Thrashing the Early Retirement Threshold

I've starting listening to a lot more podcasts and audio books now that I'm driving 5+ hours to see my boyfriend. It's more productive and just about as entertaining as doing car-eoke. (But way easier on my voice!)

These podcasts and audio books aren't just for entertainment, though. I wanted to put the time to good use. So far, I've listened to a book on starting side hustles while employed full-time, and The Revisionist History podcast by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a fantastic podcast but Episode 3 “The Big Man Can't Shoot” really stood out to me.

If you go listen to it, it's about one of the best players in the NBA….. who was TERRIBLE at shooting free throws.

You ask yourself: “Gwen, why do I care about an NBA basketball player and why are we talking about him on a blog dedicated to Financial Independence?”

I'm glad you asked!

Gladwell talks about Chamberlain's best game ever, the one in 1962 where he scored 100 points in a single, multi-record breaking game. This game is notable for many reasons, but the one I'm interested in (and fits in with this article) is he set the record for number of free throws made, which is incredible because he was widely regarded as a bad free throw shooter. So how did a guy who sucks at making free throws set the record?

He changed the way he threw. He went from the typical free throw position to the underhanded granny shot. So if you know incredibly little about the NBA like me, you might assume he went on to set the number of free throws made- a record that still stands today.

Well, you'd be wrong. After that game, he went back to the other method and continued to suck at free throws.

Why'd he change and throw away the chance to break tons of records? Because people made fun of him for throwing granny style and he thought he looked ridiculous.

In fact, it's so ridiculous that only one other NBA player has ever thrown that way. Since 1962!! His name? John Cena. Ha! Gotcha. It's actually a guy named Rick Barry. He ended his career with a .900 free throw shots made average! That's insane!

So obviously, it's a great method that no one uses despite it producing fantastic results.

Does that sound familiar?

Financial independence and retiring early are also things that produce fantastic results but very few people work towards them.

Why is that?

Because it goes against the collective behavior of society.

“It goes against the what?”

There's this guy, a sociologist named Mark Granovetter, who wrote a whole paper, “Threshold Model of Collective Behaviour”, on why people do or don't do things. Going back to the Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, he says:

“Now, what does Granovetter mean by that word, “threshold”? A belief is an internal thing. It’s a position we’ve taken in our head or in our heart. But unlike beliefs, thresholds are external. They’re about peer pressure. Your threshold is the number of people who have to do something before you join in. Granovetter makes two crucial arguments. The first is that thresholds and beliefs sometimes overlap. But a lot of the time, they don’t. When your teenage son is driving 100 miles an hour at midnight with three of his friends in your Toyota Camry, it’s not because he believes that driving 100 miles per hour is a good idea. In that moment, his beliefs are irrelevant. His behaviour is guided by his threshold.”

You can have a high threshold, or a low threshold. Someone with a low threshold is likely to keep the status quo of society. They're probably not going to change.

Someone with a high threshold is going to do their own thing, hang what society thinks. They will be the ones to incite change. They are the first domino.

The first domino doesn't have any pressure against it to fall over. No other domino makes it fall over. It does need something to push it over, but our intrepid domino does that of it's own accord.

The FIRE world is rife with examples of people leading the way to early retirement. Vicki Robins, Jacob Lund Fisker, JD Roth, Mr. Money Mustache, JL Collins, the Mad Fientist and more are some of the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Each one of these first dominoes forged a path for others to follow. They had high thresholds, and by sharing their methods got the rest of us to raise our thresholds and join them.

I originally got into the FIRE community by reading Mr. Money Mustache's blog. I would've dismissed early retirement as impossible or only for the uber wealthy, but here he was doing it! My threshold was raised after I saw him doing it.

Another example would be Paula at Afford Anything. She has a high threshold for real estate. By writing about it and talking to me during the first Chautauqua I attended, she convinced me to invest in real estate. She raised my threshold. I probably wouldn't have gotten into rental real estate investing without her encouragement and support.

I was able raise someone's threshold on attending a meetup. She saw me doing it and decided to go, where without me she probably would've taken a lot longer to go.

All the rest of us in the FIRE world are encouraging others to raise their threshold and consider early retirement. The more of us that write and talk about it, the more it becomes mainstream and makes it seem less ‘crazy'. It's easy to dismiss early retirement as a fantasy until you actually see people doing it.

Of course, whether people are convinced of your method depends on a number of social factors. I am very influential to people younger than me because I have time and experience on them. When I talk about early retirement to people older than me the reception is decidedly less positive. I ran out of fingers a long time ago to count the number of people who pat me on the head and go, “that's a nice dream dear, but wait until you experience some life and then it won't be so possible.” People are also much more likely to be receptive to my message if they like me as a person. That's why Rick Barry didn't convince anyone to throw granny style. People didn't like him, so of course they're not going to listen to what he had to say. That's also why I was unable to sway my grumpy coworker as she straight up didn't like me.

