How is Your Free Trial of FIRE Going?

When I write for pilots, I always say that it’s not a question of “if” the next downturn will happen, but “when.” No thanks to COVID-19 for proving me right. It’s causing a lot of problems for a lot of people, but I hope that you and I can put this mess to good use.

I recently wrote a few pilot-centric posts about how to make the most of this situation, how to get the most out of socially-distanced layovers, and what things will look like for pilots if our economy gets worse. However, I want to look at this situation from a non-pilot perspective today.

As an airline pilot, I’m somehow considered an essential employee. This means I’ve gotten to keep working…for better or for worse. A lot of our flights are empty right now and we’ve cancelled more than we’ve flown for weeks. If this keeps up, I may get volun-told to take a break from being an airline pilot.

The departures board at LaGuardia’s Terminal D on a recent day at work. 4 departures for the rest of the day. Normally, these screens would have to scroll through multiple pages to show all of our traffic. And this is just one company’s operation at a very busy airport.

However, my wife is a pediatric dentist. Working in a room characterized by spit flying through the air is the last place I’d want to be during a coronavirus breakout. Her office’s owners finally came to terms with that reality and shut things down. My kids’ school is also closed. They have a lot of online schooling to take care of, but still have plenty of time on their hands.

This situation wouldn’t be so bad if we were able to get out of the house. Unfortunately, trying to avoid illness means we stay at home almost all the time. Even if we could leave the house for entertainment, everything else is as closed down as my wife’s clinic.

I’ve loved this! We’ve worked on some projects that we just couldn’t seem to find time for. We’d wanted to plant a garden for a long time, and this was the perfect opportunity.

Ignore the barren weeds around the planters. The plan is to put pavers or something here. Thanks to coronavirus, we have some time to make up our minds.

We’ve been able to work on some other projects around the house, and I’ve had lots of time to write. We’ve enjoyed some TV and movies as a family (our kids finally decided they like Harry Potter!) It’s also been nice to just spend an afternoon reading a book. (Bobby Draper in Tiamat’s Wrath. Wow! But don’t go anywhere near it unless you’ve read the rest of the series. Book 1 is Leviathan Wakes.)

Unfortunately, I’m not sure my wife has enjoyed shelter in place as much as I have. She definitely likes having more time with me, the pups, and our kids. She also likes finishing projects we started or planned long ago. She even likes helping the kids get through their online learning lessons (I dislike it…even more than they do.) However, her identity is tied very tightly to her status as a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist.

I’m proud of my wife’s accomplishments. She spent seven years in school after college, and worked as a dentist for several years in the Air Force. She’s great at her job, and actually saves lives on a regular basis.

I also feel bad for her though. Beyond continuing to work as a dentist, she hasn’t been able to figure out what she wants to accomplish in life. (She can come up with options, but none of them have called to her strongly enough yet.) For her, having to spend all these weeks not working has robbed her of one of her main purposes in life.

I understand how she feels, but that makes me feel worse for not being in the same boat. Sure, I’m a pilot for a major US airline. However, I have a bunch of side hustles. I enjoy the work I do in those other arenas (for the most part) and have welcomed the time to focus some more energy on some of them.

I also have a lot of ideas that I’ve yet to find the time for. I want to write more books. (I’ve started several.) I have ideas for businesses. I want to build an airplane…or two, or three. For me, COVID-19 has allowed me to experience something I’ve heard from many members of the FI movement. After leaving mandatory full-time work, these writers or podcasters frequently comment, “I have so many great things to do right now, I don’t know how I ever had time to work 40 hours a week at a real job!”

So, I’m wondering, how is coronavirus affecting your work schedule, and what are you doing in the meantime? I know that many businesses are figuring out ways for employees to work from home, but others are just stuck at home waiting for things to get better. In a (very unfortunate) way, this is forcing us to all try out a post-FIRE life. I think each of us can learn a lot about ourselves by paying attention to how things are working out.

I loved watching the Mad Fientist’s progression toward, and after, FIRE. He wrote a wonderful post about his first year in FIRE, and it had some great insights. He realized that it’s not enough to just stop working and sit around all day. He was very glad to have projects to move on to.

I can identify with this. If I had no side hustles, a few days of quarantine would drive me crazy. Instead, I’ve been able to write and even fly. It’s been awesome. I’ve felt so bad for my wife. She doesn’t have a good side-hustle right now and it’s prevented her from enjoying this opportunity like she could.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Financial Samurai, but it’s been interesting to follow his progress along the path to FI as well. He went all the way…full FIRE while living in San Francisco. Since then, he’s abandoned retirement and started working again. Some of his posts have been a bit critical of the FIRE movement overall. I don’t agree with them, but his insights are important. You should definitely read about Why [He] Failed at Early Retirement.

