Christopher Guest Post: Our Next Life

Today’s guest needs no introduction, but you’re going to get one, anyway. Just in case  you don’t read any other FIRE blogs, never read my Sunday Best posts where she’s been featured regularly, and have never been amused by her witty animated gifs she shares on Twitter.

Tanja Hester (no relation to Devin) has been sharing her transition from hard-working globetrotter (no relation to basketball) to early retiree and dedicated outdoorswoman. She recently retired at a very young age (38) along with her husband Mark at a pretty young age (41). Meanwhile, I’m 42 and still working, but that may change in the not-too distant future.

I met Tanja in person last fall and she was as personable as one would expect from the thoughtful writing on her site and her friendly demeanor on the Fairer Cents podcast she and her friend Kara Perez of Bravely have been working on together. This summer, she and I will reconvene, along with a bunch of other FI-minded folks, at Camp FI Midwest (sorry sold out… but there may be a public meetup beforehand… stay tuned).

Most of you will recognize Tanja first and foremost from the website Our Next Life, where she’s been sharing her and Mark’s story for the better part of three years.

 

 

Most of that time, their identities and location were a big secret, but after they gave notice at their jobs, the pair was outed by Elizabeth O’Brien in a Money magazine feature. I’ve been seeing their smiling faces everywhere ever since, and they’ve got many reasons to smile, including all the free time they care to have and a book deal that was announced so recently I don’t even have a pre-order affiliate link to share. So disappointing. 🙂

 

What’s a Christopher Guest post?

 

Inspired by Nigel Tufnel, the character portrayed by Christopher Guest in Spinal Tap, I took Mr. 1500’s ten questions, and amped them up to eleven.

If you’re not familiar with the scene, take 50 seconds to watch this video and enjoy the dialog between Nigel and Rob Reiner.

I decided I’d start a Q&A of my own. Not satisfied with just ten questions, “this one goes to eleven”. Just like Nigel’s amplifiers.

I also enjoy responding to the answers provided by the interviewee, which makes the interview flow more like a conversation. And conversation is what we’re after.

 

 

What do you do (or did you do) for a living? What do you like best about your job? If you were a physician, what type of a physician do you think you would be? Why?

 

Until I retired last December, I was a political media consultant. I loved that nearly everything I got to work on was tied to a good cause of one sort or another, and that I worked with people who genuinely cared about the outcomes. I feel genuinely lucky to have gotten to do work that helped real people — and I got paid to do so!

If I’d been a physician — something I strongly considered — I always assumed I’d do something highly technical like neurosurgery, but the more I’ve learned about health, the more I’d want to be a generalist and go into family practice. That’s the front line of patient contact, and the person who usually develops the strongest patient bond, and I think that’s super important.

 

[PoF: You can be proud that the work you did served a greater good. I can’t imagine I’d feel as good about my FI money if I had earned it in a capacity where the work was less meaningful or even worse, harmful to others, and I’m sure you feel the same.

Family medicine is one ot the areas of the most need and unfortunately one of the areas with the highest levels of burnout. I’m pretty sure they’re still taking applications for medical school, though, if you ever get bored of the FIRE thing.]

 

 

Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.

 

My husband Mark and I were absolutely defined by our careers while working, and did work that felt incredibly important, something that I think most physicians will relate to. And because of that, I go beyond the strictly financial questions to talk about things like how you’ll define yourself when that career is gone, how to replace that sense of purpose, how to give back and use our financial independence to improve society and the planet, and the questions that I believe are much harder to answer than simply doing a little math.

Health care is also something I go deep on, especially how early retirees can ensure that they get good care. We’re also not super frugal, and I don’t talk at all about how to save money. Instead, I focus on spending on what you value, which for us is travel, culture and outdoor adventure! Oh, and occasionally I poke the tiger and push the entire blog community to be more transparent. (That’s not eleven sentences, but I’m not a rule follower. That’s in the blog, too!)

 

[PoF: This tiger felt that poke and grumbled a bit, but ultimately it led me to write a coming clean post of my own that was as see-through as I think an anonymous blogger can be. It’s been one of my more popular posts in recent months.

You may not have given me eleven sentences, but that second sentence was 64 words, which is as good as at least three or four sentences. Plus you talk about improving society and the planet, and I’m sure you’ve got plans for the universe, too. Nicely done!]

 

What inspired you to start a blog of your own? Was there a particular event you remember that made you feel your blog had arrived? Any big plans for your blog in the future?

 

I started Our Next Life to chronicle our journey to early retirement, and really just assumed that my dad and a few friends who knew our secret would read it — I never imagined actual people pursuing financial independence or early retirement would find it and read regularly. But then people did, and it’s crazy how many friends we’ve made from it.


