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Have you ever been so angry you wanted to burn someone’s house down? If so, you’ll relate to the Netflix series “Beef”.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen the show yet, SPOILER ALERT. You’ve been warned.
Anyway, the show follows the story of 2 characters: Danny Cho, a struggling contractor, and rich bitch Amy Lau who’s about to sell her successful plant business for 10 million. They get into a road rage incident and try to dole out revenge on each other, competing to see who can hurt the other more until both their lives blow up.
I thought this was going to be mindless entertainment like the Tiger King feud between Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic, but it ended up being a deep, social commentary about life and unexpectedly made me think of how it relates to FIRE.
At one point, Danny asks Amy, who seems to “have it all” if she’s happy and does he have to get to where she is to be at peace.
And her response is the defining theme of the show (and in my opinion, of life in general):
“Nothing lasts, everything fades, we’re just a snake eating its own tail.”
Despite becoming a millionaire, Amy sees that her wealth and success still pales in comparison to someone even richer, Jordan, a tech billionaire who buys her business. Jordan is so rich she owns a collection of rare crowns in her McMansion, just for the exclusivity, and yet, during one conversion they have, echos exactly what Amy tells Danny: “everything fades.”
This is the trap of the hedonic treadmill. It doesn’t matter how much wealth and success you have, the feeling eventually fades, and you’re left empty until you chase the next high to fill yourself back up. It’s a vicious cycle.
Growing up in North American society, we’re taught that happiness can be obtained through external validation. Once I get that promotion, I’ll be happy. Once I drive a Tesla, I’ll be happy. Once I buy the McMansion, I’ll finally have “made it” and be happy. But in reality, it’s a short-lived high. The feeling eventually fades and you inevitably need to chase the next high.
Eastern philosophy teaches us that happiness comes from within. A better path to happiness is to accept yourself and realize you are enough. Easier said than done, but the two characters in Beef find a way to do this at the end of the film (I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I will only say that it reminded me of an experience I had in Amsterdam).
I realized this relates to FIRE because becoming financially independent didn’t magically solve all my problems. I didn’t automatically get internal validation. I was still chasing the high of book deals, TV options, speaking gigs, and Alexa rankings. I jumped from one treadmill of external self-worth to another, believing I needed to prove myself all over again even though I was supposed to be retired. It wasn’t until the pandemic blew all that away that I realized what I really needed to do was slow down, live in the moment, and spend time with the people I love. Not being forced to earn money or have a job made me realize the futility of chasing wealth and status. It’s fleeting and if you base your happiness on it, no amount ever be enough. You’ll always want more as soon as the feeling fades.
A second theme that really stuck out to me and again made me think of financial independence in Beef is how the lack of safety and security leads to uncontrolled anger. When you feel threatened, your lizard brain kicks in and you feel the need to defend yourself. When everything feels like a threat, anger is a protection mechanism.
It’s understandable that the male lead in Beef, Danny, is constantly angry and stressed because he’s strapped for cash, his business is struggling, and he has to support his parents and unemployed brother. But his arch nemesis, Amy, who’s in the exact opposite situation, with a successful business worth $10 million, a fancy house, and a loving family is just as angry. She’s built up this façade of the perfect life, but in reality, her marriage is falling apart and she’s mentally falling apart from the unrelenting stress of running a multi-million dollar business.
They both feel unsafe and as a result lash out at each other, using anger as protection.
Growing up, I also felt a lot of anger, resentment, and fear. Poverty and political instability made my parents care about survival and little else. This childhood insecurity and anger, drove me to prioritize money and see it as security.
I didn’t feel like I could stop and feel safe until I had enough. And the peace of mind you get from having “enough” is a feeling like no other. I never got that feeling from a job, the government, or my parents. There is no such thing as perfect job security, I can’t rely on the government to save me, and my parents aren’t privileged enough to support me. It wasn’t until I felt financially secure that I could finally let go of my anger and feel free and happy. I no longer feel like there were threats lurking in every corner and that I was one job loss away from homelessness.
So, while becoming financially independent won’t solve all of your life’s problems, Beef has taught me that FIRE’s greatest benefit is safety and security, followed closely by giving you the time and space to build self-acceptance and develop internal happiness. I mean, you could use that time and space to chase after another hedonic treadmill of success, but as someone who did that for many years, at the end of the day you realize, just as Amy Lau did, that “nothing lasts, everything fades.”
What do you think? Have you seen Beef? Do you think chasing success and status will lead to happiness?
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