Why is FIRE such a compelling story? Let me share my theory. Check it out and let me know what you think. For new readers, FIRE means Financial Independence and Retiring Early. It’s an awesome alternative to 40+ years of the regular 9-5 lifestyle. FIRE is scary and radically different than what we thought life would be. This is a journey into the unknown, the archetype story we are all familiar with – the hero’s journey. Many stories have this common pattern. Modern movies have embraced this tradition by adapting and condensing the hero’s journey into 12 steps to fit in a 2 hour movie. Once you know about the hero’s journey, you can’t help but recognize the pattern in almost every Hollywood movie.
Hero’s Journey into FIRE
Here are some stories that are crafted with the hero’s journey blueprint – Star Wars, The Office, The Wizard of Oz, Legend of Zelda, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, The Godfather, The Lion King, Jaws, Rocky, Homer’s Odyssey, and Spiderman. The hero’s journey monomyth is steeped into our blood even if you haven’t heard of the concept before. The hero enters into an unknown world to face an insurmountable challenge and comes out completely changed. This is exactly what FIRE is. If you take on this challenge, life is never going to be the same. Normal people don’t know about FIRE. They won’t believe it’s possible and they’ll think you’re abnormal for doing this.
Is the FIRE journey really like the hero’s story monomyth? Sure, it is. Let me take you through the 12 steps for the classic film, Star Wars, and compare it with my real life example. Everyone wants to be a hero of their own story and I’m no different. 🙂 Although, RB40Jr loves the bad guys for some reason. His favorite Star Wars characters are Captain Phasma, Kylo Ren, and Darth Vader. I guess the bad guys are way cooler than the good guys. Okay, enough of the previews, let’s get the show started.
The 12 steps are from Christopher Vogler’s book – The Writer’s Journey.
1. The Ordinary world:
Normal life before the adventure begins.
Star Wars: Luke Skywalker lives with his uncle and aunt on their moisture farm.
FIRE Journey: Joe works as an engineer for many years. He likes the technical challenges and he doesn’t mind putting in long hours as a young employee. Joe is happy to make good income and enjoys a prosperous lifestyle. His life is the epitome of the American dream.
2. Call to adventure:
Something happens to disrupt ordinary life.
Star Wars: Luke sees the call for help from Princess Leia.
FIRE Journey: Engineering was enjoyable for many years, but Joe becomes dissatisfied with his job. The employer wants him to take on a more leadership role as a senior engineer. He starts having physical and mental health issues. Joe discovers personal finance blogs.
The hero fears the unknown and is reluctant to change.
Star Wars: Luke needs to work at the farm to help his family.
FIRE Journey: Mrs. RB40, Joe’s wife, is pregnant. They have a mortgage, a car payment, and bills. He has a respectable job, good income, and a comfortable life. Why give that up?
Someone helps the hero overcome his fear. He obtains something that will help on the journey.
Star Wars: Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi and learns about the Force.
FIRE Journey: Joe’s boss got a pink slip a few days before Christmas and is denied the annual bonus. The corporation saves some money. Joe realizes that everyone is just a cog in the machine. Meanwhile, Early Retirement Extreme introduces him to early retirement and Financial Samurai shows him anyone can blog. He reads Your Money or Your Life.
5. Crossing the threshold:
The hero leaves the ordinary world and journey into the special world.
Star Wars: The storm troopers destroy the farm and kill Luke’s family. Luke leaves his old life behind.
FIRE Journey: A couple of coworkers die young. Joe has an epiphany and starts Retire by 40. He embraces the FIRE concept and cuts expenses.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies:
Hero encounters difficulties, helpers, and challenges.
Star Wars: Luke meets Han and Chewie, escapes from the storm troopers, and travels to Alderan.
FIRE Journey: Mrs. RB40 reluctantly joins the journey. Joe finds the personal finance blogging community. Enemies include the doubters, internet retirement police, and haters who leave disparaging and discouraging comments.
7. The Approach:
Long journey and preparation for the major challenge in the special world.
Star Wars: Obi-Wan teaches Luke how to use the light saber and the Force.
FIRE Journey: Joe works to accumulate 25x annual expense and build passive income. RB40Jr is born and put in daycare. (I really dislike daycare. It’s a huge factor why I retired early.)
8. The Ordeal:
Greatest personal challenge, everything is on the line.
Star Wars: The heroes sneaks onto the Death Star and rescues the princess. Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Kenobi.
