Not Going Back To Work

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A few years ago, I became frustrated with repeatedly hearing the flippant FIRE mantra that you should retire as soon as possible. Conventional wisdom among the FIRE crowd is that in a worst case scenario you can always “just go back to work.”

worker bee on flower

In response, I wrote a detailed analysis of why once you exit a high paying career, it can be hard to go back to work. This decision shouldn’t be taken lightly.

For the past three years, I’ve been keeping my options open if I chose to return to my career as a physical therapist. On December 31st, 2020, I allowed my license to expire. This action, or I suppose inaction, makes it much harder and less likely that I’ll ever return to my old career. 

I’ll share what financial, psychological, and practical considerations changed that led me to this decision. Hopefully this helps others struggling with when it is time to let go and move on from your careers.

Defining Retirement

Let’s start by defining some key concepts that will inform your decision about leaving your career: financial independence and early retirement. It’s important to understand these two ideas are related, but not the same. They also don’t have to occur in a particular sequence.

I’m defining retirement as leaving your career completely and permanently. Early retirement simply means retiring in your 40’s or 50’s (or earlier in more extreme and rare cases).

Financial independence is more challenging and imprecise. Understanding the degree of financial independence you possess is a big factor in whether you should leave your job and career behind, i.e. retire.

Defining Financial Independence

I define financial independence as having assets that produce enough income to maintain your lifestyle without ever having to work for money again. My uncertainty about our financial independence is the main reason I kept the door open to return to my career if needed.

Financial independence is better viewed as a continuum than a strict dichotomy. I have a good deal of financial independence. But I was not, and still am not, certain that I’m permanently and completely financially independent.

Many people who tell you with certainty they are financially independent aren’t. Instead, they are naive or lying.

Other are likely financially independent. Some worked longer and saved far more than was likely necessary. Some benefited from a fortunate sequence of market returns in the early years after retiring. Either scenario makes it more likely they actually do have enough money to last indefinitely.

Determining when you have enough is hard. We only know exactly how much we need with certainty when looking back after the fact. Quitting too soon or working too long each have advantages and drawbacks.

The first reason I now feel comfortable completely walking away from my old career is that our financial circumstances have changed over the past three years.

Economic Uncertainty…

In December 2017, when I initially left my career our assets were 24 times our projected annual expenses. This put us somewhere in the ballpark of having enough money to retire. If one word could summarize my mindset, it was uncertainty.

We had considerable uncertainty with our future spending. We were preparing to move to a new area of the country and start a different lifestyle. Our young daughter hadn’t even started kindergarten yet. We had no long-term plan for health insurance. Errors in our spending assumptions would be compounded over a potentially 50+ year retirement.

The other side of the equation was how much income we could safely generate from our portfolio. I left my career at a time of high market valuations and low interest rates, putting us at increased sequence of returns risk.

We planned to semi-retire and gradually transition to full retirement. This would allow us to start living a more desirable lifestyle sooner, without the financial risk of full early retirement.

Kim was still in a relatively new position, working part-time for a startup company when I left my career. We weren’t certain how stable the company or her position in it were.

I was starting to work on my book and starting a partnership on this blog. I hoped each would produce income, but that was not guaranteed. For all of these reasons, it made sense to keep the option to return to my old career a viable one.

…To Financial Confidence

Over the past three years we’ve gained more certainty, security, and confidence with our finances on several fronts. We’ve spent more than we were anticipating, but most of that was voluntary– improving our home, upgrading outdoor gear, and increasing charitable giving. 

Our estimates of our core spending were pretty accurate. It has been reassuring to see what we’ve actually spent rather than projecting what we thought we would spend. The one exception is still not having a good grasp on our future health care costs.

Our investment balance has increased greatly since I left my job. After a rough first year in 2018, our portfolio value is up 41% over the last two years. Taking 4% of our current portfolio value would easily cover all of our current annual spending. Even starting with a 3% draw would provide a comfortable lifestyle.

My income was minimal in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, I finally made a five figure income from my writing. This is nowhere close to covering our annual spending or my salary potential as a physical therapist. Still, I am now confident my writing can produce enough income to allow us to live on only portfolio income without drawing from principle. This would eliminate sequence of returns risk.