I wouldn’t say there was a particular moment when I felt like I’d “arrived” (and I’m not even sure I’d say it feels like that now — I’m still just a person writing on the internet), but some great moments were getting nominated for a Plutus Award for best retirement blog in my first year of writing, winning the Plutus for best FIRE blog in the third year, getting media coverage when we dropped the anonymity (in MONEY and MarketWatch), getting invited to speak at Google and getting my book deal. (Shameless plug: Work Optional: The Non-Pennypinching Guide to Early Retirement comes out March 2019!)

As for future plans, the plan is just to keep on keeping on! I’m writing a bit less frequently right now, while finishing the book, but can’t imagine scaling back even though most bloggers seem to do that after they retire early — I love writing, and love our community too much. And I’m keeping my podcast The Fairer Cents going and starting a few new ones in the next year. Getting to spend time working on my own creative projects is an enormous privilege, and I feel lucky every day that I get to do this instead of working for someone else, and all the better that money is barely a part of any of it.

 

[PoF: I probably should have read your entire questionnaire before writing my intro — you can blame me for the reduncancies — but I think it’s great you’re continuing to do all that you did and more.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll do the same or not. I have found that in our FIRE preview trips (extended travel with our boys), I’ve had less time to spend online than I do now while working part-time. I don’t want to scale back, but I’m not sure I can enjoy the FIRE life to the fullest extent while keeping up with all my current online activities.]

 

Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.

 

I have a pretty comprehensive start here page, so I recommend checking that out if you’re interested. And here are a few more posts that your readers might find useful:

The Full Financial Breakdown at Early Retirement — Every aspect of our early retirement plan and what it looked like when we crossed the finish line (or, really, the starting line).

The Simple Math of Lifestyle Stagnation, the Biggest Secret of Our Success — A breakdown of the power of simply keeping your spending level and letting raises do the work for you of saving.

Think Health Care, Not Just Taxes and Weather, When Deciding Where to Retire — Data-based pushback against the conventional wisdom that tells retirees to move to warm states with low or no income tax, as though those are the only factors that matter in retirement. Health care quality and access vary a ton by state, and that’s just as important to consider — more important, in my view — as taxes and weather.

Signing Up for ACA/Obamacare Health Insurance for Early Retirement — Our experience signing up and the many lessons we learned along the way, many of which are especially applicable to previously high earners.

Don’t Forget About Your Later Years // Planning for Early AND Traditional Retirement — A look at why conventional early retirement planning advice isn’t comprehensive enough, and the need to plan and save for two phases of early retirement.

The Fundamental Problem with the 4% Rule for Early Retirement Isn’t the 4% Rule — Questioning the validity of the all-hallowed 4% “rule,” and not even based on the rule at all, but on the assumption of level spending forever.

Protect Your Early Retirement From Sequence of Returns Risk — Another data deep dive, this time on sequence and how to head it off most effectively.

Of Boosts and Bootstraps // One Story, Two Ways — A different way to look at many bootstraps narratives, in this case my own.

When We’re No Longer “Important” // Ego, Invisibility and Early Retirement — Coping with the loss of identity, most specifically a loss of feeling important at work, when retiring early.

Replicate What You’re Great At in Early Retirement — How to keep that feeling of being good at things going after you lose it at work.

How to Use Your FI Freedom to Agitate for Others at Work — How and more importantly WHY anyone who’s FI or nearing it should step up to help others and the greater good at work.

 

[PoF: Math, money, healthcare, and ego. No FIRE stone left uncovered on the ONL blog. I do like how you frequently feature the psychological aspects of making the transition from very important worker to early retiree. 

You won’t find as much of that emotional talk here, although I try not to ignore it entirely. But part of that is where I come from. Today, I listened to a speaker from North Dakota discussing mental health from the perspective of a guy who tells us his home state has only one emotion — fine. “How are you?” “Oh, fine.” Ya, that’s pretty much how it goes around around these parts, particularly with dudes.]

 

 

 

 

At what age are you most likely to retire (or at what age did you retire) from full-time work? What are you doing to help realize your retirement target?

 

We became technically FI when I was 36 and Mark was 39, independently FI at 37 and 40 and we retired early at 38 and 41.

 

What does an ideal retirement look like for you? What will you do with your time when full-time work is in your rearview mirror?

 

Right now we’re still in what we think of as the detox phase of early retirement, catching up on the years of sleep we didn’t get while working. But we’re already enjoying slow mornings, more time to work on our own creative and purpose projects, more time outdoors around our home in Lake Tahoe, California, and more fun travel. (I can’t recommend Taiwan enough, our first big international destination after we left work.)

