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Inception: When an Idea Takes Hold

What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An Idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks, right in there somewhere.


This veritable quote comes courtesy of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb in the Oscar-decorated 2010 film Inception. The plot revolves around the unstoppable force that can result from a “fully formed” idea.

I consider myself to have experienced Inception. Not at the hands of a Hollywood heavyweight sporting a bit of chin stubble, but by a man in Colorado with a computer and a mustache.

A mustache?


my movember ‘stache, circa 2012


As a relatively frugal physician, I like to score a good deal, and I did when I picked up a Microsoft Surface on or around Black Friday, 2014. A month later, in between study sessions for my $2,100 Board maintenance of certification in anesthesia (MOCA) exam, I was playing with my new tablet. One of the pre-installed apps was MSN Money. I opened the app, swiped through a few pages, and came across this little gem of an article, “How to retire early – 35 years early.”

The 3,200 word article / interview told the story of blogger Pete Adeney, a.k.a. Mr. Money Mustache (MMM), an engineer who retired from an uninspiring engineering career at age 30 to live a more meaningful life. I learned about his background, his philosophy on spending, his investment strategy, and his complete freedom to enjoy life as a family man without the burden of paid employment.

“That’s peculiar,” I thought, and I went back to reading about action potentials, peristalsis, and pulsus paradoxus.

A few weeks later, I was back at the library, studying in my corner, wishing I was home with my family instead of memorizing minutiae that has no relevance to my actual job. “What was the name of that guy with the mustache again? Pete? Yeah, that sounds right, Pete.” Google promptly directed me to his very own website,

Over the next month or two, my anesthesia study sessions consisted of alternating about 10 pages of study material with one MMM blog post. Back and forth, rinse and repeat. By the time I was ready for my recertification exam, I had read every post the mustachioed man had written. I can’t say I became a full fledged mustachian physician, but I was most definitely inspired.


physician mr money mustache
required reading


Weeks later, I got my letter. I passed the test with flying colors. I wouldn’t have to take the darned thing again for ten whole years*.


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Inception. When an Idea Takes Hold


Would I still be working in ten years? I wasn’t so sure anymore. You see, an Idea had been planted in my mind. An Idea that had taken hold and couldn’t be shaken. I looked more intently at my current financials, my savings and spending rate, and I knew I could Retire Early. The idea was on my mind and in my mind. I had experienced Inception.

I thought about what I would do with my life and my time if I didn’t spend about 2,000 hours a year working a sometimes stressful job for money I didn’t really need. I thought about all my friends and colleagues who would be working those jobs for decades longer to support an upper-middle class lifestyle.

I thought about the depressed medical students struggling to keep their heads above water, and the burned out doctors trying to buy happiness at the Lexus dealership when the money could be better used to buy time, an asset far more valuable than any fancy car.

Over the next year, I continued on my quest to explore The Idea. I read other early retirement blogs. I read books and websites devoted to personal finance. I discovered Dr. Jim Dahle’s and more fully adopted a Boglehead philosophy.

I had previously assumed I would work until I was at least 60; that’s what people do, right? I would be quite wealthy; anesthesia pays well and I was on track for an 8-figure portfolio eventually.

After Inception, I knew about another option, an option that would leave me with all the money I need, and more importantly, the freedom to spend my days as I see fit.


jamaican beach
we could be swimming


My head was swimming with ideas. I had ideas to implement, and ideas to share. I wrote some ideas down, and decided I would start a website of my own. I made a New Years’ Resolution to follow through with the plan.



On January 9th of 2016, I launched Why this name?

* A couple months after learning I had passed my Board recertification exam, the Board informed me that the rules were changing and I had taken the test unnecessarily. I would now get to enroll in the alternate system, dubbed MOCA 2.0. Thank you, Board, for confirming I am making the right choice to retire early!

18 months after I experienced Inception, I had my own website, the pages of which are viewed at least 5,000 times a day and growing. Early retirement is clearly in my future. The more I read and write about it, the more concrete The Idea becomes.



Have you experienced Inception? What was The Idea that took hold for you?

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23 thoughts on “Inception: When an Idea Takes Hold”

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  5. I found you via WCI, and your FIRE idea has caused inception for me as I have been literally consuming your content non stop for one week now. I’ve started from your initial post and now here. I’m a fellow anesthesiologist, 33 years old. 12 years before I hit 40-50x’s expenses at my current savings rate. Thanks to PoF, let’s see if I can shave off a couple of those years. I love what I do so wouldn’t mind dropping to part or less than part time when I hit FI. So great to have options depending on circumstances for that time.

    Thank you for the inspiration to shoot for something I thought once impossible in an organized and planned out manner.