Kim’s employment situation has worked out well. We don’t know how long or how much she’ll want to continue working, but we’re much more confident she will have a choice in the matter than we were three years ago.

For all of these reasons, I feel more comfortable with the financial decision to completely leave my career now.

Psychological Factors Resolved

Fear of not having enough money was one psychological reason I had been keeping my options to return to my career open. It was not the only one.

I felt a sense of obligation not to give up the professional credentials I worked so hard to obtain. As a first generation college graduate whose parents invested heavily in my education, I also felt a sense of responsibility to them to get the most out of my career. There was a sense of guilt for walking away so soon.

In retrospect, I wasted more mental energy on these concerns than was warranted. There are plenty of capable people able to fill my professional role. I know my parents had some initial reservations and maybe even disappointment when I left my career, but all parents want what is best for their kids. Being trapped doing something out of a sense of obligation isn’t good for anyone.

Like many professionals, particularly those in health care fields, what you do becomes a big part of who you are. I worried whether I would struggle with a sense of identity and purpose. Would I miss being a physical therapist?

After three years, I don’t miss my old career at all. I’ve certainly had struggles adapting to a new way of life. Early retirement is not a panacea for all of life’s problems. But I haven’t experienced one morning in three plus years when I woke up wishing I had to go to work that day.

I don’t regret taking time to evaluate my decision. But after three years, I’m confident retiring from my career is the right move for me. There’s no longer a reason to keep looking back.

Practical Reasons

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. Entering 2020, I knew the clock was ticking.

If I was going to ever go back to my old career, I’d have to do some work to maintain my skills and professional connections. Early in the year, I was pondering looking for part-time work or doing one six-week travel assignment.

When the impact of the pandemic became apparent last March, everything suddenly changed. As an overnight homeschool family learning on the fly, I was extremely grateful to not have to go to a job. Seeking out work became the furthest thing from my mind.

As the pandemic went on, the working conditions of health care professionals not directly on the front lines were substantially impacted. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, 54% of physical therapists and 64% of physical therapist’s assistants had their hours cut last year. Even if I wanted to work, suddenly there was little demand for my services.

Assuming a best case scenario where there is certainty that schools will remain open and safe and professional demand for physical therapists completely recovers to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021, I will have been out of the workforce for four years.

For practical reasons, it made sense to leave my old career behind and move on to new challenges and opportunities.

A New Chapter

Leaving behind your career is a challenging decision on many levels. I talk to many people who  are trapped in fear. They work at jobs and stay in lifestyles they don’t like longer than necessary because change is hard … and scary.

Others don’t put enough thought into the decision of when to leave their career. They follow fickle advice and quit too soon, leaving their fate to chance and luck.

Finding a way to gradually make changes is a smarter and safer middle ground. Still, at some point we all have to decide when it’s time to completely cut the cord. That time has come for me.

It feels good to free myself of the substantial mental and small financial burden of maintaining the credentials, skills, and professional connections that would enable returning to a career I am ready to be done with. Hopefully, being transparent with my decision making process can help some of you struggling with similar decisions.

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[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. After achieving financial independence, Chris began writing about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. Chris also does financial planning with individuals and couples at Abundo Wealth, a low-cost, advice-only financial planning firm with the mission of making quality financial advice available to populations for whom it was previously inaccessible. Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He has spoken at events including the Bogleheads and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants annual conferences. Blog inquiries can be sent to chris@caniretireyet.com. Financial planning inquiries can be sent to chris@abundowealth.com]

[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. After achieving financial independence, Chris began writing about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. Chris also does financial planning with individuals and couples at Abundo Wealth, a low-cost, advice-only financial planning firm with the mission of making quality financial advice available to populations for whom it was previously inaccessible. Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He has spoken at events including the Bogleheads and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants annual conferences. Blog inquiries can be sent to chris@caniretireyet.com. Financial planning inquiries can be sent to chris@abundowealth.com]

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46 Comments

  1. Another very informative, no non-sense post. My wife and I are financially able to retire. She has given her notice to retire in May. She is older than me and emotionally much more ready to let go of her career (she is a medical professional). I am surprised at how hard it has become for me to imagine giving up my career. The choice between status quo and jumping off on a new adventure has started taking up a lot of my mental bandwidth. It’s good to hear your perspective after several years.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Phil. Interesting, that your wife is more ready than you to let go of her career.

