For a company, an impossible goal leads to never-ending profits during the pursuit, but for a person it leads to madness (and less fun as you say).

I am trying to divorce my own (likely broken) thinking for what is a good answer; being present and helpful seems like a reasonable candidate. I like the terrifying ladder analogy from your workshop.


I like this approach, too. This reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy; one should not worry about self-actualization before the lower tiers are addressed. If Safety or Love and Belonging are not yet addressed, one should not consider Self-Actualization until the lower tiers are settled. A lack at a lower level would definitely stunt a person’s full potential (e.g. without food, one would not be capable of being a very good athlete).

Art is also very interesting to me. I very much enjoy the finished product of talented artists, but the thought of me creating something for no other purpose than to express something to the world, feels similarly challenging to not making the world a better place. I recognize the disconnect there :smiley: .


I am FIREd (at 55 yo in 2015). So after more than 30 years of work, and now with 8 years of FIRE under my belt - I agree with @madgeylou.

Upon reflection, all of my career and various jobs really did squat in regard to making the world a better place - even though one job hoped to understand (and avoid) developmental malformations, another strove to understand a chemotherapy drug target, another had a goal to “feed the world”. But what did any of these actually accomplish? Not those goals. Sure, some knowledge not previously known was discovered ( and probably later proven to be incomplete or just wrong). Grant money and / or profits were made.

It was all exciting and very intellectually stimulating and, upon reflection, a large fantasy world where we all got to feel important and intelligent and imagine how we were helping the world. Or as I also call it

obscene descriptor

Mental masturbation

I now think we are here to be kind to each other, and that’s enough even if you never give money or time to a charity, never donate a kidney, fund a scholarship or anything on that scale. Hold the door open for someone carrying packages. Pay for a coffee for the car behind you at the drive through. Compliment someone. Those little sparks of joy and kindness make this a better place.


Have you considered therapy?

I’m not joking. Some of your internal dialogue sounds a bit messed up.

I went through a period in my professional life, shortly before I threw in the towel to FIRE, where I leaned in so hard I almost fell flat on my face. I had grand ambitions, some of which were realized but many of which were thwarted. In the end, as I reached burnout and the point of no return to the fantasy that my job was going to love me back, I decided that what would be enough for me would be to do at least one little thing every day that made someone else’s day better.

A modest goal, and easy enough to achieve. And it compounds.

I thought it would be a lot harder than it was to FIRE. I have toyed with going back to work from time to time. But ultimately have not, and probably will not. I have more than enough in my coffers to see me through the end of my life without financial worry, and probably will end up leaving a big chunk to kids/grandkids (should I get any) as well as charity. I’m not going to solve world hunger, but I can grow things for myself and others, spend time with people who need a sympathetic ear or a ride to a medical appointment, play with my cat, cook good food, read/watch things that interest me and discuss with likeminded people. I’m not occupying a job/taking a salary that someone else in my community needs to support themselves and/or their family. I can make choices to do things that are helpful to my community, the environment and the world.

Am I being selfish? Probably. But my low impact, attempt to leave the world a better place approach seems less harmful than a lot of choices I could make.


Have you considered doing volunteer work for the community in some fashion?


This list reminds me of some of my anxious rumination thoughts. Ending world hunger—-It’s a lot of weight to put on your shoulders, and it’s not realistic or fair. What does a well-rounded life look like for you? Do you think singular pursuit of a noble goal is the only way to reach fulfillment? What role might play, creating, developing connection to others have for you? What makes you feel joyful, supported, hopeful? What are you able to contribute to your more immediate community on a smaller scale? I also really love the volunteering idea. It might help you right-size your goals with your actual abilities.


so much here.

I was supposed to FIRE in Feb 2022 at 45. Due to sequence of return fears and a well-timed appeal to my ego I’m now on track to do it Mar 2024.

