How financial independence evolution shaped the end of my medical career

When I read The Broke Diaries, it was like reading my financial autobiography in medical school. I remember negotiating with the dry-cleaner to split my bill so that I could only pay for one dress and pick the rest up later.  Looking forward to making some furniture craft for my apartment on Spring break while the rest of my classmates were going to some exotic Island for the week.  I didn’t mind though, because I had plenty of practice.  My budget consisted of 4 lines back then; gas money, rent, food, and books.

I’m skipping over a lot here, but the last time my finances were that simple was well over 25 years ago. Financial independence was on the horizon for my husband and me, and it was palpable.  We had no bills except for our big-fat mortgage. I added extra to the mortgage balance for lack of a better plan because it annoyed me. Then one day, boom, the retirement savings alone was enough for traditional early retirement and the equity in our home catapulted us into being very comfortable (fatFIRE). Now what? It wasn’t like I had figured anything out that I didn’t already know the day before, but it was actually happening. The mind-blowing question of “what would you do if you never had to work again?” was in front of me.

I hadn’t known anyone personally my age who retired early.  My only connection to examples of early-retirement was on the internet. I read FIRE (financially independent, retire early) blogs and listened to podcasts. But when early retirement was tangibly in my hands, the entire notion of life and time and what to do with these most precious commodities was difficult to grasp.  A paradigm shift is the only way I can describe it.

Converging with my approaching financial independence was my disenchantment with medicine as a whole. There came a point where the Starling curve became real for me. When that left ventricular pressure is so high, the heart starts to fail, and the elasticity doesn’t snap back.  I wasn’t snapping back.  I had less autonomy, less freedom, and more anxiety with overwhelming exhaustion and fatigue.  I didn’t feel like I could rest mentally, even on my days off or long weekends.  I couldn’t deny it anymore that I dreaded going to certain clinics and dealing with certain co-workers and colleagues.  The fact that none of these revelations were related to direct patient care was even more stinging.  Seeing patients was the most fulfilling part of my day, but sadly, not enough.

Eventually, I knew that I had to make the hardest choice of all, truncate my medical career.  Wow, I was smack-in-the-middle of a negotiation tactic I learned in a women’s business circle; I was walking away from a bad deal.  Being financially independent made me look long and hard at my current situation because I did not have to look for another job. I could simply walk away from medicine if I wanted to.  Serious thoughts of being done were now present in my daily life.

When this choice is in front of you, it’s harder than you think. Not wanting more or needing to do more, I could choose to “waste” time or live anywhere I wanted in the entire world for as long as I wanted.  There are no more board recertification exams, no more bending for sub-standard administration-induced “kaizen” practices, and definitely no more contract negotiations.

Imagine if money was not a factor in everyday life.  How would that look for you right now? After the kids are off to school for the day or for good, you finished your hike, and the laundry’s done, how would you fill your time? Or, is being a medical professional your sole identity? If you are not who you are today, an overwhelmed, busy “get-it-done-yesterday” health care professional.

The answers you come up with might surprise you. Would you continue practicing for lack of something else? It’s a real possibility and a fair question you have to ask yourself. Oddly, I know a good number of “closet” financially independent docs who, at first glance, look miserable but don’t quit because the only identity they have is being a doctor.  What are the important things in life after your basic needs are met?  Of course, we know all the reasons we don’t want to do what we are doing now, but have we worked through what we will do in its absence? Go ahead right now and write down an average day in the life of [early retired] Dr. _____.

This anonymous physician blogs at Doc to Disco.

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