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.)