The first time I considered myself, “baby FI,” or “gap FI,” was while I was camping in Chobe National Park in Botswana. I was sleeping in a tent, burning for a shower, and I was… ecstatic.
Never had I been more filled with such a profound joy. It was the first time in my life where I acted in complete autonomy. I decided where I went, who I went with, what I did, and when I did it. Because of that autonomy, I was (not) sleeping to the sound of lions and cheetahs purring as they ate their dinners, and the screams of the game as they became it.
One month later, I was fighting through one of the worst depressive episodes I’d ever experienced.
The “FI transition" is well-documented. People reach their FI number, stop working, and realize, “wait a second… I’m still not happy.” A 9-5 distracts us from a lot of things, including all the things we’ve buried about ourselves. Really, FI is the exchange of money for time - and if someone hasn’t appropriately planned out what to do with that time, the transition can be just as difficult as the W-2.
This post isn’t about transition depression, though. It’s about the whyyyy we get transition depression, and what I think we should do about it.
A week or two ago, I was talking to a journalist who was venting about a high-stature figure he interviewed. The figure gave deep, complex answers about why his organization failed miserably to ensure a discrimination- and harrassment-free environment, as well as how injustices thrived within the organization. When the journalist asked if the person would go on record, of course, the person simply said, “no.”
“He’s scared,” I said softly. “That’s the hand that feeds, and no one is going to bite it.”
I surprised myself more than I surprised the journalist. Of course, he knew about self-preservation and the role it plays in toxic workplace culture. The question was why was I rationalizing it?
About a year ago, I was sitting at our work lunch table when my CO called me a present. Not like a gift to the Navy, but a sexual present. He said my liberty buddy had only chosen me so I could be a present for his friends. It was said in front of two other (higher ranking) officers. No one spoke up. No one said it was inappropriate. The joke would be made several more times.
Financial independence buys us more than just freedom from the time clock. It has buys freedom from office politics, toxic work culture, and - above all else - fear from reprisal.
Each and every person reading this post can think of at least two times when they bore witness to something wrong, whether it was favoritism, office politics, mansplaining, sexual harassment… the list goes on and on. Now, did you report it? For many, the question isn’t why, but why not.
The answer is, of course, self- preservation. Reprisal is a threat to someone’s entire livelihood. It’s a threat to his/her - and his/her family’s - survival.
Financial independence removes that threat.
What am I saying? Am I placing the responsibility of enforcing ethics squarely on the shoulders of people who are financially independent?
Well… yes. And more, too.
Who has time to support and spread the word about black financial institutions, businesses, and political candidates who support equal treatment for our community?
Who has the excess funds to donate to ethical (hey, there are some) politicians who advocate for equity?
Who has the time to research district attorneys and judges who are running for election - the gatekeepers of our infamously unjust judicial (how's that as an oxymoron) system?
The FI community.
I started this post about transition depression. I said this wasn’t an article about it, but one that was about why we get it. We get it because we as members of the FIRE community are people of purpose. We set our sights on a goal, achieve it, and move onto the next one. We fall into this slump because of our perception that once we reach FI, we’re done.
Except we’re not. Far from it.
There are far too many wrongs that go un-righted because of the social consequences of having a 9-5. Nobody has time to care about politics or social justice. If they do care, nobody has time to financially support themselves while they dedicate time to fight for what they believe in. Finally - and most gut wrenching of all - nobody has the financial safety net to risk their livelihood doing the right thing.
Nobody…. Except for the FIRE community.
If you are FI and considering your next move, or struggling with your post-FI identity, I hope you consider one as a leader, because your community and country need you.
Congratulations on becoming FI! But your work is not done.