So we’re living that ideal retirement in small ways now, but after we catch up on sleep, we’ll figure out what this phase of life will really look like.

 

[PoF: Tell me more about this thing you call sleep. It sounds wonderful. I look forward to sleeping through the night and waking up without an alarm clock more often than not.

With the different projects you’re tending to on both the front and back burners, I’ll bet the biggest change isn’t necessarily how much energy you’re putting into various endeavors, but the fact that you get to choose what to do along with the time and place in which you do them.]

 

I’ll give you eleven sentences to dish out advice to a young physician. Any and all advice is welcome. We talk about personal finance, so money is fair game, but if you have advice on being a better doctor, a better parent / spouse / friend / human, we’re all ears.

 

I think you’ve covered all the financial stuff, PoF, so I’ll speak as a person who’s been a medical mystery all my life and have grown accustomed to being dismissed by doctors at all levels. (Like the time I nearly died of osteomyelitis on my ileum (pelvis) as an 8-year-old because several doctors insisted to my parents that it was “just strep,” and that I was faking the pain, delaying my hospitalization and treatment.)

In recent years I’ve learned that I have hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which affects nearly every bodily system in my case and creates a lot of invisible pain that moves around day to day along with fun* secondary effects like dysautonomia and POTS. (*sarcasm)

And it’s only now, at age 38, that I actually feel listened to by my whole team doctors, which is crazy. Patients shouldn’t have to fight to be taken seriously, especially women, and the stats on gender disparities in health care should alarm everyone. So listen to women, and believe them. (This is true in all things, not just health care.)

I’m saying this to young physicians because the research also shows that, contrary to what you might expect, young doctors aren’t necessarily doing a better job listening to women than older docs are, and you have a chance to help change that. Half the planet will be eternally grateful to you!

 

[PoF: Ehlers-Danlos, eh? I didn’t know that about you. For some reason, I can do the stretchy elbow skin thing that is the classic textbook image, but I have zero other signs or symptoms. I’m certainly don’t have the hypermobility. I can barely touch my toes with my knees bent. 

On behalf of a bunch of other doctors, I apologize for not hearing you or making the proper diagnoses over the years. I hope we can do a better job in the future, but I fear it’s only going to get worse.

With 12-minute appointments, production pressures, private equity buying up practices, rampant burnout, and physicians being replaced by lower cost providers, I don’t have a lot of hope for a generation of better listeners or diagnosticians. I pray things get better, but I don’t like the recent trends.]

 

You’ve got eleven days to visit anyplace in the world with an $11,000 budget. Where do you go and what do you do?

 

Ooh! Tough one! We went to Japan last year, and loved it so, so much. So even though we’ve been there, it’s fairly expensive and would be a good place to go with a healthy travel budget.

Iceland is also high on our list of places to visit soon, before all its glaciers melt, and it’s notoriously expensive. The South Pacific is next on the list, given that much of it is threatened by sea level rise, and it’s expensive to get there. After that, skiing in the Alps, another area seeing big effects from climate change.

 

[PoF: As early retirees, you’re welcome to take as many $11,000 11-day trips as you like, and you’ve outlined four good ones. Of course, you might as well take your time since you’ve got no reason to hurry back!

I’ve been to Iceland three times now, and Japan once. I felt like Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation in Japan, but totally dig Iceland. Best public swimming pools on the planet.]

 

 

Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.

 

I don’t drink much, but when I do indulge, it’s usually in a (1) dry Riesling from the Rhine Valley, (2) a 2001 Sauternes, (3) a recent year Bandol, (4) any Vouvray or (5) as old a Brunello or (6) Barolo as possible, because I definitely had a wine snob phase in my late 20s and early 30s, and you never go back to boxed wine after that. (7) The entire collection of beers from Ghostfish Brewing Company in Seattle, the world’s best gluten-free brewery, is excellent and I hoard them because I can’t buy them in California.

On the non-alcoholic front, I recently got into (8) brown sugar boba tea and (9) milky tea in Taiwan, both of which are filled with sugar and count as dessert. Starbucks (10) nitro cold brew is a delicious, sugar-free coffee treat when I feel like burning money. And the (11) cucumber, pineapple and jalapeno juice at Cafe Gratitude in LA is the thing I could always expense as a part of work travel that I now miss the most.

 

[PoF: Be sure to check out Burning Brothers Brewing in St. Paul, MN for the gluten-free beers and alliteration when you come to town. They can their ΠΡ (Pyro) Pale Ale and others.

I’ve never been a wine snob, but have rightfully been called a beer snob. I’m OK with that.]

 

Now, eleven foods.