I think my wife and I are learning some of the same lessons as these two writers. We’re increasingly aware of how social interaction affects our well-being. (We’re both introverts, so it isn’t all bad. However, even we can recognize that we’d be better off with a little more socializing.)

How has your relative isolation affected you?

We also realize that we both value being able to help others and make a difference in the world. That’s always been the main reason why I write. When she starts getting antsy, my wife’s go-to has been trying to figure out ways to help other people. (For the record, animals count as people in our family.) It’s nice to know that’s an important part of our identity and something we’ll want to prioritize in our future.

Have you tried helping others during your isolation? Maybe you sewed masks, built face-shields, or delivered groceries for the elderly in your area? Do you feel differently doing those things, as opposed to when you’re just at home catching up on Netflix?

We’ve already reached any definition of Financial Independence. Even with the market downturn, we’re probably at what some people call Fat FIRE or better. It’s been interesting to watch our reactions to the market decline and feel the gut check of wondering how we will actually start drawing down on our investments if I get furloughed and my wife’s clinic has to stay closed. My wife won’t feel safe until we have more money ‘stached than Suze Orman. I’ve felt immense peace though, knowing that our investments can cover our needs forever.

Have you been temped to sell while the market is down? (Don’t do it!) Do you have enough of a Treasure Bath to cover your needs for a while? If so, has that knowledge given you peace as well? If not, I hope it’s put your past spending in perspective and inspired you to save more from now on!

Most importantly: have you been able to identify something big and important to start putting more time into? Have you enjoyed it as much as you thought you would?

Back when the Mad Fientist and his wife were still just dreaming about early retirement, part of the carrot they set in front of themselves was a 3-6-3 Plan. They planned to spend 6 months of every year living in Scotland with her family, 3 months living in the US with his family, and 3 months traveling the world. It didn’t take long after reaching FIRE for them to realize that this plan wasn’t all they thought it would be.

Most people aren’t financially independent, so they still have to work full-time. If you were to achieve FIRE, you could plan to spend lots of time with your family. However, you’d spend most of each day sitting around while they were at work. Brandon and his wife also realized that while they enjoy traveling, they find more fulfillment and pleasure in being productive. I loved the maturity and insight they showed by coming to and sharing that realization.

If you’re stuck at home because of coronavirus, this time is a gift! Under other circumstances, you have to be like the Mad Fientist, the Financial Samurai, or Mr. Money Mustache. You have to work, and save, and invest and get all the way to FIRE before you can actually try it out to see if you like it. That sounds like a terrible plan to me. I think it’s backfired for more than one member of this movement.

Take advantage of this increased free time to identify and put lots of effort into whatever it is you think you’ll be doing after you eventually retire. If you enjoy it, great! However, you may find that it’s not enough to sustain you. In that case, you’ll be able to spend some time figuring out some other post-retirement options.

You may also find that you’re just not set up to really start pursuing those big projects. Maybe it’s a lack of education and training. Maybe there’s just a lot of groundwork to be laid before you can get to the good stuff. That’s okay! It means you can start using your time now, and after things get better and you return to regular work, to start getting things set up for your future. Maybe you’ll be able to steer your spending and saving habits toward your goal. Maybe you’ll decide you want to work on some self-education. Maybe you’ll realize what kind of networking you need to focus on.

I got paid to fly an Icon A5 from Florida to upstate New York last week. It was a fantastic trip, and far better than any other version of social-distancing I’ve tried over the last month.

This opportunity did not show up out of the blue. I’ve been teaching in and flying the A5 for almost two years now. I’ve done some A5 ferry flying for other pilots, and I’ve done some productive networking. This trip happened as a result of all those factors. I would never have gotten that trip if I hadn’t set up this side-hustle before COVID-19 hit.

Social Distancing, Pilot Math style.

Don’t feel bad if these realizations mean you’ve squandered opportunities in the past. Use this as a wakeup call to do better from here on out. Let this test-run of FIRE show you the ways in which you’re ready for the real thing, and the ways in which you still need to do some preparation. You don’t even need to (or want to) retire early. However, there will be a point in your life where you have to stop full-time work. Whether that’s sooner or later, you’ll face the exact same challenges. I hope you can figure out answers for them now!

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