When Financial Independence is Irrelevant

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When financial independence is irrelevant? That sounds like heresy! But such irreverence regarding the relevance of FI came from a regular blog reader, so let’s give him a chance.

Hubert is one member of a two-physician couple behind one of the more creative blog names I’ve come across: Love, Success, and the Sock Drawer.

The argument is a riff on the “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Or “Live a life you don’t want to escape from, and you’ll never want to retire.” Something along those lines.

How did he and his wife strike that ideal balance? Read on!

 

When Financial Independence is Irrelevant

 

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of the old adage “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Reading about the Physician on FIRE’s family adventures in “One Year of Early Retirement: Is the FIRE Still Burning?” certainly brings this into sharp perspective. I mean, what a year!

Part of what makes this new life that the PoF leads so appealing is that Kelly and I have been there; we’ve been to Ecuador, sauntered in Paris, and even taken a selfie outside of Casa Mila! Moreover, in this year of COVID, we miss traveling more than ever.

But in galavanting around southeast Asia for 6 weeks during a transition between roles, we’ve lived a tiny part of that life, and know that this isn’t for us. This was an instance where the grass seems greener than it actually is.

 

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What if you won the lottery tomorrow?

 

One day, Kelly and I were talking about our future goals in the context of our financial plans. If we suddenly became financially independent today, what would we do differently? Would we quit our jobs? Live somewhere else? Travel full time?

Imagine that you won the lottery and you’ve reached FI. You’re living on $100,000 a year and you won a $3,968,254 jackpot taxed at a 37% federal rate, disregarding state taxes (let’s say you live in Nevada). There are, of course, finer points of lottery winnings, which PoF has clarified previously.

 

I've got my 2 acres of non-leveraged, crop-producing, cashflowing farmland via AcreTrader. Get yours.

 

If this were you, would you do anything differently?

 

After some thinking, we decided the answer was no. Like 85% of actual lottery winners (with average winnings of $3.63M), we would continue to work. We wouldn’t make any significant changes to our lives.

 

It wasn’t always like this.

 

I was previously in a high-stress, high-volume private practice where I would have quit if given this windfall.

Kelly hasn’t always been in the place she is now with her job and with her work-life balance.

At least some of the desire to retire early comes from a place of dissatisfaction and burnout that may be remedied by making some hard but deliberate life choices.

 

A few years ago, I would have joined the ‘quitters club.’

 

Fresh out of training, I took a job at a large private-practice ophthalmology group. I quickly increased my volume and responsibilities. In two years, I became a shareholder, was elected Vice President and served on the Executive Committee. I ran one of the satellite offices and was involved in prospecting for venture capital deals.

But as Dickens wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

While I loved my job, I also hated it. Namely, I hated the financial conflicts of interest and pressure to offer ‘premium’ options to patients, the worrying about making my ‘numbers,’ the fighting over the pay formula and stress about how much (or little) I could take home.

If I had won the lottery back then, I probably would have retired early.

 

[PoF: Thankfully, anesthesiology, at least in the practice settings I worked in, had no such conflicts of interest. I was free to do what was best for my patients, and my pay was unaffected by the choices I made.]

 

 

Then I made a change.

 

It wasn’t easy and I still feel the disappointment and disdain of my partners, but after a 1-year notice, I left that practice.

I now work part-time as an employee of a large system, and I LOVE it. There are stressors, but different ones that I am better personality-matched to handle.

Moreover, I spend more time with my family and working on my side-hustles (Related: I have big dreams…and so does he). My MBI-HSS burnout index is very low.

If I won the lottery today, I definitely wouldn’t quit my job or retire early.

 

Kelly used to be a stress ball.

 

Kelly, too, was previously in a place where she was working at night and on weekends to make sure that she was getting her clinical work done, as well as publishing enough to stay on track for academic promotion. She would often lie awake at night thinking of all of the things that she had to do.

 

But then she made two deliberate choices.

 

The first is that she decided not to take any work home unless totally necessary. No more paper writing at night or on weekends.

Second, she decided to cut down to 0.8 FTE. This extra day gives her more time to spend with our son, and space for other things in life, like our blog, gardening, and baking.

