I love that the FIRE blogging community makes our health a priority. It's clear that taking responsibility for your finances goes hand in hand with taking responsibility for your physical well being. I take voyeuristic pleasure in reading prominent bloggers' accounts of milestone physical achievements, and share their vulnerability when they confess their dietary indiscretions to a readership that identifies with those struggles.
I'm troubled, however, by a recent trend of bloggers confounding their admirable health maintenance activities with presumptions of future health. The argument often goes something like, "Health insurance costs will be unpredictable following early retirement, but not for me, because I ride a bike everywhere, use kettle bells, and exclusively drink milk from virginal goats fed with wild mountain clover. My terrific natural exercise regimen and diet untainted by industrial agriculture is my health plan."
That's not a health plan. That's wishful thinking. Your health is a lottery, even for vegan ultra-marathoners.
Human fallibility is one of our fundamental universal shared experiences, leading us to believe that, like the children of Lake Woebegone, we are all above average. Individually, we acknowledge the truth of statistics, yet emotionally we chuck our rational faculties to the curb in citing the grandparent who survived into his 90s as incontrovertible proof that we will live to the same age. Never mind the grandparent who passed in her 60s.
In the ED, the anecdotal wisdom runs that the nicer the patient, the more devastating the diagnosis they are likely to receive from us. The raging meth addict who vomits on my shoes bounces between the boundaries of life and death like a weeble that wobbles but won't fall down. The endearing church lady who passed out ladling soup at the homeless shelter? She gets diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
But don't take my word for it. Several brave bloggers have offered their own stories as proof of life's injustice. OB Doctor Mom shared the harrowing experience of being diagnosed with a lung mass 8 weeks after delivering her third child, and how it altered her professional trajectory. Liz at Chief Mom Officer notes how complications following her otherwise young, healthy husband's routine surgical procedure nearly cost him his life due to septic shock.
The great thing about the FIRE philosophy is that it is designed to help us use money as a tool to allocate time in accordance with our priorities. Although there is no guarantee how long that time will be, it's beside the point.
Once you establish your values as the axis around which your life should revolve, other things fall into place. Your career becomes a tool to support living your values - whether to provide for those you love the most, connect with others, or impact the human experience in a meaningful way.
Joe Dominguez, co-authored "Your Money Or Your Life," the seminal book that laid the foundations for the FIRE movement. He died at age 58 of cancer, a young age to leave the planet. Yet in his short life he made a deep impact on our thinking, left a legacy in the blogs and books that followed in his footsteps, and showed by example that a frugal but meaningful alternate path was possible.
Your health is a lottery. While you can hedge your risk through healthy living and eating, accept that most of what happens will be beyond your control. Many people are attracted to FIRE because financial literacy imparts a sense of control over one's destiny, and FIRE bloggers in particular are control freaks.
Accepting the arbitrary nature of health empowers us to individually define what constitutes a good life.
The meaning you impart to the hours you are allotted is fully within your control.
You don't get to decide if your life will be brief; you get to decide if it will it be well-lived.
Financial Literacy for The Newly Minted Physician