I haven’t looked at the critiques of The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism, but I think it’s good to look at how culture has shaped us into combining ideas of goodness with ideas of production and economic value. I look at phrases and words like worthwhile, worthy, worth my time, earned/deserve this break, spending time, delivering value. These often for me are rooted in feelings of guilt, never being enough.

My ‘worth’ is not measured by my contribution to the country’s GDP. Just because certain things are easier to measure and thus ‘count’ (pun!) doesn’t mean they are the correct things to be aiming for as individuals or groups. We can be precise, but they’re often not accurate, they’re just proxies for certain good things, but everyone forgets that.

If you’re interested in contributing outward, what does your local community need? Are you too narrowly describing what your skillset and passion is for what a position might look like? I’ve been contributing my time for the past year and a bit to other people in my profession - offering a sympathetic ear, providing another perspective on challenging situations, and helping people present themselves better for job searches. I also have a desire to do something with the local environmental groups, but this gig is stealing too much of the energy atm - something I will try to pick up later.

Even just being out and about in my community improves the feel for everyone else, not buying from amazon and giving money to local shops means I’m creating the type of world I want to live in (very Jane Jacobs). What could I be doing to contribute to the development of a third space?

This is a great question. What activities could you do to discover what makes you feel a sense of purpose that is self-defined instead of constrained by what society has taught you for 40+ years? What does it actually mean to add value beyond what late stage capitalism has taught you?

I’d dig into that more. What are you destroying? Other people have argued that by being employed despite not needing the job you’re destroying someone else’s chance to have a well paying job… (I don’t believe this either, but many narratives are possible)

imo this is a therapy thing to dig into.


Hello! There is a lot here worthy of addressing but too much for me to tackle at once. What feels most important to me right now is that it sounds like you feel guilty about wanting to quit now that you have achieved FI. I have been reading FIRE forums for over 10 years and one thing I have noticed is that it is very common for people to feel some sort of guilty feeling when they are considering quitting their career. The specifics about what they feel guilty about differ. Not everyone does but it is quite common: I did it and it sounds like you are experiencing it too.

For me, I had worked a career that I thought made the world a better place and I felt like I would be letting people down by leaving it. I had no idea who those people were but it felt obvious that I would let someone down severely. Or maybe myself? And the thing is, in hindsight, I was so burned out, and in actuality the type of work didn’t really suit my personality (although I still am a true believer in the outcomes of the work). And as I result I wasn’t even doing as great of a job as I could have. So why was I feeling guilty about leaving a job I felt I wasn’t doing well enough? Someone who isn’t burned out and/or someone better suited to the work would probably do a much better job!

I quit despite the negative feelings I struggled through. I have zero regret. Finding meaning in my life is my highest priority project with all the time I now have available. It is trial and error and I don’t have to get it right on any set timetable. Plus it seems like my needs change over time.

I fill my time with lazy days on the couch, volunteering, taking classes, moving my body, baking, time with friends, very occasional travel, serving as a board member, making things, planning events for people who make things to sell their work, and so much more. I do a few paid activities that bring in bits of income too: catsitting, election work, teaching woodshop trainings. Overall, I tend to feel like this is a very meaningful life for me.


I love this!


This is very helpful feedback as I don’t yet have the benefit of hindsight. Knowing that you had similar opportunities to what I am looking for and yet still feel that you fell short of impossibly huge goal feels very relevant. I guess I was hoping to leverage the financial margin to seek out a similar opportunity without the need for a living wage, but regardless of the compensation level, if these aims require nation-state-level resources, it is silly to expect to move the needle as an individual.

Kindness towards others (and setting a good example for my children to do the same) is definitely the aim.


A reasonable question; my hope was to stimulate more general discussion, but I think I have pulled the conversation toward me by including the internal dialogue. I have had therapy in the past and am currently taking steps to improve my mental health for the future.

