Jordan Peterson has helped me understand how FIRE – Financially Independent / Retire Early fits into the world. I have gone from debt collectors hassling me to being just a few years away from financial independence. During that journey, my world-view changed dramatically and became more balanced.
If you’re not familiar with Jordan Peterson, he made a name for himself by standing up to political correctness in Canada. He wrote a best-selling book and regularly gives talks about the dangers of radical left-wing thinking. I like him because he bases his opinion on facts rather than emotions, and he thinks logically. Both of which I can connect with. You have to listen to him talk unedited in long-form conversations on YouTube because the mainstream media almost always twists what he says to suit their agenda. His interviews with Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin are worth watching.
Financial Ruin to Financial Independence
I graduated from university with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Luckily, I found a job right away and put as much as I could towards my student loan every month. Although I was living paycheck to paycheck, life was good. Then suddenly in 2006, my company went bankrupt.
The bankruptcy made me angry and upset at the same time. Myself and hundreds of coworkers were left with thousands of dollars of unpaid wages while the owners walked away unscathed because all the assets were controlled by shell companies they also owned. This effectively put them beyond the reach of creditors. Many of us held on during the last dying months hoping things would turn around, only to not get paid in the end. As a result, my loan quickly went into default. Debt collectors chased me for payments while the banks gladly gave the owners enough money to start a new business.
The system had taken away everything I had worked hard for. Broke, unemployed, and completely disillusioned, I sold my car and used the money to escape to Thailand.
It was easy to forget the problems I had back home, except my debt. My family co-signed for my student loan so I had a lot of pressure to make the monthly payments. I worked as much overtime as I could and regularly sent money back home.
To make a long story short, it took years, but eventually, I paid everything off. My credit rating back home is solid again.
Soon after I became debt-free, I found out about Robert Kiyosaki’s popular book Rich Dad Poor Dad and vowed to never be close to financial disaster again. Kiyosaki’s teachings started me on the path to FIRE and that goal is now in sight.
From Blaming Others
At first, I was so bitter that I didn’t go home for years after moving to Thailand. I hated money and the 1%. Revolutions, equality, and even socialism were part of my everyday thinking. Stuck at the bottom despite working incredibly hard was not fair. The financial crisis in 2008 confirmed my dislike for capitalism.
My views gradually changed as I became financially literate and started managing my money better. I invested regularly for the first time in my life. I stopped playing the victim and blaming others.
By making the effort to educate myself about money, I became responsible for my own financial situation. Acquiring the knowledge to reach financial independence and living below my means was a personal choice.
I chose FIRE over consumerism.
To Understanding Hierarchies
Jordan Peterson teaches that hierarchies are a natural consequence of placing value on tangible and intangible items. People will always value certain items or achievements more than others. Undeniably, some people are better at obtaining what is valued. Therefore, hierarchies are not a social construct and will not disappear because of government policy. They are hard-wired into our serotonin system.
For that reason, it is natural for some people to be better at accumulating wealth than others. Rejecting consumerism is a form of sacrificing for the future and takes discipline. Opening an investment account, planning your investments, figuring out taxes, and sticking with your plan long-term all take effort.
If someone is going to put in that effort for decades, shouldn’t they be allowed to accumulate more wealth than someone who mindlessly lives paycheck to paycheck? Of course, the answer is yes. But unfortunately, an inherent problem with hierarchies is there are always some people at the bottom who are left behind.
FIRE and Balance
Hierarchies can become skewed too far left or right. Too far left and millions of people can die. The Russian and Maoist revolutions are good examples of what can happen when governments try to force equality on everyone. Too far right and the hierarchy becomes corrupt, tyrannical, and leaves too many people at the bottom. Every hierarchy will naturally have some people at the bottom though. So, it is up to society and politicians to have an open dialogue to ensure society remains balanced.
The problem nowadays is we don’t know how to define too far left. Too right-wing is easy – fascism and Nazi concentration camps. Too left-wing is more difficult, although Dr. Peterson says humanities, social sciences, and some political parties have become extremely left-leaning in recent years. Legislation by the Canadian government that compels speech for the first time in Commonwealth history by mandating the use of transgender pronouns is a good example.
I used to think we needed a revolution to overhaul capitalism since everyone should be equal at all times and in every way. But as Dr. Peterson asks, was I compassionate for people who had less than me, or was I envious of people who had more? That’s a good question. I was definitely angry. But most of my thinking revolved around what people above me had that I didn’t, not what people below me didn’t have.
People who sacrifice and work hard should be allowed to keep their wealth, but at the same time, society needs to help those left behind. The middle ground is easier for me to accept now that I understand hierarchies.
Mainstream media is slowly dying. I could never watch David Letterman or Jay Leno interview a celebrity for more than a few minutes before changing the channel, but I can easily watch 3 hours straight of Joe Rogan interviewing Jordan Peterson or Elon Musk. The difference, of course, is the intellectual level of the conversations. Surprisingly, everyday people have a huge appetite for intelligent, unedited conversations about controversial topics. People want to form educated opinions for themselves once they have all the information, rather than be told what to believe by short clips on TV.
The internet is going to revolutionize how we get information, much more so than it already has. In the future, people will have the hard facts about topics and not be easily swayed by propaganda.
Even though FIRE is a long way from going mainstream, the internet allows people to find out how to properly manage and invest their money – information that isn’t normally taught in schools. Websites like FIRE in Thailand are just the start.
Pursuing FIRE takes effort. It is easy to blame the system when bad things happen, but blaming others doesn’t help. You are the only one who can make the hard decisions to become financially successful. Instead of becoming bitter and wanting the government to redistribute the wealth of other people like I did when I lost my job, it is much more effective to educate yourself about money and take responsibility for your own financial situation. Capitalism isn’t going away so you still need to participate in the game, but you can play with a much better understanding of the rules. Part of that understanding is accepting that hierarchies are a necessary part of society, but they need to be monitored to ensure not too many people are stuck at the bottom.
After losing my job, being tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and traveling half-way around the world looking for a change, my situation didn’t improve until I learned how to manage my money better. Having a financial plan is even more important while living in Thailand than back home because of the lack of pension and safety net.
Even if you don’t think you can FIRE, you can still benefit from becoming financially educated and managing your money better.