So part of being able to say that FI is irrelevant is situation dependent. This may mean that it is not fully irrelevant given that things can change. But so many things in life are situation dependent, even your FI number.

 

A few reasons why we wouldn’t retire early.

 

1) We thrive on having a life purpose & we love what we do.

For Kelly and I, traveling is awesome. We even have a rule that before we get home, we plan our next destination. And sure, we would love to do more of it.

However, the dose-response relationship plateaus. Studies have shown that the joy of travel is mostly in the anticipation and shared experiences, not dependent on the length or amount of travel.

 

Ergo, travel is like ice-cream.

The joy is in the smell and sight of the ice cream, and the first few bites (or scoops, if you will). After the first bit, though, it’s just ice cream–your dopamine levels don’t go up any further.

Kelly’s and my plateau is about three weeks of travel. After this, we tend to prefer our jobs and ‘normal life,’ reminiscing about the trip we just had, and planning for the next one.

 

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Human needs are complicated

What keeps us going is our central reason for being and our human need for fulfillment. Life is more than just enjoying the company of ourselves and our loved ones, or seeing how many experiences we can have in our short lives.

As Tony Robbins says, there are six human needs and the pinnacle of those needs that lead to a full life are significance, connection, growth, and contribution. Retiring early would rid us of our main avenue of fulfilling those needs.

 

2) We would suck at home-schooling

COVID-19 has brought the stark reality of childcare into sharp focus for many parents. Maybe you’re one of these parents, where childcare and homeschooling has been forced upon you. Needless to say, it’s not for everyone.

Neither of us would want to or be very good at homeschooling our son (unless he wants to learn about internuclear ophthalmoplegia with an ipsilateral horizontal gaze palsy). He’ll be better served by someone with education, experience and a desire to teach young children.

Moreover, given that he’s an only child, he needs to learn to socialize and work with others.

So, if he’s going to school anyway, and we’re tied down for most of the year, why not continue to work jobs that we love?!

 

3) Life can suck after retirement

There’s a body of research on satisfaction after retirement and it’s not all positive.

Much of the research indicates that retirees tend to be more depressed, regardless of retirement age. This seems to be true no matter your nationality.

What’s interesting is that the balance of people are either:

  • Happier temporarily, but go back to baseline after a short period of time.
  • More depressed, which continues or returns to baseline after a short period of time.

 

What I take this to mean is that most people will be just as happy after retirement (even if you “FIRE”) as they were before.

The implication of this is that FIRE might not be a panacea. Be wary of trading one rat race (keeping up with the Joneses) for another (the race to retire early).

 

4) I would look good in a Maserati

Once you have reached FI, your expenses are accounted for and you can rest with security and peace.

Any income from here on out is icing on the cake. It’s money that you don’t need to live. This money can be used to enhance your current standard of living (beware of Diderot’s Effect), or for immense good.

For example, did you ever want a Maserati GT Convertible? You can buy it now. It’s not money that you need for groceries, your school loans, or your child’s education.

Or imagine the immense good that you can do with that money. Through the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF), you could provide about 34,640 insecticide-treated bed nets, potentially saving thousands of lives each year.

Imagine two physician incomes, post-FI, just doing good in this world? That’s enough to send shivers down my spine.

By the way, if you need inspiration or a reputable source that’s backed by evidence, we recommend GiveWell.

 

 

5) Remember your medical school admissions essays!

If you can find them, consider taking a moment to read your med-school essays. I did the other day and it brought a tear to my eye.

If you’re anything like me, you wrote a slightly awkward but beautifully honest essay about wanting to help people. Even if you’re the most hardened, burnt out doc out there, I bet it still remains true for you. You chose this profession because you want to help people.

Unfortunately, sometimes the insanity of our lives takes us away from this central calling. Practicing medicine isn’t easy. It isn’t always rewarding. It certainly isn’t as financially fruitful as it once was. And there are many things about it that, frankly suck.

But it’s a calling that is more important than any job out there. It may not always feel like it, but with every patient that you care for, you are helping. It’s why you were admitted to medical school. (Imagine re-writing your essay with any mention of FIRE.)

On the flipside, retiring early means that I’m serving fewer people. Call me old-fashioned, but perhaps I see it as much a calling as an obligation.

 

Is FI something that we’ll stop striving for?

