Feb 22

You Don’t Have to Hate Your Job to Want Financial Independence

 If you don't hate your job you should still seek financial independence

Financial freedom for everyone

Financial independence is not just for people that hate their jobs. It is for everyone. Creating freedom in your life may seem more urgent when you feel trapped by a job you hate, but it is still a noble goal for those deeply satisfied with their work.


Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

Yogi Berra


The future is unknowable. We project present trends into the future and assume they will continue. This is why so many people get things wrong. The financial markets are a good example of this (and consequently why most of us should not be active investors). Remember when oil and gold were going to infinity and stocks to zero? What about the days when there was no way the earth could feed more than a billion people? Remember when bell bottoms were never going to go out of style (yes, I realize I just lost every millennial reading this with that last one).


The world changes.


We think that what we like and value now are what we will like and value in the future. One thing I have learned to be 100% true in my life is that I can’t predict what I will want in the future.


We change.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure 10 years from now I will still want tasty food, a warm bed to sleep in every night and have friends and family that make me happy. I will still likely crave meaningful work and purpose in my life.

But I don’t know WHICH types of food I will crave. I’m not entirely sure if a Tempurpedic or Sleep Number bed will be optimal for me. Who will my best friends be? Have I even met them yet? Will I be more of a cat person or a dog person?


What will be meaningful to me and give me a reason to jump out of bed in the morning?

If you asked me 10 years ago I would have told you I expected to do radiology forever. If you told me I would be working part time at the tail end of my career in my early 40’s and blogging about freedom and happiness I would have referred you to a psychiatrist. I don’t know what will excite me in another 10 years.


Our future desires are not completely knowable, and the further out we try and predict, the less accurate our predictions become.


I did guess some things correctly. Many of my friendships, my marriage and my core values have endured, but the details are not what I imagined. I’m a different person than I thought I would be, and I changed most in ways I did not see coming.


Financial independence creates the freedom to not care about the details

When money is taken out of the equation it’s amazing how many of the details don’t really matter anymore. There are a lot more interesting side paths which open up in your life.


Ask yourself these questions:


  • If your job disappeared tomorrow what would you do?
  • Would you be stressed out?
  • Would you have to move, find new friends and uproot your kids from school?
  • How much would you drink that night?
  • What would the conversation with your spouse be like?


Some of you probably felt a little sick by this exercise. Let me tell you how I would react.


I would shrug my shoulders, turn on my computer and probably write a blog post on it. Then I would go about my day, maybe a nice meditative run, or a bike ride and have a drink with my friends after (their) work. Eventually I would decide if wanted to go get another job (probably not) or just retire and go do something else.


Maybe I would go work at a guitar shop or running store just for fun and donate my salary to a local charity. Perhaps I would keep the money if I wanted a bit more luxury in my life. Maybe I would go help build running trails in my community or get involved in planning for building a new pike path. Man, I just got happier typing this paragraph. Maybe I’ll quit my job and go do that tomorrow…


Financial freedom gives me a choice

But let’s pretend I love my job. Maybe you do love your job. I doubt you love it enough to do it for free, but I’ve met a few people like this. The problem is if I wanted a job like the one I have now I would have to either move, or commute a long way. This would make me unhappy. Even if I loved my job there is no way I would drive two or three hours a day for the privilege. It would be difficult for me to find a new job with the flexibility I have created . Things that are not in my control could turn a great job into a nightmare overnight.


Financial independence solves all these problems

My point is that life is not static. Everything is changing all of the time, including you and me. Your thoughts, opinions, what makes you happy and even your core beliefs are all changing constantly. They change very slow most of the time. You likely don’t even notice, but you are evolving. At the same time the world is rapidly changing around you.


Don’t believe me?


Go mentally revisit the version of yourself from a decade ago. What did that person believe? What made them happy? For many of you this will be an eye opening exercise. That person may be a complete stranger to you.


There are a lot of people that seek financial independence and early retirement because they hate their work. I get it; burnout is what sent me down this path. Often we get eye rolls from the “I love my job” crowd who lament that we should just “find work we never want to retire from”. This is often easier said than done, but nonetheless they are absolutely right, it IS the ideal solution.


The problem with this logic though, is that our definition of ideal work may change, and may be impossible within the constraints of their abilities, talents and training. Sometimes what we think our ideal job will be is quite different once we get there. More commonly, in the future, I think our jobs will become obsolete faster than ever. The job you love may not exist 10 years from now.


Financial independence gives you the ability to constantly change your mind

It creates flexibility in a changing world. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you can simply move on to the next idea. Changing jobs or careers is much less fun when your ability to eat depends on it. Financial freedom is the spring board for freedom everywhere in your life.


The ideal job is one you don’t really need in the first place, but want to do anyways.