Oof. This feels familiar. I would not say I am ambitious at work, it is more the outcome of layoffs and re-orgs that I have been given more responsibility. The wheels don’t fall off the bus so then I get given more. The cycle repeats. While it is more straightforward to manage hours spent, the level of responsibility is such that it invades my thoughts outside of work and I am left with little energy or mental bandwidth for my wife/family/self. I have been praised with for my work-life balance (perhaps a left-handed compliment), but my wife reminds me that just because it is less toxic here than at other companies, that does not make the status quo reasonable or sustainable.

Another good nugget of advice here; it seems one doesn’t need a rigid detailed plan to be content in retirement. Also noticing a theme of how valuable availability is. There is a debate in sports discussion about whether an oft-injured superstar is more valuable than an ironman with less skill. The ability to run up and hold the ladder to use @madgeylou 's example seems important.

I don’t think so. My therapist defined selflessness as treating yourself equal to others. They described treating others higher than yourself as “Otherish”, the negative inverse of selfishness. Both bad, both harmful. As you might imagine, we spoke about this topic a lot.


An excellent suggestion, one I have dabbled in and one I hope to do more of in FIRE. As described above, the current level of responsibility at work does not leave the amount of margin I would like to have to pursue more regular volunteer opportunities.


My biggest struggle before leaving my job was walking away from that firehose of cash. I knew I would not get that sort of pay again if I left, and there is a lot of security and feeling of accomplishment from getting a large salary.

After I left, my stash doubled over the next 5-6 years. Damn amazing. It is very easy to “over save” while hesitating about leaving work behind.


I agree with this a lot; Einstein’s Eighth Wonder is very important to remember. There is some upper reasonable limit to accrual to mitigate risk on your current spend, say 50% in my personal opinion. Beyond that, one is working because they want to, whether they agree with the aim of the company, they enjoy the work, or something more fear-based e.g. fear of market risk, fear of insufficient purpose (ahem), fear of a big change, lots of others. I am not at that upper limit yet, and I definitely want to address this before I get there

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There has to be some of that for all of us, right? FIRE is a pretty weird and ambitious goal. The youngest person to retire at my company (51) is talked about in reverent tones still now a decade later. I would think if it takes some ego to think one can accomplish such a goal, ego could be an equally powerful motivator to alter the FIRE course. I am certainly puffed up more externally, the longer I work and the closer I get to the top of the (very specific, individual contributor SME) food chain.

Hahahaha it sounds like I have a book to read :smiley:

If only there were a math equation to determine a “good” life, this would all be so much easier! I was debating the right path on a recent car purchase and my buddy told me not forget to include “joy” in my spreadsheet. He meant it tongue-in-cheek, but it is absolutely true. As Doug Forcett taught us, the life of a Happiness Pump is a miserable one.

I have found that mentorship (ick, that sounds so superior)…advising folks earlier on the path at work to be enjoyable. If I could help people solve problems for the rest of time, I would. I love brainstorming, adapting concepts across projects, passing on knowledge etc.

I suppose in the context of FIRE, I risk destroying may family’s chance at their needs being met if I leave to early. Obviously, as I said elsewhere there is a reasonable ceiling to this sort of thinking, and then it is something else. I would also think that is the threshold where one (I) would be taking opportunities away from others. Good food for thought.

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I think this is close to what I am feeling, less guilt about the company I would leave, more guilt about going from at least contributing to my family to just consuming without giving back in a meaningful way.

This is a big part of the hesitance; if one finds what they think is the right thing, and it turns out it isn’t, then there is a lot of impact, that is extra scary to someone risk-averse. Your choice sounds like the right one.

If there were a word cloud for this thread, I think availability would be near the top (right after guilt and therapy :D) . It is clear that availability is a very important aspect of being retired, and obviously lends itself to altruistic opportunities when they arise.

I also want to be very mindful about poo-pooing the lives of others who I am looking to for advice. Please don’t take this that way. I am looking for the contentment you found, not the specific path you or anyone else took. Thanks!