 

Every person I know who has food allergies or autoimmune reactions has a “death bed list” of the tantalizing foods we’re not allowed to eat but that we would indulge in if we got a “you only have a few months to live” diagnosis.

Here are mine: New York pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts Boston creme donuts, Parisian croissants, eclairs and baguettes, fried chicken and waffles from Roscoe’s in LA, ramen in Tokyo or LA, the Middle Eastern bread at Moby Dick’s in DC, real Oreos, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and my grandmother’s peach cobbler.

[PoF: The Death Row buffet. Love it.

Don’t hate me, but in the last year and change, I’ve had pizza in NYC, baguettes in Paris, Dunkin Donuts in Boston, real Oreos (no Hydrox for this guy), and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. 

Where can I find your grandmother?]

 

How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me?

 

I’m guessing Twitter? Because that’s where most of the FIRE community conversation happens. You already know I appreciate your transparency, so I think continuing to remind your readers to be grateful and to use their positions to give as much as they can to charity is a great service you can provide. You’re already a leader on this, so keep it up!

 

[PoF: Will do! Thank you so much for taking part in fun little exercise I call the Christopher Guest post. It’s been great getting to know a bit more about you, and I look forward to some quality in-person time later this summer. I’ll be bringing my wife and kids, all of whom are far more entertaining than me.

Best of luck finishing up the book, continuing the many conversations you’ve started at ONL, and navigating these post-FIRE waters. Cheers!]

 


You're still not using Personal Capital? That's how I track the PoF portfolio.

 

Interested in hearing how other top personal finance bloggers have answered these questions? Check out the following Christopher Guest Posts:

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9 comments

  • Really enjoyed this one. And Our Next Life inspired my own coming clean manifesto.

    Thank you for sharing your open and honest experience in health care, Tanja. I, too, apologize for how inept we can be in medicine at listening to those that need us most. The bias and lack of empathy in medicine is a gaping hole that most docs and training programs simply refuse to address. Thank you for pointing this out from a patient’s perspective. I’ll continue to try and point it out where I work, too.

    You have an inspiring story, and I can’t wait to read your book! Please, send along a link to it as soon as its available. I look forward to reading and reviewing it.

    Also, on a side note, thank you for the direction of your blog! I spend a lot of time writing on self-identity for physicians and not letting work become that self-identity. I really appreciate your take on the non-financial aspects of chasing FIRE while not getting burned.

    TPP

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  • Your posts on planning for early and traditional retirement and using FI to be an agitator at work are some of my favorites as well 🙂 And definitely applicable to anyone pursuing FIRE, regardless of career. So looking forward to that book, friend!

  • I love the format of these posts because we really get to know so many different aspects of a person.

    My favorite aspect of ONL are the emotional topics being discussed. Lots of people write about FIRE these days. Very few talk about the anticipated difficulty of losing their sense of importance from leaving work and similar discussions. None do it as eloquently as Tanja.

    Thank you both for putting this together. It’s a terrific read.

  • Thanks POF for bringing attention to another blogger I apparently didn’t come across on my own.

    I think it is refreshing to see people in all walks of life, not just physicians, able to succeed at retiring early.

    These stories inspire people to follow their paths. Continue the great work.

  • S

    Just a perspective that solely working for one side of the political spectrum certainly does not and cannot mean that one was always doing the “greater good”.

  • Thanks for sharing Tanja and another great Christopher Guest series! I can completely relate to her experience in the medical system, we are so specialized patients are often left for themselves when a specialist says “I can’t help you” or when you are dealing with a condition and the specialists with the most knowledge to manage care are in a specialty that doesn’t have a patient-facing clinic (here’s looking at you neuroradiology!)

    I’ll have to look more into the “coming clean” post, I might owe that to all 3 people who read my site! 🤣

  • Gasem

    Nice to see a different side Tanja. I do follow your blog, a favorite. Looks like you have parlayed into a bit of a media mogul, congratulations! It’s something I really like about this country, the ability to grow an opportunity by applying some passion. I’ll enjoy the evolution.

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  • Very nice. I like interviews because you get to hear it straight from the person and not third-person. This was great to hear someone who is FI tell you what they did and how they got their start to FIRE. I usually do 7-10 questions when I do interviews on my blog. It’s so that people do not get overwhelmed answering so many questions.

    I started writing because every time I asked people what they knew about finances I would get crickets. I feel knowing how to save is just as important as learning what to spend your money on.

    I heard about FinCon. I plan to attend in 2018 down in Orlando. I wonder if there are any meetups in DC? Please let me know if you know of any or someone that I can reach out to about any?

    Thanks,
    Miriam

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