Have you noticed how all super hero stories follow a very specific pattern? There’s typically a unskilled and naive hero, who overcomes a series of obstacles to eventually save the day. Most hero stories follow this pattern, called The 12 Stages Of A Hero’s Journey.
Christopher Vogler wrote about this story ‘template’ in his screenwriters book called The Writer’s Journey. While you’ve probably never heard of the Hero’s Journey before, many of the world’s best movies and most popular books follow this structure — Star Wars , Harry Potter, Back To The Future, most superhero ‘origin’ movies, and even new films like Ready Player One.
The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey look like this:
What does this have to do with Financial Independence or Investing?
Joe posited that this was one of the reasons why so many people find FIRE is so compelling — Many of our individual FIRE stories follow a form similar to the Hero’s Journey.
So Joe asked if I’d join-in and tell my hero’s journey using the 12 Stages Of The Hero’s Journey.
The thing is… I don’t feel like a hero. Unlike Hollywood movie characters, real people don’t fit nicely into convenient 12 stage stories — The real world is filled with far more problems and nuance than anything that comes out of Hollywood.
So I thought — What if I choose an anti-hero to help tell my story? A character that was simultaneously both good and bad, and filled with significant flaws. A character who finds redemption and escapes from those imperfections to finally focus on what’s important in life.
That sounded far more compelling and realistic to me. More like myself. Instead of another squeaky-clean hero’s journey, I decided to compare my FIRE journey to the ultimate anti-hero: Darth Vader
Besides, the bad guys are just way cooler anyway!
1. The Ordinary World
(Normal life before the adventure begins.)
Darth Vader: Darth grew up on the very remote desert planet of Tatooine. Besides being a crappy desert planet, he was born into slavery. That was a tough break for little Darthy.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: Similar to Darth, Mr. Tako grew up in one of the most remote regions of the world. Let’s just call it Hell. No roads out, no cell phones, some of the worst weather in the world, and nary a spaceship in sight. On the bright side slavery is currently illegal, so that means Mr. Tako couldn’t be sold to any junk traders…
However, Mr. Tako’s parents were big believers in child labor so they did their very best to make certain his tentacles were never idle.
2. The Call to Adventure
(Something happens to disrupt ordinary life.)
Darth Vader: One day Master Jedi Qigong-Jin shows up looking for parts for his space ship and realizes that little Darth Vader is actually strong with The Force. He ‘wins’ Darth in a pod-race and proceeds to convert little Darth into the Jedi cult.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: Like so many other children, Mr. Tako was placed into the formal education system and brainwashed to become “part of the system”. He was educated in “the standard” way of living, and followed this standard path for much of his life. Thankfully, after graduation from high school Mr. Tako had the opportunity to finally leave Hell.
Yes, he went to a college very far away from home (but when you live in Hell that’s actually a good thing).
3. Refusal of the Call
(The hero fears the unknown and is reluctant to change.)
Darth Vader: To join the Jedi, Darth Vader had to leave Tatooine and his mother (who was still a slave). Once he joined the Jedi order, it was likely he would never see his mother again.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: This is the part where Mr. Tako’s story diverges from the Hero’s Journey template — Mr. Tako couldn’t wait to get out of Hell! Since his parents were slave drivers anyway, he wasn’t going to miss them! There was absolutely nothing holding him back, and the only fear he had was about how he was going to pay for college.
Thankfully student loans existed. So, signing away years of his life, Mr. Tako went deeply into debt to pay for his education. But he escaped Hell, so that was good.
4. Meeting with the Mentor
(This is where the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence needed to commence the adventure.)
Darth Vader: After joining the Jedi order, Darth gained his first mentor, Master Obi-wan Kenobi. Obi-wan taught Darth the ways of the light-side of the force. Darth’s second mentor was Senator Palpatine (who later became Emperor). Palpatine taught him the dark-side of the force, and gave him high-ranking jobs in the Empire.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: During his college years, Mr. Tako met a huge variety of people — some of these people had very unique and interesting skills. One of them (Mr. Tako’s first mentor) taught him the ways of the
force stock market — How to invest in stocks, mutual funds, and bonds. These investing ideas and the book The Millionaire Next Door offered hope that there was more to life than a 9-to-5 job and 30 years of debt.
During this time period, Mr. Tako also had the opportunity to meet his first Financially Independent person. This was a local businessman who sold his business, and lived entirely off the proceeds from his investments. It looked like a very compelling life, and sold Mr. Tako on the concept — Financial Independence offered a happier life with greater freedom than the “standard plan”.
5. Crossing the First Threshold
(The hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure and journeys in the special world.)
Darth Vader: Once Darth had signed-up to be a Jedi there was no going back. He had a incredible talent for using the Force, so this made passing the Jedi tests fairly easy.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: After his first exposure to stock investing and Financial Independence, Mr. Tako wanted to learn as much as he possibly could. Most of this came from reading books. After finishing The Millionaire Next Door, he read every investing book he could get his hands on. The most important of which was The Intelligent Investor.