      I recently read that med school applications are way up this year, likely in response to the pandemic and the heroic treatment given to medical professionals on the front lines in the media. Simultaneously, the burnout and disillusionment of people who are and have been at it for a while seems to only have gotten worse.

      Quite a disconnect there between perception and reality. Looks like I may have another generation of readers who will be looking for an escape plan in the future years and decades.

      Best,
      Chris

      1. Chris,

        You are putting discouraging words of your negative opinion in somebody else’s mouth.
        Are you being objective or is your judgement clouded by your personal experiences?
        Who’s going take care of the aging population in this country if people like you spread negativity about the field?
        Who know maybe young people are idealistic and heroic for choosing this field or what about other, ulterior, idea of them having a thought of becoming rich fast and jump the ship early like you (though not a doc) did or other docs (PofFire, WCI, etc.)?

        1. I’m just sharing my experience. Unfortunately, it’s one shared by many who enter our medical professions motivated by the desire to serve and help others, but quickly turned off and burnt out by our system.

          I don’t know anyone who thinks medicine is a way to “become rich fast and jump the ship.” Physical therapy training is generally 7+ years leading to graduating 6 figures in debt to get a career that starts around $60k/year and tops out around $100k. Doctors can make more, but go to school even longer so getting even a later start and typically with even more debt. If anyone thinks this is a way to become rich fast, they’re not very good at math.

          I hope to empower even more medical professionals to become financially independent. As more people break the dependence on collecting a paycheck from our broken system, maybe they’ll have a greater ability to work outside of the system to make change. At the very least, we won’t have so many people disheartened by our medical system, but still on the front lines of patient care because they don’t have other financial options.

          Best,
          Chris

  2. This is a great post, Chris! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I think, though, that as you get older you may want to use your PT knowledge to help your aging peers to retain and recover their mobility and strength. I have noticed during the pandemic shutdown that physically I have improved due to being able to move about freely and taking more frequent walks, but mentally I have deteriorated despite continuing to work from home. Maybe I need the social/mental stimulation on a daily basis more than I realized! Working in a university environment is very invigorating. My husband is a professor and he’s the type who will have to be dragged out feet first because he loves teaching and doing research so much! But in my case I had contemplated retiring earlier because I could. One thing that has stopped me is the way friends who are retirees almost seem envious that I have work to go to! That made me think that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the hill! (Or however that expression goes!) Going to work, at least a reasonably pleasant job, can be such a relief sometimes–if you wake up in a bad mood, going to work can sometimes jumpstart you out of it. Going to work can take your mind off many unpleasant matters. And the comradery of your workmates is hard to replace, too. I am still on the fence about it. The fact that my husband doesn’t want to retire anytime soon is a deterrent for now.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Beatriz. Lots of interesting things to chew on there.

      Re: maintaining my PT license. I agree with the sentiment of your comment. Over the past couple years, I’ve helped my neighbor rehab after a knee surgery and a friend’s young daughter who broke her leg and was struggling to connect with the PT they were taking her to. I also continue to volunteer with our local adaptive ski program. I also continue to read a lot as I’m genuinely interested in health, fitness and aging. These activities enable me to scratch that itch, w/o the negative parts of being a PT.

      Re: retiring at different times than a spouse, the challenges there are real and honestly harder than we anticipated before we took this path. Here are a couple of resources that people with similar concerns may find helpful.

      https://www.caniretireyet.com/retiring-before-spouse/ and https://www.caniretireyet.com/marriage-mental-health/

      Best,
      Chris

  3. Great article.

    I’m older but dealing with some of those same issues with my career as a lawyer. I lost 2 in-house counsel jobs in 2020 (1 in March and the other in July) and was on unemployment for the first time in my life. My ego was a factor as I also didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t making the decision to retire but was terminated from my prior employment. I then worked as an independent legal consultant for a few months but didn’t like it and didn’t make much money so I stopped that work in October.

    I do find it difficult to give my up my NY and WA state bar licenses after all of the effort I put in to get these licenses. I no longer have the enthusiasm or energy for the work and, in addition, still have to pay the bar license fees and continuing legal education costs that were previously paid by my former employer(s). I’m also a first generation college graduate.

