FIRE Lessons From the Jamaican Bobsled Team

One side effect of being a FIRE blogger is that money is always on your brain. Everywhere you look, you see personal finance topics and come up with weird analogies and concepts.

So, I was watching Cool Runnings the other day with my wife. It’s a favorite movie of ours (and probably one of the raddest things that came out of the ‘90s, if I may say so). If you haven’t seen it, it’s one of those life-affirming movies about perseverance — in this case, of an unlikely and hilarious Olympic bobsled team … from Jamaica.

In addition to laughing my ass off like an 11-year-old, I started taking notes on the movie’s life lessons and how they relate to the FIRE movement. 

Here are some FIRE lessons I noticed in the movie.

Don’t Work for Webster, Webster, and Cohen

One of the movie characters, Junior, grew up as a rich kid always trying to impress his controlling father. After college, his dad hooked him up with a 9-to-5 job working for a lifeless corporate firm called Webster, Webster and Cohen.

But Junior didn’t want to follow the traditional path and live according to his father’s expectations. He had different hopes, dreams, and skills. He wanted to be an Olympian!

So Junior ran away and started a bobsled team with his friends. He ended up having way more fun, learning self-confidence, and eventually proving to his father that following an unconventional path can be way more fulfilling.

As you FIRE walkers already know, it’s all about figuring out what you want to do in life —> and doing it. If you just go along what your parents say you “should” do (or do what other people think is the “normal” route to success), you might not be living your most authentic and best life.

Instead, figure out what your skills are and develop them. Pursue work that interests you. Spend some time looking in the mirror each day. You’ll realize you’re a bad-ass motha, who don’t take no crap off of nobody!

(On a related note, this is one of the best articles I’ve read in the past few years about not following your parents’ path: Put Your Ladder On Your Wall)

People Will Laugh in Your Face. Keep Going Anyway.

A Jamaican bobsled team? It’s funny because none of the team members had ever seen ice or snow. They were completely new to the sport and had no experience in a new environment.

Everybody laughed at them — investors, state officials, other athletes, the public. Everyone expected them to fail.

Regardless, the Jamaican team persevered. When they fell down, they got back up. When they were treated unfairly, they fought even harder. As others tried to intimidate or pick on them, they supported one another.

Eventually, they became an inspiration! Their critics conceded, the crowd got behind them, and even their biggest hater from the Swiss team started a “slow clap” at the end of the film. Very moving stuff! 😂

I’ve had people laugh at me. You probably have, too. Being dedicated to improving your finances means making sacrifices and lifestyle decisions that go against the grain. It might not make sense to your peers. Stuff like:

  • Bringing your lunch to work instead of spending money to eat out with coworkers
  • Working a side hustle instead of going out to the bar
  • Reading a personal finance book instead of watching mindless TV 
  • Shopping at Aldi or the 99c store instead of Whole Foods
  • Saying no to flashy and expensive items

The FIRE journey might look silly from the outside, but the freedom and benefits are definitely worth it in the end. 

Stay the course. Keep doing what you’re doing. 💪

A Second-Hand Bobsled Can Go Just as Fast as a New One

The Jamaican bobsledders made it all the way to Calgary to compete in the Winter Olympics, but they were missing one very important item …  a bobsled!

Instead of financing a new one and going into debt, the coach found them a used, rusty sled for $5,000. (I just Googled how much a new Olympic-grade bobsled is, and they’re like $100k!)

It seemed silly to all the other teams, but the second-hand bobsled went just as fast as the competitors’. The Jamaicans didn’t care how it looked, they just cared that it did the job.

(Actually, now that I think about it, the old sled broke down at the end of the movie. But that was a mechanical issue and could have been avoided with thrifty preventative maintenance. 👨‍🔧)

Anyway, I thought the second-hand bobsled was cool because a lot of peeps in the FIRE community talk about how beat-up and shitty their car is. Finance nerds love older used cars because they know automobiles are one of the biggest money pits in life.

Generally speaking, used cars:

  • Depreciate in value more slowly than new cars
  • Cost less to insure and register than newer cars
  • Do the exact same job as new cars (drive from A → B)
  • Have cooler nicknames! (because they have more personality 😉)

Oh, and a quick update on the would you accept a new car as a gift post from a couple months ago… My “hypothetical friend” chose not to accept, staying with what he’s got!

Life Isn’t Fair. Accept It, and Try Bobsledding Instead.

Before the movie characters became bobsledders, they wanted to compete as professional sprinters. They trained tirelessly to become the fastest runners in Jamaica and believed their destiny was sprinting.

Then one swift accident outside their control shattered their dreams. They all tripped during the qualifying race and didn’t make the Olympic running team.

Instead of moping and feeling sorry for themselves, they rallied behind a new goal. They found a different route to the Olympics — bobsledding. They made lemonade out of lemons.

Real life is similar. It’s not fair. Sometimes shit happens that’s out of our control.

Financial blindsides can come out of nowhere and handicap our FIRE plans. Things like divorce, theft, illness, unexpected pregnancies, getting fired, redundancies, bad investments, stock market crashes, natural disasters, etc. No matter how hard we try, setbacks can and will happen.

And these events are what separate the weak from the strong.

FIRE means pushing forward no matter how bad your financial situation is. It’s never too late to seek help, change direction, adjust your goals, and fix your financial troubles. You just gotta shift your perspective … and believe you can do it. 

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.

It’s Not About Winning, It’s About the Journey

*Spoiler alert* for those of you who haven’t seen Cool Runnings … The Jamaicans wipe out on their last race and don’t win any medals. They put in a ton of effort and tried so hard to be the best … but didn’t actually win in the end.

