Originally published: November 9, 2020
FIRE: (Financial Independence, retire early) can absolutely be classified as a mid-life crisis. In fact, like Dr. Shin, I feel like this is my mid-life crisis. Many people find their way to FIRE for countless reasons. But I think Physicians in the finance world are drawn to this movement as Attendings in the pursuit of a new and challenging goal.
After becoming an Attending what is the next new goal to achieve? Some of us find the next goal is to move up the hierarchy of our group, hospital etc. But for others a pursuit outside of Medicine is the new goal. Adopting FIRE as a new goal can be a “safer” Mid-life crisis than others but one needs to be controlled in the pursuit of FIRE. Dr. Shin sums it up well below…
Today I’ll explain how my journey to FIRE (Financial independence, retire early) is my mid-life crisis.
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The Dr-ess and I had a socially distanced playdate last week with some good friends. While we made small talk over the laughter and screams of our kids, I had a sudden realization. I announced that we were all about halfway through our expected life spans!
Our friends are used to my unusual conversation starters, so they took this all in stride. As we bemoaned this morbid fact, I joked that it’s high time for a good old fashioned mid-life crisis. The Dr-ess brought up my Tesla Model 3, but I waved this away as a smart and well reasoned purpose. Clearly not a mid-life crisis.
After a dubious look, the Dr-ess then said that my pursuit of moFIRE is in itself a mid-life crisis. After a moment’s consideration, I nodded in thoughtful agreement.
Origins of my mid-life crisis
A “mid-life crisis,” according to Wikipedia, is “transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals.” A more nuanced view of this concept comes from an excellent article in the Atlantic that delves further into the origin of this word.
This quote from the Atlantic article seemed to accurately describe my mindset circa 2018:
“Their careers appear to have reached a plateau, and they realize that life from here on will be a long and inevitable decline.”
The spark of my mid-life crisis
When I think back to the beginning of my mid-life crisis, it started just two years into my life as an attending surgeon. I was working up to 60 hours a week and commuting 20 hours a week on top of that. I was teetering on the brink of burn out and had the unsettling feeling that I’d reached the pinnacle of my career with no where else to go. There were no convenient career milestones coming up anymore, like med school or residency graduation.
To console myself on the commute to and from work, I listened to a variety of podcasts. Through this gateway, I eventually found a home in the financial independence community.
A like minded community
In the FIRE community, I found people that seemed to share my yearning for bigger goals and a more interesting life. I was fascinated at the variety of people in the community. The spectrum of wages and spending choices was dizzying.
There were people achieving financial independence on teachers’ salaries. There were also high earners struggling to make ends meet.
I quickly seized on the goal of financial independence as a way to focus my energies and attention, and eventually break free of my golden handcuffs.
But as I crunched the numbers, I realized that the high cost of living in southern California and our spending habits were going to make achieving FIRE much harder.
This led to my original 15 year plan for financial independence, and also my formalized goal of achieving moFIRE (morbidly obese financial independence). I decided that with the pooled incomes of my wife and I, there was no reason why we couldn’t become financially independent.
FIRE is the perfect mid-life crisis
As a mid-life crisis, shooting for financial independence is an excellent choice. I can’t say it was completely intentional in my case, but it’s really allowed me to have that “transition of identity and self-confidence” in a productive way.
No matter your income level, going for financial independence will take a lot of intentional changes. It’s at once all encompassing and perfectly malleable to your desired timeline and type of FIRE.
Want something that’s just a little different? Go for the longer timeline and max out your retirement funds every month. Over a long career you’ll be better positioned than most by retirement. You may not even notice the change to your take home pay.
Want to really blow up your life? Go for the shortest timeline. Sell your home, take the kids out of private school, and divert 80% of your paychecks to aggressive saving. Your friends will shake their heads and talk about you behind your back. You’ll prove them wrong when you’re financially independent within a few short years.
No matter your age, you might be feeling the weight of your mortality quite strongly right now. You may be looking around at your life and wondering “is that all?”
Instead of buying a convertible and having an affair, join the FIRE community. It can offer you all the adventure you need, and if done right, the rewards can be incredible.
I’ve transitioned away from the timeline outlined in my 15 year plan to financial independence. It’s a little hard to tell right now, but I believe I’m on track to meet my ambitious SMART goal of $100,000 of cash flow by 2025.
The changes to our lives needed to achieve FIRE are more than meeting the demands of my own mid-life crisis. Whether you’re in crisis or not, I invite you along for the ride. It’ll be nothing if not interesting.