Grit into Coffee: Decision to BaristaFIRE Next Year


A year ago, I attended a ChooseFI meetup that Stephanie hosted in DC area for me when I was visiting. It was the first FI/RE related meetup I’d ever attended, and it was just a few months after I even learned about FI/RE.

There, I learned for the first time about the concept of “BaristaFIRE.” FIRE, as many of us know, is “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” I generally refer to FIRE as FI/RE, as I separate Financial Independence and Retiring Early as 2 different things. I’ve been fond of responding to, “Are you working towards FIRE?” with, “More FI than RE.” I’ve always assumed I’ll be working. In one form or another.

“Financial Independence” is the state of not needing to actively work to earn income to sustain yourself for the rest of your life. “Retire Early” is… Retiring early.

BaristaFI or BaristaFIRE is the concept of leaving the “typical” full-time employment to work for decreased hours to make ends meet, and possibly obtain healthcare benefits. (Starbucks famously provides full benefits for part-time workers, which might be contributing to the “Barista” part of “BaristaFIRE.”)

On Being an “Abled-Passing Disabled”

So just a year ago, I didn’t even know what BaristaFIRE was. I thought it was a cool idea, and was something I might be interested in, maybe 10, 20 years ago… Once my career was at a place I was happy with, once my life has straightened out, once I was a millionaire…

I was going for Financial Independence, and didn’t know if I would ever really Retire, much less Retire Early. For one, I was living on $60,000/yr in New York City. For another, “working” was just a fact of life for me, and something I derived the “meaning of life” and “justification of existence” from.

As many of my lovely readers know, I am disabled. I have multiple disabilities, spanning from psychological to physical to cognitive. Most of them are invisible, but sometimes, as my arthritis goes through a flare, you can see my joints swelling to double their sizes.

In the past few months, as I began to grapple with the idea of making changes and working for a new future, I began to untangle medical traumas and overcompensations that were occurring inside me for the past decade, which undoubtedly brought me to where I am now, but also served to lock me up in a cage.

Overcompensating for Societal Discrimination

Since my brain surgery and brain injury, I have had to work exceptionally hard to compensate for what society spent years telling me are fatal flaws to me as a person. Treatment one gets from having a broken leg as opposed to an injured brain is very different.

A broken leg is thought of as a temporary hinderance. Sure, you might never play soccer as a professional anymore, but a company where you would apply to be an accountant for will not look at your broken leg and tell you they won’t hire you because you won’t be able to work adequately as an accountant.

With a “broken brain,” you are open to any and all discriminations that come with society’s understanding of what having a brain injury means. All in all, I’ve heard it all. And as a result, spent the first few years of my working life overcompensating to “hide” whatever disabilities or quirks from the world.

In the past few years, with my well-fought stability in my chosen career field, I’ve been able to be more open with my disabilities and struggles. But a lot of my disclosures have only been possible because I’ve made myself into the “perfect kind of disabled person.”

Someone with whom the company can check off the “WE HIRED A DISABLED PERSON YAY” box, but don’t actually have any functional disabilities that require the company to spend money or resources accommodating for. Because I’ve accommodated for myself.

While I pride myself in my ability to open up dialogue on the fact that DISABLED PEOPLE CAN WORK AND WANT TO WORK WITH PROPER ACCOMMODATIONS, I’m also aware of the extreme privilege I have as an “Abled-Passing Disabled.” No one stops me on the street to throw slurs at me. I don’t have accessibility issues with steps leading up to an entrance. I don’t have to figure out if every train station I will be using has functional elevators. I don’t have to make sure the movie theater I’m going to watch Avengers in will have captioning devices that work or not.

This ability to “blend in” to Abled Society has in turn kept me overcompensating for any and all perceived “issues” I have. As a result, I’ve come to a place where I couldn’t even have imagined few years ago, working as a Sys Admin, running popular websites, and having profitable side hustles. I’ve managed to help countless people, and pride myself in my “grit.” But my “grit” has brought me to a place where I don’t know where or when to stop.

When Grit turns into Poison

Whenever I talk about my story, the first word people use to describe me is “Grit.” I’m a walking, talking rendition of the word. And my grit has gotten me so much. And yet, like any “good performance enhancing drug,” it’s slowly been poisoning me from the inside.

Lately, I’ve been considering my “hustle” and my “working all the time” as a drug. It feels so good to be “always busy.” It feels so good to see products and successes and progress from the work I do. And the more I do, the more I accomplish. And the cycle never ends, because previous successes invite more opportunities that I feel inclined… almost required to accept.

Coming from a place where I was limited by perceived deficiencies, I’ve been keen on saying “yes.” And saying “yes” has gotten me so much. But now, the saying “yes” has also gotten me another disability.

In Summer of 2017, I was diagnosed with stress-induced Rheumatoid Arthritis, and began my chemo medication treatment. It’s been almost 2 years since I began, and while I attempted few months ago to wean myself off the meds (with doctor’s support, of course!) to see if I’m in remission, I quickly found out that I most definitely was not. (And I’ve been dealing with the ramifications of the month-long experience ever since.)

