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.


Commemorative Coins

There has been some joking around work about the gold coin being sent out by our company to all the employees to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the business. We don\’t know what to do with a gold coin. We\’d rather have t-shirts. But, it is a German company which treats the rest of the world like lesser beings. So….

But, I got an insight. I have 2 other coins which do mean something to me. I realized that my company wishes to stand by these other valuable associations; and gold is the best way they could think of to cause me to consider the company in the same terms.

The other 2 coins? One is a Benedictine medal and my time in the monastery had a dramatic effect on my life. The other is my AA anniversary coin, which I get a new one every year I\’m sober. Obviously, 28 years of sobriety has effected my life.

I will grant my employer equal status.

To put it in perspective, I took a picture of 4 commemorative coins I have on hand. The fourth one I got what I finished the 10th Seabrook marathon. It doesn\’t mean alot to me, but I realize that keeping a race going for 10 years means alot to the organizers, enough to get these coins made for all the finishers.

So, I honor anyone who honors themself. The coin is just a way of communicating the value of long term achievement. Personal character does go into building a long term achievement. I respect that.


Last night, in the Charlotte airport on my way home from Germany, I saw a young female sailor in her whites with a big back pack and carrying her cap. I felt a slight swelling of tears. That was my wish a long time ago: to be in the military. I stood at the recruiting table in college and yearned; but back then, women didn\’t get to do anything interesting. I wanted the uniform and the way of life. I couldn\’t have it.

The same thing happened when I stood at the doors of The Church. I realized that within those doors was a mysterious religion governed by men. I couldn\’t go in. I went and became an Episcopalian. I eventually breached The Church and even entered a convent and went to school at a seminary. But in the final analysis when I decided to walk away, the all male hierarchy was something I couldn\’t devote my life to.

The customs agent was making small talk with me as she checked my passport last night. She wanted to know what I did. I proudly said I was an engineer. She seemed to perk up and wanted to know what kind. I even more proudly said I was a Process Safety Engineer.

So, I got home without any problems last night. I slept ok but got up at 6 am. I have been drinking tea and reading A Course in Miracles Text: The laws of chaos, chapter 23.II. I am doing laundry and I am dressed in running clothes. I reflect on my life as it continues on. I realize that Germany was good for my career, but not a dopamine reward experience. And then a breakthrough thought….

My convent life was really about leaving the world physically. A Course in Miracles is about leaving the world in your mind; because you learn it is an illusion. So, I have been on an intentional journey away from dopamine rewards (ego) and the result is that the world means nothing. Again I decide today that only God consciousness means anything to me today.

And so a person gets out of bed in the morning. I look forward to a practice of God consciousness and the ACIM practice of looking beyond. And whatever else, training or working, is not the focus. The focus can only be God.

The young woman in the sailor suit? I hope she gets her dreams. and I know that my dreams were yearning for Something. I now define Something as God consciousness. God is all I want.

ACIM Breakthru Moments

I\’ve had a fabulous training weekend. 56 miles over 4 days. Today, I finished up with 33 laps of the short loop in Meador Park. I was there because it has many trees for shade.

Each day, I study the Course in Miracles text. I usually make myself a short paragraph to memorize and take with me throughout the day. Each paragraph of A Course in Miracles presents the same idea over and over; but with different words so that maybe you\’ll get the idea.

Yesterday, I had a major breakthrough in understanding when in Chapter 13 it said, \”The only miracle that ever was is God’s most holy Son...\” (We are God\’s Son). That floored me since it takes much learning for an average American to understand that miracles are not related to winning money or being cured of cancer. Seeing God\’s Son in everyone is all that\’s needed to see everyone healed and living in peace.

Today, continuing reading in Chapter 13, I had another breakthrough: I decide what the world means. See, I\’ve spent much time in prayer asking God what is the meaning of my life. \”The world can give you only what you gave it, for being nothing but your own projection, it has no meaning apart from what you found in it…Guilt is always in your mind, which has condemned itself. Project it not…\”

Right here is where I took power from my ego (defined by ACIM not Freud). There are other parts of Chapter 13 I incorporated into today. And so, my phrases for today became my declaration of freedom:

I have decided that the world means love.
And guilt is always totally insane.
I look within and see the light of love.
I accept Atonement for myself.

I did my jogging to this. Over and over.