I’m happy for the people that have found their niche in life, but I think they are a little blinded by their own success at times. They assume this state exists for everyone, in spite of the fact that this is unknowable as we are all unique. They assume their path should work for everyone.


I can’t really imagine a job that involves reading radiology studies all day making me happier than simply not doing it. This does not mean I hate my job; there are some things about it that I quite enjoy, but overall I would be happier having more freedom.


This produces a little cognitive dissonance in the surgeon who works 80 hours a week and wishes he could figure out a way to sleep less so he could operate more. He is going to think that there is just something wrong with me (in the same way I would think there is something wrong with him).


Financial independence means that it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.


Financial independence is insurance against everything.


It is insurance against you, the system, the government, entropy.




I read this anonymous essay written by a physician who told her story of burn out and substance abuse. The financial details of her situation are unknown, but financial independence would not make her situation worse. I don’t know what she is going to do, but having a big pile of fuck you money opens many doors.


Work is better when you don’t need the money

Just accept this as truth. I can’t even think of an exception to this rule. If you can, please don’t tell me; it will just shatter my belief system. When you don’t really need money you can filter out all the nonsense. All the noise just gets turned way down. You can just work. It’s beautiful and I recommend everyone reach for it.


Now I know not everyone will be able to achieve complete financial independence for socioeconomic reasons, or due to health problems, disability, simple bad luck, etc. This is a minority of us though. For most people, their lifestyle choices are what prohibit them from achieving freedom.


Some freedom is better than no freedom

Even if you can not achieve complete financial independence the vast majority of us can achieve some degree of financial freedom. Getting out of debt, having a few months of liquid emergency savings, having a small passive stream of income; these are all degrees of freedom.


In case you have not read this brilliant article by J.D. Roth, go learn about the stages of financial freedom. Figure out what stage you are and start climbing. The good news is you can start living free before you are financially free.


Freedom and happiness are intertwined in complex ways. You don’t need to hate your work to seek freedom from it. Become free to choose. Freedom is its own reward.


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    • VagabondMD on February 22, 2017 at 4:03 pm
    • Reply

    Fantastic! It makes me want to quit tomorrow. Or yesterday.

    You are so right about us always evolving and not being the same person we were 5-10 years ago, sometimes hardly even recognizing that young dude (or dudette) of the past. Sometimes the pace of change quickens, and other time it’s glacial. But it’s always happening.

    1. “The only thing that is constant in life is change”

  1. Love it!
    We need more writing like this to separate the concepts of FI vs RE

    1. Challenge accepted 🙂

  2. I do think hating your job fans the flames of FIRE for sure. 😉 I’m starting to realize that I just am not built for 9-to-5 office work. I’m not sure what I would do instead, but it’s definitely not for me. In the meantime, I have 10 years to FIRE and I’m trying to prioritize happiness while we’re still on our journey.

    1. Absolutely. I realize I was not built for employment period. I want to try so many different things that don’t fit well inside the construct of a job.

  3. You nailed it on this one! I am one of those people that LOVES their job and would totally do it for free if need be. However, if it were to completely disappear tomorrow, I’d have your same reaction (though I would probably hit the beach or go horseback riding rather than lace up my running shoes). FI is a mindset, with it comes confidence and adaptability to deal with whatever cards you get dealt in the game of life.

    1. Thank you 🙂

      That is fantastic. I have never had a job I would consider doing for free…but maybe I will look for one in retirement!

  4. I couldn’t have said it better, or even half as well, myself, but I’ve been thinking it for years. I don’t hate my job; it’s actually quite redeeming in many ways, but it’s not how I would choose to spend my day if I wasn’t well compensated.

    I also think it’s difficult to objectively determine how much you truly enjoy your job when your lifestyle and future depend on you working it. I thought FI would be bring me more job satisfaction — that’s the common byline — but I’ve found it’s had the opposite effect. Since I’m working by choice, I sometimes wonder why I continue to make that choice. Hence, my FIRE timeline has been moved up by a couple years from my initial calculations.


    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment. You bring up some really good points, and those are observations I have made as well. I think it is the marginal utility of money. Once you pass a certain point you in essence ARE working for free, or maybe just for the additional fraction of safety and piece of mind.

      Once we get to or near FI it stops being about the money, and more about how we process the world, how our ego is defined, how we quantify happiness, etc.

  5. Awesome post! Financial independence is so much more than leaving work. It is the ability to pursue passions at your time. My least favorite times in the work day are when I am sitting around doing nothing. Time wasted in my life I could be Doing something more interesting.

    1. Thank you 🙂

    • RocDoc on February 22, 2017 at 10:55 pm
    • Reply

    Thought provoking post…I’m happy to say that I love being a doctor more than ever, now that my living doesn’t depend on it. But as I’m getting older, I’m also very cognizant that there are many other things I still want to do. And life is finite. So I must make some tough choices. It was a wonderful thought to know that money no longer played a dominating role in making my decisions. I wish I could say it played No role, but concerns about health insurance still warrant some worry.

