Why It’s So Hard to Give Up Work

Our Saturday Selection comes from Passive Income MD who talks about a subject that I certainly struggled with in the early years in my career.

When you’re in a position where time is money (and big money) or your income is some form of “eat what you kill,” it’s not easy to simply take a step back and turn down thousands of dollars. It pained me to take a long weekend when I looked at a day off as a major expense.

That attitude did help me gain financial independence more quickly, and now I have a newfound perspective on time and money from a position of having Enough.

How does PIMD approach this topic? This post first appeared on his site, Passive Income MD.

Why It’s So Hard to Give Up Work

 

If you’ve read PIMD for any amount of time, you know that my financial goal is a gradual retirement. Things are going well, and as my passive income streams have continued to increase, my clinical time in medicine has been gradually decreasing.

In fact, based on my latest income report, I’m at the point where I can afford to give up around 40% of my work. [Update: I’m now financially independent from medicine!] I’m fortunate because I have some control over my schedule; being paid by the shift or case means that if someone wants to pick up a shift from me, I’m more than willing to let them.

At least, that’s how I feel after the fact. But there’s always that moment when someone asks to pick up my shift or case that I find myself hesitant, even reluctant, to do it. However, once I go home and spend time with my family or friends, I’m always glad I gave it up.

So when I’m asked, what initially holds me back? I struggled to figure out why and I think I’ve narrowed it down to two things.

 

koko Mountain

hiking koko mountain is work!

 

Fear of the Unknown

 

If I’m being totally honest, I really don’t know what my future will look like (does anyone?) and there’s a fear that comes with it. I hope that my future contains a life where I have the choice to spend my time however I’d like with whomever I’d like. But is that just a fairy tale?

A lot of that depends on my financial situation. One way I try to combat this fear of the unknown is by being aggressive about creating multiple streams of income so if one income stream falters, I’ll have other sources to fall back on.

Most financial independence calculations assume that your expenses will be the same or decrease in the future. I currently have two children. Will I end up needing to pay a huge cost to help educate them? Sure, right now the plan is for public education, but what if those plans change? What if we decide to have a third (or fourth!) child, and how would that change things?

My parents have also recently retired. I want to make sure they’re well taken care of and there’s a possibility they will have to rely on me financially at some point in their retirement. Will I be ready to handle the situation of supporting both my children and my parents simultaneously?

So ultimately, I’m afraid that unforeseen expenses will come along and because I gave up some shifts, I won’t have enough money saved up to cover those expenses in the future.

At its heart though, this is kind of an unreasonable fear. Sure my expenses may go up, but my passive income is increasing as well and we can always adjust in the future if necessary. But it’s impossible to know one way or another, so that fear partially keeps me from giving up work.

 

Loss Aversion

 

As I mentioned before, I have the ability to give up almost half of the time I spend in medicine. Mentally, however, just knowing that fact hasn’t made it any easier to give up a shift. I had a hard time explaining why until I learned of a little human behavior psychologists call “loss aversion.” This is when our brain subconsciously looks at a situation and decides that the pain of loss will be greater than the benefit received.

In my specific situation, giving up the shift means losing income, while the reward is the pleasure of spending that time as I please. It hurts to “lose” that money quite a bit, even though I gain something far more valuable–time.

Of course, if presented with the two options (work or have free time), I would choose free time with my family. But the fact that I am assigned certain shifts and then proceed to give them up is something else altogether.

So how do I counter this? Perhaps the solution is simply to be assigned fewer shifts in the first place, but I believe that my brain could also use just a little bit of rewiring. With my passive sources of income, I’m covered for at least 40% of the time and can spend it doing the things I want to do. It’s time to see that time off as way more valuable than the money earned from the occasional shift. After all, isn’t that the whole point of early retirement?

 


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[PoF: Coincidentally, I’ve given up 40% of my clinical shifts (I’m not scheduled for them) and I haven’t regretted it one bit six months after making the move.

Giving up work completely is another story, and there are reasons I didn’t walk away when I realized I could afford to a few years ago. Fear of the unknown is definitely there. I also wasn’t ready to lose the income, the health insurance, and my status as a practicing physician.

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I’d love to know, does anyone else struggles with this? What do you do to fight it? For those who are financially independent but still working, besides just working for the enjoyment, do these factors play a part in your continued work schedule?

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22 comments

  • I think loss aversion plays a big role. There is this false idea that once you quit, if you change your mind, you will never be able to go back. This thought is usually irrational since, on the whole, your skills et is still the same.