 

In brief, no. We’ll still be plugging away (6.8 years on the Time to FI Calculator).  But even when we hit this number, we’ll probably continue working because we love what we do.

We’re on the FI train for all of the great reasons that Rich lists in Love Your Job? Why You Should Still Pursue Financial Independence.

The thing is, “FI” is just a number, really.  It’s like mile 15 on a marathon: an accomplishment for sure, but not necessarily something that changes your course.

What about you?  Will you pursue FIRE? Or maybe consider making a change so that it’s irrelevant?

If you’re still gung-ho on the “RE” part, perhaps ask yourself instead if there’s a change that you can make now that would make your next 10-30 years more enjoyable. For example, leaving your private practice for a low stress, part-time job that aligns with your values, like I did.

 

Life is, after all, all about choices.

 

Hubert

 

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In honor of Financial Literacy Week, if you buy either the Fire Your Financial Advisor or the 2020 Continuing Financial Education course, you will not only receive 10% off, but also receive the Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference - Park City course for free.


 

Has FI become irrelevant in your life? Could it be that early retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be?

16 thoughts on “When Financial Independence is Irrelevant”

  1. It is really interesting to hear that by changing jobs or cutting back on work you both found schedules that work for you. I love the idea of visiting happy doctors! Thanks for your service and dedication!

    Reply
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  3. Speaking solely for myself, i am 100% retired and happier than at almost any point in my past life. The transition was rough, when i retired i had 6 months of euphoria followed by 30 months of ambivalence. Now i am thinking i should have retired earlier. Agree with article regarding travel, it is a bit over rated as Emerson and Thoreau pointed out many years ago. You can ascribe my happiness to my ENTP personality if you wish. Being brutally honest now – am thinking i was brainwashed. I grew up surfing, if you know any SoCal surfers you probably know their feelings on work. Society? turned me into a lean mean acquiring machine. The brainwashing has receded. //Some are “industrious,” and appear to love labor for its own sake, or perhaps because it keeps them out of worse mischief; to such I have at present nothing to say. Those who would not know what to do with more leisure than they now enjoy, I might advise to work twice as hard as they do—work till they pay for themselves, and get their free papers. — Walden—Walden//

    Reply
    • Hi Bill, I appreciate your honesty and your candid assessment of your own life. The article isn’t for everyone, and I think that we all go through stages. Ultimately, it’s meant to provoke thought, rather than to be a finger-wagging exercise of ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ I’m glad that you found your peace, and I’m glad to have found my own, at least for the time being and foreseeable future.

      Reply
  4. I felt that way about my job for most of a long career. But don’t be too confident in your ability to predict how future you will feel about anything. You barely know that guy and there is every chance he won’t see his career the way you see yours. I also said I’d never quit even if I won the lottery. Well, I won the lottery seven years ago (big inheritance) and I decided to quit five years ago, and have had zero regrets.

    Reply
    • I appreciate where you’re coming from, and you are probably right. Admittedly, there is a little bit of hubris in pretending to know where I’ll be, say 20 years down the road. I hope I’m in a place where I’d be as happy with my situation as I am now, but who knows? However, at my current station in life, I’m happy to say that I’ve found a good balance, and I think that’s what many of us strive for. I hope that for some (and maybe many) this provokes thought and maybe some good life changes.

      Reply
  5. I am curious how old the author is.

    I had similar exuberance when I first started out in practice but after a decade and half of being whittled down with the daily medical grind that bright eyed young attending has been replaced with a calloused mid-career one.

    If I won the lottery I would quit in a heartbeat because medicine just doesn’t move the needle that much anymore in personal happiness. If I knew that all my desires and needs were met completely for the rest of my life I would certainly choose another avenue which is less stressful to make my mark in the world.

    Reply
    • I appreciate where you’re coming from. To answer your question right off the bat, late thirties, and I’ve been in practice for almost a decade, so not quite as long as you have. But not quite green around the gills either.

      That being said, I wonder if you know of a very-well-seasoned colleague or prior mentor of yours who still LOVES what they’re doing? My example is Brian, who is 72 and is still doing surgery/clinic full time, with no plans to quit.