  6. I feel as though I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. We are a two physician family – I’m 47 and my husband is 52. We’ve always been good savers and have said we would retire “early”, but through you and MMM I’ve been able to figure out exactly when that will be possible- which is immediately if we wanted to! The freedom that comes with this is indescribable. The joy I get from my job as a pediatrician is multiplied many times over because being there is truly a choice now. It’s hard for understand how smart people as we all are can’t see the big picture, but we didn’t. Thanks to you and MMM for showing us the way.

    • Thank you, Pedsdoc. The revelation that you no longer need to work for money is pretty incredible. I’m very happy to hear you’re deriving more satisfaction from work now that you know you can walk away. I wish I could say the same!


  7. experienced inception by the hands/words of the MMM . I had read the ERE story a while back before MMM but didn’t see it working for me as he lived on $7k per year on a trailer. But when I started reading MMM then I saw that it could apply to me and my wife. Then WCI’s website came in handy for education, among other books.
    My wife is not working anymore as a physician and I am the sole earner. We plan to be FI in 5-10 years(at worst 10yrs). I am Recent grad starting to work hard, and save and live like a resident” forever except for a little more traveling. Wife is on board. our expenses are around $40k without debt (which we will get rid as fast as possible). Once we get there I may work part time 10-20 hours per week for maintanence and a little lifestyle inflation.
    can’t wait to be FI and work because i want to not becuase i need to and obviously with the option of dropping out whenever

    You are the MMM for the doctors. Keep it coming!!

    • Thank you, DrDS. How long did your wife work as a physician? Is she done for good? You could superfund your retirement as a two-income household, but of course one doctor’s income is way more than Enough when your expenses are only $40k per year. I’m targeting closer to $80k per year in retirement for our family of 4, accounting for some inflation and the cost of health insurance.

      “The MMM for doctors” I like that.


  8. POF, I share your pain about the MOCA exam….I’d love it if you’d talk more about the ridiculousness of it…

    • I promise I will at some point. I’m among the luckiest who was encouraged to take the MOCA 1.0 written exam, and was subsequently enrolled in MOCA 2.0 a couple months after passing!

  9. Great post PoF. For me that source of inception was Dr. Jim Dahle at the White Coat Investor. Love your posts, keep them coming!

    • The good Dr. Dahle didn’t provide the initial inspiration for me, but his site has given me many of the necessary details.


  10. I’m sure that there are plenty of physicians who couldn’t fathom hanging up the hat early despite the ever-changing healthcare system. We spent a long time getting where we’re at. That being said, having the flexibility of FIRE opens up many options to diversify your time.

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  12. The trifecta of The Mad Fientist, Darrow over at Can I Retire Yet and the epiphany of a life less ordinary provided the oomph to set our plan in motion. Always saved, always dreamed. The power of the two and revving each up is a beautiful thing.

  13. I will probably have 25 x expenses in 9 years but will likely continue to work as I will only be in my 40s. Thereafter I would want to continue working part time either in private practice or academics, but when the time comes will evaluate my options depending on how our healthcare system is.
    Congratulations with your website!!!
    Glad WCI has a healthy competition. Love to read both sites

    • Sounds like a great plan, Seroma! And thank you for the kudos. I don’t think of WCI as competition, and I’m glad you are enjoying both sites. Since reading them is not an either / or proposition, I like to think they are complementary. My site probably appeals to a subset of his readers, and some budding early retirees outside of the WCI audience.


  14. Good post PoF! It’s nice to hear how you got started on the road to FIRE. If you were a super hero, this would be your creation story!

    What’s your financial super power?

    • Thank you, Mr. Tako! Unbreakable was a way better creation story. My financial super power? The last few days it’s been my CME allowance, which reimburses me for food and travel expenses for conference attendance. My kryptonite (overpriced anything) hasn’t phased me one bit here in San Francisco!

  15. Mr. Money Mustache’s blog blew my mind much like the new commercials for Jet (cue puff of purple smoke). When I first heard about him I thought he was just another super frugal dude telling people to use coffee filters for toilet paper and such. I was completely wrong. When I started actually reading what he wrote, his Ideas resonated so strongly about what I had been feeling but couldn’t see clearly. I DON’T need to buy more and more crap that I have to find a place to store. I DONT’T need to keep buying Audis, BMW’s just because I am a doctor. Thanks to him, POF, WCI and others I will retire 15- 20yrs earlier than my partners.

    • Congratulations LDB – and I’m glad you too saw the light. Early retirement doesn’t necessarily have to be the goal. I know some docs who would be turned off at the idea. I’m with you though; there are better ways to spend that money than on luxury autos. Buying freedom might be the best for many.

  16. I’ve experienced the inception as well, and similarly at the hands of a man named Pete, the one and only MMM! The seed had been planted a few years ago and has definitely taken root. Sounds like a very similar story to yours!


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