This Is Fine

I was searching through the storage area in my laboratory (for some masks, sigh) when I came across this box. The inscription was written by a coworker a few years ago, and references the popular cartoon/meme by KC Green.

In the comic, a dog calmly sits at a table, drinks coffee, and tells himself that things are fine as the world burns around him.

My former colleague who wrote that prescient warning left our company a couple years back. In 2017, I sparked his interest in homebrewing, and he departed the chemical industry to pursue a career in professional brewing.

When I reached out to him last night, he told me he’d just been let go by his brewery because they’ve halted operations. My brewpub has also shuttered indefinitely due to the coronavirus. He sounded in good spirits, but I know that he’s asking ‘what’s next?’

This is Fine.

Over the past couple weeks, life as we know it has changed significantly. In the weeks to come, it stands to change even more. Chances are that many of our paths will be altered significantly by this virus and the fallout from it’s course.

15 days ago I was at an industry conference. With people from other countries. I flew in an airplane. I shook fucking hands with strangers. Can you imagine doing those things now, just a few days later!?

My company banned non-essential travel the day I returned. Figures. I was already pissed off that I was asked to be away from my newborn son just four weeks after his birth. Now I had to worry that I brought back a virus from my travels.

This is Fine.

I’ve been on a reading binge since late 2018. I never updated my final progress on my 2019 goals, but I ended up reading 30 books last year. Most of the books fall within the realm of self-development, life optimization, and the search for meaning.

There was an interesting theme that was common among many of these books. It can be summarized by this quote that is often ascribed to Viktor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.

You’ve probably heard this before. The idea was popularized by Steven Covey’s concept of circle of influence vs. circle of concern. Essentially, we should focus on the things we can control, and try not to worry so much about the things we can’t.

This is also a core tenet of the Stoic philosophy, of which I’ve always been a fan. I even named our son after a famous ancient Stoic. Another essential teaching of Stoicism is the idea of negative visualization. By imagining how bad things could get, we can be more appreciative of the many fortunes we enjoy.

An excellent, short read that deals well with this topic is Awareness, by Anthony de Mello (not an affiliate link). In Awareness, de Mello argues that our default state is happiness, and as soon as we drop the unnecessary wants, desires and fear, we can be happy. Stop grasping for what you don’t have, and start being thankful for what you do have.

As of this writing, our net worth has dropped approximately $180,000 from its February peak. This, in itself, does not bother me. Through years of investing and making stupid mistakes, I’ve learned not to panic and sell in these times. The FIRE community as a whole is a tremendous source of solidarity and support when the proverbial shit hits the fan. JL Collins has trained us well.

But this doesn’t mean that our plans can’t, and won’t, change. I was strongly leaning toward taking the Coast FIRE plunge in the next 12 months. Barring a V-shaped recovery, this may not make sense any more, or at least we may have to alter the plan.

This is Fine.

I worry about the economic and societal state of our country that has been laid bare by this black swan event. We are, most likely, about to see mass layoffs and hardship on a grand scale. I already know numerous people that have lost their jobs or had their hours cut significantly. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. In a country where access to healthcare is not a right, and the social safety net is full of gaping holes, this will destroy lives.

I don’t doubt that we’ll collectively navigate our way through this pandemic. It’s not the first time a virus tried to take down our species, and it won’t be the last time. I am optimistic that we will come out the other side with a plan to build a better, more resilient society. But it’s still difficult to live through it.

The comic referenced above is supposed to convey the feeling of ‘holding it all together’ as the world crumbles around us. I don’t know what emotions we’re to assume the dog is feeling, but I would think helplessness and despair are reasonable guesses.

But I have a different take. Maybe this dog is a Stoic. Maybe he’s separated the external stimulus from his response. Maybe he’s practicing negative visualization, and none of this is even happening.

Maybe he feels peace and contentment. Even as his face melts off.

This is Fine.

11 thoughts on “This Is Fine”

  1. ah, laboratory humor. we used to write “do not eat” on the labels of all the nasty chemicals. my other favorite was a large brown bottle labelled “n-thusiasm.” ha ha ha. things are gonna change for sure. it’s a good time to have a j.o.b. that is pretty stable but you gotta feel for those who made the plunge to do something more interesting. i remember leaving a job like your buddy did when i was 31 to go off and be a bartender for awhile. ti sure feels like a strange time. my employer still has us here to make mounds of product that will really just sit there until the economy strengthens again. i don’t think they get the time factor in lessening the peak of the curve. “let’s have 500 people continue to come to the factory every day until the government mandate tells them they can’t.” that’s some leadership.

    • Back when we used to have cyanide products in the building, I would write, “eat in case of emergency” on them. It looks like your governor is ordering you to go home, so maybe you’ll get your mandatory spring break? My employer still hasn’t shut things down. Thankfully, I’m in the research building, which is massive and only has about 10 inhabitants right now. The production building down the street houses hundreds of people that are packed like sardines in a tin can. F that S.

  2. I was travelling before the travel lock down as well. Hard to imagine what it’d be like to continue travelling during this chaotic time. Most PF bloggers know to keep investing and not worry about the net worth/investment drops. Unfortunately, this may not be true for the public. We need to continue spreading the message and educate people.

    • Totally agree. All of my “non-FI minded” friends are saying ridiculous things, like “I should have known to go to cash in January.” Worse yet, they’re thinking of selling stuff now. All you can do is keep telling people to ride it out. Thanks for the comment, Bob.

  3. As another great philosopher said in the immortal song “Stuck in a moment and can’t get out”: this time shall pass 🙂

    Timely post. I can’t retrace my steps to not resign from my full time job in January, but it’s ok. We’ve prepared as much as we could have and we’ll ride this out. Haven’t looked at our investment as a whole right now, will do that at the end of the month, but my guess is we’ll be over $200k down for the month.

    • Hey, the timing is never right, but I think you’ll be fine. If I’m not mistaken, you’re in a “coast” stage now and not a drawdown stage, right? As long as you’re not selling investments to fund your life, it’s no big deal IMO.

        • Totally agree. Between 2 weeks of paternity leave and the current situation, I’ve been home a lot more than normal, and so have the kids obviously. I’ve noticed that on ‘work’ days the kids tend to add to my stress levels, but on my ‘off’ days I enjoy every moment of being home. I really need to ditch the job.

  4. Sometimes I feel like I am at a government convention with all the acronyms: Coast FIRE, PF, PI, etc. Especially being new to the personal finance world. I appreciate your unique perspective and the new term. Cheers!


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