How to Become Financially Free from a Job You Hate

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Would you like to be financially free from a job you hate? If so, you are not alone. Only a small minority of workers are engaged at work.

What are your options? You could suck it up.

Grind away for 30+ years. Get your enjoyment on weekends, evenings, and after you retire. That worked for a whole generation.

Don’t Waste Your Life at a Job You Hate

But do you want to suffer almost all your waking hours? Your evenings and weekends end up being recovery and preparation time. Work still dominates your life for decades.

And what if you never make it to retirement? Or you may be too old or sick to enjoy it by then.

Should you Follow Your Bliss?

What about finding work you love? It sounds great, but few have actually achieved this. Working for a company and having a boss has downsides. Working for yourself gives more autonomy. But it comes with financial risks, headaches, and long hours.

I was hoping for early retirement.

Should you FIRE?

The desire to be financially free from a job has accelerated the “FIRE” movement. FI stands for Financial Independence. RE means Retire Early.

I used to dream about FIRE. And that was before FIRE was “a thing.” There were 1-2 obscure books about people who reached FIRE in their thirties. That was about it. 

No mainstream books or magazine articles. Blogs didn’t even exist yet when I started planning for my own path to FIRE. There was certainly no Physician on Fire to show me the way.

I Once Wanted to FIRE

I consulted one of those few people who had done it (Gillette Edmunds) for some financial advice in 2001. My question was, “Did I have enough to retire immediately?”

Unfortunately, he felt I had not stacked up enough Benjamins at that point. He made it clear that I would have to work for at least another decade or two.  I was discouraged.

I wasn’t as rich as I thought!

Without the option of early retirement, I kept working full-time. It wasn’t all bad. I was learning, growing, and earning. The work was meaningful and I jumped into it with both feet.

Get Rich Slowly

My wife and I were frugal. I also used any tax-advantaged accounts I had access to. Without much effort or sacrifice, our wealth grew.

A few years ago I came to a startling realization.  The investment income exceeds our expenses. Actually, I make more from investment income than from working. 

If I stopped working, we could live for the next 25 years or more. Hey, doesn’t that mean we reached FI?

Financially Free From a Job

Yes. I achieved the FIRE state that I had shoved under a rug long ago.

Okay, so now what? I was FI. I could RE. But did I want to? The shocking answer was NO.

I kept working full-time at my regular job. Why? Wouldn’t most people dream of telling their boss to shove it and walk out?

Why didn’t I? Was I afraid? Was I a workaholic? Did I have no life or hobbies that could occupy my time? Was I trying to play it safe?

I realized that -without the financial stress and strain of having to make a living- I loved my work.

I Didn’t Hate My Job

There is a lot to like about it.

  • The staff treat me with respect
  • I meet new people daily
  • My income is high (top 5% in the U.S.)
  • It is safe and not physically taxing
  • Awesome co-workers
  • Opportunities to use my brain and knowledge
  • Daily challenges
  • I’m finally getting good at what I do
  • Helping people
  • Receive appreciate, praise, and gratitude

I enjoy the work more now that I don’t need to work. I want to work. It feels different.

To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.  -Pearl S. Buck

My Plan is FINER

People think FI and RE belong together. I disagree.

FI is what makes you free, not RE.

A brief time away from work or a change in career can be helpful. Stopping work can be disastrous for some. We should focus on FI, but not RE.

In fact, I argue for a FINER plan. Financial Independence, Never Ever Retire!

Financially Free from a Miserable Job

Step 1. Reach Financial Independence (FI).

Step 2. Figure out what part of the job you hate.

Step 3. Figure out what part of the job you love.

Step 4. Do more of what you love and less of what you hate.

Step 5. If you can’t control it, limit it.  Go part-time.  Don’t quit.

 

Life Without Work Isn’t Appealing (To Me)

Being financially free from a job doesn’t mean you have to stop working. Without work, I would feel a loss of structure, purpose, and sense of contribution.

I understand why some retirees become depressed and unhealthy.

What About Burnout?

Burnout is real.  20 years of grinding away as a doctor and 13 years of hard work before that can wear you down.

As can the constant wave of change the rushes over us weekly. Our bosses expect more from us each month.

The stress becomes palpable. Burnout creeps in. One study showed 54% of all physicians have signs or symptoms of burnout.

Is this you after work?

Or Even Worse

That is scary. I don’t want to be heading down that road. Especially when I know that 400 physicians per year take their own life. These are smart and successful people – like me.

My compromise was to downshift but not come to a full-stop retirement. The word retirement means different things to different people.

Some of the definitions follow generational lines of thinking. I tend to think of it in the older definition. Retirement brings to mind a complete withdrawal from paid, productive employment. That is not for me.

The Rewards of Serving Others

I suspect I will always earn some money. I enjoy serving the needs of others.

If you do that, you will get paid. That is how it works.

Give and you will receive. In the process, I gain value, other than the money. But the money is good too.

And it increases over time. I like the idea of having some inflation protection built into that income stream.

Part-Time Work is Great

For now, I work part-time (three days a week) and I’m loving it. Having time for my family and to work on my own health, happiness, and fitness is priceless. I’m more productive at work when I am there since I’m strategic with my time.

When I’m at work, I’m glad I’m there. I don’t get worn down as much as the week goes on (I do feel a difference at 50 compared to age 40 or 30).

Doctors often ignore everything except work.

Make Time For a Non-Work Life

I now have more time for investing and blogging. Those income streams are growing. This, in turn, will make me even less dependent on my employer.

Everyone should be aware of the option of becoming financially free from a job. We all should work towards Financial Independence.

At age 30 you may feel you will work full-time to age 70, so why bother? You may change. Or the work may change.

Your interests change and your body slows down. Who knows what the future holds?

Don’t close off options before they start. Become FI so you will have options and choices.

If you choose to Retire Early, then good for you. It isn’t for me, but people differ. Retirement may be the best choice for people who can no longer stand working for “The Man.”

Being financially free doesn’t have to mean you are jobless.

As for me, my plan is FINER.

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12 Comments

  1. Great post, Wealthy Doc. I actually love my job, too. Or at least the vast majority of it. Sure, there are some things I’d change, but most of it is great.

    I just want to do less than I currently am because of work life imbalance that started when my wife began full time work (while I was 1.3 FTE). Cutting back to a full time load (or part time eventually) would likely do wonders for me.

    Like you, though, I’ll probably never retire completely from work. I enjoy what I do too much. I’ll just get rid of the parts I am not a fan of eventually.

    TPP

    February 4, 2019
    Reply
    • Thanks, TPP
      I labored over it so it is good to see someone likes it!
      I’m glad you like/love your job too. Don’t get me wrong I have frustrations at work too. But overall there is a lot to like.
      Doing less definitely helps. I enjoy the work more and I have a more full life.
      I encourage you to find more ways to cut back or cut out the parts you dislike. Doctors have more clout than they realize.

      February 4, 2019
      Reply
  2. xrayvsn said:

    This is a great concept.

    I think you have found the sweet zone of a 3 day work week. I have currently cut down to a 4 day work week and that was a world of difference from my previous 5 day one. My goal is to get to a 3 day work week (and who knows, maybe 2). The rationale would be to maintain the minimum amount of work to still qualify for medical benefits.

    I agree that once you no longer need money, you can be more discerning in what you choose to do or not do at your job. Just that concept alone is quite freeing.

    February 4, 2019
    Reply
    • Xrayvsn,
      Yes, the three-days a week has been a “sweet spot” for me. I’m engaged but not overwhelmed. I’m efficient at work but can still take care of important things outside of work.
      I agree that benefits are extremely important. Our Canadian friends don’t have to worry about that much but finding affordable health insurance outside of a workplace can be a challenge here. My employer used to require people to work at least 0.4 FTE to be “benefit-eligible.” Then it was raised to 0.5 FTE. A couple of years ago they moved it to 0.6 FTE. Do you see a pattern or trend there? Me too. I’m not sure if that is the end or is 0.7 FTE next? They also increased everyone’s rates but part-timer rates in particular. There is a financial cost, but being FI it isn’t a big issue. I have more money than free-time at this point.

      February 4, 2019
      Reply
  3. I’m of the same perspective WD. FINER for me too. I will always work in come capacity. The loss of structure, productiveness, and schedule would be hell for me. After the kids graduate from college, I can see my self going to 3 days a week if my group will allow me. That schedule is totally sustainable as long my health is intact. It’s not always about the paycheck.

    February 4, 2019
    Reply
    • MD,

      That is great to know.

