I admit it—I’m a bit of a FIRE stalker. I mean, I’ve been lurking in the FIRE community for a minute, indulgently taking in the content of countless podcasts and blogs, and even generating a bit of my own.
So, when Playing with FIRE premiered in my city with the original cast, I had to go. I packed up myself for date night and dragged my husband out with the promise of an awesome surprise documentary that I just knew he’d love. Determined to bar my judgment, we excitedly made our way to our seats to take part in what was promising to be a reaffirming foray into a lifestyle for betterment.
What became increasingly apparent, however, was the concept of choice rooted in the psychology of FIRE. It is a privilege. This isn’t a bad thing—there are many people who need to hear about making better financial decisions, living on less and allocating dollars appropriately. But, missing from the conversation was the story about or even advice for those who actively string dollars together to meet the demands of each month. Not only that, but the concept of choice—the privilege of it all—was so critically fundamental to what was being said that the root of this movement seemed almost foreign. While the root in choice was absolutely real to the folks chronicled in the film, it wasn’t the reality in which I developed my own identity. So, I got it, but the heart of it was lost.
Between extended discussion on whether or not to give up a prized BMW or whether to compromise and purchase a fixer-upper in a decent neighborhood, I started to wonder if the privilege was as monumental as it felt, or if I was misunderstanding things. All of these things we’ve highlighted in the community became real: we need more diversity in the voices and experiences highlighted through the FIRE community. And don’t get me wrong—there were people of color in the video, but what we didn’t see was the person whose struggle was so integral to their existence that they involved its essence in every decision point.
This wasn’t about race, it was about experience.
When the movie was over, we had the opportunity to ask the documentary’s creators questions. One member of the audience raised the question of privilege and the creators did an awesome job of highlighting their attempt to work diversity into the discussion and acknowledged that their experiences were ones of privilege. Not only was the movie well-thought-out, but it involved a cast of characters that was conscious of their spaces and doing their best to navigate it. They are trying, and I LOVE it. But one thing I had the opportunity to dig into a bit with the guys over at ChooseFI was that the psychology of struggle is just a bit different. How do we break through the rest with our voice?
If it wasn’t clear before, let my crystallize something: this isn’t written in a spirit of criticism– it’s written in the spirit of activation. This is an appreciation for all of the individuals who have poured into FIRE– who have told their stories and made clear the connections between concepts and the movement’s way. This is also a call for people who haven’t always been able to choose (but who were successful anyway) to share their stories, draw the connections, and guide someone else. To be clear, this highlights the gap, then lays the foundation for understanding of that gap and then does something about it. We are beginning to build the ties between the concepts and the place of being without, and upon enhanced understanding on all sides, we can begin to connect together.
We typically think about financial journeys as being about education and choice—that people have the flexibility to make better choices. With that, we have failed, however, to understand the complexity of the social determinants and psychology in struggle. Struggle is about transgenerational wellbeing and enculturation; this is about doing without and doing with less; it is about mental health and physical wellness. Struggle isn’t specifically about race or ethnic experience. While some groups of people (in the United States) have historically struggled differently or disproportionately, struggle has been a common experience across people. It has been integral to identity for othered people, immigrant and non-immigrant, across color, ability, sexuality, and gender. And despite the diversity in our appearance, those who are rooted in it have a common understanding—we can identify in the space of having lived through difficulty, even if our difficulties have been different. She can’t speak on behalf of my struggle, and I cannot discuss hers, despite having similar identities. Our struggles were different. See, struggle is a framework, and education on decision-making isn’t the crux of the solution. Instead, struggle is a state of mind—a cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul, facing seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations and pressing on anyway, and the attempt to feel human in the midst of it all. How one feels human—be it through an occasional new pair of sneakers or an expensive dinner—despite the journey.
Struggle is a process—an approach– and not an outcome, and it’s felt across and within identities. It’s dynamic and individual, but relatable.
So when we (as the FIRE community) think about ways to pull people from the cycle of struggle, we also think about reframing the psychology. We think about removing the isolation and making choices real, teaching ways to feel human while setting strategic and manageable goals. And as the voices of the movement really dig into how to incite and implement change, we have to acknowledge the struggle is a common voice felt across and within populations. We will continue to highlight the great things that come with sharing our victories, and doing so, will also nod to those who didn’t have the privilege to choose: it’s possible, so as we honor where we are, let’s talk about the how.
Start with the basics in the belly of the FIRE movement.