Sunday, August 13, 2017

Why Are You Thinking About Retiring So Early?

As I was reviewing the consult service list with my resident earlier this week, I started to feel strangely unwell.  Cold, clammy, nauseated, and dizzy to the point of almost passing out*.  The feeling passed quickly, so I did what any "good" physician would do and soldiered on through my day.  Unfortunately, the feeling came back twice while I was talking to a patient and his family, and I felt so sick that I thought I might black out in the middle of the hospital, so I finally conceded that I couldn't stay at work any longer.  Thankfully the service was slow, and I was otherwise just catching up on paperwork, so it was possible for me to make a quick exit and drive my sick self home.

My sick self was pretty darn sick, so I spent the rest of the day lying on the couch with two cats applied to my abdomen.  After exhausting my blogroll and all of the interesting television that I'm allowed to watch (I mostly watch shows on Netflix with M, who would not tolerate me getting ahead of her), I started reading through some of the old comments on my blog.  One of them in particular, from Zed at Mind the Medic, stuck out:

"I hope you don't mind me asking but why are you thinking about retiring so early?"

I was apparently too lazy to respond to the question at the time, but I feel like it deserves to be revisited, as it's something I think about often.  And the answer is pretty simple:

"Because I'm often happier when I'm not working than when I'm working."

This isn't something that physicians talk about all that often, because our careers are supposed to be our callings.  We're supposed to be happy to make all the sacrifices of time, energy, and stress that we do because they are more than made up for by The Great Privilege of Saving Lives.  And yes.  Some days my job is a great privilege, and some days I even get to save lives.  But a lot of days my job is exhausting and tedious and almost unbearably stressful.  And on those days, I sometimes dream of being retired, even though I'm only 40 and two years into my career.

Over the past 14 months, since I achieved the much coveted net worth of zero, I've managed to save up enough money to live off of for about 3 1/2 years.  At my current rate, I expect that I could retire in as little as seven years, although that would definitely be more a state of Financial Independence than Financial Freedom.  It gives me great comfort and a feeling of security to know that, if I want to or need to, I could walk away from working at that time.

Although, the reality is that I may choose not to walk away.  The more financially secure I become, the more freedom I have to do things that make me happy at work, like take time off.  Financial security also makes me feel much less stressed about work and and how much I'm earning, which in turn makes it easier to like my job.  My dream is to hit the point of being Financially Independent but to enjoy work enough that I have no desire to retire yet.

But if that isn't the case?  Then it will be really nice to have the option of retiring early.

*The eventual diagnosis:  possible early anaphylaxis to a medication that I've been taking for 18 years, complete with really spectacular urticaria.  I may need an Epi pen.

*Edited to add:  Thanks to Physician on Fire for including me in his Sunday Best list. If you've just discovered this blog through PoF, then welcome!  Please leave me a comment to let me know who you are.*

10 comments:

  1. Interesting diagnosis -- how strange after all that time.

    Regarding the question of the desire for early retirement, I have a similar approach. Now that my plans to cut back to part time are well known by my colleagues, and some have heard I might actually retire soon, I get that question a lot.

    My answer is pretty simple: I prefer my days off to my workdays. When working, there's always someplace I'd rather be. When not working, I never wish I could be at work instead. Once money is removed from the equation, the right answer becomes quite clear.

    Best,
    -PoF

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    1. A really strange diagnosis, indeed! I've been struggling with urticaria for the past year, and I kind of laughed at my dermatologist when he suggested it could be the medication. It wasn't until I found myself becoming pre-syncopal at work that I was willing to try going off it, and I haven't had a single spot of urticaria since. Fingers crossed this is the answer!

      Your comment about never wishing you could be at work makes me wonder about all the people who consider themselves workaholics. Are there actually people out there who love their jobs that much, or are they just fooling themselves because they don't have enough money to retire or don't know what to do with themselves if they retired?

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    2. I find that I benefit from structure in my life, and I am not great at creating structure. Before having kids, I always enjoyed summer off and then was happy to get back to work. It's a bit harder now with kids (plus, kids give some structure necessarily).

      I do enjoy working but wish I could truly just work a 40 hour week. I had a job like that once upon a time. I was amazed by how much free time I had (5 minute commute, literally only allowed to work 40 hours with no real work I could bring home). That was pretty marvelous, and I rarely minded working then. I also worked outdoors in a moderately active job, which was nice.

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    3. Yes! Wow 40 hours a week would be amazing. I really do love my job, but I also hate feeling exhausted all the time, am at my most unhappy when I'm lonely and can't figure out what to do with myself. What can I say, i also thrive on structure.

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    4. Penn and OMDG - Do you think if you weren't working that you would find a source of structure other than work? I sometimes struggle with lack of structure on quiet weekends with nothing planned, but if I have long periods of time off (e.g. seven weeks after residency), then I've always been able to develop some sort of routine that works for me. I'm hopeful that when I reach the point of retirement I'll be able to find some good activities (volunteering, maybe part-time work) that will lend structure to my life.

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    5. No, I really don't. I've never enjoyed volunteering (hubris, I know), and spending my life at yoga class and lunching with the one other person I know who also isn't working seems like a total waste, and I would frankly be embarrassed to do it. I have never found anything I've done as fulfilling as a good day's work, and I am thankful I live in a place and time where I can do that.

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  2. My answer is nearly as simple as yours - I need the choice. Back when I was a workaholic, there was little I preferred to do besides work, but the root of that was actually that we desperately needed all the income we could get. Now that we're not in dire straits every day, I look forward to when I can choose to or not work, with the knowledge that I'll likely want to work on something a few days out of the week. Kind of wish I'd managed this a few years earlier so I could enjoy time with my family more but I did the best I could.

    (Could I put in a request for a comment option that's just name/URL? I often want to comment when I'm on my phone but I can't sign into my Google accounts and don't have the other commenting accounts, so I have to forego commenting.)

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    1. I'm glad you're no longer at the point of feeling desperately like you need to work. I felt a bit like that when I finished my training and was staring down a six-figure debt, but thankfully the feeling wasn't really a reflection of my financial situation, and it didn't last for long.

      Absolutely you can put in a request! Blogger gives very few options for comments, so I've just gone back to allowing anonymous comments, which is the only alternative to requiring people to sign in. It's the setting I had used until recently when I got a number of anonymous comments on a post, some of which weren't all that kind, so hopefully it won't be an issue to go back to it. I love comments so much that I wouldn't want to miss any unnecessarily!

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  3. Hi. Thanks for answering my question. I enjoy my off days more than I do the days I work. I feel run down during the week, but really happy on the weekends. I'm not even 2 years in, I'm looking for a way out. My dilemma is I'm earning more now than I have before. So I'm looking at different career options. I want to find something else that inspires me. Even though it's not retirement, it's similar in terms of it being a way out. And like you said, it might be the case that when there's no longer that pressure, work might become enjoyable. Who knows?

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    1. I'm not familiar with the UK's training system, but from your blog I gather you're still in the training part of medicine? As someone who's been through it, I would caution you to make too hasty a decision while you're still in training (if, in fact, you are). Training is exhausting and soul-destroying, and it's hard to have any perspective while you're still in it. Although I still struggle with some of the downsides of medicine, it is definitely easier now that I'm an attending.

      But, if you do decide to pursue something else, good luck! I look forward to reading about it.

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