      There are at least two of us! Maybe we can create the FINER movement! Well, maybe not. But I’m just putting it out there as an option.

      I think the FIRE movement provides a lot of great information about financial responsibility and the benefits of passive income, debt management, frugality, and personal responsibility.

      But some of us feel lost when they go on to say they can’t wait to quit their job.

      I’m thinking why not make it better? Or quit now and do something else? Why be miserable even for 10 years if you hate it? Also, what will you do with all your time? Hobbies are great but work provides a lot of benefits too.

      Your group will allow you. Negotiate from a place of strength. To replace you would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. At least that attitude worked for me.

      February 4, 2019
      Reply
  4. Dr. MB said:

    Hey WD!

    Nice post. I slowed my workload for the past decade. Now that my daughter is off to university I actually want to work more.

    I wanted to be available for my kids in the past but now I have a lot more free time. I missed seeing more patients.

    Many hospital based doctors want to work less here as well. But some of those in hospital groups have limits on how little each other can work. Plus they limit how little call each person can take.

    Thank goodness I got out of my hospital based specialty. Private general practice suits me very well. I recognized this when my husband chose to be a surgeon. I did not want both of us yanked around on other people’s schedules.

    If I was American, I would do whatever I needed to do to maintain the healthcare coverage. I think you are all wise to be worried about that one.

    My husband went back to train as a surgeon AFTER we had reached FI. So yeah, for many it is not about the money.

    February 4, 2019
    Reply
    • Dr. MB,
      My kids aren’t at college age yet. That is part of why I want to keep working. Not so much that I’m worried about college costs. That is the normal thing I hear. I think we have a good amount set aside for that. But when they are off to college I will want structure and purpose in my day and in my life.

      I agree that inpatient work is more restrictive. There are always patients there and work to be done 24/7. I consciously have chosen minimal to no hospital-based work or call.

      Our healthcare system is a mess. It isn’t a free market (which might work). It isn’t a single-payer government system (which might work). It is a bureaucratic hybrid. And the structure and rules are complicated and changing with every change of politician. Meanwhile, the costs exceed inflation growth. A big problem with no solution in sight.

      Wow. Surgical training later in life and without a financial need is VERY impressive. I don’t think I would have been able to motivate myself through that.

      February 5, 2019
      Reply
  5. Crispy Doc said:

    Love this post, WD. Subtracting aggravations has made my job more enjoyable than ever before. Sure, I still get a bit of verbal abuse from the occasional meth patient, but I can handle it with less frequency and better sleep. Purpose and meaning will stay a part of my life, just not sure if it will involve medicine as the conduit.

    Happy you’ve found your sustainable workload, my friend!

    February 5, 2019
    Reply
    • CD,

      Yes, I find even the bad days are tolerable. Today was challenging for example. But I’m off tomorrow. Then I work Thursday and am off Friday – Sunday. That helps me get through the challenges.

      I also have more time for good nutrition, sleep, hobbies, reading, exercise, and meditation. All that builds my resilience and helps me deal with stress better.

      February 5, 2019
      Reply
  6. GasFIRE said:

    I like the flow of your thoughts and I agree because I have lived it. I became disenchanted with my previous position, mostly got tired of night call. Even cutting back to 0.7 FTE wasn’t enough because I couldn’t get rid of enough of the call obligations. I dreamed of FIRE and hit my number twice, both before and after the Great Recession. I finally had enough and resigned from my position in 2012. No real plans, just had to get out. Several months later I received an unsolicited offer for a part-time position at a surgery center which I accepted. I now do love my job and am thankful for the unexpected opportunity to return to practice. My focus has definitely shifted away from the RE. The change resolved my burnout and I feel better off looking forward to work rather than dreading it. Great topic to discuss.

    February 5, 2019
    Reply
    • GasFIRE,

      Sometimes the toxicity builds to a level where you need to get out and take a break to reset. People say have something to retire TO, not just something to retire FROM. In general, I agree, but sometimes you need to stop a bad situation without a great plan in place yet.

      Part-time is awesome. And surgery centers tend to be pleasant. They are efficient and the staff members are pleasant since they aren’t abused as much as the hospital inpatient workers who have more shiftwork and higher stress levels.

      Glad you found work that keeps you being productive, contributing, serving, and earning.

      February 5, 2019
      Reply

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