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Going Back to Work

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Can I Retire Yet? It’s a profound question that many of us struggle with. After saving and planning for years or even decades, there is no easy answer.

Many people stay in jobs and careers they are not passionate about and save more money than necessary, trapped by feelings of safety and security that accompany a regular paycheck.

The ideas of financial independence and early retirement have grown into a “FIRE movement,” buoyed by a decade long bull market in stocks and real estate.

The FIRE movement has created voices encouraging people to take the plunge sooner. In the worst case scenario, you can “just go back to work.”

About two years ago I left my career as a physical therapist. Recently, I’ve been pondering the question: Could I go back to work?

Financially, things could not have gone better for us since I left my job. The combination of my wife’s ongoing part-time income, the small income from my writing, and an ongoing bull market has led to our portfolio growing substantially in the twenty months since I left my job.

Still, the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that come with early retirement have not gone away.

I’ve been thinking about the factors that could prevent an early retiree from going back to work. The biggest obstacle is one I never considered before leaving my career.

Skills and Knowledge

Skills and knowledge change at varying rates in different professions. As I approach two years since I left my career, I wonder how much longer I could stay out of the workforce and still return to my old career.

Things change slowly for a physical therapist on the clinical side. Human anatomy and physiology are constant. 

There are always new advancements in medicine, but research has shown it takes over a decade for the latest medical research to be incorporated into practice

I read far more now than I did when working full-time, because now I have more time. So my clinical knowledge would likely be at least as current as most full-time practicing therapists.

I would struggle on the administrative side. Insurance regulations are constantly changing and insurance plans are state specific. I have paid zero attention to any of this since I left my career. 

I’d need considerable retraining to get back up to speed on current rules and regulations. Failing to do so could result in not being reimbursed or even committing insurance fraud.

The challenge of maintaining skills and knowledge is different for every profession. It is hard to imagine being able to return to work in almost any profession after more than a few years out of the workforce without considerable retraining.

Licenses and Certifications

Some professions require specific licenses and certifications. Returning to work means maintaining them or being able to have them reinstated.

Transitioning out of my career made me realize that credentials are a burden that many professionals accumulate. They cost both time and money to maintain, while often providing little value in return.

I allowed my Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS) designation to expire in my last year of practice. I changed the status of my state license and credentials as a certified athletic trainer (ATC) to retired on my last day of work.

I decided to maintain my physical therapy license as “health insurance insurance,” in the event I had to return to work if there was no other affordable way to get medical insurance for our family. The financial cost to maintain my license is minimal, less than $100 for two years. 

There is also a time component to maintaining licensure. I have to complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years. The courses cost a couple hundred dollars for online credits and considerably more if I elect to travel to attend live courses or conferences.

I am currently licensed in Pennsylvania through the end of 2020. It would cost $150 to transfer my license to Utah, where I currently live and would most likely work.

It would hardly be  worth the time and money to renew the license again or transfer it if I don’t do any physical therapy work by the time my current license expires. Once it expires, it will be considerably more difficult to renew the license and return to my career.

If going back to work is one of your contingency plans, it is worth considering what you will need to do to maintain your credentials.

Professional Connections

Studies have shown that 70% of jobs are never advertised and as many as 85% of jobs are filled through networking

The longer you are out of the workforce, the bigger an issue a lack of professional network can become. A combination of erosion of skills and knowledge (real or perceived) and lack of a professional network could present a substantial challenge to someone needing to return to work.

This problem could be further exacerbated if relocation is part of your early retirement plan, as it was for me. 

Since moving across the country, I’ve only met one physical therapist in the past year. Interestingly, she asked if I would be interested in doing home health visits for her company and also offered to introduce me to someone with an outpatient practice who may be looking for part-time help. This reinforces the importance of having professional connections to find a job.

If going back to work is a contingency plan for your early retirement, what will you do to maintain your professional connections after leaving the workforce?

Age Discrimination

A study of adults age 50 and older shows that about half face age discrimination in the workplace in their lifetime. Some employers offer incentives to older workers to retire earlier in an effort to save costs. 

Some older workers are pushed out in less obvious and likely illegal ways. Only about 10% of workers who are forced out of their jobs recover to earn as much or more in future positions.

