5 reasons to keep working after financial independence

I was browsing the Bogleheads forum last night, and my eyes naturally gravitated to the thread titled “What is FI if you love your job?

The short answer is that FI is financial independence. Nothing more, nothing less, and it doesn’t look any different if you love, hate, or feel indifferent towards your job.

The long answer, after learning that the man asking the question is about ten years away from FI, includes the fact that the person or the job is quite likely to look and feel quite a bit different in 10 years, and Fi is a smart play for anyone. Quite a few nuggets of wisdom were dropped in the replies, and I added my two cents, as well. I think everyone should try to work towards financial independence, regardless of their current contentedness.

The flip side of that question is what do you do when you reach FI and still love your job? The good news is there are no rules that dictate you ought to retire once you have reached or surpassed FI. Vagabond MD has questioned the ethics of working past FI, but the notion that it is somehow unethical was soundly rejected.

Why might someone continue working beyond FI (as I have done for about three years now)?

The top 5 reasons to work after financial independence

1. You love your job

If you truly love your job, and the knowledge that work has become optional hasn’t changed your mind, then by all means, don’t change a thing.

If you love your job, but can think of ways to make it better, take every step to make it so. You’ve never had more leverage than you do now, since you can afford to walk away tomorrow.

If you love what you do for a living, but aren’t in love with the particular job you’ve got, you can explore ways to do that work in a different manner. That might be doing it for a different patient population or a different employer, or taking your skills overseas on a medical volunteerism trip. Local free clinics often need volunteers to meet the community’s needs.

With FI, money is no longer your primary concern, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep doing a job you love.

2. Ease the transition to retirement

Maybe you don’t love your job, but you’re not ready and willing to go from working a demanding full-time job to having no job at all. Rather than slamming on the brakes to bring your career to a screeching halt, it might make more sense to downshift and continue your work at a more relaxed pace.

You might get lucky like me, and be able to work part-time in your current job. Taking a job across town or in a new locale may be another option. If you have a practice that allows you to “sell your call,” you can just offer it all up, and only work the shifts that no colleague snatched up.

Locum tenens can be a great option in this situation, particularly if you can be location independent. That’s how I started my career, and I’ve thought it would be a pretty cool way to wind it down, too.

3. Your patients need you

So you can easily afford to retire, and you have an inkling it would be good for you to step away, but you owe it to your patients to stick around. If you’re not there to care for them, who will step up to take your place? You spent decades building a practice. It’s not like you can turn off the lights and leave your patients and staff in the lurch.

It’s true that in a situation like this, you don’t just give two weeks notice and say “Peace, out.” However, with some preparation, you may be able to coordinate a smooth transition.

Perhaps a young, enterprising physician will be interested in joining and eventually replacing you. A competing practice may be interested in an acquisition. Hospitals and private equity firms are increasingly buying up small practices.

While you may feel you’ve got no easy way out, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any way out. As my radiologist friend The Happy Philosopher says, “You are Replaceable. Congratulations!

4. Your life needs purpose

If you’ve reached FI at a relatively young age, you’ve probably done so by serving a worthy purpose of some kind. At a minimum, your job was worthy of a high income relative to your salary. And many of you have held a job in which you served the public and saved some lives.

If much of your life has been devoted to serving a singular purpose, letting that go may leave you as lost as the cast of Lost.

You may experience an initial euphoria and satisfaction from the initial combination of leisure, catching up on reading, cleaning out the garage and storage room, and actually watching Lost (which I have yet to do), but eventually, you may find your life lacks meaning if you’re not serving a bigger purpose.

The easiest way to fight that feeling is to keep working until you’ve identified another purpose you would rather serve that might give you more freedom and possibly an even greater sense of accomplishment than the purpose to which you’re currently devoted.

Until you figure out What’s Next, keep working beyond FI. Early retirement can be bad for you and your health if you do it wrong.

5. Fear

You understand the 4% rule, have dialed in your asset allocation, oversaved, planned for contingencies and redundancies, and still you can’t stop asking “What if?”

It’s completely understandable. I say “you,” but I’m really talking about me. I don’t want to walk away from this lucrative position and regret it.

Ideally, you I choose to leave when the likelihood of regret is in perfect balance between working too long and walking too soon. But if I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of caution and one more year. Leaving a little too late would leave me with a little too much money, which is a “problem” I can learn to live with.

After all, you never know when that extra money might come in handy. There are many ways FI can be derailed, and I don’t expect to fall prey to any of them, but … what if?

Health care costs keep rising. Did you know a fingertip injury could set you back over $1,500? It happened to me 12 days ago! Somehow, my boys have managed to avoid the emergency department and have utterly failed to break a single bone, but knowing their father, I guarantee their good fortune can’t last.

Hopefully, I can make our monetary fortune last no how many bones we break or surgeries we require (the boys have each had a couple of those). I’m quite confident we’ve got enough now, but I can’t pretend a modicum of fear and insecurity haven’t played a role in my decision to continue working.

“Physician on FIRE” is an anesthesiologist and can be reached at his self-titled site, Physician On FIRE.  

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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