Getting back to my story, I must admit that I actually didn’t know about FIRE as a movement until recently. Yet it turns out I had been unconsciously pursuing it for a decade.
And initially I didn’t pursue it out of the dream of living a more fulfilling life. It was fear and anxiety that drove me.
I wanted to become unemployment-proof.
There were 2 watershed moments for me. The first was the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
Frugal in New York City, But Not Frugal Enough
I had worked at several investment banks in the early 2000’s, and I witnessed the Internet boom/bust first hand. But even that hadn’t prepare me for the true carnage during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
During the years prior, I lived fairly frugally compared to my peers. Yet I still was very much consumption driven. Rent costed as much as 40% of your salary, if not more, and socializing with friends would easily cost about $50 per night back then and even more so now.
But I had a high stress job with long hours at an investment bank. I was in an area where working 12 hours on weekdays and only part of the weekend was considered a pretty good work life balance.
So you had to cram as much pleasure and relaxation into the few waking hours left when you weren’t working. For those who did not genuinely covet the prestige, personal consumption became a form of self-medication to alleviate what would otherwise be an unbearable life.
And when you had so few hours left to enjoy yourself, cost becomes secondary. In a sense, personal consumption becomes the socially acceptable drug of choice, for those unwilling to turn to alcohol or narcotics.
The 2008 Global Financial Crisis
All this came to a head in 2008 and 2009 when Lehman went bankrupt and nearly every large financial institution got bailed out. Everyone thought the U.S. financial system would collapse and take the rest of the world along with it.
And the flip side to the prestige and the large bonuses investment banks pay is that they also lay off people quickly and aggressively (ruthlessly).
Even those who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs were overburdened by doing the work of their laid-off colleagues and fearful that the next quarter would lead to more bloodletting.
As it happened, the company let my entire team go. Looking for a job in finance in this environment was the worst possible situation. I still remember the stressful nights looking up at the ceiling wondering how long my savings would last me. I worried about my career, which at the time I felt was my only lifeline for survival.
At that time, I resolved to leave Wall St. and financial services in general. It was too risky, even with the fairly high compensation. So I moved to China where I would start my career anew in a more stable industry and where, it so happened, I met my future wife.
But I still didn’t understand the dangers of putting all my energies and ambitions in the hands of a single employer. I just changed industries to what I thought would be more stable.
It was only my second watershed moment, when my wife’s U.S. immigration process started, that I truly felt stress. The kind that gave me not just sleepless nights but also cavities from grinding my teeth even while awake.
How about you?
For those who were working, what did you do during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis?