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