Balancing the pursuit of FIRE with meaning

Living for today, not just tomorrow

I recently had a conversation with someone who kept going on about options; how much returns he could generate and his Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) journey.

He sacrificed many things. This included proper sleep habits which resulted in him having aged faster and lower energy levels.

He was not really living in the present. He chose to leave most of his enjoyment and hobbies after FIRE. His mind was always focused on some future state he needed to achieve and the movements in the markets.

It is easy to equate financial freedom as a prerequisite to happiness. This is especially so when one feels trapped in a meaningless job and life.

However, it is simplistic to believe in false trade offs.

One can be fiscally responsible and grow wealth while making the most out of the present.

What many fail to realize is that youth never returns. We will never be this age again.

In the late Charlie Munger’s last interview, CNBC’s Becky Quick posed a thought-provoking question: “Is there anything left on your bucket list, Charlie?”

He responded

“Well… I am so old and weak compared to when I was 96 that I no longer want to catch a 200 lbs tuna. It’s just too goddamn much work to get it in. Takes too much physical strength. I would have paid any amount to catch a 200 lbs tuna….There are things you give up with time.”

Charlie Munger | Watch the Interview here

This is a powerful reminder for all of us. We are only young once really.

Rather than delay gratification, how about making life meaningful today?

As I reflect on my own life, three experiences so far have given me a lot of meaning and fulfillment.

1. Volunteering

In my early 20s, I started to question if I wanted to stay in Singapore and if I still loved this place as much. The country I grew up in had become drastically different over the years.

I was upset to see local employees being discriminated against in our own country. I was worried about the future of our generation when I saw housing prices soaring much higher than the growth of our starting salaries. I was frustrated by how lower income elderly were left behind.

I guess our relationship with our country is similar to that we have for our religion and significant other. There will be moments of doubts.

Eventually, I made a choice: Instead of feeling upset, why not take action to make things better?

One of the best solutions is to build a responsible credible opposition. I decided to volunteer and been doing so for 8 years.

Volunteering was great for character building.

Many of the leaders I got to learn from were the true embodiment of what I felt high quality men and women were: cared for others beyond themselves; humble; well-groomed; great communication skills; assertive but not aggressive; rational and responsible.

I was fortunate to learn from a young age that leadership is not about superiority; achievement or glory. Good leaders make sacrifices for greater good.

My team mates used their free time after work to knock on doors; their weekends to distribute food; put themselves at risk; took a pay cut and opened themselves to intense public scrutiny.

There is simply little material benefit to oneself - just knowing you played a part in contributing to Singapore’s future.

Volunteering also taught me to think beyond myself.

I had the opportunity to engage; learn from and communicate with residents from all walks of life during grassroots.

Seeing how other lower-income Singaporeans live makes me grateful for what I have.

I try not to complain about work anxiety; hours or pressure despite being in what is perceived by others as a “stressful” role. 

Am I really in any position to complain about stress when others have it much worse than me?

Would my time and energy be better focused on growing myself and uplifting others as well?

Kind messages that keep me going as a creator

2. Being a content creator

Another formative experience I have is being a creator. There are many ways I have benefited.

This year, I had many opportunities to speak at E27 Echelon Summit; Channel News Asia; Endowus Wealthtech Conference and more. I got to meet many interesting people who I might not have met if I was not a creator.

Starting out was not easy at all. The conventional person who speaks about finance; work and public policy is a man in their 30s and 40s.

Looking young; having a more bubbly disposition; and a a high-pitched voice were a disadvantage then. People were not kind.

There are a few things i have done to cope.

Firstly, I need to remember my why: I do this because I care about the challenges and aspirations of our generation. Content creation is a service to others. This is really about putting our generation at the heart and centre.

Also, I can turn this to an advantage by holding myself to a higher standard.

I made many changes to myself over the years: The way I dress; body language and also lowering my voice in public.

I am aware others look up to me and treasure that. The least I can do is continue to set good example to others to the best of my ability.

3. Working in SaaS

I am deeply grateful to work in SaaS

The first benefit I feel is being exposed to Southeast Asia. I am really bullish about this market and have spoken many times about my excitement for this region. This is why I invested in a Southeast Asia fund and also choose regional roles.

The industry is fast-changing and filled with uncertainties. This trains me to never be complacent; to be resilient and ride the waves.

Finally, being able to work with top talent. The tech industry has a mix of strong talent but also lazy people. I figured out that the best talent concentrates in high growth companies.

The combination of all these experiences have helped me lead an enriching life and build character. Grateful to have a career that I enjoy and passion projects outside of work.

I would encourage you to take a step forward in furthering your interests in the avenues which you find meaningful too!

Recommendations: A Podcast I enjoyed

Morgan Housel is a partner at The Collaborative Fund. He's the author of The Psychology of Money, which has sold over four million copies.

In this recent interview, he shares:

22:16 The most valuable financial skill anyone can have

35:55 A tragic accident which shaped his views on investing

45:55 How Morgan Housel manages his investments (I have been thinking about asset allocation a lot recently)

I am a Singaporean Millennial who covers work; money; relationships and balance. Enjoyed this post? Ask your friends to subscribe here

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