This may be an unfamiliar take on the topic but I think the idea of "early retirement" is a goal that may actually be best left unachieved. It feels blasphemous to write such words considering this blog is directed towards the financial independence early retirement community, but hear me out.
First, let's start on a page that most of us can probably agree on; being stuck in a job that you're not passionate about and being surrounded by colleagues or management that you don't have a lot of love for, sucks.
For many people the above scenario is all too familiar, so once they come across the financial independent retire early movement they're more than ready to hop on board.
The idea of attaining financial independence so that they can simply up and leave the working world without any concerns is insanely attractive, and they start to imagine a life of "freedom".
You wake up late on a Wednesday afternoon and there's a pleasant breeze in the air while the skies are beautifully clear. Today's schedule consists of lounging by the pool and sunbathing while sipping on cocktails. When evening rolls around you'll have a nice dinner before settling down for the night, relaxing until you drift off to sleep.
It's the "holiday life" but lived in perpetuity. It's the life that many people may describe when asked what they will do in retirement, and with such a beautiful vision it's no wonder we want to get there as early as possible.
However when I juxtapose this image with my "life" within a video game, specifically a MMORPG, I feel that the idea is perhaps more attractive than the reality.
What is a MMORPG
I'm going to guess that many readers out there may not be familiar with what a MMORPG is so here's a very quick description:
It's a type of online game where you have an avatar that you build up over time. You can do things by yourself but more often than not you'll team up with friends and do things together. You'll go on quests, fight monsters or enemies, and acquire more powerful items, among many other things.
It's normal to spend hundreds, even thousands, of hours spanning across a number of years building up these avatars, and most people build up more than one.
Despite all of the effort, time, and love that you pour into each avatar there will come a day where you log out for the last time.
You won't really plan it, you'll just simply not log in again the following day.
The game never changed and most of your friends are still playing, but from your perspective things simply got a little... boring.
Your love for gaming hasn't dissipated however.
More often than not some other game has appeared in your life that seems a little more interesting, a little more fresh, a little more challenging.
That new game isn't, in fact, any better.
It's just that there are actually things to achieve and a feeling of progress that you no longer get from the MMORPG you were playing before, because you had already mastered it.
When the game is fun
When you start a new MMORPG it's almost overwhelming.
There are often different factions that you can choose from, each with their own background story. Different classes (for example a brute force warrior or a stealthy assassin) that will have an affect on how you play the game, and different skills and perks that have subtle impacts on your avatar's efficacy under various scenarios.
Then there's the entire world within that MMORPG that can be explored. The cities and settlements of your faction, the dungeons and caves, the battlefields, and everything in between.
Items, weapons, armours, potions, trinkets, mounts and vehicles, companions, the list just goes on.
In the first couple of months of the game you're constantly bombarded with more and more things to assimilate into the gameplay, all the while getting challenged and beaten up by the various monsters (or players from an enemy faction) when you stray a bit too far from your safe zones.
But since everything is fresh or you have a goal that you're working towards, i.e. you're trying to grow your avatar to a particular level to participate in certain battles, the game is immensely addictive and absorbing.
You don't mind circling around the same area and killing the same type of monsters in order to get more experience for your avatar.
You don't mind spending an hour running on foot from one city to another.
You don't mind standing in the marketplace bartering and trading with other players in order to get that upgraded piece of armour.
It's all completely new and fun, and you just can't wait to make more progress.
Repeatedly struggling was a source of motivation
It's quite standard for a MMORPG to have a "level cap", which is a level where your avatar no longer gets more powerful simply by acquiring experience points. At this point you enter what is known as the "end game" where you take on the most difficult of challenges in order to acquire increasingly powerful items or equipment.
These high powered items are the only way for your avatar to continue getting stronger so that it has a chance to survive and participate in yet harder challenges.
This is no walk in the park.
The end game challenges often require you to team up with a couple of other high level players in order to complete one quest, while the hardest challenges require you to find a well-organised group consisting of dozens of high-level and well-equipped players who can work together in order to defeat an extremely powerful enemy.
Such attempts are often met with failure due to the overwhelming power of the enemy, and it isn't uncommon for a well-organised group of players to spend many weeks repeatedly facing defeat as they struggle to find new tactics that allow them to make more progress in the battle.
It is incredibly motivating.
With each new set up tried and refined, and each new analysis on the behaviour of the powerful enemy, the group feels compelled as a whole to keep trying.
Sure there will be times where the beat downs are more demoralising than on other days, but everybody within that group feels there is something they could do to make their own avatar a little more effective which could swing the tide of the battle on the next attempt.
Eventually, after many attempts, the group will achieve a successful victory and are rewarded with a few precious items, powerful weapons and what not, that will make a select few members slightly stronger.
Becoming too powerful
With a win in the bag the group as a whole resolves to keep fighting the same powerful enemy in order to get more of its powerful items. Usually such fights are restricted to once per week so it will take a number of months before enough victories have been acquired for all members of the group to attain their own personal powerful item.
But as more and more members acquire their items, the group overall becomes more and more powerful meaning that the "powerful enemy" is no longer such a challenge.
Sooner or later everyone will have acquired - at least partially - the items they wanted from the challenge, making them the most powerful they've ever been.
Too powerful, in fact.
While it's fun to run around the game with a feeling of "superiority" compared to other lower level or less well-equipped players, the novelty soon wears off. And thus the descent down towards boredom begins.
Your avatar has become the very thing you've always wanted it to be: It has the highest level with the maximum stats, and all of the rare and powerful items that you coveted "back in the day".
You've worked through every quest and challenge the game can offer, and have so much gold or treasure that you start to give it away to newbies just because there's nothing else to do with it.
And you can now casually walk through enemy territories that you used to struggle with and the attacks won't even phase you.
Finding that there are no further challenges for your avatar you slowly find less and less reasons to log in and play.
And one day you stop playing that avatar in order to take on a new challenge, such as starting a new avatar in the same game or finding a whole new game altogether.
Back to real life
I'm sure by now you'll have probably realised that I compare being an "all-powerful avatar" in a MMORPG to someone who "retires early".
They've made it. All of the past struggles are no more and they can casually walk through life with minimal effort.
But how long will that feeling of bliss last before boredom starts to creep in? A few months? A year? A few years?
We've all heard of people who come out of retirement, not because they needed the money but because they needed something to do.
There's too much "advice" out there in the FIRE community telling you to go to the extremes in order to "get out of the rat race".
But were you even in a rat race?
Or have you simply ended up feeling trapped because someone else out there told you to start comparing yourself to others, and now you feel inadequate?
You should definitely work on your financial stability and reach towards financial freedom, but you shouldn't let it get in the way of you living a happy and fulfilling life today.
There can be many reasons to why you feel your life right now isn't as great as it could be, but the vast majority of these will not be because you still need to work.
It comes down to each individual to dig deep and really understand themselves in order to know what the source of their troubles are - that's something I can't really do for you.
But what I can say is that the idea of "early retirement" can be a trap in itself, one that is probably just as toxic as being trapped in the "rat race".
Free yourself by discarding that idea. Get your life back to the point where things were fun, where you had meaningful struggles that motivated you to improve.
There will always be new video games to play, but life is a one time thing.
So don't ruin the experience for yourself and enjoy the adventure from start to finish.