    I was almost ready to retire and just found a part-time job 2 weeks ago for 10-15 hours weekly so I’ll work there until it becomes too much of a burden (1-2 years at most),

    Regards,

    Alan

    1. Alan,

      You make some interesting points about our perceptions of work and how much we are worth. One of the things I struggle with is how much time I put into the blog for the little bit of income it produces.

      It was a mental hurdle that kept me hanging on to my credentials to know that I could work one day a week or one six-week travel assignment a year and make what it takes me a year working 10-20 hours a week all year as a blogger.

      Ultimately, I decided I want to work on things that currently interest me and I don’t need to worry about how much income that produces. We each have to make our own judgements and decisions.

      Best,
      Chris

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I, too, have decided to give up my professional license this year. I retired in my 50s three years ago, and though I loved working as a psychologist, I have discovered that I love being retired even more. My days are full and rich; to have the time and energy to pursue new interests and goals while my health is good enough is a gift beyond measure. The pandemic has painfully made real the adage that none of us know how much time we will get on this earth. The pandemic has also taught my husband and I how we can live well on a smaller income, given that we cancelled all travels and most entertainment and have spent much less than we budgeted. Now I know we can live on the money we have saved and I am so thankful to give up my license. It’s time to fully embrace my next chapters.

    1. Beautifully said Jane. I don’t really have anything to add other than to say thanks for reading and sharing.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  5. Looks like Phil and I are in the same boat. My wife is retiring in May as well…with a decent pension, although in a state that is in poor financial health ….which makes us nervous. We’ve talked about me joining her but I’d like to give it a few years with her in retirement just to see how the reduced income works out with budget projections. Like you healthcare costs are the big wildcard. I have very good HC with my company…I hope that one day we get to a solution that disconnects HC from employers…but I think that is unlikely in our lifetime.

    As always I enjoy reading your posts.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Wade.

      I agree that I’m not optimistic about HC in this country. I try not to spend too much time on what I wish it were and instead focus on how to work within the system we have and help others do the same. None the less, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a point of ongoing aggravation.

      Best,
      Chris

    2. If your spouse is working and you have a side-job like the blog author has, you are not fully retired. Error on the side of keeping your job, as a general rule. There are many factors financial and non-financial to consider. Financial- HEALTH CARE costs,college debt, mortgage debt, assets in tax deferred accounts, Social Security (if you take it later than 62 it pays.) If you get a pension, can you hang in there for a year or two and get more? (same point with SS earnings history.) Your health? You may retire FROM something, but what are you retiring INTO?

      1. Jon,

        I welcome differing viewpoints. But, none of this is quite as simple as you would seem to like to make it.

        I’m not sure if you’ve read my earlier article linked in the intro, but I agree that for SOME people they should be more careful with the financial aspects of their planning and not rush into retirement. But the majority of people who I talk to and correspond with in this audience already are thinking about that stuff, possible to a fault b/c we’re natural savers who get overly focused on the security more money provides. Sometimes we allow the pendulum to swing too far in this direction and get trapped in fear.

        And regarding your last sentence, again I in part agree with this. But it really isn’t that simple.

        It’s important to understand that we don’t always get to decide when to retire. Maybe you’ll get sick, or need to become a caregiver, or see your industry change, or be disproportionately impacted by a pandemic, or … whatever else. So it’s important to understand whether you’re REALLY financially independent in the event this happens and you need to retire from something.

        But once you reach FI, or a degree of FI you’re comfortable with, then what will you retire into? Is a traditional retirement with no paid work the right goal b/c that’s what society says retirement is and you should do? Or should you continue to do things that may make money? Should you keep working part-time or full-time in your career for non-financial reasons (purpose, impact, social reasons, etc.)?

        It would be nice if there were simple one size fits all answers, but I don’t believe they exist.

        Best,
        Chris

        1. Chris, thanks for responding to my earlier post. I agree retirement is not simple and also not necessarily in our control and doesn’t need to be an off/on switch. I appreciate your response. And while I did not say this earlier, I find your blog of value and responses from readers too. It would be good if I went back to read some of your earlier articles too. PS love to go on a site that is respectful and polite.

