Why FIRE? – An Engineer’s Existential Angst

FIRE, financial independence retire early, is a thing nowadays. Technical professionals saving money and then quitting their corporate jobs in order to be free in life. Many of these people seek a more creative or energizing way to spend their time.
My proposal is that many smart people become engineers and believe in a creative and exciting and lucrative career. But they find, once they have worked for a few years in a famous corporation, that their job becomes somewhat boring, possibly meaningless. Some engineers, find that their engineering is actually inflicting moral harm on their existence. Many engineers feel, consciously or unconsciously, an existential angst created by their disillusionment over actual engineering careers versus the idealism generate by their professors in school.
An example would be that your brilliant coding is actually for the purpose of addicting and harming other human beings, and you secretly know it is wrong. But the money is good so you decide to take the money, save it and get out as soon as possible. Another example would be a chemical engineer in a manufacturing plant. After a few years, you realize you are replacing the same pump and are bored with it, or your job is focused on clicking meaningless buttons for tracking systems.
In my own case, I spent most of my career in environmental and safety engineering. The last ten years in process safety engineering. I was proud and it felt good to tell others I was a process safety engineer and my job was to keep the nasty stuff in the pipes and not in the city. Secretly, I knew that corporations were far more likely to implement a safety solution if it was also a production improvement. And that some of the safety suggestions were implemented with human interventions, training and procedures, instead of hardware changes, if fixing the problem did not have a return on capital.
Engineers become bored in a manufacturing environment because the physical surroundings change very little day to day. They do their job making sure that production goes on, but then find activities outside of work to gain meaning to their existence. Frequently, the meaning of life is associated with family, and a tension develops between the boring lucrative job and time away from the family supported by the job. The irritation changes the person who can’t stand the irritation. Either they go dead in order to tolerate the irritation, or plan a way out. The FIRE people are finding a way out.
Are FIRE professionals just selfish assholes who game a system and get out? Or are they the really sensitive types who want to find a better way? A little of both, with the over whelming drive to find something more for their lives.


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