Fighting Fear with FIRE

Fighting Fear with FIRE

The past few weeks have been a difficult time for my family. We received news that was changing our plans and forcing us to look at other options. This, compounded by our pending baby, had me lying awake at night, wondering what the consequences would be of asking work to allow me some additional flexibility. After an unprecedented year of insanity, my small request should have been the least of my worries given everything that has happened.

I wanted to see if my employer would allow me to relocate to another state to be closer to family, prior to my pending maternity leave. My husband Chad works remotely so other than physically moving, permission from his work was a formality. In my situation, the potential outcomes could be 1) my company tells me I need to use vacation time to take me to maternity leave, 2) agree to my proposal or, 3) ask me to take a leave of absence and come back when my family situation is resolved. 

Chad and I weighed all these situations and the most important thing to us was being with our family. We did a little math and budgeting to figure out what the financial impact would be and decided we could live with any of the three situations.

One of the benefits of being on a journey to FIRE and being five houses deep in real estate investing is that these endeavors have provided us with the financial flexibility, if our terms couldn’t be met. 

Our investing income does not quite cover my salary (yet), but with some adjustments, we could make it work in the event that my employer decided to make me take an unpaid leave of absence or terminate me, as a result of my request. Our finances are healthy and we have that bucket to cover six months of expenses, in the event either of us had a job loss or required a medical leave. In this case, our work to achieve FIRE allows us to choose what’s best for our family over needing to compromise with a company.

As I get older, I realize that your employer relationship is kind of like a person you date. The relationship has to be mutually beneficial, otherwise things are sure to sour. It’s understanding each other’s needs and being willing to compromise where it’s most important. If one side is overpowering the other, then it’s likely not going to last. Neither side can figure out how to continue to meet the other’s needs unless the needs are communicated. If my employer made me choose between my job and family, I was prepared to choose my family. However, it did not relieve me of my concerns and fears. I didn’t want to be disappointed by my employer. If the answer to my request was no or met with resistance, I would feel like the sacrifices and hard work I put in at my job were not valued.

I lay awake practicing the conversation with the various people in my organization. Should I talk to Human Resources first? Insert script for HR. Should I talk to my immediate supervisor? Insert different script. Should I talk to my Operations Manager/mentor? New script. I even anticipated my own reactions that vary wildly these days due to the rollercoaster of emotions that come with growing a tiny human. I breathed in and out to practice erasing tears. I was grateful for having to wear a mask to hide an inappropriate smile that I believed could come out of relief of actually unloading my request — finally — to someone in my organization. 

My mind’s churning could have driven anyone insane. Fortunately, my husband was sympathetic and let me practice a few dozen versions of my “speech” with grace and love.

After all that anxiety and planning, it turns out my company is willing to let me spend the last weeks before my maternity leave in a different state. I earned this right so it shouldn’t have surprised me that they were ok with it. I’m a good worker. I’m responsible and a high performer. I am grateful that my efforts are recognized and I’m grateful that I had options, if the outcome had been different.

I feel silly about all the worry–now. But it’s also taught me about the courage FIRE has provided for me. I am not beholden to my job. I have the flexibility to choose what matters most and get closer to building the life of my design–not someone else’s or some company’s.

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