FIRE Journey: Joe puts his head down and pushes on for longest 2 years of his life to reach FI. His health continues to slowly deteriorate. Work becomes intolerable, but he carries on.
9. The Reward:
The hero takes possession of the prize and becomes stronger.
Star Wars: Luke joins the rebellion and becomes a pilot.
FIRE Journey: Joe achieves financial independence through the combination of high savings rate, consistent investing, and pure luck. He focuses more on blogging and work/life balance. He puts less emphasis on work which results in a bad performance review.
10. The Road back:
One minor test to drive the story to completion.
Star Wars: Luke refuses Han’s offer to escape the battle.
FIRE Journey: Joe declines to go into the hiring pool. He also declines to interview at a friend’s company.
11. The Resurrection:
The hero has a final encounter with the danger. This is the climax of the story.
Star Wars: The rebels attack the Death Star. Luke hears Obi-Wan and uses the Force to destroy the Death Star.
FIRE Journey: Joe takes a leave of absence to think things through. He comes back and pulls the trigger to retire early. His super power, financial independence, enables him to quit working full time at 38.
12. The Return:
The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some type of treasure or power to change the world.
Star Wars: Luke becomes the hero of the Rebellion – a new hope.
FIRE Journey: Joe becomes a stay-at-home dad/FIRE blogger and lives happily ever after with his family. Life is pretty darn good after 5 years of early retirement. He continues to share his FIRE story with the world to help convert one person at a time. His health is much better now.
Your hero’s journey
I’m sure every FIRE blogger also went through most of these steps. FIRE is such a compelling story because we all grew up with the hero’s journey monomyth. All of us want to be the hero of our own story. It’s a powerful subconscious push for the adventurous type.
Who wants to be the coworker that got stuck in step 3 and continues working in a dissatisfying 9-5 job? Or are you the hero that challenges the FIRE journey? Of course, real life is not the same as the movies. You might have some serious issues that prevent you from going on this FIRE journey. That’s okay too. Every movie needs supporting characters and extras. (Oh! So mean!)
However, we can all improve our finances by being more diligent about money. Even if you’re not on the FIRE journey, you can make incremental improvements to your finances. There are so many resources out there now. It’s never been easier to access the world’s knowledge. Learn and grow.
I hope you enjoyed my hero’s journey story. Good luck on yours!
More FIRE Journeys
Anchor – Joe’s Why FIRE Is Such a Compelling Story.
Link 1 – Tom’s FIRE hero’s journey from being a young finance professional to his encore career, teaching at a university.
Link 2 – Jim’s Why Spiderman’s Path is Like the Journey to FIRE. Jim is going to retire early and move to Panama very soon.
Link 3 – Mr. Tako’s Darth Vader and The Path to FIRE. Apparently, Mr. Tako agrees with my son about Darth Vader.
Link 4 – Lazy Man and Money’s The Serenity of My FIRE Journey. My doppelganger on the East Coast. 🙂
Link 5 – Jason’s Want Your Life to be Movie Worthy? Achieve Financial Freedom! Head over to Winning Personal Finance and read all about it.
Link 6 – A Groovy Hero’s Journey from Freedom is Groovy. Read how they moved from New York to North Carolina to expedite their financial freedom.
Important P.S. Announcement To My Blogging Friends
I talked to a few bloggers to see if they are interested in sharing their FIRE journey and I got several takers. We’ll start a chain for these stories. This will help build backlinks and readers can discover more FIRE bloggers. Now, the best part – you’re invited to join if you’d like to share your FIRE journey. I’m really curious to see if it is really like the hero’s journey?
Open to all.
Just write a post, backlink to existing members’ articles on the topic (“Build The Chain”), and you’re in! It’s just me right now, but soon there will be more stories here.
Here’s how to join the chain:
1) Write A Post on Your FIRE journey. Does it fit the hero’s journey pattern?
2) Backlink to the articles previously written in this chain-based Series (e.g., Joe’s article plus any other bloggers who have published after that. All of the links in the chain, coming together, see how that works?). You can check back here for the latest links.
3) Post your article on Twitter with “#FIREherosjourney“, and tag any other blogger who’s already in the chain. (Send multiple Tweets, if we get that big). We’re the only ones using #FIREherosjourney, so it’ll be a clean hashtag chain.
Twitter will be our primary means of communicating the growth of the chain. Together, we’ll build a chain via backlink to all articles written by other bloggers on the same topic. Anyone can search #FIREherosjourney on Twitter and watch the chain come to life. I hope you join us.
Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.
Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.