Age discrimination can be particularly challenging for an older worker looking to re-enter the workforce. Employers take measures to exclude older, generally more expensive, workers by recruiting only at colleges, targeting younger people through social media, or even capping years of experience as a screening criteria.

Even if you have unique skills and experience that could fill a specific need, it may be difficult for an older worker to get through the initial screening process to sell themselves in an interview.

This further reinforces the need to maintain a professional network if returning to work is a contingency to your early retirement plans. And it’s probably wise to assume you won’t find working conditions as favorable as those you left.

Health

Those of us who think about and seriously plan for early retirement are not the norm. A survey of baby boomers by the Employee Benefit Research Institute reported that 79 percent of workers are planning to work beyond traditional retirement age.

Yet, the same study reports that only 29 percent of people surveyed actually are doing that. Why the disconnect?

Over one half of those who retired earlier than expected left their careers because they were no longer able to work due to suffering health issues or having to be a caretaker for a spouse who developed health issues.

Many people I talk to discuss reducing stress, exercising more, and living a generally healthier lifestyle as motivating factors to retiring early. While all are possible, early retirement is not a magic bullet that changes the reality of aging or negates all of the stress we’ve already placed on our bodies.

I chose to pursue FI and then took advantage of the opportunity to retire early while I have my health and can enjoy my life. A primary motivating factor was witnessing several loved ones diagnosed with cancer in their forties. 

However, understanding that health is not guaranteed is a double edged sword. If doing some work, or being able to return to work, is part of your retirement plan, realize there is a substantial possibility your health could prevent it.

The Ultimate Lifestyle Inflation

The final challenge to returning to work would be the biggest for me. And I never considered it when I made the decision to leave my career.

I got my first job in the summer after my sophomore year in high school. For the next twenty-five years, I never had more than two consecutive weeks where I didn’t have to be at school, work, or both. 

Now that I’ve experienced the freedom with my time that comes with early retirement, it would be incredibly hard to go back to any job that places constraints on my time. 

Lifestyle inflation is real. This is a common challenge among people who want to retire early, but have to make major lifestyle changes after buying more house or car than they need, or becoming accustomed to fancy clothes or expensive vacations.

I never felt I sacrificed much while saving towards financial independence and early retirement. But my wife and I saved a high percentage of our incomes from day one of our adult lives and slowly inflated our lifestyles, so we never had to give up anything of value.

Despite the challenges that come with early retirement, I love the freedom and flexibility it allows. 

The ability to own your own time is the ultimate lifestyle inflation. If I had to get a job to support my family, I certainly would. But, it would be incredibly difficult to give that freedom up now that I’ve experienced it. 

Could You Go Back to Work?

As I step back and analyze the obstacles returning to work involves, the only one that may be totally out of our control and insurmountable is health.

Most early retirees could go back to work. You may not be able to return to your prior career or find work conditions as good as you left. But if you are seriously considering early retirement, you most likely would never have to. A small amount of income can go a long way to relieve stress on a portfolio.

The high savings rate that enables early retirement implies a combination of having a valuable skill set combined with a relatively low cost of living. Returning to your prior career in a part-time capacity or taking on a lower paying job should allow most of us to get by if needed.

Don’t stay trapped in your career in perpetual fear. But be aware that there are potential obstacles to returning to work that should be considered, and plan for them before taking the plunge.

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Addendum: A reader “Peter” sent me this “Pepper. . . And Salt” cartoon that ran in the Wall St. Journal the same day as my post, which he found ironically funny and complimentary to this post. I agree!

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[Contributing Editor Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris' writing has been featured in MarketWatch, Doughroller, Business Insider and RockStar Finance. He is also the primary author of the forthcoming book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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Comments

  1. Joe Pecador says

    When I was in my early fifties, the company I worked for was in the process of massive layoffs. In my department, they preferred to make our life impossible so that we would quit instead. I did quit.

    My decision was made because I was “In demand” (Information Security Engineer). I had recruiters calling me almost daily. I had years of experience, and all the top certifications.

    When I quit, I decided to take off and travel for a month.

    And then the perfect storm of 2006 hit. Market crash, real estate collapse, economy shattered.

    To make a very long story short, it took me four years to find a job (And since I quit, I was not eligible for unemployment).

