What Nomadland taught me about FIRE

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    “You will be giving away the 60 best major years of your life for the 20 poorest years of your health.”

    Bob Wells, Nomadland

    I had just seen the movie “Nomadland” after hearing that it was named Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and that’s the quote that caught my eye the most. Based on the book Nomad Land: Surviving America in the 21st Century, the film tells the story of a community of nomads, many of whom lost money during the 2008 financial crisis, and who continually travel across the continental US with vans, seasonal jobs, and support each other while seemingly forgotten by the rest of society.

    The story is about a woman named Fern who leaves her hometown of Empire, Nevada, on the street after losing her job, home, and husband after her town’s plaster factory was closed.

    She becomes a nomad, not only as a financial solution, but also as a means of healing from loss and regaining her identity. At first it’s a real struggle to deal with car problems, the cold and the shit in a bucket, but then she finds a whole community of nomads out there just like her. And their leader is a man named Bob Wells, whom they refer to as the “Godfather of Van Living” (sounds familiar?). Through him she finds not only comfort but dignity in nomadism, and ultimately nomadism becomes a lifestyle she chooses rather than one she has encountered.

    I didn’t expect so many things to resonate with me in this film. Not only was it the main character being ripped off by real estate and her confidence in a job or her free spirit and love of travel, but also how eerily narrow their journey paralleled ours.

    The FIRE community is generally better off financially than the van living community, but what impressed me was how many things we have in common. The methods and strategies we use may be very different, but both communities have emerged from the realization that something in modern western capitalist society in which we are all supposed to participate does not seem fair, and both communities are trying to get it through Rebellion and action to solve the exact opposite of anything we are supposed to do.

    I think we found related spirits in the nomads of Nomadland. In particular, we both realized …

    The American dream is broken:

    “From a young age in the western world, people are taught that a“ quality life ”means getting a job, raising a family, buying bigger houses one by one, and working most of your life to live in the to retire in the last few decades. This is a quality life, we have been told. And that’s just a big lie. “

    -Bob Wells

    Source: CBC interview

    I get chills while reading. Seriously. I had no idea who Bob Wells was in 2015, but that was exactly my thought at the time. I tried to escape the rat race after watching one of my coworkers collapse and almost die of stress at his desk. The worst part is that no one really closed an eye when my colleague returned to his desk over the next week. In fact, it was almost expected of him. After all, he had a house and a mortgage to repay. How did he stop working?

    The American Dream teaches us to pursue money first so we can buy real estate. Then we pursue more money to pay the mortgage. And then we can somehow withdraw and be happy.

    I suspected this was a load of BS, but the nomads in Nomadland discovered this the hard way. Many of them had shopped their way into the American Dream and dutifully laden with real estate only to see it all blown up in 2008.

    You will never meet a group more allergic to real estate than these people. In the film, Fern is offered a room in a house to stay in and she refuses. She sees houses as a trap.

    The nomads even have a dark sense of humor and refer to their vans as their “wheelbase”.

    Obviously I was slowly clapping these people, pointing at Wanderer and saying, “You see? These guys got it. “

    Both the FIRE community and the nomads recognized the same thing. The American dream is broken. And that’s why we both wrote a new rulebook.

    Having a mission gives you a purpose in life

    One of the themes of the film is loss and making sense. The main character loses her identity after her employer goes bankrupt and took away her entire hometown.

    By finding companionship and helping other nomads, she learns that we weren’t brought to this earth to buy bigger and bigger houses and compete in tail wagging competitions until we pass over. Each of us has a purpose and finding that purpose makes life worth living.

    Many of us in the FIRE community fear that as soon as we stop working, we will give up our identities. Then depression and anxiety set in and we regret that we strived for financial independence at all.

    Nomadland proves that simply being part of something bigger than you – like a community – is enough to feel fulfilled.

    We all have different ways of finding meaning in our lives. For some it is a family to raise. For others, it helps other people. And for some, it’s creative endeavors that nourish our souls.

    They are all valid.

    Purpose gives you a reason to live.

    Those in the FIRE community who are concerned about losing their identities in retirement can find solace knowing that you are not your job. Get involved in something bigger than yourself, such as volunteering, family upbringing, or creative activities that help others.

    Everyone needs a tribe

    Although the Van’s shared apartment is full of introverts, they still find it incredibly rewarding to meet to discuss van maintenance, job prospects, and to help one another.

    This is how the annual “Rubber Tramp Rendezvous” came into being. I was instantly reminded of my Chautauqua family and how much closer we were than any coworkers, friends, or classmates I’ve had over the years.

    It’s amazing to find your tribe and hang out with people who “catch” you. Becoming an FI is not easy. But the journey is a lot easier when you have like-minded friends to share it with.

    Those who wander are not always lost

    To paraphrase JRR Tolkien, those who travel all the time don’t always try to find themselves. Some people love adventure and novelty.

    By looking at Nomadland, I learned that there are two types of people:

    1. traveler
    2. Settlers

    In the film, Fern refuses these offers and decides to continue traveling, despite being offered free places to settle down several times. She’s not trying to fix anything. She just loves to wake up in constantly changing, breathtaking landscapes and bathe in crystal clear rivers and lakes.

    Bob Wells has also been on the road since 2011. At some point he bought a house where he could live with his wife because she wanted to settle down. But he soon hated working long hours to pay for endless repairs, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, and being limited to one place. It was just too wasteful. He hit the streets again and although he makes an estimated $ 75,000 a year on his Youtube channel and can easily afford to buy a house, he chooses to live on his van.

    Fern and Bob are travelers and they love to hike. They are not lost souls trying to find a destination. For them, the journey counts. What if you think about it, this is what life is like. Life is not about a final goal. It’s about the moments, the people and the experiences along the way. Life is a journey and we should enjoy every moment.

    Another thing I love about Nomadland is that it redefines what people consider “home” to be. For Fern and Bob, it’s their transporter. You are not homeless. They are just “homeless”. You can be without a home and still be happy (I know, shocking, right? The sound you just heard makes the head of every home boner explode.)

    Watching this movie taught me that the FIRE community isn’t the only one who sees the world differently. Travel opens your eyes to many different ways of life. And not only that, you meet communities of other people that you would never have met if you were confined to one cubic room.

    From our experience of traveling and meeting different groups around the world, we have found that the WorldSchooler and Digital Nomads have similar beliefs as the FIRE community and the Nomadland community.

    Although we all have our own solutions, we have all identified the same problem: the American dream has been broken and we need to write a new set of rules.

    What do you think? Have you seen nomad land? Do you think the american dream is broken? And are you a traveler or a settler?

    For those who have not seen Nomadland yet, here is the trailer for the film:


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