While the title may represent a bit of a false dichotomy, I think it’s wise to delve into what type of life you would prefer. Are you willing to frontload the sacrifice to reap the benefits your hard work at a later date?
Conversely, would you rather work less now, slowing down the pace of life, knowing that part-time work or taking a sabbatical will prolong your time to financial independence?
For most of my career, I kept the pedal to the metal and worked full-time if not more than full-time. Towards the end, I slowed down to part-time for the better part of two years before calling it a day in August of 2019. If I were to change anything about my career trajectory, I would have slowed down a bit sooner, and perhaps worked a bit longer.
What’s your plan?
This post was originally published on Passive Income MD.
Work Less Now or Work Less Later. What’s Better?
Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the path that we’ve all been somewhat conditioned to take. And that is working really hard now so we can reap the rewards later. If you don’t work really hard now, you risk not being able to enjoy life when “later” finally comes.
Does that sound familiar to you? Well, it should, because that’s the exact path we took to become successful in our careers. Work hard, study hard, grind, and the payout comes later.
It makes absolute sense and has helped me get where I am today. However, I’ve really started to wonder whether it’s still the road I want to be on for the rest of my life.
But what makes me and us stay on this path? I’ve realized it comes to a few assumptions:
- Later will definitely arrive
- Life will be more enjoyable later
- This will ultimately make me happy
So for this post, I want to explore each of these assumptions and how they relate to my own life.
Later Will Definitely Arrive
Most of us work for 30 years to enjoy the following 30 years. Work hard, save hard, sacrifice, and enjoy life in retirement without having to work. Sounds great, right?
Here’s the problem. That following 30 years isn’t guaranteed by any means.
One of the toughest things about aging is seeing others around you deal with health issues.
I see it in family members, friends, colleagues, people at work, and in the news. You can’t look at the news without hearing about some life cut way too short by a tragedy. And, doesn’t it feel like you hear about them more and more, especially amongst people your age?
I definitely plan to live a long time, but that’s not something I can necessarily control.
Taking care of my body, eating right and exercising, I can control. I can also try to avoid taking crazy unnecessary risks. But again, when it’s my time, it’s my time.
So when it comes to the normal timeline “trading 30 for 30,” I’m assuming that’s a fair trade. But what if it’s “30 for 10” or “30 for 5”? What if I don’t even get to 30 years and I never make it out of the work hard phase and “later” actually never arrived.
Then, in my opinion, it will have been a pretty poor decision to continue on the same path.
Life Will Be More Enjoyable Later
We all have a picture of what retirement looks like. For me, it was often laying in a hammock under a palm tree on the beach. The assumption is that’s the good life, and retirement is the best time to enjoy that. So it’s worth it to sacrifice time now for that moment in the future.
But you know what? Certain aspects of my health I’m already having to deal with. Herniated disks in my back already cause me to limit myself in some activities. Where will I be in my 60s?
Again, the assumption here is that retirement is the prime of my life.
I asked my parents recently, when do they consider so far has been the best period of their lives, full of the most joy and laughter? (If you haven’t asked this of your family, I’d encourage you to do so. I’m sure you’ll get a really interesting answer.)
Do you know what their response was? I thought it would be right now when they’re free, retired, able to travel anywhere and do anything.
Well, they told me it was when the whole family was under one house. When the kids were growing up. There was a variety every day. There was joy and laughter, albeit some tough times as well. But the range of emotion made life feel really full.
There was a sense of purpose trying to help everyone achieve their goals. They had more of their health to take on activities, more energy to live life. They didn’t say that life wasn’t good now, it was just the best in those times when looking back.
What I realized is that I’m in my prime time now. My wife and I have two young kids and every day they make us laugh in some way.
At times we feel like we have no idea what we’re doing as parents, but in some ways, that adventure keeps life interesting. We take pics and videos every day of all the silly things they’re doing and we’re doing together.
So by saying that I’m willing to miss out on a lot of these times now for free time later, I’m basically saying that this time is of less value. Based on the responses I’m hearing, however, from people later on in their retirement, this period is actually the best time to be alive.
So, should I try to have more of it or less?
This Will Ultimately Make You Happy
I’m 41 years old and more than any other time in my life, I’m trying to understand what it means to be content and happy. Another way of thinking about this is the idea of fulfillment.
We all have basic needs, whether it’s a roof over our heads or food on the table. We often think some of those basic needs include fancy gadgets or possessions, but once you have those, is that enough to keep you happy? Well, if it was, then all the folks with tons of money, who seem to have everything would be happy, but we all know that’s not the case.
Ever travel to a different country that is a little off the grid and doesn’t have the conveniences of our lives here?
Maybe it was a small island or a remote village in a 3rd world country. Do you look around and it seems like people seem happier there? Then after being there for a few weeks, do you feel that little tug to give everything up and join them?
I think it’s our inner little voice telling us what truly makes us content and fulfilled.
Yes, it’s having some of the basics so we don’t worry about our daily lives and putting food on the table, but more than that, it’s about having a community, feeling like you’re growing, and even more a sense that you’re contributing to the world.