The diagnosis and my physical disabilities was what started me on the journey of finding financial security for myself. And as I’ve become deeper and deeper entrenched into the community, discovering many different ways I could work or make money, even on my “off time” from 40-hours-a-week job, I found myself spiraling into sea of never resting.

In my effort to outrace my fear of permanent disability and inability to work ever again, I’d put myself into a situation where I am constantly sprinting, on and on and on.

And it felt so good. And it destroyed my body.

From Chasing FIRE to BaristaFIRE

In the beginning, I was trying to prove to the world that “I can.” In the middle, I was proving to myself that “I can” have a lot more than “the baseline.” Now… What am I trying to prove? What’s left to prove?

What’s the point of being on chemo, being exhausted, wrecking my body, and having no time for fun or friends, when I’m not getting any younger?

I’ve always “assumed” I’ll be doing things I wanted to do… “later.” But… What if the “later” never comes because I didn’t let myself rest and heal? What if the “next big disease” hits my body, and this time, I didn’t recover?

I’ve been thinking about needing to “make a change” for a while now, but had no idea what the time should be, or how I should proceed. Generally, the understanding is that my highest earning potential as an employee is here in NYC, as opposed to the suburbs.

But I’ve also come to understand that I no longer have to bolt myself down to being an employee. With my numerous side hustles blossoming over the past year, I’ve realized that I could reasonably BaristaFIRE even in NYC for a few years by living on passive income once all of my income streams are set up. I could probably just about break even on my living expenses.

But this calculation leaves one of the most important costs associated with being me: my insurance. For reference on how high my medical costs are, I already maxed out my $1,500 deductible for my plan before January was over. It’s not ridiculously high as it used to be when I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but as a “base cost” of existing and functioning, it’s pretty high. And I can’t maintain my quality of life without insurance.

Unless I took a part-time job that provides insurance, I would make too much passively to qualify for the low-income insurance NYC provides (I know, I know. Cry you a river, right?) But I can’t reasonably afford any non-company-sponsored insurance.

Here’s an Announcement

So in true BaristaFI fashion that Financial Samurai quips, I decided to get married. I know, I know. What a romantic way to announce that I’m getting married. But there aren’t any concrete plans or weddings or engagement rings or anything like that. It’s just a 1 year plan.

A lot of men have started to claim they retired early, but are really just stay at home spouses while their wives slave away at a job they hate. Itโ€™s the manโ€™s way of not feeling like a deadbeat since men have fragile egos and society still expects men to be the main provers.

Financial Samurai

My boyfriend loves his work, and we’ve been thinking about getting married and talking about it for a while, but given we’re both career people doing our own things in different states, we would probably never pull the trigger if there wasn’t a life event.

He doesn’t see himself want to retire early for some time, and enjoys the financial and life security working provides him. He likes his work, his team, and the challenges. The salary is good enough that he can do what he needs to do and have enough left over to save and invest. (What a dream, right. LOL.)

And here’s a life event.

I want to quit working full-time to give my mind and body time to rest and heal. My main goal is to get into remission within the next few years so that I can minimize the damage arthritis and the chemo medication does on my body. I want to enter my 30’s with a more body-positive experience.

Financials of BaristaFIRE

I’m still trying to nail down the financials that would come with BaristaFIRE. I’ve been working since I graduated college, and have always been making my own money. When I quit working full-time, I’ll have my passive income, and whatever money I make doing random hustles here and there. But the income will be nothing like the stable $75,000/yr salary I have from working at my current job.

This is frightening for me, as I see how much I can save every month, as well as how much my net worth goes up. But in the past half year, as I began to really start grilling myself on my lifestyle, I’ve come to realize that no amount of money in the bank will be able to replace my health, mental and physical.

Having $10,000 or $100,000 or even $1,000,000 will not magically make me healthy. Sure, it’s nice padding in my account, and heck, I might actually manage to FI/RE with $1 million, but whatever damage I’ve done to my body will be permanent, and I won’t be able to get my youth or life back from that.

Realizing I wasn’t in remission after almost 2 years of chemo made me realize that I need to change my situation as well as my lifestyle.

Future Plans

So in my most vaguest of thoughts that I’ve conveyed to my family and my boyfriend, I’m planning on moving out of NYC and back home for a few months beginning January, 2020.

I’ll be taking care of my mom for a few months as she recovers from surgery (this was in the plans for a while anyways, but it would mean I won’t have to pay rent for an apartment I’m not living in for 2 months). And in the spring, I’ll get married and quit working.

After that, I’ve no idea what I’m going to do.

I’ll probably sleep a lot for a bit. I’ll explore my new environment. I’ll see what activities are available. I’ll start cooking more, learning how to drive, get a puppy, take walks.

I’ll be resting my body and my mind, and try my hardest to wean myself off the drug I’ve been so reliant on for enhancing my performance and my work for the past decade. Workaholism and me will be breaking up in spring, 2020.

