Walden FIRE – An Ethos

Question: What is Walden FIRE and why would you want it? What is FIRE? It stands for Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE). The FIRE movement has a sub-Reddit and there are many web pages and discussion forums devoted to the topic. Ordinary retirement might involve taking care of grandchildren or going on cruises. FIRE is not ordinary retirement because most of us are too young to sit around doing nothing. FIRE might involve buying a boat and traveling around the Caribbean, or becoming an entrepreneur and getting even richer than you are. Now that you are retired, free from corporate culture, who should you be? What ethos do you want to have now that you are free to choose? I will now explain a subset of FIRE which I will call Walden FIRE. Let me set the stage for an intellectual awakening I got upon reading the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher famous for having gone to Walden Pond to live alone and write. I have known of Thoreau and Walden for many decades of my life, mainly for this quotation, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (45). Being an engineer in a chemical plant did not seem to me to be living. I was bored of the repeated tasks and corporate culture. Yet I collected money as I did my work along the Houston ship channel, where chemical engineers are valued.

From Thoreau’s book Walden, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it prove to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion” (45). Thesis: Walden FIRE, following in the ethos of Thoreau, seeks depth and meaning for life because one has achieved an abundance of time for reflection. Walden FIRE encompasses people with a creative passion but who aren’t interested in the business of selling, and so have figured out how to avoid the necessity of selling their creations. Walden FIRE overcomes society’s emphasis on being a producer and achieving success through some amazing invention. Walden FIRE is about not selling yourself, just enjoying your creativity. Walden FIRE is founded on living in financial stability in order to create without having to sell. Walden FIRE encompasses simplicity and minimalism. Walden FIRE is an ethos of being that is free from the man, free from the rat race. Walden FIRE could be defined by intellectualism. It is for the intellectual who finally has time to think and contemplate ideas in depth. Instead of devoting our magnificent brains to corporate endeavors, we can use them to decipher great written works or write a great work. Cleverness personified, the Walden FIRE’d are finally able to give concepts and ideas space and time.

“…my greatest skill has been to want but little…” (33). I started my career long before there was FIRE. And being a single person, I’ve never gone in for large houses with much work and cost associated. The result of voluntary poverty is financial freedom. I buy whatever I need, but have little desire for luxuries or distractions. All the expensive running shoes and trips to races. No cruises on big ships or diamond rings or Maseratis. A small abode in a perfect location, not a mansion in a high cost of living bubble.

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than other works of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips;–not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself” (51). At the age of 58, after a long engineering career, I FIRE’d. I left my career for many reasons. I came to retirement with an idea for a writing project. My writing is something like a compendium of my life’s spiritual work, a life of spiritual study and practice. I am reading Walden in this context. Implication: I have written a book, thus completing phase one of the writing project I brought into retirement with me. My writing is filled with wonderful content but is not in such a form that anyone else would like to read. I have since learned how to write essays. The shaping of which content requires focus and consideration. Remembering the writing’s importance to me is a conscious effort. If I think I want to write a bestseller, my momentum dies. If I think only of producing a masterpiece of words, momentum for the project thrives.

“…I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture (an analogy to Thoreau’s writing), but I had not made it worth anyone’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of others?” (Thoreau, Walden, 9). The highlighted portion is the part that relates to me and my writing. Implication: I have no interest in the business of publishing and peddling books. I am financially in a position to publish what I write and put it out there in the universe for anyone. My idea is to take the contents of my book and write a series of really good essays and publish them where anyone could read them for free. I avoid the necessity of selling books because the FIRE nest-egg was always providing financial independence. As regards success, I brought into retirement a feeling of failure. That is since I didn’t love my career or become a high flying manager, but instead, leaving it the instant I met financial goals, I think I must have failed. And so perhaps, I should sell a book to prove my worth. Well, awareness is the first step. Let go. Enjoy writing for its own sake. What a concept. Stay away from the prostitution of the spiritual words given from the universe itself.

“…trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.” (34) Implication: if your goal in writing a book is to make money, it would be a different sort of book than one created out of selflessness and spiritual conversation. If I thought I needed to sell books to get money, then I should have stayed in my career because it was far easier to earn money than selling books. This concept of freely giving is truer if the book is meant to be of wisdom or spirituality and the content was received from the non-physical.

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.” (36). Implication: Leaving your full-time career, and thus reducing your carbon footprint and ceasing to participate in many systems which impoverish others, could be an invisibly charity and mercy.