This doesn't apply to just early retirement and free throw shooting. Nope. It's all over the place once you start to look for it.

Going for the 4th down in NFL games.
Women voting.
Legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

The FIRE community needs as many people talking about it as possible. You may never know someone is thinking about doing it if you don't speak up and talk to others about it. I have a feeling we only need a few more dominoes to make this lifestyle spread to the masses!

How has your FIRE evangelism gone? Any particularly great horror or success stories? Sound off in the comments below! 


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47 thoughts on “Thrashing the Early Retirement Threshold

  1. I’ve actually had some good success in evangelizing FIRE.

    Most of my co-workers know about my plans and I’ve earned the reputation as the go-to person for anything money related (taxes, retirement accounts, investing, credit cards / travel hacking, general frugality, etc.).

    The ones I talk to most are coming around to pursuing FIRE itself. They are starting to max out their 401ks and IRAs and are starting to realize the benefits of an increased savings rate and investment seed money. I can only hope that they don’t get too discouraged when the inevitable market decline finally comes (not saying one is imminent, but historically speaking we are overdue!).

  2. Gwen, great analogy, and true. Fortunately, those of us in the FIRE Community don’t care quite as much about what other people think, and are comfortable shooting underhand as long as we score those points. FIRE does seem to be a growing trend, and it’s rewarding to be on the leading edge.

    • I think this is the first time I’ve been on the leading edge of anything! I am loving it! Thanks for commenting, Fritz!

  3. “I ran out of fingers a long time ago to count the number of people who pat me on the head ”
    This just means you need to start counting in binary. You can count up to 1023 with your two hands =)

    I used to talk about this stuff a lot more, but it just made my life a lot simpler when I stopped for a while. Like you said too many people just brush this off as impossible.

    I do talk about it sometimes these days, but I am far more selective in who I talk to.

    • I once evangelized an entire flight to the guy seated next to me. (It was only a 3 hour flight.) He seemed interested and I just so happened to have an extra copy of JL Collins’ book with me to give to him! Hopefully I made a difference there.

    • I think you can only get to 511 (you need a 2^0 finger so the tenth finger only gets you up to 2^9).

      Regardless, if anyone wants to pat me on the head I’ll show ’em 132 and walk away.

    • Oh yeah, we’re totally weirdos. Easy to forget that fact when a vast majority of my socializing is done with those in the FIRE community!

      Car-eoke is the best. Great entertainment on car rides!

  4. Granny free throws are awesome. My dad showed me that.

    As far as evangelism… I’ve spread the word and got a few folks on the train. And actually my new boss brought it up when discussing with him.

    Interesting and fun

    • I used to do granny shots in fifth grade at recess lol. It’s been a long time since those days!

      I talked about it with my manager’s manager in a skip level meeting. Super nice guy, and as it turns out, he’s doing it too! He turned into a fabulous mentor. I never would’ve bonded with him like that had I not spoken up!

    • Tbh, that was the first I’d ever heard of him. I do not follow basketball in the slightest! Thanks for reading!

  5. I would have no problem shooting free throws underhanded if I got paid as much an NBA player’s salary. He definitely should have stuck with it. He could have made it his “thing” instead of focusing on trying to look like a badass.

    I didn’t even consider early retirement until I heard that other people had already done it. It really does help to spread the word and try to convince people that it’s possible.

    p.s. The John Cena mention reminded me of this classic prank call:

    • Like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole! I’ve slowly converted friends by just talking about it all the time. One is paying off student loans, one is stockpiling retirement funds and the other is working on following a budget YNAB style. I’m so proud of them!

  6. I’ve met with mixed success in discussing FIRE principles with folks. Most just don’t believe that it is possible because it is so outside the normal understanding of what life should be. Some fear not having anything to do if they didn’t come to work, and a few think it is the coolest thing they’ve ever heard of and jump right on the train. It is a fascinating peek into human nature.

    • RIght!? Sometimes I guess how people are going to react. Sometimes I guess right…. and other times I’m flat out wrong. It’s a fun game to play!

  7. No FIRE evangelism yet. I tried, and everyone nodded and went back to doing it their way. 🙂 I might give it another shot once I am closer to FI/RE / already FIREd.

    Great connection between the granny throws and rest of real life – so true! The worst part is that we probably do some of it subconsciously.