6. Tests, Allies and Enemies
(The hero explores the special world, faces trial, and makes friends and enemies)
Darth Vader: Throughout the Clone Wars Darth (then called Anakin Skywalker) fought the Separatists and honed his Jedi skills. During this time Darth’s loyalty for Senator Palpatine grew, fed by his growing distrust of the Jedi order.
This would later turn out to be a smart move because it kept him steadily employed after the fall of the Republic.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: Mr. Tako also faced significant test during his career. First he had to contend with the ‘.com’ crash. This meant difficult stock market conditions and unemployment for Mr. Tako. Not one to dwell on the difficulties in life, Mr. Tako took employment at sub-standard companies to keep earning money. This was no fun — The pay was low, and the benefits were non-existent (no healthcare, no 401k, etc).
Despite the difficulties, he kept saving and investing all throughout this period — honing his investing skills, paying down debt, looking for new jobs, and building more capital for a brighter day.
7. Approach to the Innermost Cave
(The hero nears the center of the story and the special world.)
Darth Vader: After years of training, in one pivotal moment Darth has to choose between the light-side OR the dark-side; the Jedi order OR his soon-to-be-born family. Given the recent loss of his mother (she dies at the hands of Tusken raiders), Darth chooses his family over the Jedi.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: Just like Darth Vader, Mr. Tako has two kids. Also like Darth, the pull of family was the source of powerful changes in his life. Mr. Tako’s kids made his desire for financial independence that much stronger and solidified his resolve to reach financial independence. Children really are the best reason for financial independence.
8. The Ordeal
(The hero faces the greatest challenge yet and experiences death and rebirth.)
Darth Vader: Ultimately Darth failed his ordeal in the battle against Obi-wan Kenobi, and he nearly died on planet Mustafar. Thankfully, Emperor Palpatine shows up to rescue Darth before he dies, but his children (Luke and Leia) are lost to him.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: The greatest financial ordeal Mr. Tako faced was easily the Great Recession. On top of his investments being crushed by the stock market crash, he was also forced to look for work again. Like before, he was forced to work for substandard companies and accept a lower salary with sub-par benefits.
(The hero experiences the consequences of surviving death.)
Darth Vader: After his body is repaired, Darth is given second chance to find his family. For better or worse he must serve Emperor Palpatine in order to do so.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: Mr. Tako finally reached Financial Independence through consistent saving, good investing during the Great Recession, and probably a little luck. This achievement is overshadowed by job loss again, as he is forced to close the office where he works and layoff all his employees.
10. The Road Back
(The hero returns to the ordinary world or continues to an ultimate destination.)
Darth Vader: After reuniting with his son in Cloud City, Luke refuses to believe his father is Darth Vader. Darth urgest his son to join the dark-side with him, but Like is clearly on the side of the Jedi.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: Even though Mr. Tako had already reached Financial Independence, he wasn’t certain he wanted to be a Stay-at-home Dad (SAHD) full time. For awhile he searched for work again, but after stumbling onto blogs like Root Of Good, and Retire By 40, he realized being a SAHD was an honorable path to take. Not following “traditional” fathering roles doesn’t mean you’ll be a bad father!
11. The Resurrection
(The hero experiences a final moment of death and rebirth so they are pure when they reenter the ordinary world)
Darth Vader: In the end, Darth chose to rejoin the light-side of The Force and his son. Together they stand against Emperor Palpatine and are successful in defeating him… but Darth is mortally wounded.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: After thinking it through for a few months, Mr. Tako finally decided to give up traditional employment and “retire” and be a SAHD. This was a huge lifestyle change.
12. Return with the Elixir
(The hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world)
Darth Vader: Rather than just remaining an evil character, Darth shows the world that change is possible at any point in your life. Just because you’re stuck working for the Evil Emperor doesn’t mean you can’t make positive changes in life. Darth Vader showed the world you can still be good despite making big mistakes.
Mr. Tako’s Journey: Despite the challenges of bad employers, long-term unemployment, recessions, and the high cost of multiple children, Mr. Tako decided he wanted to start a blog to “give back” and spread the message to individuals in similar situations. You don’t have to be a high earning employee with incredible benefits to reach financial independence. Normal people can do it too!
More Than Just Storytelling
Well, I hope that was a fun diversion. Despite this being very entertaining, I’m not convinced it’s how the story is told that makes FIRE so compelling.
In my opinion, there’s a lot more going on with the FI “movement” than fancy storytelling templates.
People are feeling more insecure financially now than ever. Escaping from a stressful modern life, to a life of financial security and the freedom to do whatever we desire is what makes FIRE so compelling.
These are universal themes that have stuck with our “human story” since the beginning of time — People strive for freedom, independence, and a chance to cast off poverty. Whether it was crossing oceans to build a new life, escaping political or religious persecution, or just rushing to find gold out West.
Similar stories have been told many times throughout history!
More FIRE Journeys
Want to read more FIRE Hero Journeys? This post is actually part of a chain of posts by other bloggers:
- Joe’s Why FIRE Is Such a Compelling Story.
- Tom’s FIRE hero’s journey from being a young finance professional to his encore career, teaching at a university.
- Jim’s Why Spiderman’s Path is Like the Journey to FIRE.
If you’d like to read more about my journey, please check out the many posts I’ve written in the blog archives.
See you next time!