          1. Thanks for that response Jon. I was originally drawn to this blog by Darrow’s humility and tone as much as his wisdom and insights. My goal is to keep this a place where anyone can come, ask questions, and have honest and respectful conversations.

            Cheers!
            Chris

  6. Thanks for the great post Chris. As of December 2020, I have been retired for 3 years, at the age of 50. Don’t miss working at all, as a CPA, I had to work many hours and in the later years found the work somewhat boring. I did enjoy the camaraderie of having co-workers but in 2020 working from home model, even that would have disappeared.

    The lockdowns and stay at home orders are getting a bit much, I do miss all of my activities and the travelling that I was able to do in the last 3 years. If 2020 has taught me anything, it is that we cannot take time for granted, nor health for that matter. Since I retired, I am more fit, eat better, and have the time to enjoy life more. I would not go back to my old job. Yes, it was scary to quit my job but my investments are doing well and my spending is on target so looking forward to the next adventure.

    1. Luisa,

      I feel like we’re in similar situations. I also didn’t hate my work, but more so felt indifferent. In some ways hating a career can almost be better, b/c it can drive the change we know we need. It’s easy to get trapped in comfort of something that’s OK and paying the bills.

      Hang in there and stay optimistic! It can be hard to see it through the lens of current events, but I’m confident better days are ahead!

      Best,
      Chris

  7. Great post Chris. I retired in 2018 after 37 years with the same company, at the age of 58. I too was unsure if we had enough set aside, but life is fleeting and decided not to wait until It was too late. I have not had any desire to go back to work. I loved it and the relationships I had made, but spending more time with my wife, kids and grandkids is a better place for me to be. Travel was in the cards but has been put on pause for the last year.

    I am fortunate enough to have a defined benefit pension to rely on to ease the transition, but that is about 1/3 of what I was making. It’s difficult to know when to make that change, but I tell folks to go as soon as you are able—— to some that may be 40 and others 70. There are other ways to feel useful and fill your days— you never know what the future may hold.

    1. Thanks for reading Mike. I would agree with the sentiment of starting to take action to make changes and not allowing yourself to get trapped, while planning in ways that keep open options until you are confident you’ve found a better path.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  8. Thank you for sharing Chris. I am curious on the Sequence of Returns (SOR) risk comments: SOR is always seen as the big bad guy in retirement, but I guess it is also the big good guy in a bull market. So now that 3% would be enough to sustain your income, ¿are you now de-risking your assets from market risk or will you maintain the same asset allocation?

    1. Javier,

      This is an excellent and interesting question that is hard to give an answer that does it justice in the comments here. Cliff’s Notes version. There are many risks to your retirement finances.

      Sequence of Returns is one risk. Focusing on alleviating it is appropriate in this environment. However focusing too much on this risk may push you to get money out of the market and be more conservative.

      Longevity risk is another. With interest rates for bonds and cash so low, that risk is also greater in the present environment, particularly if you get too conservative.

      Here are a couple of resources that help explain how I’m thinking through this with our portfolio and our decisions to continue to take efforts to continue to maintain some earned income.

      https://www.caniretireyet.com/investment-portfolio-management-2020/

      https://www.caniretireyet.com/retiring-extreme-low-interest-rates/

      https://www.caniretireyet.com/deciding-retire-high-market-valuations-low-interest-rates/

      Best,
      Chris

  9. This article really took me back. Thanks, as always, Chris!

    In my mid-forties I let me CFP certification expire as I had moved into non-profit work (where my heart was) and now, semi-retirement. It was really hard to set aside the professional certification I worked hard to obtain in the late 1980s but I realized all I had learned on behalf of advising others, allowed me to make the choice to leave the profession and go where my heart led me. I’ve been enjoying semi-retirement for five years now. And enjoying the financial independence that my (expired) CFP designation allowed me to imagine and create for my life.

    My husband takes the retirement plunge soon, delaying his retirement from teaching to 2022 only because he doesn’t want his final year as a teacher to be lived online!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Laura B. It is an odd time we’re living in. Good luck as your husband takes the plunge and joins you on this next phase of the journey.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  10. Great article Chris, thanks for sharing your decision making process. Folks like you help folks like me understand our individual and unique factors both financially and psychologically. I retired at 55 about 20 months ago, and you and your fellow FIRE bloggers helped me research and understand my options. I would still be grinding away at a soul-crushing job if I had not discovered you.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing the kind words Pat. These types of comments keep me going!

