The Fire That Changed My Life

I still remember that fall Sunday morning of October 2010 vividly in my head. I got up at my usual time, around 9 AM, and still in my barely awake state went to pick up the weekend mail.

After reaching for the mailbox, I saw my next-door neighbor approaching me to chat about the latest breaking news in the neighborhood:

“Good morning, did you hear the news about the fire?”, she greeted. “What fire?”, I responded.

It turned out that a neighbor’s home, about three blocks away, burned down to the ground with both cars in the garage.

I did hear some unusual noises of pedestrians walking and dogs barking throughout the night, but in my sleeping state, I dismissed them as some neighbor having too much fun with guests over.

I was dumbfounded by the news.

It was hard to believe that this happened in a newer suburban neighborhood.

This fire occurred in the wee hours of the night and, fortunately, no one was injured. However, everything that those neighbors owned was gone in that fire.

Stop, think and reflect

This catastrophe just a few blocks away made me stop and think about my life. I put myself in their shoes and thought of what I would do if that were to happen to me. That thought provoking question changed my course.

If my house were on fire and I had a chance of taking a few things out, which belongings would I choose to rescue?

I didn’t have to look too far for the answer. Four things came to mind right away: my documents, photos, videos and CD collection.

Aside from the documents, I realized that the list that I came up with consisted of the simple things that brought me good memories. These were memories of moments in time that I treasure.

Did it mean that these were elements of my true happiness?

Well, they certainly captured happy moments and the people I spent them with.

While everything else in my house wasn’t that significant and could have been replaced, these items were irreplaceable to me.

I had an epiphany.

A new version of me emerged after getting back into my own shoes again.

I had an epiphany.

If the big house I had with the extra square footage didn’t bring as much happiness to my life as I thought it did, then why was I working so hard to accumulate things that didn’t make me truly happy?

More critical questions that required profound answers began to surface. It marked the rise of a new mindset.

In debt, unhappy and a feeling of being trapped!

By pursuing the so-called “American Dream”, I was in debt and unhappy.

I had such a tight budget that I couldn’t even afford to visit my parents overseas as often as I would have preferred.

I felt trapped with a huge mortgage and lingering debt, including a small student loan (small compared to today’s average balances), that I kept around because it had a low interest rate.

I was living beyond my means and didn’t realize that, until that moment.

I’ve caused a financial mess that I needed to clean up, all while rescuing my soul in the process. To the world, I was happy and successful, but to my soul that was far from reality.

Change was in the air.

From that moment on, I analyzed my entire life and decided that I’d change whatever I felt needed to change! If it didn’t feel good in my heart, it had to go to make room for my happiness.

The first patients in my emergency room were my finances. I put all of my finances on the table, and by concentrating solely on what brought me true happiness, I was able to pay off all the debt with the intention of never, ever being in debt again! That exercise caused a major shift in my life.

I also began reading some self-improvement books, which helped strengthen my journey to true happiness.

The first series of books, Stop Acting Rich: …And Start Living Like A Real Millionaire, Your Money or Your Life and How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, further influenced my new way of thinking.

The fire that burned a neighborhood house down, saved me from a path of short-term happiness based on debt and consumerism.

It truly changed my life. And I hope that through this blog, our lifestyle can help inspire you and others in finding true happiness like we did—a happiness that is based on your own values and not dictated by the masses.

I also learned a lot from my wife’s simple ways of living.

She has always lived in the way that made her truly happy. Her philosophy in life is that “when you’re happy, it has a ripple effect on everyone around you. So they are also happy as a result”. I totally agree!

What events have set your life in a new direction? If you were to change something in your life for the better, what would it be?


José worked at Vanguard for 12 years, helping create electronic and print educational materials for 401(k) participants. He retired at 44 from corporate America and loves to spend time with his wife and daughter, discovering new adventures or just sharing a meal in their backyard.

View all posts by José →

6 thoughts on “The Fire That Changed My Life

  1. I had a similar epiphany about the “American dream” and need just as little as you guys to be happy. It took me a lot longer to realize that material things and living someone else’s definition of a successful life were making me miserable and distracting me from what is important in life. Now we are on the path to financial independence and living life to the fullest. Thanks for inspiring and continue to do so with every post!

    1. That’s great! I’m sure that life tastes very different for you now, as it does for us. Cheers to financial independence and thanks for the encouragement!

  2. My fire moment was when a close family member got cancer at a relatively healthy age. It made me realized I may not have have all the time in the world like people say, and to look at my time as an expensive commodity. Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. An unexpected event of that caliber can definitely get you to look at your time here in a different way. Thanks for reading, LM!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *