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“The world was on fire and no one could save me but you.”– Chris Isaak, Wicked Game
I am sort of glad that I am in the vast minority of the general population in terms of wanting to pursue financial independence in the hopes of one day retiring much earlier than the traditional age.
It got me thinking though.
There is a large group of people who are far wealthier than me, in fact several magnitudes of order more.
There are billionaires who work just as hard, if not harder, than a normal 9-5 wage earner.
What is their driving force?
They have already won the game.
And it’s not just billionaires, there are many ultrahigh net worth individuals that are typically in the 8 figure or more net worth range that continue working full tilt.
These people do not have to earn another cent and still have the means to live a luxurious life without concerns for rising health care costs or even inflation eroding their purchasing power.
They can park all their money in ultraconservative investments and still pull a six figure salary at the minimum.
They, as William Bernstein has put it, “have won the game.”
So why are they still playing?
Are they wired differently from me?
I would say in my childhood and early adulthood I was ultracompetitive.
I had to be.
To qualify for medical school admissions you not only had to be near the top of your class, you had to show that you were involved with extra-curricular activities that set you apart from every other applicant (who likely sported the highest grades from their respective schools as well).
In med school I had to be competitive to get high marks in rotations that allowed me to get into a competitive residency specialty (general surgery at the time and later radiology).
So why, starting in my mid 40’s have I seemingly turned off this competitive switch and start looking for an exit strategy?
I am a Type A personality as are most ultrahigh net worth individuals.
So what’s up with this transformation to a Type B lifestyle that I envision and want so badly?
Even more bewildering is how come those individuals far more successful than me have not already done the same?
I, for one, am glad that these non-transforming Type A individuals exist.
Can you imagine a world where every individual just stops in their tracks when they reach their magic FIRE number?
Elon Musk would have checked out eons ago and never pushed the boundaries of Tesla vehicles or solar energy.
Technology may never have advanced as rapidly as it has if these pioneers just left the game early when they knew they never needed to work again.
There are likely many factors that may divulge why I, and many other physicians, are giving this FIRE trend momentum and flipping that switch.
Physician burnout is probably at the forefront.
Medicine has transformed considerably from what was considered “the golden age of medicine.”
There was a time a physician was a true leader of the medical team, a captain of the ship.
It was not too long ago that when a physician entered a hospital floor doing rounds that nurses and all staff would stand up as a sign of respect.
When a physician ordered a study or lab, he or she did not have to argue with insurance companies to get approval.
Declining reimbursements have forced physicians to cram more patients into their schedules to offset this financial loss.
As the physician is tasked with more and more non-medical duties through government regulations (such as electronic health records/paperwork), there is less time to enjoy the medical ones.
I do admit that although FIRE may be great for the individual, it may not be a great trend to have for society as a whole.
Perhaps a great advancement in medicine will never come to fruition as the individuals capable of making them leave their careers early because of the FIRE moment.
Society can suffer as the most experienced physicians start leaving in droves when they reach FIRE.
After writing this post, do I still feel the desire to FIRE?
Although there is some reward that can be gained with altruistic actions that better society, it pales in comparison to the reward I receive by prioritizing family over work.
For me that is envisioning a life where I can slowly cut down, if not completely eliminate, my clinical hours and spend time cultivating the best family setting possible.
What about you?
Do you feel the transformation from Type A to B going on, and if so are you resisting it or embracing it?
Please comment below.
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“I do admit that although FIRE may be great for the individual, it may not be a great trend to have for society as a whole.”
I agree, but it’s important to remember that virtually none of us seek FIRE to do nothing. We just want to contribute in a different way. Elon Musk has actually FIRE’d from a bunch of jobs, and just keeps putting his energy in another place.
Great point Dave. I hope I will still be considered a productive member if society when I end my medical career. That’s the plan anyway
If everyone FIREs then all the tough, dangerous, stressful, and otherwise unpleasant jobs will not be done. I’m looking at you garbageman and roughnecks. There are a lot of jobs that we need people to do, that no one would do out of altruism. The solution is Star Trek levels of energy and automation. Then we can have machines do all the unpleasant work. Foolishly optimist as this sounds, I think this future is coming our way. Automation is getting better each day, and fusion power may finally be a reality. There are a lot of companies working on it.… Read more »
I do have an optimistic look on the future as well with regards to automation. Self-driving cars are not too far off and I think will make highways safer. Of course this may displace workers in the industry such as truckers/taxi drivers, etc. Probably not going to see Star Trek type technology in my lifetime unfortunately, but who knows how fast tech advances. Thanks for stopping by!