    I think purpose and identity also are a hinderance. Often we define ourselves by our jobs. If one day we up and leave, who will we be then?

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  • I sold my first business after 18 years and experienced a very nice exit. High 90%s chance I’d never run out of money even never working again. So I went into “retirement mode” for about two years… volunteering, but otherwise just doing personal things. Long walks. Naps. reading.

    Well, after those two years I realized I needed to feel like I was contributing more than I had been. Heck, just in my 40s I’m too young to sit around, and constant travel isn’t feasible (and in itself would get old).

    We *DO* do a lot of travel still, and have increased the amount of volunteering, but I’ve also started working again at a casual pace. I do it because I want to do it, not because I have to.

  • I’m always looking for passive income ideas. Great article.
    I’ve subsribed to your site.

  • I can related to this one. When you are well-paid to do something, it seems a shame to leave that money on the table, especially when you see all the good it can do and nobody else in your family has earning potential that is anywhere near what yours is. You could work 5 more years and your kids would NEVER have to work at all, or you could go golfing and they could work for 40. Or you could donate millions to charity or whatever.

  • Early in my career I really felt the sting whenever I took time off. But that wears off after a while, especially after you amass a certain level of wealth. I am very fortunate in private family practice to be able to work part time when I want to. It is more challenging for my husband as a surgeon. But we balance that with his always giving up his calls whenever anyone else wanted them.

    I work mainly to keep my license active since I may want to work more in the future and I want to keep that option available.

    I always look at it in terms of what would I regret losing time from and make sure to do that first. You can not rewind the time you spend with your young kids for example but you can often make more money….

  • Age 50 had been my retirement target my whole life. When I got there, I was financially ready to retire, but not mentally. I slowly scaled back my working hours over the next few years and finally was able to let go at age 54. I don’t think I would have done well if I had quit while still working full time. Ramping down was the right decision. After 20 years of practice, if you like it, it is hard to let go.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  • For me it’s loss aversion, but in a slightly different way. I’m FI so I don’t care so much about the loss of income I’m giving up in being part time. But I’m in a highly technology-driven field, so I’m losing some skills. I can read an practice on my own to keep up, but why do that and not get paid when I just purposely gave up half of the paying gig! Today’s technology moves so fast, when you opt out of the 9-5 it’s inevitable that you might lose skills and relevance.

  • Gasem

    Once you reach FI you pretty much quit when you’re done. First you need to understand when you purchase a portfolio you are purchasing your future security, that is what FI means. The dissonance happens because you don’t trust the “security” and you especially don’t trust the boiler plate 4% x25! yea yea that’s the ticket!! So you create side gigs bla bla which is just another name for creating a different job. It’s not passive, it’s a defense against disbelief in the plan, but if that’s what it takes to create a sense of security for you what the heck. It’s a totally legit path into the future. In addition life is more than creating wealth. Life is more than taking trips. All that is just looking good. Life is about creation. I retired at 58, but I wasn’t done. I created a new practice with my partner from scratch. I always had a pain practice on the side another of my creations. It allowed a very different dispensing of my anesthesia knowledge and I had a stable of people who saw me once or twice a year and what I did for them got them through. So engaging is not just about the dough it’s as much about what you create and the responsibility and enjoyment associated with that. And when you die and when you’re gone there’ll be one child born and a world to carry on. What you do today is what has consequence.

    When I started my practice my employees off loaded their risk onto me, and I made damn sure no matter the state of accounts receivable they got a paycheck. That’s the nature of being the owner. If you’re an employee your used to living life with your risk being managed by someone else. When YOU become the owner there isn’t anyone to offload the risk. This is the real issue, and I think it doesn’t have much to do with “loss aversion” but with lack of skill at managing your own risk. The solution to that is to develop risk management skills, and that’s probably a whole ‘nuther topic which could be mined and published about by FIRE savvy retiree’s. Another topic is to publish on the granularity of retirement. It turns out part of the risk profile is what the government has in store for you once you retire, in terms of control over your finances. Making the money is the EASY part. In fact making the money today is trivial. It’s keeping at least some of it once it’s made that requires some planning. If people actually had a clearly understood plan beside “spend 4%” their fear level would subside considerably. My solution has been to “what if” every scenario I can think of for me and my wife till death. If you do that the constraints of the pre-retirement nest egg comes into sharper focus and the entire package from accumulation to death becomes something you can actually believe in.

