Last week, I read Why FIRE Is Such a Compelling Story on RetireBy40. The article compares Joe’s journey to FIRE (Financial Independence / Retire Early) with the classical hero’s journey blueprint that underscores many successful stories.
To explain it, he goes step by step through Christopher Vogler’s book The Writers Journey. He contrasts his FIRE journey with a movie about a motley crew of space travelers who overthrow an all-powerful oppressive regime. It’s an old movie, so I doubt you heard of it. I think it was called Space Battles something.
Joe invited other bloggers to join in on the idea. I’m throwing my hat into the ring.
I need to start by saying that I don’t think FIRE is “heroic.” It can’t be compared to saving a city full of people.
I’m going to take his old 20th century movie about a motley crew of space travelers who overthrow an all-powerful oppressive regime and give it a 21st century update. I know there are a lot of Space Battles fans out there, but this is for the Firefly/Serenity fans out there.
This is going to be challenge. As io9/Gizmodo writes in Eight Reasons Why The Hero’s Journey Sucks:
“But over time, lazy writers like George Lucas have used [the hero’s journey] as a checklist… It discourages originality… Instead of championing stories that are different, like say, Firefly/Serenity… What about a group of people who decide to work together to change the crappy status quo?”
Fortunately, I found some help with this hero’s journey of Serenity. I’m curious how this is all going to work out. If I don’t know where this going, you can’t have a clue either right? Good!
Let’s dig in.
Serenity and My FIRE Hero’s Journey
1. The Ordinary world:
Normal life before the adventure begins.
Serenity: It’s the year 2517, and humans have moved to a new solar system after Earth was overpopulated. Our hero, Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Mal), and his crew can best be described as space pirates. They go from planet to planet on smuggling jobs living paycheck to paycheck.
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man graduates college with a computer science degree. He quickly moves up to management at an top internet company.
2. Call to adventure:
Something happens to disrupt ordinary life.
Serenity: Mal decides to bring 16-year old River on a job because she has the rare gift of being able to read minds which might be helpful. River’s brother, Simon, has broken her out of a secret assassin/brainwashing training lab run by the evil Alliance. The job doesn’t go as planned and River was put in danger, and Simon announces they are off the ship at the next planet.
At the next planet, a television plays River’s secret assassin trigger word and she destroys a bar until Simon says her sleep word.
FIRE Journey: The internet goes bust and everyone lays off software engineers. Lazy Man goes from contract to contract. After a few years, joins a new start-up. Lazy Man starts to develop the idea that software engineering may be outsourced to India and other places where the cost of living is cheap.
The hero fears the unknown and is reluctant to change.
Serenity: The crew (sans River who is in her bunk listening) meet in Serenity (the spaceship). Mal has no explanation for why he didn’t leave them on the planet like the plan. In this case, it is the top mercenary, Jayne, who fears the unknown and Mal agrees with him.
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man continues to work. Despite being paid in the bottom 5% of his Salary.com peers, he is happy to have a job and doesn’t want to rock the boat.
4. Meeting a mentor:
Serenity: Mal contacts Mr. Universe to try to find out what happened. Mr. Universe watches all the media in this universe, “Can’t stop the signal, Mal. Everything goes somewhere, and I go everywhere.” He learns that the Alliance triggered River with the television commercial so that they could find her. The Alliance needs to get River back because they made the mistake of having someone with all of their secrets in the same room with her… and her ability to read his mind.
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man reads an article about bloggers who are sharing their income and spending, but not their names. He comes across Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Lazy Man starts to think that working smarter might be better than working harder. (It would be some time before he realizes that Rich Dad, Poor Dad is only good for motivation and Kiyosaki gives terrible personal finance information.)
5. Crossing the threshold:
The hero leaves the ordinary world and journey into the special world.
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man is getting serious with his girlfriend. Her active duty status means she’s eligible to retire with a pension at age 43. Lazy Man starts this blog in 2006, with the hope of finding some path to retire with her in 2019. The idea of retiring in 2041 at age 65 is not appealing. He explores investing in condohotels, P2P lending, and ways to save money.
After a few months, he learns that what he’s been calling a “money blog” is actually something called “personal finance.” Years later he would learn about the FIRE acronym.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies:
Hero encounters difficulties, helpers, and challenges.
Serenity: Mal meets up with Shephard Book and gets some practical advice. Book says the Alliance is sending an assassin, an Operative, because they want to keep this a secret. Mal also receives some spiritual advice and starts to realize that he has a strong moral compass (despite all the thieving, smuggling, and the other stuff they do to get by.)
Mal gets a call from Inara (former passenger and Mal’s unspoken love interest) who claims to need help with local unrest on her planet. Mal, knowing that it is a trap, goes anyway. He gets in an epic fight with the Operative, but is clearly outmatched. On the verge of getting killed, Inara saves him with a perfectly timed distraction.
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man creates friends with dozens of bloggers. He joins one formal network where everyone promotes each other’s work. Lazy Man spends a lot of time in personal finance forums building relationships with other bloggers. He reads and comments on a dozen blogs each day.
7. The Approach:
Long journey and preparation for the major challenge in the special world.
Serenity: River has a vision of the secret that the Alliance wanted to hide, a planet called Miranda. They return to Shephard Book’s planet to find out more about this hidden planet and found that the Alliance was there first. In a touching moment, Book tells Mal that he doesn’t care what Mal believes in, just that he believes.
