Four years ago, a fire was lit inside my belly to obtain financial independence as early as possible. This wasn’t just any fire. It was the Financial Independence Retire Early kind of FIRE. As time wore on, I began to realize that – while this movement has good intentions – focusing too much on FIRE can be unhelpful. This is particularly true for freshly minted medical professionals who are far away from achieving early retirement goals.
Even if you are on a track for Fast FIRE, you are still five years away from achieving the goal when you first finish training. Financial Independence – and not early retirement – should ultimately be the goal for those who are fighting burnout or in the early stages of their career.
Here are four reasons why FI and not FIRE should be our main focus.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “There is no ‘there’ there“? Sometimes we aim for a destination, and when we get “there,” there isn’t much to it. Imagine if you looked forward to a destination with eager anticipation, only to find that when you got there it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
This sounds very familiar to the Someday Syndrome many of us suffer from. The problem is that people are terrible at forecasting what will actually make them happy. Far more often than not, when we get to our goals they don’t provide that deep and meaningful satisfaction that we thought they would.
This happens when we buy our first doctor house. Or when we get promoted at work. Or even when we earn our first attending paycheck. The increased happiness we experience is self-limited.
The Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement is no different. If we work to minimize our expenses, maximize our savings, and live with an eye only on what it will be like to someday FIRE… we might be sorely disappointed when we get there if we didn’t enjoy the journey along the way.
This is one reason I preach financial independence on this blog, and usually leave out the early retirement rhetoric.
2. Early Retirement Doesn’t Fix the Problem
With the shape that medicine is taking, burnout is becoming a larger part of the doctor’s experience with each graduating class. This is why I teach others how to fight burnout with financial independence.
Given my war cry, you might guess that I intend to encourage doctors to leave medicine if the medical system continues to refuse to fix the problem. FIRE for everyone! However, that is not the case.
My dream is to see a group of financially independent physicians who have the ultimate leverage to help fix medicine. If a group of FI doctors realized that they had the means to no longer depend on medicine for a paycheck, maybe they would have the power to create change?
These doctors with FI superpowers – who would practice medicine because they want to, and not because they have to – could mend the current culture of medicine. And, unless administrators take it upon themselves to finally fix the system that leads to almost 50% of physicians being burned out, this is the only real solution that I see.
However, these doctors cannot FIRE and accomplish this goal. Medicine must be fixed from within, and this will require FI docs. Not FIRE docs.
3. Individual Burnout and Part-Time Work
Until the time when real change can take place, what options do individual doctors have to treat their burnout? You might argue that they could leave medicine altogether.
While this nuclear option is on the table, many physicians find that part-time work often provides a similar result (less burnout) without the drastic measures (quitting medicine completely). I call this concept Partial FIRE.
In fact, Crispy Doc has spent some time interviewing physicians who have “cut back” from full-time work. These part-time doctors experience improved work satisfaction, productivity, and have even found their love for medicine again.
Apparently, there are a lot of doctors out there who are burned out, but who find that they love their job, too. They just want to do a lot less of it.
When you reclaim autonomy over your schedule and can invest in what is most important to you, many find that burnout fades. The fire may no longer be licking at your heels.
This seems to show that fighting burnout with FIRE may not be necessary. Maybe you just need a water hose to squelch the burnout instead.
4. Retire to Something
People are meant to be productive.
In fact, when we find the flow that is produced by an engaging activity, studies show that our satisfaction levels find their peak. This is why it is sage advice for anyone nearing retirement to avoid retiring “from something” and to, instead, retire “to something”.
What this means is that you shouldn’t be leaving the workforce to get away from things about your job that you hate. At least, this shouldn’t be the entire reason. The better way to attack retirement is to have specific plans for what you’ll be doing in retirement.
This could mean that you spend some time using your medical skills to do mission work or free-clinics. You might also consider becoming a tee-ball coach, art teacher, or to write that book you have always had in the back of your mind. Or, maybe you’ll consider a partial retirement where you continue to work one or two days per week at the same job.
Preaching FIRE to early-career medical professionals proves unproductive at times. Particularly when the focus is on retiring from medicine as opposed to retiring to your dream life. And, hey, you might find that dream life through part-time work as we talked about above.
Choose Financial Independence
For the reasons mentioned above, FIRE shouldn’t necessarily be our all-consuming goal. Instead, we should focus on the freedom provided by financial independence, which allows us to enjoy the journey while still having a goal in mind.
That FIRE that burned so deeply in my belly has subsided a bit. I now focus much more on finding balance in enjoying today, while we try to steadily achieve our big picture financial goals.
With this shift in mindset, I’ve enjoyed less frustration that my goals seem so far away. No longer do I focus on the fact that FI is 10 years away. Instead, I focus on finding contentment today and working towards creating the life we want to lead as soon as possible.
Do you focus a lot on FIRE? Have you seen that negatively impact your mental space? Leave a comment below.