      Cheers!
      Chris

  11. I retired in 2018. I’m a RN and have kept up my license. I’m afraid to let it go. I still have feelings of my identity tied to my being a nurse. I find it hard to completely let go. At 64 I’m glad not to be practicing during the pandemic. My daughter is also a nurse and it is really bad at our hospital system here in the Dallas metroplex.

    1. Lori,

      You’re experience and mixed emotions are familiar to me and many others I’ve heard from.

      Best,
      Chris

  12. Another great post! Sharing a little different perspective on FIRE. My husband retired at 62 about 2 years ago. Having no debt, we were able to live on my income as a part time nurse, which also provided health insurance for us at a prorated cost. Fast forward to May 2020. I am 61, can’t see my family because of the pandemic, my children are struggling to work at home with young children, one daughter-in-law resigned her healthcare position as she was pregnant and her facility was rampant with Covid. My plan to work until 65 changed to retirement so I could see my family and help my children. Fortunately we have savings, income at 65 with pensions in the future. Never planned to take social security early, but with my husband claiming it early, as I will when I turn 62, we have ENOUGH. I have come to feel that enough is underrated. I am treasuring seeing my kids snd grandkids everyday, thankful I am able to help them and that we can all stay in our “bubble”. I love just living life without the stress and time constraints of a job, which I surprisingly do not miss at all. I may not have as much money when I’m 90, but I also my not be alive! I truly feel living my life in this manner is priceless.

    1. Thank you for sharing Pat. I appreciate your willing to be flexible and adapt to the world as it is, rather than getting stuck in the way we wish it was. Your story highlights the tradeoffs we all have to make as we ponder these decisions.

      Best,
      Chris

  13. Thanks Chris for this thoughtful article! I’ve been reading your writing, and Darrow’s, for the past several years as I make my own way toward FIRE. I appreciate so much your trail-blazing into the RE side of FIRE, as I have found this psychological transition just ahead to be difficult for me. It’s not Just about the money after all!

    I too am a health care provider, put many years into training and building a career in a family practice, and I can relate to that reluctance to ‘let it all go’ once we step into retirement. Having said that, the pressures on health professionals has increased in recent years, and for the first time I’m seeing retirement more as a light at the end of a tunnel, than a jump off a cliff. Thanks again for your inspiration and insights.

    1. Laura,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. It’s valuable for me to get this feedback and others to see that a lot of these struggles are common, though not often enough talked about.

      Best,
      Chris

  14. Debt minimal, check. Assets fund lifestyle, check. Mindset to retire, check. Plan for all the free hours, even during pandemic, check. Health insurance coverage, check. Come out of remission about a month after announcing retirement, wait a minute, that wasn’t part of the plan.

    You can plan all you want but sometimes, sometimes God has a different plan.

    1. DeseRt,

      I’m really sorry to read that. Thanks for taking time to share. It’s a powerful reminder that we need to balance planning like we could live for many decades with the realization that not even tomorrow is guaranteed.

      Best wishes as you deal with this unanticipated challenge.

      Chris

  15. Interesting article. I’m still not close to retiring, but my wife (an RN) hasn’t worked for the past 5 yrs (we have 4 kids ages 10, 8, 5, & 3) recently decided to go back part time. She has been doing continuing education online while she wasn’t working to keep her license active. She decided to go back not so much for the financial side (although the extra $ is nice), but because she realized how much of a benefit it is to her mentally. Being at home 24/7 with 4 young children and very little adult interaction has been very hard on her. She is quite an introvert so just telling her to go find some friends isn’t the easiest solution. With that, she has found working part time to be a huge boost for her mental health. It provides her the adult interaction (that is something outside of regular family life) that she craves and luckily the scheduling works out to not be a big burden on the rest of the family. This has gotten me thinking quite a bit about my own attitude towards retirement. I’ve always romanticized the idea of retiring in my forties and just doing whatever I wanted every day. But, honestly I think if I did that I would find myself feeling very unsatisfied after awhile. I think I would miss working to an extent. What I really want is to just not have to dedicate 40+ hrs/week to my career. My answer nowadays when people ask what my ideal job would be is: “I like what I do now, I would just prefer to only do it 20-30 hrs per week and be able to take more time off when I want.” Trying to find that (especially in my field of work) and have enough passive income to afford it is the hard part.