  8. When I’m driving to & from work, I listen to the Mad Fientist’s podcasts. I like his style because he let’s his guest do most of the talking. I’ve listened to other FIRE type of podcasts and the host talks for the first 10 minutes while the guest is quiet (frustrating!). You asked about evangelism of FIRE? Well nobody in my world wants to live in reality. They all live paycheck to paycheck…spending on large houses, SUV, restaurants etc.

    All the best,

  9. Love the threshold idea. I guess I’ve had a high threshold, since, like many others, I’m the only one that I’m aware of forging this path to FI. It makes me wonder that when we reach this point, will people stop patting us on the head and start taking us seriously?

  10. I have been reading about FIRE for almost a year and a half now and just recently found your blog. I have to say thank you, because you are, without a doubt, lowering the threshold for other millennials (like me)!

    It’s only in the last month or so that I made the intentional decision to work towards FIRE, and I have not really shared the concepts with anyone besides my closest family and friends. Even among them I get some sideways, “She’s definitely gone off the deep end,” glances. I hope that the further along I am on this journey the more comfortable I will be with FIRE evangelism. Right now I just wish I would stumble upon some other FIRE enthusiast in “real” life so that I could geek out about FI without feeling judged.
    Kait recently posted…The Average Millennial and College CostsMy Profile

  11. It took some time, but I’ve not gotten a lot better about evangelizing about FIRE IRL. At first I overshared, was so enthusiastic, and told the same message to every friend/stranger. Now, people know me as being frugal by choice, so they’ll come to me for savings advice. I think about their situation (student loans, super spendy, age, and rough income) and direct them to an article that would apply to them specifically. I always recommend low cost index funds regardless of the person.

    My MIL actually switched how she was directing her 403b contributions! She had them sitting 100% in CDs with a specified 1% return. She knew I loved researching saving and she now is in a Vanguard Target Retirement Account.

  12. I think this is one of your best posts, Gwen. I love the tie-in from FI to the behavior threshold & the Wilt Chamberlin/Rick Barry story! I heard that one on This American Life. I also liked the domino theory & video.

    I’ve had little impact on spreading the FI word IRL. I gave a personal finance presentation to a captive audience (my students) where I laid out the basics. I think it may have resonated with some, but I still see a fair amount of status-quo behavior. I walk the walk for them – they see me making my own lunch, biking/walking to work, etc. Maybe the fire will light up.

    A bigger issue is slowly converting the spouse. Its clear she’s not interested in her own FIRE yet, but at least we’ve got to a point were I can usually talk about my goals. Slow process, but worth it.

  13. Well that explains a lot! I’ve always wondered why people can come across a really awesome idea that speaks right to their ideal life dreams and then they appear to go on with normal life as though they never even knew about it. I haven’t really spoken about FIRE to anyone, but I did suggest a business idea to a friend that I thought we could explore together. It was a perfect fit for our situation and it’s as though we never even had the conversation. Very interesting. Thank you!

  14. Excellent post, Gwen. Anymore I find it a hard sell to convince others about FIRE. But I have seen a few behavior changes with a few friends.

    I suck at both free throw methods. Something to work on in my renaissance man phase in 2.5 years…

  15. This is an amazing post.

    I’ve gotten nothing but positive reviews from friends/relatives. Mostly because I only talk about FIRE after financials has already been broached as a subject so I already know they are interested in it as a subject. My friends are pretty open minded. I would say they are intelligent and pick up ideas quickly so that probably helps. That combination plus explaining it as an option and just showing it is better for your life’s overall expected value… most people realize life is easier with more money and if you frame it in a way that shows you have options, instead of using the word ‘retirement’ which most people associate with being old, helps a ton.

    • Yeah people are getting more impressed the further along I am in my journey. It’s one thing to say I’m going to do it, and another thing entirely to say, look at what I’m doing!

  16. In my culture, talking about money is taboo. It’s a stupid taboo, but it is a taboo nonetheless. I personally have no qualms but I can see people squirm when I talk money!

  17. Good piece, and I like the tie in with the Revisionist History podcast.

    If you’ve got a lot of time behind the wheel and are looking for some others, here are some I’ve enjoyed that you may like:

    *99% Invisible
    *Planet Money

  18. I love that story about Chamberlain, it just seems so silly that he switched back. There’s quite a few players that could benefit from this even today. Who’s going to make fun of you when you were shooting 50% and go up to 75-80%? I would think your teammates would be happy. Rick Barry’s son (Canyon) actually broke the record for most consecutive free throws in a row at Florida a year ago as well shooting underhand!

    I also highly recommend Planet Money if you’re looking for additional podcasts (with a 5 hour drive I am sure you are).
    Debt Hater recently posted…Net Worth Update – August 2017My Profile

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