    As I started in the job search process, I applied for the very few jobs available in my field. Over time, I started going down the ladder. I even applied to deliver newspapers. I went to ‘Job Club’ at the local college. I called old colleagues and recruiters. Only two interviews. Both seemed to go well after interviewing with my peers and mid-level management. At the end, Zilch. Nada.

    One recruiter told me in confidence that my qualifications, previous salary and (deep secret) age, were offer killers.

    I ended up finding a position roughly four years later. Doing technical support and at a sixty percent pay cut.

    I decided to continue paying my mortgage, even though my new home was now fifty percent underwater. I cleaned out my 401K (And paid the 10% penalty) but I survived.

    In the years since, I have managed to rebuild and build a decent nest egg.

    Yes, I know. Don’t quit your current job without having a new job. But they were making our lives hell and I thought my skills were truly valuable.

    Many people I work with laughed at me when I mentioned age discrimination. But I saw many of them unable to find a job (Even with their qualifications) for an extended period of time, in a good economy. And yes, they were all over fifty.

    Moral of the story, yes, you can find a job, but it will not be easy and it may be not even close to what you want or expect.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience Joe. I wish that wasn’t the case, but the numbers say your situation is more the rule than the exception.

  2. Chris – All great points and many I think about often. I just turned 50 a few months ago and I have always subscribed to “getting out” early from my corporate engineering job. However, the fear and uncertainty does creep in as I approach my FI later this year I just paid off my house and carry no other personal debt. We plan on selling in 2020 and moving to a lower cost and less taxed state. My wife and I have been in Chicago suburbs for 25 years and are ready to explore the next chapter of our lives since we are both active and fear that if we don’t go soon, it will be to late to enjoy life without medical issues. To help hedge the fear of having to go back to a corporate BS job, we purchased a 9 unit apartment building last year and plan on buying another 20 units in the next 18 months. Although still nervous about the next step, I have more fear of staying than I do of going.

    Thanks for the article and insight on this subject.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Kelly. Your experience is one I hear commonly, saving enough to retire, but then not fully feeling comfortable with drawing down a portfolio and so pursuing other sources of income anyway as you’re doing with your RE ventures. I appreciate you sharing that and wish you nothing but the best as you prepare to start this next chapter.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  3. Retired June 3rd – 6 weeks before 55th Birthday!! Love the free time to LIVE AND ENJOY LIFE!!!
    Travel plans for a year then look into starting a part time side gig that would be FUN to me!! Life is GREAT!!

  4. Seven months ago I retired early from a job that had grown increasingly intolerable over the years – the actual work was fine but dealing with the nonsensical corporate mandates, schizophrenic managers, and discontented co-workers was in the end more than I could stand. A few months ago I found myself feeling strange – finally figured out I was happy. Not about anything in particular, just generally. It had been so long I didn’t recognize it at first. Could I go back to before? Not now, not at any price. And at my mid-fifty age working in IT I probably couldn’t get hired even if I wan’t to. If necessary I would cut expenses to the bone, double down on work on our small farm, and/or get some part-time/seasonal work to make ends meet. But I’m never going back:)

    • Marie – I know the feeling of “nonsensical corporate mandates”. Not sure if they are getting worse or I find them no longer tolerable. Either way, they and I must go. Love hearing your found “happy”. I was just speaking to someone in our company that retied over a year ago at 65. He was a senior VP and had a lot of pull in the company. He said “you really don’t know how much stress/pressure you are under until you get a way from it.” I sensed he wished he hadn’t worked for so long or taken life so seriously. He was miserable to be around when he was here and I suspect he didn’t even realize it. I don’t want to be the guy. Congrats on calling it quits.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Marie,

      I fully understand those sentiments. I did some volunteering with our local adaptive ski program this winter and LOVED it. It was a truly amazing experience. They appreciated having someone with my background and asked me to do the training to become a paid instructor, and honestly it made me a little sick. I think having the freedom to work unpaid on my own terms is a large part of the reason I loved it so much, and I’m fearful that if I did more and was obligated to go to work, I may ruin that feeling of joy. I’m still pondering what to do as it is very tempting. To be continued. . .