Maybe I’ll find a full-time job after a month or 2. Maybe I’ll start working part time at a local library. Maybe I’ll start working as an actual barista for minimum wage. Maybe I’ll join a non-profit and begin doing work that I’ve been meaning to do in 3 decades.

Maybe I’ll get into remission and will be able to start thinking about having children.

The future is uncertain. But I know that with mindfulness, I’m going to beat the race I’ve been running. By refusing to take part in it anymore.

There are so many things I want to do. So many causes I’m passionate for. So many ideas I have for projects and companies. And I am no longer going to allow myself to assume I’ll “do it later.” I’ll do it now. I might not have a “later.”


  1. Ms Zi You

    This is awesome news, so glad to hear you have made a decision and are going for it!

    Enjoy your last year in NYC – how are you going to make the most of it?

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      I’ve been going out every weekend and walking around, drinking coffee, and eating food with friends. No more hermitting in my apartment all weekend for me!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. APurpleLife

    CONGRATULATIONS on your BaristaFIRE plans and your impending nuptials (I love your logical approach ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). This is so awesome! I’m super excited for you!

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  3. Frogdancer Jones

    My Mum and Grandpa have RA. It’s a cripplingly painful thing and atheist me prays that I don’t inherit it.
    I totally understand your desire for financial security – I have it too – but from what I’ve read here I think you’re making a rational, balanced decision in slowing the pace down.
    Good luck!

  4. econteach

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and perspective! I’ve never heard the term BaristaFIRE, but I’m on board with the concept. That’s great that you are prioritizing your health — I know what it’s like when grit starts to wear you down. I wish you luck with the work and wedding plans ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Fretful Finance

    Really interested to read the full story of your decision after getting a hint of the change on Twitter. Sounds like it’s definitely the right decision for you. I imagine NY, much like London, is pretty exhausting in itself, regardless of what working hours you are doing. I sometimes think the stress of my commute alone is probably knocking a certain amount of months/years off my life.

  6. Mike M

    I’ve followed you on twitter for the past year and just wanted to thank you for sharing your candid, well-written, beautiful story. Wishing you the best on your health and future plans!


    I have mixed feelings about this. Mainly because I’ve been living it for the last 3 years. I can relate that living in NYC can be exhausting and even soul crushing, but I’ve come to identify myself with it so much, that It’d be hard to ever leave it. I compare my “after-life” with rushing every single minute, from the time I would wake up in the morning until the time I would lay on the couch at night. I started to feel like I didn’t know what was going on with modern music, movies or politics and even family. Years started turning into 5 year blocks. Back and hip pain was my main “sidelining” factor. Only now, after completing hip surgery earlier this year, and getting “caught up”, on stuff, do I feel like the pendulum has swung the other way. You’re also right, that a certain level of discrimination for age or disability, will probably always be present. As long as you have a plan for what you want to do with your time, I think you should be fine. Without one, you’ll probably miss it more than you think. Wishing you luck. Will continue to follow along.

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  8. Alicia Cameron

    Oh this is a totally interesting article! Yes it sounds like diminishing returns trying to hurry up and work, work, work but no life was occurred to the point it even made it worse for you health. I’m happy for you and at least you have a plan!! are you still going to be blogging ?

  9. Abigail

    As someone else with a “passable” disability, I totally get overcompensating. I killed myself for years trying to prove that I could still work like anyone else. (Turns out, I can’t. Chronic fatigue is a bitch.) And once I did stop, I crashed hard, so definitely be prepared for that. I slept for the better part of a month. And if you think that’s hyperbole… I’d sleep 12-14 hours and take a 1-2 hour nap every day for about a month. It was awful, but restorative. Hopefully, your crash won’t be anywhere near as bad as mine, but do maybe hold off on the puppy until you’ve been off work for a month and verified that your body isn’t going to revolt for all of those years of pushing yourself.

  10. Wendy

    Congrats on making this decision. I’m so happy to hear when others choose life balance and prioritise body and mind health over $$. I didn’t know there are people who judge on “BaristaFIRE”, or even getting married to a partner who wants to work?! What’s wrong with people?

    You do you, and I’m glad you have a partner and life situation that helps you to pivot!

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  14. leftoverdollars

    Congrats on your decision and also all the amazing work you’ve done to get yourself to a point where you have the freedom to make these choices.

    Fun fact, I got married last year. Twice, sort of. The first time was because my partner was keeping the same job but would technically have a different employer, and the new employer doesn’t recognize domestic partnerships. We had not been in a hurry to marry after being together for 10 years, and we got married so secretly and so unceremoniously I don’t remember the date, just because I couldn’t have a lapse in my insurance. Afterwards we decided to have a real-ish wedding, and that’s the date we use as our anniversary.

    That’s all to say I really like reading your blog and your thoughts on life, and also I can empathize with the ways our crazy world sometimes seems to make us make decisions for all the wrong reasons…

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