    I just watched my daughter give her senior recital last night. She beat an 8 foot Steinway into submission till it freely gave up the music. She dominated Bach Mozart Chopin and Berkey. She has become what she dreamed she would become. This is why we work and this why we plan. In the end it has not that much to do with the money.

    • This is one of the best comments I’ve read on any PF blog in a long while. Gasem, you have synthesized the essence of FI and life planning and addressed the risks that underpin the writings of many FIRE blogs.

      I don’t know you personally Gasem, but it would be my honor to get to know you and have you as a reader in my blog. I think we can learn a lot from people who have taken a balanced approach to both FIRE and life and speak from direct experience of having gone through the journey, instead of simulated forecasts and penny-saving trivia that fill much of digital ink in FIRE blogs.

      • Gasem

        Hi TFR glad you found some value in my screed. I’ve often seen your logo appear various places but I never delved into your world. I read your recent India post and it’s fascinating. Indian education can be top notch as I’ve worked with hundreds of Indian physicians over the course of my lifetime many whom I regard as brilliant.

        My experience of Indian culture is there is a different underlying social structure compared to American culture. Anesthesiologists often develop close relationships with the surgeons they work with. I asked my buddy why he had 2 Mercedes and a Porsche and his response was it’s an Indian “thing”. It has nothing really to do with the possession but had to do with the cultural definition implied by possession, a fascinating insight and maybe useful to you in your new life. The social referents superficially may seem the same “democracy” and all that but underneath the moorings are different. I found the same to be true with Chinese culture. Learn the culture at the heartbeat level by developing close friendships. You will then be sitting on a goldmine of opportunity and rich experience.

  • SY

    We are on target to reach FI when we both turned 40 in 2 years. We’ll definitely still keep working though, but will scale down some. Main reason to keep working for me is I can use my income for charity. I’m very passionate about certain charities, but have been limiting my contribution to 20K/year since we are still building wealth. Once we reach FI, I’ll have the ability to increase my contribution and fulfill my life long goal of helping make a difference in areas i’m passionate about.

  • Loss aversion is a big part of why for me. The other part is identity but I’m transitioning that part now. Funny how all of us FI bloggers feel the need to justify the RE. Must be in our nature to share these thoughts that got us blogging.

    I find this statement from your post interesting:

    So how do I counter this? Perhaps the solution is simply to be assigned fewer shifts in the first place,

    There is some research (albeit in a lab with chocolate) that we may be happier with income limits. Blasphemy to capitalism I realize, but perhaps our nature is to hoard wealth while riding the asymptote of the happiness vs wealth curve. I’m no Joe “Vladimir Lenin” Biden, but the possibility exists, no?

  • Frank

    I do not know if I’m FI. I have the same job as POF but north of the border. I’m 50 with 4 children and accumulated a net worth more than many I read about on this blog. No debts. I live in an expensive city in an expensive home. Maybe a reno in 10 yrs? A new vacation property means I “need” a boat etc. My family takes a couple of international trips/year. These details all require substantial expenses. So long as I keep working we will never have a financial worry and in 10 years “almost nothing” could derail a financially secure retirement. I am definitely working less and love my time away from work. Early in my career I would cringe at the thought of giving up work. The financial stresses are no longer there but they may return if I stop working. I am not able to wrap my head around how physicians give up well paid jobs at a young age with children if they are healthy. I cannot predict the future.

  • Ed69

    When I graduated from college 22 years ago, I started taking all the work I could find. If 40 hours was a normal work week, I was working as much as 72 a week. This was from at least 3 jobs, one with a FT company, one from a PT company and one from a health care staffing company. With this set up I could (and have) worked every day of the month. Especially when there was a shortage of pharmacists.

    I fell into the trap of needing to work every day because as I saw it , I would lose money if I didn’t work. If I took the day off not only would I lose the $xxx for the 10 or 12 hour shift I wouldn’t be working, but I would probably go out to eat and/or shopping with the family on said day off I was then losing the $xxx I would have spent during my day off.

    I took a day off and just lost $xxxx!?!

    I also had the mindset of ‘I need to make hay while the sun is shining’ cause this shortage wouldn’t last forever.

    I put off too much stuff. I figured when I retired early I would start eating right and exercising, I’ll be able to take the vacations I have forfeit all these years. Now my health and weight are sh!tty (mostly weight so far), it might be too late to correct the behavior(s) that I ingrained in myself all these years. I am not physically able to go on vacations to places I had planned.