  5. Hi Chris and thank you for again sharing your experience and perspective. I am almost 57, left my job at a large multinational two days after turning 55 for a lesser paying job with what I hope (so far, so good) to be more security. I decided I want to continue working until our Son’s college is funded (about 90% now) and our savings goals achieved. I figure four more years. I too have certifications, in Project Management and Process Improvement, and am a cycle ahead in recertification. Key is that I enjoy contributing and feel it is important that I model the work ethic for my Son so he see’s me contributing and participating in the workforce. I hope to go part time after three more years.

    Not that you are not vital, obviously you are keeping busy with worthwhile activities, but what I fear for the FIRE movement participants is that they are ALL at risk for health insurance and market risk. You might enjoy a part time gig that ensures you stay current, build a reputation in Utah and help people that need your expertise. Doing so would be admirable, wise and could be done on your terms. If you lapse your license or skills/knowledge, you may not have the choice to make should you need it!

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for the insights Dave. I have little fear (right or wrong) of market risk because we have such a low burn rate. Last year, my wife’s income, doing better than expected renting our now current residence, and selling our old home without a realtor all factored into having a positive savings rate. In year 2, despite her cutting her hours and undergoing a major home renovation, we’ll definitely spend less down <2% from our portfolio, and may actually end up having a positive savings rate if I can sell some books.

      I am fearful of long-term health insurance prospects and having the ability to return to my career is comforting. However, this December will be two full years and if I wait until December 2020 it will have been three full years since I've worked as a PT and I'll need to deal with licensing issues, so it is reaching a point that I decide if I need to do at least a little part-time work. TBD.

  6. Interesting read. My wife and I are 66 and 65 respectively and we spoke yesterday about if we went back to work, what would we do. She retired ten years ago as a social services caseworker, and had a lot of background in a state that is respected for that work. She could likely walk into anywhere in our new home state and they would love to have her. I was in high tech sales and was paid a goodly amount. Would it be easy for me to go back? Probably not since tech has moved on, although I was offered a manager position in one firm last month. At this point, if it was absolutely necessary, I would probably just take a job at a local retail firm or something until I realized if I am going to work, I might as well get paid well for it, and go back to the high tech area. It would be a lot of travel again but I did not mind that part of the job; I enjoyed the perks of having status in the airlines and hotels which I no longer have. But since we have done well, like yourself, and have no debt we would likely not ever go back unless the excrement really hit the fan. And if that was the case there may not be a whole lot of jobs anyways.

    • Chris Mamula says

      You make a few excellent points ChuckY. Having made good money is another form of lifestyle inflation. While we could go back to lower paying work, it would feel like a big step backwards. See my reply to Marie above. I could get a tremendously rewarding job as an adaptive ski instructor, but it is low paying and runs the risk of killing the joy I brought to the position as a volunteer working limited hours on my own terms. So I ponder, would it be better to just get a job working very limited hours in a clinic setting where I could make 3-4X as much AND make/maintain professional connections AND keep my skills and certifications current, then just continue to be a volunteer. Definitely a good position to be in to ponder these types of “problems”, but that doesn’t make the questions less real or legitimate.

  7. Spot on Chris. I early retired from a career in corporate IT. Technology in the IT industry changes at too rapid a pace for my skills to remain in demand. Add to that our relocation to a different state (with the attendant lower wages that accompany the lower cost of living in the area.), the loss of a professional network and the reality is that I would be looking at Uber driving or being a Home Depot clerk if I have to go back to part-time work after being out of the workforce for several years.

    With my modest nest egg I will just have to become accustomed to the reality that my retirement plan is subject to many risks beyond my control (Markets, inflation, health, etc.) that could make life uncomfortable. I suspect other early retirees may face the same challenges.

    Thanks for the article.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for the feedback Bill. I think too often we focus on the worst case scenario, but even in good scenarios as you and I are experiencing that feeling of uncertainty, and for some even anxiety, that accompany a long retirement are very real.

  8. Kristinia Miller says

    Good article and definitely one that I considered deeply before leaving. In fact, I worried so much about it that it almost paralyzed me from taking the leap. I am now 2 years in and like you, could not imagine having my time dictated or managed by another entity. My advice to be very prepared before retiring to make sure 1) you have enough money and 2) you are truly done with “work” in the traditional sense.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Great insights Kristinia. My wife and I took very different paths. She cut back to working 30 hours after the birth of our daughter and taking a maternity leave, went up to 32 hours last year after I quit and in anticipation of high expenses associated with our cross country move, and has since cut back to 28 hours as she feels close to finding the right amount to work for her to find a good balance in life. I in contrast worked full-time up to my last day, then cut the cord completely. Neither path is perfect, but it is certainly scarier to take the full leap and also more complicated to unwind that decision once you do, so your advice is spot on.