    P.S. Greetings for a fellow Utahn. I live down in the SL valley.

    1. Interesting insights Steve. I agree that for many people being able to support their lifestyle and save is tough. The nice thing as you break free of the working/retired dichotomy is that the closer you get to FI, the less you need to keep saving. It may be possible to cut back, earn your money more tax-efficiently, have a better quality of life sooner, and avoid some of the pitfalls of retirement like feeling a lack of purpose that you mentioned and going from an abundance mindset when working and saving to a scarcity mindset when spending down assets. There are certainly challenges to this approach, the biggest IMO being health insurance. But it’s worth considering for many people.

      Hopefully we can meet in person at some point when our world regains some normalcy.

      Cheers!
      Chris

  16. Chris!

    Good article! So, its official, you’ve let the license lapse. It sounds like you put a lot of thought into your decision and considered all angles. Interesting piece you mentioned, about you feeling obligated to your parents for what they contributed to your education. I too have felt this “obligation.” I did take out student loans, but my parents also assisted me financially in both undergrad and grad school. My parents never say a word to me about not working full time in our profession, but sometimes I wonder how they feel about the topic.

    1. It’s interesting. I’ve said many times that the biggest advantage we had to achieve FI quickly was the ability to save without feeling sacrifice b/c we never grew up with fancy homes, cars, vacations, etc. So we never felt like we were missing out on anything.

      However, we’ve realized the past couple of years that the way we grow up in ingrained in us. It has led to some of my feelings of guilt and Kim’s reluctance to spend and enjoy what we’ve worked so hard to save and build. Working through the emotional meanings we tie to money, success, etc. subconsciously has been an unanticipated challenge.

      Take care my friend,
      Chris

  17. We both retired and quit our work at a similar time. No income earned since then but investment balances continue to rise.

    My fear of no income took a real test during Covid lockdowns, but so far so good.

    I’m finally getting to terms with wanting to earn income again either through additional consulting or new businesses. I reckon it would do me good. I think it’s the right time and recharged batteries.

    I suspect it helps to have one spouse work and one not, it really is great to build a good lifestyle, and what is FIRE but a lifestyle?

    Thanks for the great post, congrats on the work setup. Very useful for the pandemic times to be able to homeschool.

    1. Charlie,

      Glad to hear things are still working well for you. I think it’s generally wise to be proactive, seeking out opportunities before you need to. This gives you great leverage to create the best possible circumstances rather than being at the will of others at a time when you need income.

      Best,
      Chris

  18. Just passed the 50 yo … my wife and I are pharmacists. Waking up every am to go to work is like walking through a wall. I could go part time, but still have one finishing college in May and a high schooler, but I pretty much have his college funded. I appreciate FIRE and this site, it really has given me a light to word towards.

  19. Chris – this was a thought provoking post. I too was a rehabilitation professional (a medical speech pathologist). I had to leave work due to medical issues and have been unemployed for 5.5 years now. It was been painful to lose my technical skills and competencies that were so hard earned. Initially – I was so overwhelmed with my disability that I was just trying to stay afloat and didn’t give a lot of thought to what I was losing. But as the years went by and it became clearer that I likely wouldn’t be going back – it became quite painful. I think that was compounded by the fact that a lot of my hobbies and interests that I would have liked to pursue and which brought me joy – were now off the table due to physical limitations. So it was a bit of a double whammy – lose the identity and cognitive stimulation of being a professional and the social connections of work, and also lose the ability to pursue activities that would replace work. I’m not quite to terms with it yet but I try each day to sort out how to live a meaningful and purposeful life given both the abilities and limitations I now have. I sympathize with folks who retire and feel like they wish they were back at work. There does seem to be a definite identity loss, and perhaps a cultural loss of status. I am fortunate to have a fully employed spouse and health insurance through him. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Mary,

      Thank you for the kind words and for taking the time to read and share. I think when people wonder “Can I Retire Yet?” all too often they only really mean “Do I have enough money to retire yet?” As your case demonstrates, there is a lot more that should go into this decision process. Best wishes as you continue to work through these challenges.

      Chris

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