    Turning 50 this year, my biggest excitement was that I would be able to put an extra $6k in my 401k from here on out. How sad is that?!?

    Today, with the pharmacist shortage over and having been over for a good 10 years, I am still working a FT job and two PT jobs. I am hoping to drop down to one part time job when I hit 55 (assuming I am still alive) and joining early semi retirement.

    To anyone reading this, learn from my mistakes and carve out family time instead of work time. As people like to say, “I don’t know of anyone on their death bed stating that they wished they had spent more time at the office.”

  • I think loss aversion is the main reason too, but I have taken a psychological different approach. When I first decided to go part-time my plan was to sell my shifts. This would give me maximum flexibility without compromising my full-time status. When it came to parting with cash for a shift, it was almost too hard to bear. For one, I saw how much money I was perceived loosing for such a short period of time. Second the person I would sell my shift to would always try to negotiate a better rate since there was no set rate, which was annoying. So it was easier to suck it up and do the shift since it would only be one day. Multiply this by 50 days and we have a serious problem and administering it turned out to be a nightmare. Once I decided to go to 75% then I simply would not have to be there on certain days and there would be no exchange of money. This was much easier to tolerate and if loss aversion reared its ugly head, I would tell myself I can always go back to full-time or take on another side gig. I think when you look back, as most have, it will be the best decision ever made. Many in the comments have echoed this sentiment. So far I am happier than ever and even if I have a rough call, I know I will have time to recuperate. This means I am more present for my wife and kids, so they are happier too.

    All dreams come true, if you dare to pursue them.

  • jlo

    Great topic and comments
    I think we are talking about two separate topics which overlap. FI and (Early) Retirement or scaling back.
    FI is obviously a probability based on a number of variables and assumptions which is why for many of us risk aversion is such an issue. FI is dependent on spending and lifestyle choices some of which are under our control and some of which are not.

    Early retirement or scaling back is dependent on FI but may be for a spectrum of different reasons such as burn out or not enjoying the practice of medicine, wanting more time with family or pursuing other endeavors besides medicine.

    I see a fair number of physicians, often in their late 30s to early 50s, who seem burned out and do not enjoy their job or the stress that being a physician has on themselves or their families. They just want out but don’t see a way to extract themselves. I also see some older physicians who keep working into their 60s, 70s, and 80s because they either have to keep working due to poor financial planning or even worse know nothing else in their life other then being a doctor and won’t give it up because they have nothing else, I know a recently retired pro soccer star from Europe who at the age of 40 is retired, has more money then he knows what to do with and is completely lost as they only thing he ever knew was soccer. Really sad actually.

    For some of us working the extra shifts and living like a resident to become FI is a means to bail out of a job we don’t really like anymore. For others reaching FI is important for a sense of security but not the trigger to retire. I admit I am caught in the middle in that I am FI but not ready to give up the security and sense of identity and purpose that my career in medicine affords.

    I very much enjoy this site and these types of discussions. I love to learn about everyone’s situation and it really makes me reflect on my own goals, anxieties and how I want to live my life.

  • Rmm

    I struggle with loss aversion as well. For me , I decided to go half time as an er doctor and then give away my nights and weekends. That puts me at 6ish shifts per month which gives me tons of freedom but still have an income that I can live on, travel, and save a little .

    Cheers

  • Awesome post!
    I spent last weekend at home while my wife and kids were visiting her sister in Costa Rica.

    Having a quiet house for a solid week was a wake up call for the future when our kids are gone.

    I realized I should focus on spending quality time and enjoying them now, because time flies!

  • JSA

    I’ve come to respect the fear of the unknown. We can make plans, estimate our expenses, annual portfolio growth, etc., but life can throw you a curveball and having an income stream that is reliable and lucrative as a physician’s, even at part-time, sure can be a help.

  • Hi PIMD,

    This is a very honest and reflective post, which I really enjoyed reading.

    I think the thing that makes it hard to give up paid work is the lack of options that most people have. As you’ll know, options have value (mathematical or not).

    So my personal approach is to create those options, and this begins with having an asset mindset. Thankfully, with technology being so cheap to acquire, many people can actually create options if they had an asset creation mindset.

    Another way I look at the fear point is that for me, at some point, I got to the point of no return in life. Key events led a switch being turned on in my mind. That switch has personally forced me to take action by dialling down on fear and instead dial up on faith (putting one foot in front of the other with firm belief).

    The future doesn’t seem so unknown anymore. Although there will always be some fear, the focus is on taking daily steps to conquer it.

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