Choose FI over FIRE

When my friends Jonathan and Brad came up for the idea for a “FIRE” podcast, they went with the name Choose FI.

Not Choose FIRE. Choose FI.

You see, financial independence is a status that gives one a tremendous amount of clout and flexibility. When you’ve chosen and achieved FI, you have the options to do so many things, and one of those is to retire early. But you certainly don’t have to. After all, you may be providing a very important service to the world. If you retire, who will fill your shoes and what will fill your freed up time?

Well after I had FI, I did choose to retire medicine. Now I fill my time with family time, this blog, and more recently, volunteering at COVID vaccination clinics. Will you choose FI or full-on FIRE?

Dr. James Turner penned the remainder of this post, which originally appeared on his site, The Physician Philosopher.

 

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Choose FI over FIRE

 

Three years ago, a fire was lit inside my belly to obtain financial independence as early as possible.  This wasn’t just any fire.  It was the Financial Independence Retire Early kind of FIRE.  As time wore on, I began to realize that – while this movement has good intentions – focusing too much on FIRE can be unhelpful.  This is particularly true for freshly minted medical professionals who are far away from achieving early retirement goals.

Even if you are on a track for Fast FIRE, you are still five years away from achieving the goal when you first finish training. Financial Independence – and not early retirement – should ultimately be the goal for those who are fighting burnout or in the early stages of their career.

Here are four reasons why FI and not FIRE should be our main focus.

 

1. Contentment

 

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “There is no ‘there’ there“?  Sometimes we aim for a destination, and when we get “there,” there isn’t much to it.  Imagine if you looked forward to a destination with eager anticipation, only to find that when you got there it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

This sounds very familiar to the Someday Syndrome many of us suffer from.  The problem is that people are terrible at forecasting what will actually make them happy.  Far more often than not, when we get to our goals they don’t provide that deep and meaningful satisfaction that we thought they would.

This happens when we buy our first doctor house.  Or when we get promoted at work.  Or even when we earn our first attending paycheck.  The increased happiness we experience is self-limited.

The Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement is no different.  If we work to minimize our expenses, maximize our savings, and live with an eye only on what it will be like to someday FIRE… we might be sorely disappointed when we get there if we didn’t enjoy the journey along the way.

This is one reason I preach financial independence on this blog, and usually leave out the early retirement rhetoric.

 

2. Early Retirement Doesn’t Fix the Problem

 

With the shape that medicine is taking, burnout is becoming a larger part of the doctor’s experience with each graduating class. This is why I teach others how to fight burnout with financial independence.

Given my war cry, you might guess that I intend to encourage doctors to leave medicine if the medical system continues to refuse to fix the problem.  FIRE for everyone!  However, that is not the case.

My dream is to see a group of financially independent physicians who have the ultimate leverage to help fix medicine.  If a group of FI doctors realized that they had the means to no longer depend on medicine for a paycheck, maybe they would have the power to create change?

These doctors with FI superpowers – who would practice medicine because they want to, and not because they have to – could mend the current culture of medicine. And, unless administrators take it upon themselves to finally fix the system that leads to almost 50% of physicians being burned out, this is the only real solution that I see.

However, these doctors cannot FIRE and accomplish this goal.  Medicine must be fixed from within, and this will require FI docs.  Not FIRE docs.

 

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3. Individual Burnout and Part-Time Work

 

Until the time when real change can take place, what options do individual doctors have to treat their burnout?  You might argue that they could leave medicine all together.

While this nuclear option is on the table, many physicians find that part-time work often provides a similar result (less burnout) without the drastic measures (quitting medicine completely).  I call this concept Partial FIRE.

In fact, Crispy Doc has spent some time interviewing physicians who have “cut back” from full-time work.  These part-time doctors experience improved work satisfaction, productivity, and have even found their love for medicine again.

Apparently, there are a lot of doctors out there who are burned out, but who find that they love their job, too.  They just want to do a lot less of it.

When you reclaim autonomy over your schedule and can invest in what is most important to you, many find that the burnout fades.  The fire may no longer be licking at your heels.

