The Physician Philosopher Podcast

TPP #16: YOLO vs. FIRE

70 to 90% of physicians would not recommend medicine as a career. Then there’s the 50% of us who were burned out or morally injured. With numbers like these, it is no wonder that most doctors get pushed into a “you only live once” philosophy that demands us to enjoy today or a financial independence, retire early mentality where we’re trying to leave medicine as quickly as possible.

Are you in the YOLO or the FIRE crowd? Can you have your cake and eat it too? 

Today’s thought is this, when it comes to financial decisions, our financial mindset and outlook determine our happiness both today and in the future. 

The truth is, is that most doctors don’t know a tremendous amount about money.

They’ve worked a really long, hard road and so there’s a thought in the back of their head that is I deserve this or maybe I’ve delayed gratification enough and now it’s time for me to enjoy what I’ve worked so hard for. 

A lot of us really believe intrinsically that when we buy things that the short-term happiness is somehow going to make the burnout, the moral injury, the difficulty working in medicine, the broken culture and structure somehow better. So we buy stuff.

The “YOLO” Mentality

It all comes from this “you only live once” kind of mentality. And we see this in medicine, right? This is very near and dear to us where we see people dying most days.

The YOLO mentality is really close to us because we’re like, “Yeah, you only do live once and we’re not guaranteed tomorrow. And I’ve worked really hard, and I deserve it and these things make me happy. 

But, I’m finding now is that I have a different kind of conversation. What I’m running up against particularly with clients is that because they listen to the podcasts, they’re on the site. 

Most doctors that come into my world are very financially literate. So I don’t have that conversation very much online. It’s really interesting.

The FIRE Mindset

The one that I’m running up against more often than the YOLO mentality now is this early FIRE mindset, this early FI mindset that I need to get to financial independence by my early to mid 40s or by age 50 in order to be happy. And that anything that gets in the way of that is just going to be not tolerated.

That is the mindset that I’m running into more and more commonly these days. 

But, both the YOLO mentality and early FI mentality have problems. It’s all about scarcity.

The Danger of Money Scarcity

Scarcity, meaning that there’s not enough of something, that if you don’t get yours, it’s going to go away. And where this comes with money is that you have this thought that money is not abundant, that opportunities are minimal and we have to be as efficient as possible to either enjoy today or save for tomorrow that we can’t do both.

The problem with YOLO versus early FIRE or early FI is that it’s a false dilemma. There is a very reasonable middle road where you can save enough for tomorrow while you also enjoy the journey today. However, this requires intentional planning.

Learn to Enjoy the Journey

The solution really is to get to a point where you can enjoy the journey, right? We got to do some soul searching though. You got to investigate what you really want. You’ve got to figure out what that is. You got to really hash it out, have some conversations about what you’re looking for. 

You do what you want and all I can do is give you information and you can turn around and use that however you’d like just for entertainment and educational purposes, but that’s completely up to you. It’s not going to hurt me at all, whatever you do. So don’t feel judged. This is completely non-judgemental space.

The Things You Need to Think About

One question I often ask is this: When you get to FIRE, how do you expect that to make you feel? Because everything in our life is driven by our feelings. We’re either trying to seek pleasure or avoid pain. 

So when you get to FI, what feeling do you think that will provide? Because that is why you are looking for it. And they’ll be like, “Oh, man. It’s just going to be awesome. I’m going to be happy. I’m going to be content. I’m going to able to do whatever I want all day, every day.”

Well, what if you could feel happy or content or satisfied or autonomous? You want control of your schedule or you want to control of your time. How would that be, if you could feel that way right now? What if I told you that you don’t have to be financially independent to feel that way?

You Can Choose the Life You Want

If you decided to delay things like to enjoy life now a little bit more than you currently are by whatever changes you make, if you did that, how much would it delay your financial independence?

When they finally do the math, they’ll figure out, “Oh, I could actually really enjoy some things right now that are important to me like community and family.”

The only reason why we get stuck in our mindset is because we’ve never examined the thought. It’s an unintentional thought going running a muck in our head that we have to get to financial independence by certain age. I just want to break that for you to say, “There’s not a thought in your head you shouldn’t examine. There’s not a belief that you have that you shouldn’t consider changing.” 

When they start to realize that this false dilemma that they’ve set up, they realize that, “Oh, actually in this situation, you can have your cake and eat it too.”

You can just really enjoy life after you’ve really put the work in. It’s interesting that I’ve read more about this slightly because I’ve seen this happen in people’s lives, family member’s lives even. 

I’ve seen this happen in clients when I point out to them how much money they’ve saved and how if they didn’t save another dime for the next 10, 15 years, they will still have more money than they could ever imagine having.

There are lots of ways to cut this pie, but don’t ever feel like you have to choose between living for today and saving for tomorrow.

Final Thoughts

As always save first, make sure you’re getting to the goal that you want by the age that you want, sit down and figure out what that is whether with a coach or a financial planner or with a friend.

Then spend the rest of your money shamelessly with joy. Don’t feel bad about it. As much as you want so long as you’re taking care of tomorrow, the rest is up to you and you can enjoy today and the journey that you get to take every step along the way.



  1. PrudentPlasticSurgeon

    This is so spot on!

    I definitely struggle with this. In just discovering the FIRE movement within the past year, it’s definitely easy to get super excited about it and become a bit narrow sighted. But it is about the journey. And the one big discovery that I made at the beginning of my journey is that just having a plan increased my enjoyment and well being so much. Even knowing the end is a ways in the future, knowing that I’m on the other to get there brought me back into the moment and even allowed me to enjoy my work more!

  2. Xrayvsn

    I probably am representative of the docs you mentioned at the beginning. I have a hard time recommending a career in medicine anymore and honestly it’s getting to the point where I am feeling burnt out again.

    The wise overlords have decided that January 2021 would be a perfect time to hit a lot of docs with a 10% reimbursement decrease. This is completely mind boggling as many practices are struggling/barely afloat from the hits taken to their office from covid. On one hand we are celebrated as heroes but that same have says you know what? You should make less.

    It’s getting faster and faster on the hamster wheel and those who are close to being burnt out will surely hit that target as they try to increase volume to make up the difference.

  3. Jason Bethea

    Just listened to this great episode. My wife and I recently moved from Illinois to Charlotte, NC. It was a struggle to make that decision because we could have much easily paid off all student loans, invested and probably bought the house and car of our dreams due to our salaries there and LCOL. Except all of our family was back in NC. It was a hard financial decision to make but we did and, not surprisingly, we are completely fine from a financial perspective. Plus, we love living in a warmer climate near our family. The move was definitely not a YOLO decision but it highlighted the importance of balancing financial goals with living well. Thanks!


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