The Alliance is taking out anyone and everyone in the universe who has ever sheltered our heroes, leaving them no safe haven to run to.
Mal orders his crew on a “suicide mission” through “Reaver space” to get to Miranda and learn the secrets there. Reavers are humans who have become almost like a pack of wolves hunting other humans like bunnies. It’s a big stretch to call them human and I’ll spare you the too graphic description of how they treat humans.
The crew doesn’t agree with this plan, but this journey is the one place they can live where the Alliance won’t follow. As the pilot, Wash says, “There’s nothing about this plan that isn’t horrific!”
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man’s fiancé, against all odds, gets a job opportunity across the country in San Francisco. The two go out and build new friends and alliances.
They have to turn their condos into rental properties because they can’t be profitably sold. Lazy Man get more and more interested in blogging and less and less interested in software engineering. Silicon Valley is no place for a 32-year old geezer engineer anyway.
Six years later after the birth of their first son, the heroes move back to the East Coast. Just days before they do, they finalize a HARP refinance on those rental properties. The new 15-year at 3.5% rate cuts years of payments off of the old 30-year at 6%.
Lazy Man and wife continue (as they have done all along) to do their best to max out retirement accounts and take advantage of the power of compound interest.
8. The Ordeal:
Greatest personal challenge, everything is on the line.
Serenity: After successfully getting to Miranda, the crew learns the Alliance’s secret. With that secret they forge a plan to tell the world.
FIRE Journey: Over time, Lazy Man learned the secrets of how MLM/Pyramid Schemes scam people into false “business” opportunities. He broadcasts logical explanations of what they are and how they work including information that they are designed so that more than 99.9% of people lose money. When the people lose money, they are told they aren’t working hard enough or that they need to buy more training so that they can continue to feed money to the 0.1% at the top of the pyramid.
Lazy Man is attacked by unscrupulous lawyers hired by the MLM/Pyramid Scheme industry. They threaten to bankrupt his entire family to suppress people from learning the truth about the scams. (This was before John Oliver exposed them on HBO and the FTC publicly lambasted them.)
Lazy Man gains new respect for the movie Serenity as he struggles against legal loopholes that are used to silence free speech.
9. The Reward:
The hero takes possession of the prize and becomes stronger.
Serenity: Mal and the crew gets the proof to share the truth about Miranda. If they can get the proof to Mr. Universe, they can broadcast it to all the planets in the universe and the corruption of the evil Alliance will be revealed.
FIRE Journey: The power of compound interest and the great on-going bull market propels Lazy Man and his family towards financial independence.
10. The Road back:
One minor test to drive the story to completion.
Serenity: Mal and crew head to Mr. Universe, but they have to get back though Reaver Space and the Operative/Alliance. One small ship against hundreds? Our hero creates a plan. If the plan to get to Miranda was “There’s nothing about this plan that isn’t horrific!”, the plan to get back is a hundred times more horrific.
One could make a case that this fits in the next section.
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man and his wife have two awesome boys. Lazy Man’s wife has a work situation of golden handcuffs. In addition, her active duty status grants the boys a tremendous discount at a tremendous school. If she retires, the education costs go up while our income goes down.
The search for a solution to this is ongoing. We don’t know how the story will end, yet.
11. The Resurrection:
The hero has a final encounter with the danger. This is the climax of the story.
Serenity: Mal gets in a final fight with the Operative. The Operative runs a sword through him, but an old war injury saves him. Mal has the opportunity to kill the Operative, but instead traps him and forces him to watch as he spreads the truth about Miranda which changes the ‘verse.
FIRE Journey: Lazy Man and wife don’t know what twists and turns life will throw at them, but there will certainly be some encounters with danger.
12. The Return:
The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some type of treasure or power to change the world.
Serenity: Mal has a final talk with the defeated Operative about the changed world. His love interest, Inara, is on the fence about whether to join the crew or go back to her planet. Mal settles in with his new co-pilot, River.
FIRE Journey: At some point in the future, Lazy Man and family, pack up their stuff, rent out their house, and spend summers in Europe. The boys have a difficult decision of choosing the best financial aid packages from Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford. Lazy Man’s wife manages the boy band they all co-founded.
As for Lazy Man, he grows up and figures out what he wants to do.
What’s Your Journey?
As you can, our FIRE journey is still a work in progress. If we wanted to retire next year when my wife is pension eligible we could. We could put the kids in public school. We could sell off the rental properties and use the money to pay off the mortgage on house we live in. We’d have very few expenses with paid off cars, solar panels, house, and relatively cheap health care from the military.
However, these aren’t necessarily the best choices to make. It may be cutting things close. We would be sacrificing things that are important to us.
More FIRE Journeys
Anchor – Retire By 40: Why FIRE Is Such a Compelling Story.
Story 1 – Dividends Diversify: FIRE hero’s journey.
Story 2 – Route to Retire: Why Spiderman’s Path is Like the Journey to FIRE.
Story 3 – Mr. Tako’s Escape: Darth Vader and The Path to FIRE
Story 4 – Willing Personal Finance: Lion King and Financial Freedom
If any bloggers are looking to join this chain, the instructions are at the end of the Anchor article by Retire by 40 above.
I really need your comments on this article, readers. I’m not sure I did Serenity justice or if I put it in the right mold. I did my best to minimize spoilers, but it’s been 13 years, so you had your chance.
I also want to hear what you think about your FIRE journey. Does it fit the hero’s journey?