  9. Good article – no doubt in my mind that age discrimination is real (and the recent Google settlement is more evidence, even in firms that claim to ‘Do no harm’ ).

    In your profession, I would think that age could be a benefit – a visible mark of experience? One of my sisters in-law is also a PT and considering retirement. One suggestion I had for her was to consider doing side gigs for companies that have on-site perks for their employees. I know some bring in trainers and masseuses, why not PTs? Pick up a few interesting firms which could lead to more individual clients. (assuming the insurance/licensing issues are not a burden)

    Good luck (if you decide to dip your toes back in).

    • Chris Mamula says

      There are many opportunities for PT work. I’m most familiar with outpatient ortho/sports PT as that is where I practiced. There is a lot of demand in most clinics for early A.M. and late P.M. hours, when people want to come before or after work. I could add a lot of value by working just a few hours in those peak times, while keeping most of the day free. Another option is doing a traveling rotation. This was my original idea, which is why I maintained licensure in PA, with the idea of possibly doing a 6-12 week rotation over summer(s) to spend extended time closer to family while having travel and housing costs covered. But as noted in the post, now that I haven’t worked in nearly 2 years, and have experienced freedom with my time, both are looking less appealing to me. Thanks for the insights and best of luck to your sister-in-law. Tell her I’d love to hear what she decides if she would want to send me an email.

  10. Great article, so many other early retirement bloggers think it will be easy going back to work and their minions just eat it up. People that retire in their 30’s and then run out of money in their late 40’s and 50’s will be getting a big slap to the face.

    I quit my job 20 years ago to be a stay at home dad. I did not call it “retiring” like some blogger do, it is being a stay at home parent with a working spouse, but that for another article. I had a medical field license that has been replaced with a Doctoral license making my bachelors degree almost worthless, why hire a bachelor when you can get a Doctor for the same price? But along those 20 years I have broken my back in an accident and developed feet problems that would prohibit me from working in my field anyway. Even the minimum wage job, that I took last year for something to do was to much standing. I sit here with age and experience on my side and it makes me laugh to see those people that at the age of 30 talk about going back to work like they would just stroll into a company and be greeted with open arms.

    Also if you really needed to go back to work, the most likely cause of that would be from a very bad economy and stock market crash like in 2008, when peoples portfolios dropped by 60%. How easy will it be to get a job when the unemployment rate is 10+% and the fresh out of the work place people are interviewing for the same job as someone that has not worked in 15-20 years? You are not going to be hired not even at Walmart.

    Thanks for the truth and not candy coating it, just to make your readers happy.

    • Chris Mamula says

      I just share my opinions and research in a balanced and honest way to help people make their own decisions. Thanks for the feedback.

    • One small safeguard for later-life might be to ensure you max out social security benefits before leaving the full-time workforce in your earlier years. You might run out of money in your 50’s after retiring very early… but at least you can be sure to have some cash starting in your 60’s. Of course I’m assuming SSA will be viable in our lifetimes.

  11. Chris – great article – interesting POV on lifestyle inflation, but it makes sense.

    I literally just wrote about how a 60 year old friend of mine is approaching work – and how he wants to get control & flexibility, but is planning to continue to work for a long time. He wants an economically and physically active “retirement”

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenchen/2019/07/22/why-money-is-the-last-thing-you-need-to-think-about-as-you-approach-retirement/#7524449b7423

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks Steve. Hope all is well your way. Retirement is certainly a complex decision with no one size fits all answer.

  12. Absolutely wonderful article. Yes, “age discrimination “ is probably the only real discrimination in USA. Some people don’t probably would agree, but is my firm opinion. Keeping sharp my professional skills and license in active status is a prime consideration.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Not sure that it is the “only real discrimination”, but agism certainly is real and is something to consider.