Now, I have to be honest, this isn’t all original thought. I’ve been spending a good amount of time these last 6 months really examining what will make life extraordinary for the next 40 years, and I’ve definitely learned a lot from a lot of interesting thinkers like Tony Robbins.
So What Should I Do?
I’ve come to the conclusion that life is truly best right now. This is my prime time.
So, how do I make the most of it while not giving up my future completely? Obviously, if I stop working altogether, I could risk the necessities of life for myself and my family. Yes, there’s a balance there.
But I’ve decided to be as intentional as possible with my time.
I’m working because I want to. I’m taking on projects because I want to. I’m spending quality time because I want to.
I’m making smart investments and learning to leverage my time now. The payoff on those investments will come later, but I don’t necessarily have to give up extra time now.
In the worst case scenario, I’ll work a little longer. People seem to do poorly when they give up work completely and feel they don’t have a purpose. I’m already planning on working in some capacity as long as I can, but again, because I want to.
I’m simply not content to trade time now for time in the future that might not come.
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Have you struck a balance that works? Are you working hard now to enjoy life later? Or taking a slower path to FI and enjoying the ride?
8 thoughts on “Work Less Now or Work Less Later. What’s Better?”
Very interesting post. As someone in the early stages of attendinghood, I’m glad that I’ve become more interested in topics like this. I’ve come to learn that happiness is significantly more important than money. How money is just the key to financial independence, which is just one form of freedom. Without the rest (time, energy, relationships), money isn’t worth much.
One thing I’d like to add to this article, though. You make that choice between now and later when you go to med school. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m over 30 years old now and finally working my first big kid job, while my non-physician friends have built careers, grown families, traveled, etc.
I think that’s what makes it so easy for docs to give in to lifestyle creep. We’ve already missed out a bunch. It takes something to realize you can be happy, fulfilled, young, and on the FI path all at once.
I have a M-F type job, and in the benefits package it says 32 hours/ week qualifies for benefits, so I have considered going to 4 days a week. I would be ok on 80% of my paycheck, although it will slow my progress to FIRE. But yeah why not take those days now with my parents, friends and family etc? Isn’t that part of the goal of FIRE? Time with loved ones…so why wait for 20 years from now, when its likely my parents will be a bit less spry etc??
I’m going to see how the next few months go before really considering it. We shall see.
After recently cutting back to 80%, I feel like I’m a better physician (I’m 36 but have been an M.D. for 10yrs). I don’t get as frustrated with the EMR and have the energy to give a great “stop smoking” side chat with my patients.
I’m also taking my kids to swim and school drop off. Incidentally, my boys recently said “ I want more mommy time not daddy time” ?
Healthcare professionals are overworked… we need to cut back, put on our oxygen mask, then help others.
My perspective is different and to be honest probably a mistake for most. I wish to be 100% into whatever i am doing. When i was working work was pretty much my life. Now am retired and getting my body and mind prepped for triathlons and other athletic pursuits is what i am doing most of the time. Most other things seem like a distraction. No idea why i am this way. It just seems to make me happier than a more balanced approach. //The bourgeois prefers comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to the deathly inner consuming fire. // Hermann Hesse
As much as this post is about maybe taking your foot off the peddle a bit, I think the opposite rings true for those young, high income professionals not yet “in their prime” so to speak. Working/saving as much as possible with no kids is building a future where FI might make prime time even better. Or, perhaps even with very young babies at home continuing full speed to achieve FI so that by the time they’re in their prime as kids you’re building a better future with less work. Then again, maybe one prime IS the time before kids. And another prime is when kids are old enough to be enjoyed as tiny adults.
There’s definitely a lot of truth to the overarching theme. Do you want to work flat out so that by the time you are traveling the world you’re older and not doing the things you would if you were younger? I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive though. Maximizing vacation time with budget trip deals even while working hard is a good balance. And in a lot of ways I think working hard makes those vacations that much better vs. a constant lifestyle of super early retirement. “Too much of a good thing” is a real concern. A good balance of the two which includes hard, meaningful work may very well be the perfect middle ground.
100% agree with this! I’ve also done a lot of thinking about these very same issues and feel I’m in the same place. I call it the “meat of life”—40’s, kids at home, work, health. The time to enjoy life is totally now.
I’m actually not sure it’s extending my working time. I’m pretty sure working part time prevents some lifestyle inflation for me and the time to 25x expenses is nearly the same. I don’t think this is true for everyone, but probably a lot of us. More money=more spending with savings rate being about the same.
Working part time for me also completely changes my willingness to consider working longer. As many others have commented in the past, I enjoy work much more and don’t spend all my time fantasizing about my own hammock on a beach in retirement. 🙂
I love this! I just made the decision to cut down to 3 days/week in my practice. I have 2 associates who are happy to work more. Having the extra time at home, with my young kids, and pursuing projects that are different and fun have given me new purpose. We looked at our family and realized we have “enough” and what I really wanted was more time. Great post!
You have considered now or later from the perspective of time. An equally important concept is “enough” which provides the additional dimension to further flush out this thought process, and create time now, when it is your prime time. In other words, having a more modest standard of living enables you to create more “time now,” that might otherwise be spent in earning/working that which would create “time later.”