If Reaching FIRE Seems Impossible

The world is a highly complex and imbalanced place. Some people are born into wealthy families, whereas others are born to a single parent who is struggling to make ends meet. I'm sure being born into wealth isn't any sort of silver-bullet to all of life's problems, but I belong to the latter and I think many people out there are somewhat similar.

In short, we weren't born into a family or a life where money wasn't an issue. We'd hardly care about working towards FIRE if we were (I think...).

But even still, for most of us the idea of working towards financial independence is very much something we can see happening. Early retirement at the age of 40 may not be on the cards for everyone, but laying a solid financial foundation for our future that will steadily build over a long period of time is not out of reach.

Unfortunately, not everybody will feel this way. There are some who truly are, at no fault of their own, living a life where they understand the concept of financial independence yet it feels impossible for them to make any progress towards it, even if they know the steps.

Life's infinite threads and weaves will offer countless ways in which someone can end up in a seemingly hopeless situation. But there is always one thing I remind myself of whenever I feel a little lost or down; not just about finances but about anything.

I was at least fortunate enough to be born in a first world country with many freedoms and options, in an era where there is advanced technology such as the internet. I wasn't born to a war torn country where my choices are almost non-existent, and each day could truly be my last based on the mood or whim of those holding the guns.

It's extreme, but it's also true.

The point being - however bad the situation is, it could be a whole lot worse. And that's the mindset I want us to adopt whenever we think our situation is hopeless.

There is at least something we can do.

Start by doing just one small thing

The steps towards financial independence truly are simple, you'll often hear the following advice:

"Waste less money on unneeded junk"

"Start putting money into an emergency fund"

"Pay down your debts"

"Start investing in an index fund"

"Start building a new income stream"

"Invest in skilling up to further your career"

and so forth.

But for those who really don't have a lot to work with, this is actually overwhelming. Not because the advice isn't good but because they try to do all of these things flat out, rather than just focusing on making a little bit of progress in just one.

Yes, doing all of the above things at the same time will generate bigger results over a shorter period of time, and it's understandable that you want to be "full steam ahead", but if you're somebody who is really struggling to find breathing room in your current financial circumstances all it's going to do is make you feel like you're taking on the impossible.

Take a step back and pick just one of these things to work on. Identify just one small thing in that one area that you can improve, and get that done before identifying the next small thing to focus on.

You're going to start small and it's going to feel really slow, but just like with anything else as long as you keep working at it purposefully and consistently you'll eventually build it up and see results.

The concept of Kaizen that led to British dominance in Olympic cycling

Kaizen is a management methodology that aims to make small incremental improvements that lead, over time, to big results.

It was the technique used by Sir Dave Brailsford to improve Britain's cycling team so that they went from winning just a few Olympic medals in the early 2000's to dominating the medals tables from 2008 onwards.

Rather than making huge changes to the training programme, Sir Dave Brailsford instead identified small gains that could be made in every aspect of the team's performance. As a result these small gains compounded and gave the team a dominant competitive advantage.

I myself am using the method of Kaizen to improve some areas of my life slowly but surely.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu there is an endless ocean of techniques involving pins, escapes, guards, sweeps, and attacks, with countless variations depending on the circumstances of the battle. If I try to learn them all at the same time I would simply make no progress and feel overwhelmed (sound familiar?). So instead I have picked out 3 key positions that I commonly find myself in and am focusing on getting really good at fighting from those positions, before eventually moving on to identify another 3 positions to work on.

In work I also use Kaizen to try and improve my own performance. As a product manager I need to be involved in a whole range of things from speaking with customers, researching ideas, design, development, documenting, training, and marketing. It takes years of experience to get really good in any one of these areas, let alone all of them; and so I employ a Kaizen methodology to regularly review just one small piece of what I do and decide if I can make it better for the next cycle.

And I still make small incremental improvements to my finances, every month, in order to see a big change after a year or even more. I focus on one small thing each time. Either I find an adjustment in my spending habits that won't affect my quality of life, or I take a look at how I'm investing my money, or look at which of my income streams needs a bit of improvement.

All I need is a 1% improvement in whatever I'm trying to make better, be it a particular Jiu Jitsu attack or finding a better balance in how I'm using my money. It will eventually add up.

I'm sure you've all heard that 1% improvement every day leads to a 37x improvement after a year. Every day may be a bit unrealistic, and was used to simply drive a point home. But how about a 1% improvement every week.

With 1% improvement every week you will see a 13x improvement after 5 years.

So if reaching financial independence seems impossible to you right now, know that if you adopt the practice of making a 1% improvement on some part of your financial situation each week, you will be 13 times better off after 5 years.

And at that point the thought of becoming financial independent may not seem as unreachable as it once did before.

Your situation is not hopeless, and there is something that you can do to improve it.

Small actions done with purpose, consistently and over a long period of time will lead to big results.


Don't wait for some magical number before you start "living". Life is full of surprises and you'll never be able to plan it perfectly. If you're doing sensible things with your money you'll eventually reach your goal. So start living now. The longer you wait, the less time you'll have. Money can be made, but time cannot. You are the barrier to the life you want to live, not a 4% safe withdrawal rate.

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