  13. Hi, Chris. Great article, thanks!

    I retired early to be a caregiver when my wife had a stroke some years ago. In eighteen months, she recovered enough to go back to work part time as an aerospace engineer.

    I wanted to go back to work also, but needed a change after fifteen years of IT. My first career love was aerospace operations (military pilot, NASA astronaut trainer) but I wasn’t current and had no network.

    I accidentally did a couple of things right: for amusement and intellectual stimulation, I completed a masters degree in space operations just before my wife’s stroke.

    After her stroke, to pass the time when she was doing lots of therapy, I taught myself how to run a software package that is commonly used in space operations.

    I shotgunned my resume out with little result. I tapped into my wife’s network of space professionals and found an operations job at age 60. I felt very fortunate.

    I am now permanently retired with absolutely no desire to work for money ever again!

    • Chris Mamula says

      First off, wow, what an interesting and unique background! I’d love to sit down and have dinner sometime to hear more about your lives and learn more of your stories.

      Your story demonstrates that you never know where life is going to take you, but now that you’ve retired I hope it continues to take you to new and interesting places. Best wishes for a long happy retirement and continued recovery and good health for your wife.

  14. After 2.5 years of early retirement I cannot imagine having to be somewhere at a pre determined time, even if it’s for something fun!

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree. I certainly couldn’t grasp that feeling of freedom until experiencing it. Cheers!

  15. Hi Chris,

    Your network is stronger than you think; we have two PT openings at my hospital in rural New England. ; ) Since we are rural we have difficulty filling a lot of positions (from cleaning staff to primary care physicians). I think we could do a better job selling the area though – hiking is great here!

    Nice notes on ‘ultimate’ lifestyle inflation, haven’t really thought about it this way. Stretch comparison – I made an intentional move earlier this year to work a normal schedule (40-45 hours) instead of the 55-60 hours I used to work. Probably more like lifestyle “normalization”, but similar concept! Take care,

    Max

    • Chris Mamula says

      As I noted, I’m not even licensed in my state b/c one of the most likely options for me if I decide to return to PT work would be to do a traveling position for a couple weeks-months a year. I love NE in the fall, but don’t see that happening with my daughter in school.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.

      Cheers!

  16. Bob Barr says

    One thing you did not touch on, unless I missed it, is having to explain that gap in your employment if you decide to go back to work. A hiring manager will likely not be impressed by your ‘early retirement.’ Just one more thing to think about.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Good point Bob, but probably industry specific. I think in an industry like tech where change is rapid, a big resume gap could be a big negative. In a career like mine as a PT where you spend a lot of time with patients and showing your personality and developing connection is key, then doing something like I’ve done to move cross country to pursue an active and adventurous lifestyle, spend my daughter’s formative years as a stay at home dad, and write a book about a topic I’m passionate about would probably make me more interesting in an interview setting and marketable and effective as a clinician.

    • Beverly Beltran says

      @Bob That is not necessarily true in many fields, I suspect. I took a sabbatical for 14 months and traveled all over – Europe and Guatemala. I volunteered a bit as a Nurse Practitioner for a project in Guatemala and taught English for a few weeks in Madrid. In the medical field, people recognize burnout as a real thing. I quickly landed a Part time job upon return. I was actually thanked by the recruiter for volunteering and taking a break as a health care provider. Part time (PT) work is all I want in my life – I have too many other interests – and the volunteerism helped me recognize that I wanted to keep my fingers in the pie but only on a limited basis. Now, I work between 12-30 hours a week with control over my schedule. Because I have to re-certify with my certifying body every 5 years and renew my Nursing license every two…I figure, at age 54, this is my last re-certification cycle – No mas no mas when it comes the bureaucratic paper maze that we health care providers have to go through. I’m loving that part, for sure.

      • Beverly, as I wrote below, that’s a fundamental advantage that health care workers have over technical folks. You don’t take a sabbatical and return to find that they’ve completely redesigned the human body and now you don’t know where anything is.

  17. I have wrestled with this for several years. In my mid 50’s, the retirement calculators tell me I’m fine with no chance of failure, in even worst-case circumstances. My work environment has turned absolutely toxic – as an Old White Guy in a high-tech environment, I am a minority of minorities, facing harassment and general lack of respect (not in any legally actionable way unfortunately). I have tried relying on the work itself for satisfaction but that’s simply not working any more. And it’s an otherwise stable company that prides itself on treating employees well.