      No, I’m not planning to be like him, but I see a lot of inspiration in him–that he can still love his profession despite the changes and stressors of being in a busy practice.

      My point is, anyone can still love the practice of medicine, be it 2 years – 38 years in. And that *could* be you too, no? Maybe, just maybe, I can put a bug in your ear that the grind doesn’t have to be just that if you don’t allow it to be? (I guess I might be a hopeful optimist).

      Reply
  6. Great post and delightful comment chain.

    While you can’t possibly who the man or woman you’ll become five years from now will be, you can predict that they’ll be a better person for having more autonomy, flexibility, and the wider array of choices that a threshold of financial security can offer.

    If you can offer future you the ability to walk away, it will be a treasured gift regardless of whether you feel the need to cash it in.

    Thanks for introducing this new dynamic duo, PoF.

    Fondly,

    CD

    Reply
  7. Hi,

    It’s up to different perspective. I opt for the early retirement route as I have done in May 2019. I think that one will know best on whether the early retirement or continued full-time employment applies to them best. It is always good to have options.

    WTK

    Reply
  8. Great article. I am in my early forties, so I am a few years ahead. We reached FI this year from a combination of high saving rate and smart investing. I cut back on my clinical work significantly this year (40% ), but I am with you on thinking that I will not want to retire anytime soon for all the reasons you stated above. We take lots of oversea trips the last few years and usually spend 2-3 weeks each trip. I agree that by week 3 we usually start craving for our “normal life”. Part of me do wonder if that is because we are not fully living a retired life, hence our normal is basically the routine of going to work, managing schedules around the kids and etc. Perhaps if I fully retire, slow travel will just be my new normal? Reading about PoF and his family spending 2 months in Spain certainly makes me wonder if I will enjoy that too.

    Reply
  9. I, whole-heartedly, agree with the author. These people who retire in their 30s or 40s are no better than the trust fund kids we all despise (I personally know many people who received huge inheritances and do nothing at all). It really just isn’t about the money. Sure, I can retire early, I could have retired a decade ago (we have an over $6M nest egg). But, doing so, I wouldn’t have had the ability to extend financial help to my relatives who are in a much worse situation than us. The idea of traveling non-stop and doing nothing meaningful from 30s onward would just bore me to death. There’s something to be said about the anticipation of travel and downtime. I look forward to weekends because of the work I do during the week. If every day was a weekend, what would I have to look forward to? I am 50 now. I am healthy, I work out an hour every single day, and I feel I add value to my organization and people around me. I am a positive role model to our kids. If I had retired in my 40s, what message would that send to my pre-med son and to my high school kid? By the way, we travel overseas at least twice a year. So we don’t lack travel in our lives.

    Reply
    • “These people who retire in their 30s or 40s are no better than the trust fund kids we all despise.”

      Ouch.

      I guess I’m not exactly retired, either, but I couldn’t disagree more with the statement above. There is a huge difference between reaching financial independence through decades of hard work and being given all the money by a wealthy relative. I also don’t despise the trust funders. It’s not their fault they were born into money; it’s what they do with their time and money that matters, and on that, I think we can agree.

      Regarding the message your kids receive, I think time spent with them is more valuable than how often they see you leave for work or how much time you’re unavailable to them. It sounds like you may have a good balance, but that balance can be hard to find in medicine.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      Reply
      • Maybe we’re just lucky because my husband and I have both found the perfect work/life balance. I personally have never worked more than 40 hours a week. I have been at my job for 25 years. I have always driven my kids to school and picked them up everyday. I take them to all their sports practices and have never, ever missed a game. My husband does homework with them every night (most nights, he spends at least 3 hours doing homework with them). Our older son is now off to college and lives about 10 hours away from us. I think there’s never been a need to retire in our 30s or 40s with the excuse of needing to spend time with kids. In our 2-income household with both of us in high-level management careers, we have always found time for our boys, we manage to have family dinners every night, and we take them to at least 4 vacations per year. With proper time management, I can honestly say we’ve had successful careers without sacrificing any quality time for the family.

        Reply
        • Oh, I wasn’t questioning your life or work/life balance. It sounds like you’ve done things right.

          It’s your judgment of others that I find distasteful. But I’m more of a “live and let live” guy than most.

          Cheers!
          -PoF

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