“Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions. An overachieving perfectionist who travelled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress. When he stopped touring, he wanted to find a balance in life to be able to be happy and to do what he loved most – music. He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness. He could now not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace. Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself.”
Tim Bergling, better known as Avicii, died in 2018 by suicide. Above is the family’s public address concerning media reports of his death.
When optimizing your life using FIRE, you’ll eventually be caught in a tangle of culture-shattering beliefs and loneliness. Why? Because what we in the FIRE community don't realize is that the job we hold or the career we’re snubbing is a much more important factor in our lives than we’d like to admit.* Tim used his talent for making music in order to earn his income just as we use our talents to earn ours.
So there comes a time in everyone's FIRE journey when they must confront an uncomfortable lesson: deciding for themselves what the difference is between a job and work. A job is simply what you do for money. Work, however, has a meaningful purpose. That is afterall, the meaning of life: “what are you going to do?” Not your job, nobody cares about that - it’s your work. There is no universal answer; each of us has a different meaning.
As I journey along FIRE’s path, I have struggled with that question. I’ve always been good at getting jobs, moving up the ladder and impressing my superiors with my ‘no bullshit allowed’ bravado and accomplishing the projects given to me. I’m not boasting of genius, rather, I am simply good at getting things done and therefore at making more and more money as opportunities present themselves.
Yet, I have no idea what my purpose is. What work am I supposed to be accomplishing? I don’t believe fate is predestined like some religions offer. Rather, I’m supposed to find meaning by switching my goal of making money at a job to meaningful work (regardless of pay), as FIRE assures. I’m very sure of that and yet I don’t know what work would be meaningful to me.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been laser focused on improving myself. When is there a better time? With so much trouble in society I figure I can better it through bettering myself. So I’ll eat much better, exercise consistently, ignore relationships I don’t value and be sure to not let the good ones grow distant. Be a better father, citizen, oh, and husband too. Can’t forget I’m married in all this chaos. Am I good enough yet?
I’m being hard on myself again.
Like Tim, I am an overachiever and a perfectionist. I am struggling with thoughts of meaning, life and happiness. FIRE has brought this on in the most unexpected way - not the stress of lowering bills or optimizing investments (those things are easy) but by creating so much space for the rest of my life that I had never really considered until recently. The other side has come into full view, only I’m finding out that the space is devoid of anything. I hadn’t thought of myself outside the context of my current job and finding meaningful work has left me confused.
I’m 30 years old and have nearly 37 times my annual spending in net worth. FIRE is still out of reach since my equity is locked into real estate and a LIRA (you’ll see these numbers soonish) but I can essentially do almost whatever the hell I want with my time for a tad bit of money. I’m in good health and have a beautiful wife and two kids, all healthy. I should be happy with my incredible life circumstances and yet I am having trouble becoming somebody besides a money-making job holder and an optimizer. If not much additional money is needed, why can’t I just enjoy my fucking life?
It scares me.. I can relate to the final words concerning Tim. He couldn’t find balance and succumbed to the addictions that plagued him and contributed to his spiraling mental health. I am thankful that I don’t suffer from addictions nor is my mental health in such disrepair that I could spiral into somebody I’m not. Yet my anxiety surrounding what to do with the rest of my life has created a cloud over my head that I cannot seem to shake.
Call it the covid blues, call it everyday stress of a parent or call it a quarter-life crisis. It feels as though I have a weight tied around my forehead that tugs on me when I think about the future. There must be more purpose than spending my time creating wealth with my job. What work will make me happy? Spending time with valued relationships to shake this feeling out of me is probably the exact prescription a doctor would order but isolation is required by law right now. Even then, I’m still without purpose.
Tim’s purpose was music. His job took away from his work.
I must endeavor not to let my job-mindset derail me from my work… whatever that happens to be.
* For those of you who might think this is a problem created by RE and not FI, you’re delusional. FI would give me the exact same conditions in which to confront this and, because retirement is inevitable, I’d simply be kicking the can down the road or dying at my job. I don’t see the purpose in that.
Picture: The cover art to Avicii's album; Stories.