I am talking about the social aspects of Star Trek where they have comparatively unlimited energy which means enough power to make enough water and food and housing for everyone. That is possible if we can make fusion reactors the way we can make fission reactors today. If we get that, then we solve a lot of problems, and we can afford machines to do a lot of the grunt work.
From the amazing tech stuff, well that is a long way away.
I agree with Dave. I think the idea of slowing down at work is very alluring, but only if that time is spent creating or pursuing something else. Ideally, part of that will be pursuing my family and spending quality time with them. Almost certainly, any step back from clinical medicine would involve stepping forward in some other regard (blogging, writing, inventing, teaching, research, etc). If the whole world FIRE’d and sat on the couch, but if the whole world FIRE’d and had the ability to follow their real passions – I can only see that as a good thing.… Read more »
Appreciate the insight TPP. I finally have a passion in blogging that I can look forward to retiring TO instead of FROM something else. I think that and writing/creative work in general will fill up my time and hopefully seen as a contribution to society as a whole.
There is so much movement in this world that is excessive and unnecessary. I just enjoyed my family and I enjoyed living my simple life.
I did not feel the urge to side hustle, create another career, etc. If I wanted to be busy or make more money- it would have been much easier to just do Medicine.
But then again, I lack the energy so many of you possess. I do not live my life with endless to do lists and goals lists.
I actually think you have designed a great life and deserve to enjoy your family now. I’m a few years away from hopefully taking a similar path. Hopefully I can keep myself entertained and still feel productive. I feel like if I have goals I will push off the couch potato retiree lifestyle I hope to avoid. Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I think your thoughts on “repurposing” vs. retirement come into play here. And even if one is not repurposing a medical degree (via instructing? consulting? like you mentioned, much fewer clinical hours?), maybe time and energy are repurposed for other uses. I just don’t think all of these smart, successful people would collectively stop when they reach their goal, only to just sit on a front porch all day and stare at the sky. I think these types of people will continue to contribute to society in one way or another, and so a mass “FIRE” is not a real… Read more »
I feel you are right on the money with this one. People who are able to FIRE have something in their brain that won’t let them get complacent for too long. I probably will have some down time for sure where I just do nothing at all. I doubt that period will last long as I can see that getting boring very fast.
The draw of social interaction as well as meaningful contributions (such as blogging I hope in my case) should be something that I will be happy repurposing my life to.
Since the number of people who even contribute to their IRA is in the teens, I don’t think we need to worry about a mass exodus. Those who do contribute are often driven to be productive so don’t retire.
I agree with the sentiment that this is a scenario that will never come close to being a reality with the general public. And hopefully those that have been so creative and contributed so much that they can FIRE still carry the torch even though they do not need to.
I’m entering the peak years of radiology in terms of the perfect marriage of knowledge and physical ability (eyesight, etc) which does seem a waste if I wanted to depart right now and leave it during these prime ears.
It’s got nothing to do with A or B it has to do with greed and the insistence you get paid for what you do. Billionaires keep working because they dig it. I kept working because I dug it until I realized the risk I was inuring was starting to out weigh any reward emotional or financial. If everyone quit society would fall apart. Your existence depends on your neighbor. Your rate of return comes from him going to work and adding value to the company you own stock in. If he doesn’t show up YOU’RE HOSED. If he’s on… Read more »
Well said. I agree for the whole system to work we have to rely on others continuing to be employed and contributing to society. If the workforce dries up, social security dries up and the house of cards will topple down as the base of the pyramid evaporates in an instant. Very thought provoking point that wealth is not based on money which is a byproduct of work. Thanks for stopping by and dropping some knowledge.
You are not alone in wondering about this, my friend. Keynes imagined a world where automation created a new era of leisure for humanity. He saw it as a bright future, as a way to “step forward” (that’s a catchy title for your next blog post, TPP) into arts and humanities and the generative pursuits that feed the soul.
