We have all heard of the one more year phenomena. Financially independent people, such as myself, hit the wall of fear. Although we have enough, we persist in our W-2 day job for no reason. There are many explanations for our persistence. Yet none of them adequately account for why it is so hard to shake our indentured servitude once it becomes unnecessary. While I personally can count off various reasons I haven’t pulled the trigger, it is more likely than not the momentum effect that carries the greatest responsibility.
Momentum is defined as the property or tendency of a moving object to continue moving. For an object moving in a line, the momentum is the mass of the object multiplied by its velocity
The usual suspects
Before talking about the momentum effect, it is important to touch on the usual suspects that keep us from our retirement dreams.
Health care. This one is a no-brainer. Time and again, this is the answer you get if you ask a financially independent person the biggest fear about leaving their job. Health insurance costs are unknowable, rapidly changing, and unlikely to go down. Many FIRE proponents base their opinion of enough on a yearly budget. How do you budget for a cost that is uncertain and difficult to calculate?
Meaning. In modern society, we are defined by our jobs. If you ask someone to describe me, one of the first things they will mention is that I am a doctor. We derive subtle clues about who a person is and their station in life. So what happens when you retire in the prime of your career? Do you lose your identity?
Wall of Fear. What if the money runs out? No matter how closely you calculate the safe withdrawal rate, there is no way to account for black swan events. Sequence of returns risk haunts us all.
Bodies In motion
The momentum effect is something completely different. Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. We start our career at the bottom of a mountain. Pounding away at the pedals of our bike, we front-load the sacrifice in the beginning of our career. We reach the mountaintops, and hit our financial independence number. And then we start the ride back down.
Going down the mountain is much easier. We don’t even have to pedal. We have so much kinetic energy built up, that instead of feeling like work, we now are coasting. Who in their right mind would stop the bike, get off, and walk across the mountain on foot?
Not only are we coasting, but we are getting paid for the joyful acceleration. Where is the impetus to retire? Why slow down when it takes less energy to maintain speed?
On top of that, we get to keep our health care coverage, secure our identity, and further delay the wall of fear.
The path of least resistance is to stay employed.
The momentum effect is a positive, affirming phenomena. It can allow you to enjoy the latter half of your career without ever needing to worry about the fears that go with early retirement. The glide path can be easy and fruitful.
The downside, of course, is missing out on the opportunity to use your time in better ways. Take away the fear, and early retirement is a wonderful time to reinvent oneself, develop new hobbies, and explore horizons that were previously left untouched.
The balance is up to you. If you’ve had enough and are ready to throw in the towel, by all means, hit the brakes.
If you find yourself content with your work persona and look forward to chatting around the water cooler, by all means, stay.
In my case, I have decided to downshift to a lower gear. I’m still letting the momentum effect carry me, but I am also allowing ample time for travel, kids, and fun.
Heck, I might even write a blog post or two.
“DocG” is a physician who blogs at DiverseFI.
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