Monday, July 24, 2017

Happiness on the Path to FIRE

Back in February, I was at one of the lowest points emotionally that I've been at in a long time.  I was burnt out from work, but in a very different way from the burnout I had experienced in residency.  In residency, difficult times were made easier by the knowledge that I was only days to weeks away from a new rotation; as an attending, I could take no such comfort from the knowledge that I would be doing the same work for years to decades.

So I took a vacation.  In late January, M and I decided last minute to book a trip to Cuba, and it was a bit of a lifesaver.  For the first time in months, I had a prolonged break from the incessant stress of work.  I stopped waking in the middle of the night to ruminate about patient care decisions.  I stopped calculating how many more days I would have to work until I would be financially independent.  I started laughing again.  For the ten days that I was away from work, I felt like myself again.

And when I went back, everything felt easier.  Not always easy, and certainly not free from stress, but at the very least far more manageable than it had before the vacation.  The whole experience made it clear to me that, while some physicians can go for years without a vacation, I am not one of those physicians.  To be happy, and to be of much use to my patients, I need to take breaks.

So I've decided to aim for at least one week off every three months.  By three months my neck is starting to stiffen and my sleep is getting more interrupted, and time away from the office feels really, really good.  I could work longer without a vacation, but I don't want to.

As someone who is interested in financial independence/retire early, or FIRE, it's tempting at times to want to reach financial independence as early as possible.  I sometimes think about taking extra call weekends and not taking time off and never eating out again so that I can squirrel away every possible penny for retirement.  But the reality is that I'm at least seven years away from achieving financial independence, and probably ten years away from feeling comfortable enough to retire, which is a long time to be unhappy.  I don't want to white knuckle my way to retirement; I want to be happy in the process.  Heck, I would love it if I were so happy in the process that when I reach the point of being able to retire I won't want to.

So I will take vacations.  And sleep through the night.  And laugh.  And be happy in my pursuit of FIRE.

(At the moment, I'm happily taking a week off of work to participate in our local theatre festival.  And I am loving my life.)


  1. I love vacations. I teach at a boarding school, and our vacations keep me sane. The pace of life here is completely hectic during the school year.

    Instead of pushing for FIRE, I'm aiming for enjoying life to the fullest and using my money to ease stress during work times and enjoy the vacation times. For you . . . would you be able to back off on your work hours once you get closer to FIRE? I suppose that would be more like FI where you don't have to work but choose to work. Do you consider that, or would you prefer to just retire? For me, I enjoy the structure that work brings, but I'd love to be able to work part time instead of full time.

  2. I'm envious of you for working at a school! As a student, I used to do really well with the intense work of the school year balanced out by an extended summer break. Even when I worked in the summer, it felt like a vacation, as it was much less time- and thought-intense than the school year.

    I am definitely considering working part-time in the future. I am lucky to have a fairly flexible position, so I could cut down to 3-4 days per week without too much difficulty, and it would probably be a good way to transition into retirement. I am hoping to have a long period of FI where I could stop working but choose not to, both because I would like to have a good cushion for retirement and because I've invested a lot of time into my training and want to make the most of it. We'll see how it goes in another 10 years or so!

    1. I do enjoy being a teacher. Most years, I enjoy summer and am ready to head back. Tho not this year, but I had a particularly awful summer full of brand new baby (great but stressful), moving, and my mother passing away. I don't know how people who only get two weeks of vacation a year handle it. I couldn't do it.

  3. So wise of you.. enjoy your life & the reproductivity will increase.. wish you happiness