“The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.” (42). Implication: what if you left your full-time career and devoted yourself to contemplating creation’s never-ending poem? How would it feel to consciously converse with the universe in this manner? The opportunity to hear the poem of creation is an opportunity of Walden FIRE.

Have you not yet FIRE’d? Thoreau would ask you, “Why do you stay here and live this moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you?” (114). Moiling means industrious. Our culture likes industrious. To FIRE is to betray society. FIRE can be costly if society is ones want. Some people try to FIRE but end up industrious anyway. Look to the stars and find a way to quietly enjoy them, without telescope and star plot, trying to know instead of join. With lack of industry, Thoreau says, “The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched” (111). This is true voluntary poverty. Someone asks you what’s new and you don’t know what to say because you spent the day walking in the forest, and darest not disclose this to your industrious neighbor. The Walden FIRE’d perhaps has nothing to show for their life. It was all thoughts.

Conclusion: The Walden FIRE’d address the friction between the FIRE’d and society related to success or not, freedom from culture or not. In today’s world, it may be unusual for a person to retire at all. Or a FIRE’d may feel that they are wasting their life because they have left producing as an ethos. Walden FIRE is a gift to be appreciated. To appreciate requires an inventory of the societal conditioning that hovers in the mind. And then letting go to enjoy life as it comes.

Citation: “Walden.” Henry David Thoreau. Written in 1854, the work is in the public domain. The edition used for this essay is ISBN 9798636117274


Running After 60

Anyone who reads this blog may have guessed that it is more about running miles than anything else. I frequently amaze myself that I am still in good shape physically at 60 years of age.

June was a great month for getting some miles done. In the past week, I\’ve had 4 runs of 12.5 miles or longer. Two of these runs were at speed. And it is the speed that amazes me. When I was living on the Gulf Coast last year, I rarely ran fast because it was always so hot. Here in Missouri, it gets hot and humid but nothing like the Gulf Coast. So I am running faster this year than last.

I am actually \”training.\” I have a marathon in 2 months which is very hilly and has a 6 hour time limit. So I have been working on hills and speed to prepare, and running in the heat.

On the FIRE front. I added up my assets at the end of June. I gained substantially in the past 2 months, so I am ahead of when I left my corporate job last September. The trade off is spending a part of every day outside in a park, spending more time with friends, part time work as a barista for fun, learning to be a writer.

On the writing front. I have been working on editing my spiritual writing. Last night I took two of the paragraphs to the writer\’s Critique Group. I got some very valuable feedback. I now  know that I don\’t really know how to edit my material so that others can understand it. I am enrolled in a class on that topic in August. I\’ll probably need to read some more books. But I also now have a friend who can steer me. I\’ll eventually hire an editor, but I need to get closer before I do that or I\’ll spend too much money.

I went to a talk by a professional blogger last week. Very interesting to learn what is necessary to be a professional blogger. But in the end, I noted that she makes most of her money from traditional publishing of books, and second from self publishing. And then she spend a bunch of time on social media, making speeches, blogging and going to book signings in order to sell her books. Traditional publishing houses now require authors to have a huge social media presence before they will consider publishing your book. So, yes you are doing most of the work selling, even if the traditional publishing house takes it on. So you might as well self publish. Most of what that blogger does is uninteresting to me.

I came away with this knowledge. I spent two years on spiritual writing. I believe the writing should make it out into the world, and I will support it after I publish it. But I\’m not under financial pressure, so I don\’t need to worry about spending hours every day tagging things on twitter, instagram, fb or  other places. I am free to do the best job I possibly can at self publishing. I also deeply believe that my intuitive self will guide me and the little miracles I need to be successful will come. I\’m also done trying to explain what I am doing to my social circle. To them, it is a pie in the sky project. They may humor me but they don\’t believe in me. My writing friends do believe because they are on the path with me and we are learning together.

If you do read this blog, thank you very much. If you haven\’t followed the blog, please do.

I love hills

One of the reasons I left Houston was because the place is flat as a pancake. For a runner, that is annoying. Kansas City has hills. Hills are awesome.

Surprising to me, I am improving at my running since leaving Houston, even after a snowy winter here when I had to cut back on the mileage.

This morning, it crossed my mind about how peaceful many people seem to be after they retire. Suddenly they are out walking everyday, playing with kids, going to Starbucks, hanging out with the dog.

I continue to try and figure out why my job had become so intolerable, even though it was easy and a good company. Well, there was the issue of creativity. I have creative projects now and I am the boss of the project. No one around to tell me I can\’t.

