I often ponder why I got on this path to financial independence. It was not by accident as websites such as the White Coat Investor and Mr. Money Mustache exist and are egging me on to improve both my personal and financial life. Is the desire for independence just that, the ability to leave my job or is it something else? Is it to prove that I don’t have to and won’t play the same game as all of our colleagues? In essence, the desire to rebel. Is that what we are all doing by reading the many FIRE blogs. Breaking the norm?
I remember enjoying residency. Sure the nights were long, but we were young and I truly enjoyed working with a bunch of other young and motivated individuals. Then came fellowship. It was a bit different. For one, I think the burn out rate was higher. We were working more strenuous shifts; seeing many more consults in a day then I would admit as an Internal Medicine resident. Plus I could not pass the buck to the consultant, I was the consultant.
It was in fellowship that I really started to burn out and in some ways wondered if I should have stuck with Internal Medicine. I also often wondered of the opportunity costs of further training. We had all spent 4 years in medical school and 3 years in residency, reaching our late 20’s and early 30’s before drawing a paycheck above $70K. It seemed like I could have reached financial independence earlier if I had started saving in my 20’s and would have likely been earning in the low 100’s by the time I finished training (without the 170K of medical school debt to boot).
That was not my path. In fact people who enabled my spending and deterred my financial independence surrounded me. Family, friends and colleagues would tell me that my “debt was good debt”, “work hard and play hard”, “don’t worry one day you will make a lot of money and be fine.” They were telling me to not buck the trend. Do not rebel. I wanted to rebel and break the mold.
Rebelling in life was always fun. Granted, I never did anything crazy, never ended up in jail, and rarely gave my parents heartburn. But I always wanted to do things differently. Maybe it is the nature of being second born. My rebellions were harmless, like being a religion major in college instead of biology; or moving to Boston instead of being close to home for residency. But those small rebellions were my rebellions. They made the people around me a little uncomfortable and me a little more comfortable. I feel fuller for those decisions and experiences.
So now I am an attending and life is good. I was cognizant of my job selection and passed up a few private practice gigs with the promises of quick riches for a pseudo-academic job with a better quality of life and a lower pay. It was needed. Allowed for a reset and to develop a new found appreciation of my role as a cardiologist. I understood what I want and can go forward clear of mind when I took my second job. But still I want to rebel.
So how does one rebel when surrounded by individuals that want you to spend so that they can feel okay about their spending also? How do you maintain the status quo while being able to continue engaging socially with the people you spend a lot of time with? For me I do it stealthily, quietly, and not with a bang.
For me that rebellion consists of financial independence. By not having to work, not having to be a slave to my job or company, and not having to worry about money to feed the family we are all rebelling. Unfortunately in our society, financial independence is discouraged and not celebrated. Nothing has become clearer to me then the need to be able to support our costs of living without a job. As an example, I recently had a friend/mentor (non-physician) who finished his PhD in his late 50s and has been working for the same big company for years. He lost his job last month. He received no warning and only 2 weeks severance. Now he is trying to figure out what he is going to do to pay the mortgage, buy groceries, etc.
In the current pattern of life, if we don’t rebel and become financially independent then we are all expendable. I do not desire to become financially independent to not work (I suspect I will work for quite a while, unlike Physician on Fire). It is to know that I do not have to work. That I can take a sabbatical and travel or build my backyard fruit orchard without worries. It is the ability to become a butcher if I want, or maybe a librarian and not worry about the financial impact. Basically, it is to break the path that society expects me to follow.
There are many paths to financial independence. Physician on Fire, Mr. Money Mustache, and the White Coat Investor along with hundreds of other writers out there have demonstrated their paths. The key is to find your own.
For me, it is doing the things I enjoy such as having a nice view from my home, traveling occasionally, and working on my fruit orchard. I will not buy a $60,000 automobile, commute an hour to work, or buy expensive clothes. I will not go to unnecessarily expensive restaurants when I know that a $10 to $15 meal makes me just as happy. Through these actions I am able to reap some savings and continue paying off my school debt and putting money away for retirement (whether it ends up being early or not). The key was to find what works for us. What do we enjoy spending money on and what do we not need.
So I ask you to rebel too. Fight for financial independence, but do it quietly. Stealth wealth is the best wealth as the Financial Samurai recently noted. Find the things that make you happy and spend money on them. Find the things that don’t, and get rid of them. By doing so, you can start building your path to financial independence.