Updated: Oct 4, 2022
There are many similarities between the FIRE world and the digital nomad world when it comes to the conditions surrounding taking on new employment.
After a time away from the traditional 40ish-hour work week, FIREees may find they no longer want to suffer the monotony, commutes, and lack of control that come with that life. What seemed normal now feels oppressive. Many FIREees may be willing to compromise for lower pay or no benefits in exchange for additional flexibility. However, many careers may not be so accommodating to that. Finding a new career may seem daunting. Fortunately, there is much to be learned here from the digital nomad community.
Digital nomading, marked by a life spent using geographic arbitrage to spend less expensively while living in interesting places and (mostly) working remotely, has historically tried to optimize working conditions to maximize freedom. This has included both considerations related to remote and non-traditional employment. The critical piece is that it includes a variety of flexible employment opportunities.
There are a many, many great employment-related resources available within the digital nomad community that may also be useful to FIREees. A quick web search will lead you to hundreds (it not thousands) of pages with aggregated employment lists and search engines. Take a look and see if there’s a good fit. If so, great. It not, perhaps it’s time to consider the mentality you’re entering the arena with.
Working post-FIRE is different in many ways from working pre-FIRE. Many FIREees were supersavers or at least tax-optimization focused. Others relied on a financial advisor who handled the financial details and thus they are a little unsure about what goes into an optimized financial life. In any case, there are major implications of starting the job search at fire.
1. You probably don’t need to make as much money as you did before FIRE. Starting with a nest egg that sustained your lifestyle is a huge advantage; you no longer need to build that nest egg. So, you only need to earn what you spend (or the gap between what your savings produces and what you spend). Think about that for a second because I think it’s a major mental shift for most people reading this! Said another way, you don’t need to be making law firm partner dollars or an NBA salary, just to account for new spending requirements. Your savings will continue to draw down or accumulate at the rate you predicted while your new earnings will account for the new spending. So figure out how much you actually need then start thinking about how to make only that much.
2. Doing so will be a big mental shift for many FIREees. Those reaching FIRE, largely, are driven, goal oriented people who are used to ‘success’ in their endeavors. While success is measured in a variety of ways, it’s hard to detach the goal of financial independence from financial success. Consequently, many folks reading this will likely have a hard time taking home a smaller paycheck when a bigger one is available. It will feel like failure. However, it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal is to live a meaningful and interesting life rather than to watch a number grow. Read that over and over to remind yourself of it! So, figure out your goal (as in point 1) and reach it without adding arbitrary, unnecessary stressors to the process. If you find fulfillment in your new employment and your new income exceeds your predictions, that’s a different story.
3. If you find you’re really enjoying your new employment and want to do it more than you anticipated, carry on without regrets. Work that feels like play is basically a hobby. One of the great things about FIRE is that it liberates you from the expectations of ‘society’. If one day you find that changes and you no longer need the additional income, go back to FIRE. Your nest egg is still there along with the conditions you initially set.
4. It may be worth considering how meaningful work can be when you start the process of looking for new employment. Some people are happy to work for wages to reach a goal. I suspect many reading this, even though they were able to endure to reach FIRE, were not. At least consider the possibility that some form of meaningful work is out there for you. Remember, you no longer need to earn as much (as in point 1) so there are many more options on the table. This could include working for a non-profit, working for a discounted rate (as in the case of law, medicine, tech, and other wage-based work), or entrepreneurship. Not everyone finds purpose in ‘work’, but the freedom to make less money should at least prompt consideration of working on something you find meaningful!
5. You may have skills that are desperately needed. You don’t have to offer them pro bono and doing so might not come easy. Consider making them available at a discount while making a commitment in terms of time. This could include posting your skills on websites like Taskrabbit or Nextdoor or connecting directly with organizations you trust and asking how you can help. As discussed here (volunteering post), it’s difficult for organizations to include volunteers due to their transient nature, but it might be easier with the above commitment. You might find there is meaning in working at a major discount for a cause you believe in.