Yet they hold their heads up high knowing that they tried their best. The crowd gave them a roaring round of applause, and they returned home as heroes.

I think Financial Independence is kind of the same thing (without the roaring crowd). It’s not a finish line, it’s a journey.

As long as you’re living by your values and working hard to experience your best life, you’re successful.

It doesn’t matter how fast you become a millionaire or what age you “retire,” it’s about doing what you want to do in life. It’s about the smile on your face.

Actually, that’s how they named the movie … “Cool Runnings” means “Peace be the Journey.”

******

Welp, thanks for hearing me out. My wife and I have Ratatouille in the queue for next movie night, so stay tuned for more weird FIRE comparisons!

Happy Friday and happy April!

Joel

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19 Comments

  1. Lisa O April 2, 2021 at 9:34 AM

    Loved this! I feel so inspired with all of your final written thoughts!

    It truly is the journey in life…..finish line is over rated.

    Have A Happy Easter

    Reply
    1. Joel April 3, 2021 at 3:44 PM

      Happy Easter Lisa! Have a great weekend!

      Reply
  2. RichieRich April 2, 2021 at 10:25 AM

    Great movie filmed in Calgary Alberta Canada where I live. Sadly last year the Olympic bobsled track was shut down some ~30 years after the Olympics. The upper portion is now under demolition however the lower I believe is open for public experiences.
    Yes their inspirational story is great to watch although the movie certainly took a few liberties at embellishment.
    Here in Calgary there seem to be very few FIREd up people although they do exist. The years of big oil and gas money have led to a very consumer and materialistic oriented culture. Way too much lifestyle creep which includes new cars and home upgrades for far too many. The schools here don’t even teach REAL financial literacy not do deep dives into opportunity cost analysis to help kids grow to understand needs versus wants.

    Reply
    1. Joel April 3, 2021 at 3:43 PM

      Hey Richie! My wife and I visited Calgary a few years ago and loved it. We drove up from Montana for the Stampede rodeo. I can definitely see the culture of spending with young people up there (although I had a tainted view as it was mid summer and everyone was out spending and enjoying themselves). Financial education is a problem everywhere in schools I think.

      Reply
  3. Escaping Siliconvalley April 2, 2021 at 1:45 PM

    Ok coach! I would’ve never have guessed FIRE lessons to come out of Cool Runnings. I’ll have to watch that movie again

    Reply
    1. Joel April 3, 2021 at 3:39 PM

      FIRE is hidden everywhere ;)

      Reply
  4. Accidentally Retired April 2, 2021 at 3:26 PM

    Love it!

    “It doesn’t matter how fast you become a millionaire or what age you “retire,” it’s about doing what you want to do in life. It’s about the smile on your face.”

    Ain’t that the truth.

    Reply
    1. Joel April 3, 2021 at 3:39 PM

      Yep it’s the truth! But, way easier said than done. That’s the hard part. :)

      Reply
  5. Impersonal Finances April 3, 2021 at 5:17 PM

    Feel the freedom, feel the climb, save on up, it’s FIRE time! Excellent post, sir!

    Reply
    1. Joel April 4, 2021 at 5:39 PM

      haha love that!

      Reply
  6. Success Triangles April 4, 2021 at 11:37 AM

    This is awesome:

    “Before the movie characters became bobsledders, they wanted to compete as professional sprinters. They trained tirelessly to become the fastest runners in Jamaica and believed their destiny was sprinting.

    Then one swift accident outside their control shattered their dreams. They all tripped during the qualifying race and didn’t make the Olympic running team.

    Instead of moping and feeling sorry for themselves, they rallied behind a new goal. They found a different route to the Olympics — bobsledding. They made lemonade out of lemons.”

    Sometimes unexpected challenges can cause you to pivot and try new things – which in the end, results in you going further than you ever thought possible. Great lesson!

    Reply
    1. Joel April 4, 2021 at 5:36 PM

      Yep! No matter how well you plan, some things will take you by surprise. You can either spend your life complaining about it, or adapt and figure out how to move on another way. Try bobsledding! haha!

      Reply
  7. The Millennial Money Woman April 5, 2021 at 5:45 AM

    Cool Runnings is one of my all time favorite movies! The last time I saw it, was a few years ago, and I honestly never thought of the many lessons, as you listed here – which is awesome! The moral that resonates with me most is that people are going to judge you, laugh at you and make fun of you no matter what you do – whether you do something or whether you do nothing – you’ll always be judged. So, just keep doing your thing anyway and make sure you love the journey.

    In the end, the journey really is the destination.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers,

    Fiona

    Reply
    1. Joel April 5, 2021 at 9:18 AM

      Hey Fiona. Being a blogger i’m sure you get a lot of laughs and judgement. But keep doing what you’re doing my friend. And keep enjoying the process. :)

      Reply
  8. Loui April 5, 2021 at 6:37 AM

    Loved the headline! :D

    And the mindset about buying a 5000 $ is spot on.

    I have just bought a tiny boat myself, and they are ridiculous cheap compared to just slightly bigger boats. Both in maintenance, insurance and so on.

    Really good article, will read it again some day.

    Reply
    1. Joel April 5, 2021 at 9:24 AM

      Enjoy the boat! Has it got a cool nickname? :)

      Reply
  9. Dividend Power April 5, 2021 at 12:47 PM

    I remember the Jamaican bobsled team. There was even a movie.

    Reply
    1. Joel April 6, 2021 at 8:43 PM

      Ya mon.

      Reply
  10. Victoria June 23, 2021 at 8:57 AM

    I agree with all the opinions expressed, indeed, life is tough and unfair, you gotta roll through it. I will definitely watch Cool Runnings after this post!

    Reply

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