    For the last 2-3 years, I have written on this site and many others that I work only for the health insurance. I am finally breaking free of that limitation and I expect to walk away from work in a few weeks. After 18 months of Cobra coverage, I will put my trust in ACA and the private insurance market for 9 more years until Medicare. Which I know is insane, but I also know that staying at my present job will be much worse for my long term health and well being.

    I have no illusions of returning to work. I’m done with it.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Larry,

      I’ve read your comments here and sensed your frustration for some time. The retirement decision is certainly hard, and some challenges like health care have no good answers. At the end of the day, you have to weigh all the variables and make the best decision with the information you currently have. I don’t anticipate the transition will be all roses for you, as you are clearly a person that is very analytical, and as I noted in my own experience those doubts, fears and insecurities haven’t gone away for me, even though things have gone as well or better than can be expected in my first two years since leaving my job. However, I can share from my experience that there are bigger and better things on the other side of your career if you allow space for them in your life. Best wishes on this big change!

      Chris

  18. I have one more point to make which is hopefully apparent to anyone who’s read this article and the comments.

    If you have flexibility, hang onto it – at all costs. I won’t try to speak to all kinds of work, but it seems clear to me that most “medical people” have the option of part time work, part-time jobs exist in abundance, and age and experience are respected. I know a “traveling nurse” who makes really good money and lives where she wants, and works when she wants. This is also true of doctors and medical billing people and yes, physical therapists. If it costs you a few thou a year to keep a license and maybe a class or two to keep your options open, DO IT. Don’t derive your life plan only from reading FIRE blogs.

    It is also very clear that high-tech folks – who all get pigeonholed into very narrow and highly specialized jobs that can become obsolete on a whim – do not have this flexibility. I remember when I started engineering school, it was claimed that an engineering degree can open the doors to other careers, such as medical and legal. During a mid-career layoff, I remembered that claim and I discovered that they failed to also tell us that you needed to use your electives on the pre-requisite classes for medical school, not on the neat high-techy things that would get you an engineering job. I was looking at 2+ years of organic chemistry and other stuff, just to get near applying to med school.

    Flexibility. If you have it, keep it. If you can get it, get it.

    • It would also seem that when leaving a career “early”, it makes sense to ask some basic questions:

      1. Who else do I know that has retired, or is getting ready to retire, from this career?
      2. What options did they pursue for cutting back their hours, working part time, taking contract work, etc.?
      3. How did they handle the transition(s)?

      Looking at people in a similar career or life situation, has to be more valuable than looking to MMM or the like.

      Then you can have Plan B, Plan C, etc. ready in your mind, so that they don’t turn into ongoing nagging worries as your retirement proceeds.

      I have tried to ask these questions to the extent that I can.

      • Chris Mamula says

        I think there is genuine value in looking at this decision from a number of different perspectives. It is definitely possible to make the jump too soon, but it is also possible to stay on too long.

        110% agree in having many contingency plans. The longer the retirement timeframes the greater the degree of uncertainty, so the more back-up plans you’ll likely need!

  19. Although this article acknowledges the point, I think it’s worth revisiting just how much privilege underlies the notion of “things I just *could’nt* do.” I doubt my grandfather, while in his 40s, *wanted* to redo 3 years of internship just so he could practice medicine in a new country. Yet the option was to 1) stay in China as a Christian during the dawn of the Communist era, 2) find a different way to put a roof over their head. Similarly, I doubt the many medically-trained immigrants in the US who work as cab drivers, janitors, etc. *want* to do that. It’s called survival.

    I say this because I think centering gratitude opens us to ideas we might otherwise disregard.

    In my opinion, a different way to think about this is about relative effort-to-reward ratio rather than *want.* I posit you will only feel LESS inclined to give up your freedom the longer you have been retired. Moreover, it will become HARDER to pursue part-time PT as an income source the longer you have been retired, for the reasons mentioned. Yet it may be HARDER to find part-time PT work during a downturn (don’t know the specifics of PT, maybe it’s recession-proof or maybe that’s location-dependent). Thus, the easiest time to do this is the present, which leads to the question of return. What will you gain, and how badly do you need it? Is it peace of mind? Additional cash buffer? Hedging one’s bets? If this income source disappeared from your options, how many X more hours would you have to work to earn the same amount, and if that happened, how unhappy would you be? And how likely is that scenario?

