The FIRE movement is gaining popularity, but early retirees feel lost and unfulfilled.

The FIRE movement is gaining popularity, but early retirees feel lost and unfulfilled.

Finding Fulfillment in Financial Independence: Life After FIRE

Retirement Lifestyle

While the term was coined in the 1992 book Your Money or Your Life, the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement has recently gained renewed popularity, particularly among younger working professionals. The idea of attaining financial freedom early and enjoying an extended retirement is enticing, but what many fail to consider are the emotional challenges that come with it. Ongoing research by INSEAD professors Bala Vissa and Winnie Jiang reveals that achieving FIRE status does not automatically equate to a fulfilled life.

Through interviews with successful entrepreneurs who have reached financial independence, it has become clear that many encounter emotional ambivalence in their daily lives. While getting rich was a motivating factor for starting and growing their ventures, it wasn’t the sole one, and to some, it came as a pleasant surprise. However, their experiences after achieving FIRE status provide valuable insights for aspiring individuals.

These entrepreneurs express a sense of joy and freedom, but they also grapple with feelings of emptiness and anxiety. The seemingly limitless possibilities that lie ahead can be overwhelming. They struggle to answer the question, “What do you do now?” and constantly search for labels to define their identity and purpose.

Experimenting with different answers, such as “I’m an investor” or “I’m a full-time father,” they find that none of these responses feel true or satisfying. The biggest challenge for these individuals is deciding, out of numerous possibilities, which identities and purposes to pursue. While the options seem boundless, their time is limited. They struggle to find identities that resonate with them or select purposes to which they want to devote most of their time.

Many of these entrepreneurs don’t even know what they truly enjoy or want to do. And even when they do discover their interests, they lack a specific goal that can keep them motivated. During their entrepreneurial journey, they always had specific targets to strive for, but now, without any internal or external pressure, they find it hard to structure their days or make plans.

Deep down, there is also a fear of failure. These entrepreneurs have showcased their success in previous ventures, but they attribute a portion of that success to luck. They worry about whether they can replicate that success in their next endeavor. This fear often prevents them from readily deciding on new projects to pursue.

Three Approaches to Life After FIRE

In general, individuals take one of three broad approaches to navigating life after financial independence.

1. Keeping Busy and Following Personal Interests

Some individuals are not particularly concerned about finding a big purpose. Instead, they keep themselves busy with various interesting and exciting projects, such as buying small or struggling companies and growing them. These individuals maintain a sense of direction by focusing on activities that intrinsically motivate them.

2. Exploring and Searching for a Greater Purpose

A second group of people tends to explore different things while simultaneously searching for a bigger purpose. They engage in a variety of projects or activities to help them identify a new purpose, a new goal, or the kind of impact they want to make and the best way to get there.

3. Embracing a Relaxing Lifestyle

A third group chooses to enjoy a more relaxing lifestyle, which starkly contrasts with the fast-paced, stressful entrepreneurial life they once led. They view this period as a time for decompressing and focusing on the simple but meaningful aspects of life. They may switch to one of the other approaches later on, but for now, they want to live in the moment.

Embracing Work After Financial Independence

Contrary to popular belief, early retirement does not lead to a life of idleness. Financially independent individuals often continue seeking purpose and meaning in the work they undertake. To gain further insights, we spoke to three individuals who successfully achieved financial independence.

Permjot – Rediscovering Joy in Developing Others

Permjot’s journey toward financial independence was unplanned. As a sales and marketing director in London, he realized that his success depended on external factors beyond his control. Through unexpected opportunities in asset management, he generated passive income and had the freedom to explore new ventures.

Now based in Nova Scotia, Permjot engages in pro bono work, including leadership advisory roles and mentoring. He takes joy in developing others and finding new ways to make an impact. He underlines the importance of adapting and finding work that aligns with one’s age and experience.

Rachel – Following Intuition Towards a Fulfilling Life

Rachel discovered her path to financial freedom by relying on intuition rather than a defined strategy. Despite building successful businesses, she felt unfulfilled working for others. Burning out became a turning point, leading her to explore online opportunities and coaching.

Rachel reduced her expenses, focused on work she loves, and now leads a simple and fulfilling life. She coaches individuals seeking freedom from the corporate grind and emphasizes experiences over material possessions. Her newfound freedom allows her to spend ample time with family and pursue her passions.

Abel – Strategic Living for a Satisfying Life

Abel and his wife strategically saved and invested while living on one salary. With careful financial planning and a focus on their end goal, they achieved financial independence. Abel entered an executive program but soon realized that a CEO position wouldn’t align with the freedom he sought.

He transitioned into a location-independent portfolio career, engaging in consulting, teaching, and non-executive roles. Abel and his wife approach their life like a business, evaluating both financial and lifestyle outcomes. While he finds it hard to say no to work that interests him, Abel plans to achieve his dream of sailing full time within the next three years.

The Ever-Evolving Journey

Financial independence is not a fixed endpoint; rather, it is an ongoing journey that entails acknowledging the dynamic nature of one’s identity, financial situation, and place in society. It requires taking a holistic approach that encompasses personal values, goals, and ongoing growth to ensure a fulfilling and empowered life.

Preliminary findings suggest two important implications. Firstly, it is normal to discover that life post-financial freedom may not be as happy as expected. Challenges include finding new identities and directions in life and dealing with negative emotions. It is crucial to connect with like-minded individuals and share experiences and ideas on structuring and planning for the future.

Secondly, it is never too early or too late to start thinking about what lies beyond financial independence. Consider how you would like to allocate your time and resources. Those driven by fulfilling a greater purpose should reflect on the impact they want to make, while others focused on enjoyment and personal interests should consider the activities they could pursue.

Financial independence can lead to a fulfilling life, but it requires deliberate choices and ongoing self-discovery. By embracing work that invigorates them, individuals can continue to find joy and meaning in their lives long after achieving financial independence.

About the Authors

Winnie Jiang, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. Her research focuses on meaning-making at work, work as a calling, career mobility and transitions, and personal and professional development.

Claire Harbour is a global talent expert, providing coaching and consulting services across borders, disrupting conventional practices.

Antoine Tirard is a talent management advisor, executive coach, and founder of NexTalent. He brings extensive experience in talent management from his roles at Novartis and LVMH.

The opinions expressed in this commentary solely represent the views of the authors and not necessarily those of ANBLE.

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