This seems to show that fighting burnout with FIRE may not be necessary.  Maybe you just need a water hose to squelch the burnout instead.

 

4.  Retire to Something

 

People are meant to be productive.

In fact, when we find the flow that is produced by an engaging activity, studies show that our satisfaction levels find their peak.  This is why it is sage advice for anyone nearing retirement to avoid retiring “from something” and to, instead, retire “to something”.

What this means is that you shouldn’t be leaving the workforce to get away from things about your job that you hate.  At least, this shouldn’t be the entire reason.  The better way to attack retirement is to have specific plans for what you’ll be doing in retirement.

This could mean that you spend some time using your medical skills to do mission work or free clinics.  You might also consider becoming a tee-ball coach, art teacher, or to write that book you have always had in the back of your mind.  Or, maybe you’ll consider a partial retirement where you continue to work one or two days per week at the same job.

Preaching FIRE to early career medical professionals proves unproductive at times.  Particularly when the focus is on retiring from medicine as opposed to retiring to your dream life.  And, hey, you might find that dream life through part-time work as we talked about above.

 

Choose Financial Independence

 

For the reasons mentioned above, FIRE shouldn’t necessarily be our all-consuming goal.  Instead, we should focus on the freedom provided by financial independence, which allows us to enjoy the journey while still having a goal in mind.

That FIRE that burned so deeply in my belly has subsided a bit.  I now focus much more on finding balance in enjoying today, while we try to steadily achieve our big picture financial goals.

With this shift in mindset, I’ve enjoyed less frustration that my goals seem so far away.  No longer do I focus on the fact that FI is 10 years away.  Instead, I focus on finding contentment today and working towards creating the life we want to lead as soon as possible.

 

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Do you focus a lot on FIRE?  Have you seen that negatively impact your mental space? 

5 thoughts on “Choose FI over FIRE”

  1. Good points. I am a prosecutor who handles a lot of jury capital murder and regular murder trials. I am over 60 years old. While I have thought about retirement from my job, I am not sure I want to retire from the practice of law. I am actually not sure if I am ready to retire from my job. I love my job. So, I keep working. I figure I will know when it is time. I do have a lot of ideas, mission work, etc. I definitely do not plan to sit around, and I do not think most folks with high energy jobs would be happy just watching tv.

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  3. I retired from a full time 9 to 5 running a large corporation and immediately began part time consulting. I didn’t need the money but I recognized going from being in a hectic high pressure environment with many demands on my time and a high profile position where I was recognized by thousands of people to nearly total time freedom and total anonymity might be jarring. The last five years the consulting has provided a nice off ramp. I don’t miss the the old job at all I’ve found and while I’m still well known across the state I think I’m finally ready to let that go as well. So I’m retiring from my consulting to focus on three areas of volunteering. Two I already do and one new one I hope to create this year. Plus continuing with a lot of running, tennis, hiking, fishing and travel we are already doing. My brother in law was a much higher powered executive than I was, he had tens of thousands of people under his management. He was forced into retirement by a merger and he has never really accepted it fully. In fact he bought a company just to have something and some people to manage in retirement. He urged me to not retire at 60, advice I did not take, and that I’m glad I passed over. This is a great time of my life, in fact every phase of life has been a marvelous gift. Having a solid understanding of yourself, something you are best in class at, that is very important to anyone considering retiring, especially if they are retiring early. Thoughtful post!

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  4. I know a ton of people may disagree with me but personally, I believe if you are financially independent, you are already retired early. I don’t define early retirement as never working. I see early retirement as optionally taking on projects.

    If I am financially independent and one day I decide I’m fed up with work, I will text my boss “hey, I’m resigning, thanks for everything. Bye!”. I believe that is reaching FIRE. Maybe it’s now more of FIWO? (Financially Independent Work Optionally).

    In either case, great point about the retiring early part. Work can still be meaningful depending on the job!

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  5. This is quite enlightened. Little in life is purely binary. I am a lawyer and we face very similar career FIRE FI issues as do MDs.

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