    For what it’s worth, I find humans to be much more adaptable than we think. Especially if you’re only talking 1-2 shifts/week, a summer, etc. And, my aunt is 71 and works two 5-hour OT shifts/week at a hospital. She loves it, YMMV.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Agree Jessica, and stated in the post; “If I had to get a job to support my family, I certainly would.”

      Also agree that it only will get harder psychologically and practically the further out I get, which is what has me pondering this topic.

      You ask great questions. The challenge is that many don’t have definitive answers, as they probably won’t for most people.

      The thing I’m learning since leaving my career is that there have been an abundance of options. In some ways this is a tremendous blessing, but there is a real stress and anxiety that comes with having so many choices. To be clear, I’m not complaining and I wouldn’t trade it to go back to the time where my time was dominated by work. But that doesn’t make the challenge less real.

  20. Chris’s post

    Chris! Hope you’re well. Always good hearing from my fellow PT and FIRE colleague. Great article and very relevant to my situation.

    I would like to comment on a few of your points. First, I agree that those in their fifth+ decade of life looking to Re-Enter workforce may experience some roadblocks. I’m not there yet, but I’ve heard others remark about concerns ranging from age discrimination to dwindling industry connections (direct correlate to years outside the respective field).

    As for therapy-specific subjects, I want to dive further in that.
    Skill set. You are correct, medical advances do take years to become practice due to FDA (and let’s not forget insurance approval! Some still call iontophoresis “experimental” and it’s been around 25 years or more). My second point here is I see clinicians everyday who are still doing things they way they did 10 years ago. And these are actively practicing clinicians. So, I would say you are completely fine if you’re out of the field for several years. Take a CEU here and there and you will remain up to speed my friend.
    Insurance credentialing. In 90% of cases your EMPLOYER will keep up with this. It will likely not fall squarely on your shoulders to go back and get re-credentialled. Unless you start your own practice, of course. The medium-large employers have entire departments dedicated to this. I’ve never once worried about personally handling the insurance credentialing process. And I’ve worked for 6 clinics or organizations in 4 different states.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for your insights, particularly on credentialing. I have another PT/FIRE devotee friend, Jared Casazza who writes the blog 5th Wheel PT who told me the same thing. He does a couple travel PT rotations a year.

      It’s crazy how so few people stay current and change as they practice. I heard the stat about it taking basically a generation for new research to work it’s way into practice across medical fields until the next generation comes out of school, but had to look it up and read it for myself. In retrospect, it makes sense and you see it all the time once you look for it.

      Hope you’re still enjoying the part-time situation and all is good with you and the family!

  21. I think it’s great that you’re thinking about all possibilities, including going back to “work” though I would say it’s traditional employment you’re thinking about since you do already work — just part-time and more entrepreneurially. There is a lot to like about traditional work — the camaraderie of colleagues, the resources of a bigger office, the structure of it. As a consultant, I sometimes select onsite, almost full-time projects specifically to get some of these benefits. That’s a possible compromise for you — go back to work but set a deadline on it and toggle back and forth between your different roles.

    • Chris Mamula says

      I’ve thought about that Caroline. This is why I elected to maintain my license in PA, though I now live in UT. It is fairly easy as a PT to get travel assignments of 6 weeks to 3 months. That would give me an opportunity to spend an extended period of time close to family. And when I am working, I’d be working essentially full-time, but then when I was off I’d be completely off.

      But, as we’ve settled into this lifestyle, we really love where we are and don’t want to go back for that long, especially don’t want to uproot our daughter for that long as she is very happy here and has made many great friends very quickly.

      Working a more traditional part-time schedule, just isn’t appealing to me as it would require me to commit specific periods of time so clients could schedule appointments. It would take away the freedom I’ve worked so hard to obtain.

      So the most attractive option at this point is to continue writing, which gives me complete freedom with my time. The trade-off is that I probably spend 50+ hours a month, to earn what I could in 6-8 hours of my professional work. My “part-time entrepreneurial work” is really a hobby so making anything is a bonus. If I need the money, I would definitely return to my old career, but that would feel like work.