But the issue that struck me today regarded being in a cage. My life as a career woman was lived in a cage. A big cage, but still a cage. A corporate cage filled with attendance requirements and behavior requirements. And I wasn\’t myself while being in the cage. Now, I live outside of cages. I am free to be me, not a corporate-fitter-inner.

I totally \”get\” the FIRE movement. Here\’s all these really smart people hiring into corporations where they hate their corporate selves. But, the salary is great. So, just save like crazy and get the heck out as soon as possible. These FIRE people are not just sitting around with their millions. They are contributing to society and the world in creative ways, divorced from money. That contribution is incredibly valuable.

Man I Feel Good

This morning was another early morning at Starbucks. Today I worked the whole time on the front, which means I served the face to face walk in customers, made coffee and helped with food. After a 6.5 hour shift, driving home, man I felt so happy. I worked hard and feel happy. Incredible!

But before that, I got up at 3 am in order to have time to connect with my spirit before going to work. My spiritual reading was of my own writings. Well, actually editing my own writings. But also musing the spirituality of it, and talking to my higher self about it. I remembered a key point to my whole retirement. I wanted to be alive, that is, know I am alive while I am alive and experience the aliveness of it.

For some reason, I didn\’t feel this while I had a career.

Starbucks is a great place to feel alive.

Abraham Hicks (check it out on YouTube) has helped me to choose happiness. \”I am happy because I want to be happy.\” I try to set an intention or a feeling of joy before I go to work. It is a very subtle feeling that I find before work. But after work, the happy feeling was 100 times more than my pre-paving. Obviously felt, and I still feel it now hours later.

I even got to teach it today. One of the guys likes to say he is only plastering on his happy face and doesn\’t really feel happy. I told him it was up to him and didn\’t buy into the culture of not being happy or not wanting to be at work.

I like feeling happy. I have decided to feel happy. And so I feel happy.

I also love myself now. Growing up in an alcoholic home, there was no chance of being taught how to love yourself, regardless of the other people. Abraham Hicks helped with this also.

Most humans, talking the first worlders now, aren\’t happy. I wasn\’t happy for most of my life even with an engineering career. I wasn\’t really alive either. I mainly survived each workday, could hardly wait to leave. I didn\’t know how to be alive and didn\’t know how to choose how I feel. Is there something about today\’s white collar corporate or financial jobs that makes this very difficult? While working at Starbucks makes this very easy?

It could have something to do with sitting at a desk for eight hours staring at a computer. That could be why there is a FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement. These FIRE  people know they hate their white collar jobs, but these are the jobs that pay alot. So, save your money and get out as soon as you can.

In other news:
Monday I ran very fast for 13.25 miles.
Tuesday I did a slow 13 miles.
Wednesday rode the elliptical for 35 minutes. And worked.
Thursday I hill walked for 7 miles. And worked
Friday I ran medium speed 10 miles.
Saturday I rode the elliptical for 50 minutes and lifted weights. And worked.

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.

FIRE Update

Here is my success video:

(watch it on YouTube to get a bigger picture)

I am very happy with myself today because I had a break through in the writing world. I\’ve been a little stuck since the publishing workshop last weekend with a literary agent. I almost quit because I didn\’t really have the plot for my novel nailed down. So, why would anyone else want to read it? I had almost decided that I would just proceed with my app writing project because it pleases me and has no goals.

I didn\’t have much goal for any of my writing when I retired, just maybe a few thousand dollars a year. But working at Starbucks is definitely the easier path of least resistance if my only goal is a few thousand dollars. But if the plan is also to produce something creative, then writing should stay on the table. And writing feels like something I am called to do, like my life needs to get a story onto paper in order for my life to be complete.

So unexpectedly, I had a writing victory this morning. I was sitting at my table looking at someone else\’s book when I spied a piece of paper which I had printed, a mini-part of my novel plan. I thought it was about one topic, but when I read it, it was about the plot for my novel. And I was surprised.
This one page, written a few days ago, very clearly described what the book was about and what was to be gripping for readers. After reading it, I realized how easy it would be to tie each scene to one of the gripping subplots. Easy peasy. Just get to work. I did. I wrote two scenes directly onto the computer.

So life goes on. I am very stable. Some mornings I work at Starbucks. Other mornings I work on writing. Frequently, I do both. In the afternoon, I am most often found in a park, running.

Such a great life. I am living for free. My assets are the same as when I quit my job.