We are nowhere near universal FIRE, but there’s something to be said for a tipping point where the concept is at least getting press and causing consumers to reconsider.
That sounds like the makings of utopia. If all needs are taken care of by automation, human potential could be turned to creative endeavors instead. Thanks for stopping by CD.
Sam Harris talks about the very real potential future where machines and automation do all meaningless and meaningful work freeing us humans from the need to toil. But then what…… There are tens of millions of people driving cars and trucks for a living in the US. We are on the cusp of autonomous vehicles obliterating that job market. What happens next. Is it really possible to retrain that many people? There is a very strong argument for finding meaning, self fullfillment and gauging ones worth to society by measures apart from the jobs we do. As well as divorcing… Read more »
Thanks for swinging by and giving an interesting perspective. If every job could be automated would that obviate the need for money in society? The human potential could be turned to other endeavors that bring happiness to society. I agree that there will be large populations whose jobs will be displaced (any thing driving related should be the first to experience this). Interesting times ahead for sure
Interesting concept. I do not think the whole world could FIRE. IT simply isn’t possible. Much of the world lives in poverty. How can these people even think about FIRE? The whole concept of FIRE is that you save money and invest the difference and rely on the passive income from investments to sustain livelihood. If everybody FIRE’d, then there will be nobody working in those S&P500 companies making you passive income. Then maybe you can’t sustain a FIRE lifestyle anymore. So you go back to work. I think for the whole world to truly FIRE we would have to… Read more »
Thanks DMF. Great point that if no one worked, the source of everyone’s FIRE/passive income would be done for as most people would be relying on stocks/dividends as an income source and that would be wiped out. It would be interesting to see what percentage of the US could FIRE and still leave the system intact.
Thanks for stopping by!
I agree that the world would not be a better place if everyone pursued FIRE. However, if everyone pursued FI and not the RE, I think that might be a good thing. Interesting topic XRV!
Yeah I think the retire early component is the one that would stress the system to a breaking point. No active wage earners means no higher taxes and social security funds for the government and it will start a financial death spiral. Thanks for stopping by
Hey, that’s very interesting about the type A turning into type B. Let us know how it turns out. I don’t think a person can change that much. You’ll still be type A even after you retire. ?
Anyway, I’m with Dave. Most people seek FIRE so they can do what they want in life. It’s not about doing nothing. I’m sure you’ll find something to keep you busy after ER. Look at Financial Samurai. His ER is super busy and productive.
Thanks Joe for stopping by. I honestly think it will be a hybrid of A and B personalities (so I guess like an AB blood type). I do hope this blog takes off and gives me a venue to continue to express my creativity. That would be an ideal venture to maintain in retirement (and as you are one to know blogging is quite an intensive endeavor but a labor of love). Thanks again for the comment
If everyone had FIRE money, inflation would skyrocket and that 25x expenses pile would shrink. Meanwhile, the hustlers of the world would have been stockpiling new money working.
I do think some people have a drive to work that goes beyond the need for more money. I’m glad that some of my favorite inventors didn’t know when to say “enough”.
Excellent point SHS and one I didn’t consider which was the inflation perspective. It is an interesting thought experiment if everyone was given a high salary, the cost of goods would in essence have to rise and then it is almost relatively the same as the current situation.
[…] wonders What if Everyone in the World FIRE’d? It takes a certain level of drive and determination to achieve financial independence, and that […]
Xrayvsn, you’re singing my song! I wrote an essay called “Why I Strive to Be a Type B, or at Least an A Minus.” My husband is a Type B, and he has more fun. I’ve worked hard (ironically) to try and become less competitive and take joy in other people’s wins. I haven’t accomplished half my writing goals, but I want to relish the small wins and genuinely spend time with my kids. I think I’m getting there. At first I was sure I had, and my husband and high school best friend burst out laughing and told me,… Read more »
Congratulations first off on the success of the book (great title by the way).
Maybe it is impossible for a type A to go to a type B, but I like how at least an A- is something that is a step in the right direction.
As I get older I do feel the competitive nature has faded considerably and for me that is an improvement.