    1. Loving your job and continuing to do it because you want to is a place I think we all want to be in life. It is truly wonderful that you have found that.

  6. Really great points here. The big motivational one for me is the insurance against change. My last position was about as close as you could get to a dream job for several years, then new investors came in, half the management team turned over, the corporate HQ was moved across the country, and my role was completely changed in the process. So much for just working the dream job forever.

    I agree with POF’s comment above; when I was getting close to FI (depending on my exact assumptions on spending, withdrawal rate, etc.), my job satisfaction started going way down. It’s hard to want to stick around when you know there’s a realistic and superior alternative available. Parts of the work are better when you don’t need the money (I definitely was able to filter out all the nonsense) — but the dissonance about why you’re working at all when you could be doing something more fun got pretty intense for me.

    1. Amen, brother.

      • RTD, CFP on March 5, 2017 at 7:10 am
      • Reply

      Matt, do you think that the dissonance came from the fact that you knew that you could be free of all the career-induced garbage, but just didn’t have the confidence to make the leap away? And I’m not saying that cast you in an unfavorable light, I completely get it. But I’ve had those same thoughts, and I think that a big part of it just boils down to the courage (on my part) to allow myself to completely redefine my career choices.

  7. It’s terrifying how fast things can change. Fortunately in medicine, most jobs are pretty stable, but every now and then a medical group blows up and a bunch of docs are looking for jobs.

    FI is kind of like the Matrix. Once you see the possibility of the real world it’s hard to want to plug yourself back in.

  8. Awesome post! Thanks for writing it. I think you hit the nail on the head when you discuss that things change. So even if you love your job now, being FI gives you the freedom to change your mind later. Many people start out loving their career and think they always will but after 10 or 15 years don’t love it anymore. But because of money they are often stuck and forced to continue. I have yet to meet someone that saved enough to be FI early in life regretting that they saved so much. But the alternative happens all the time. Save towards independence……your future self will surely thank you.

    1. You can always spend more later if you saved too much, but at some point your earning potential becomes limited. You can’t go back in time and spend less.

  9. Great post. It really comes down to having options. When you aren’t FI (I’m not), you don’t have a choice. You have to take some things or deal with some things you may not really want to, but you need the job. I actually like my job, but there are other things I like that I have to spend less time on, like running. I probably could be a semi-competitive runner at mid to long-distances in my age group, but I don’t have an extra 3 hours a day to train like I would need to.

    1. 3 hours a day is a lot of running! Sounds like work 😉

  10. I agree with you.
    Nothing is more redeeming, noble, and rewarding than being a Physician and helping others. Doing it like you, as much as is necessary, without damaging yourself is the way to go. This is completely different than chasing a society standard that is arbitrarily set for us.
    There is whole world out there for a Physician to help – go work somewhere else, in another country, give away your time- and all of this is possible if you have your internal house in order.

    1. Yes. When we create the healthiest version of ourselves we are much more effective in the world. It’s amazing how cloudy and deranged our thinking becomes when we are burned out.

    • Hatton1 on March 5, 2017 at 5:43 am
    • Reply

    Great post. I think about this a lot. I am financially independent and have been for maybe 15 years. I have gradually decreased my hours and stopped delivering babies. I now have no call, nights, or weekends. I actually look forward to work most days. I bring my dogs to the office. Patients bring them gifts at Christmas. I tell people it is my practice and can do what I want. I am not sure what will trigger full retirement.

    1. Awesome 🙂

  11. It’s a very good point you make about desires changing. Recently there have been a few posts in the personal finance world about choosing work you are passionate about. My response to this is almost always this won’t work if your living depends on it, simply because no matter what your passion there are aspects of your job you won’t enjoy. If your dependent to live off it you’ll be required to give this area more attention then you want, which will harm that passion. Do it as a side hustle after Fi and you don’t have to do the crap jobs to make do, you can just do glamorous stuff because you don’t need the money.

    1. Thanks for stopping by FTF. Cal Newport is a author that has written extensively on work and he is not a proponent of “follow your passion”. We need to do work that is somewhat interesting to us and learn to do “deep work”. I think we should all follow our passion, but it doesn’t have to be our work. As you state, work often makes our passion much less fun.


  12. As I stare at 60, I can tell you life is full of jiggles. Divorces happen. Health is precious and uncertain. The list goes on. The point is that Freedom is constantly being challenged by the unforeseeable. Having some small passive income and a disaster fund is a great place to get to.

    “Some freedom is better than no freedom” is as real as it gets. The Universe will ultimately sort out what we can’t control.

    Great stuff!

    • Jacq on September 3, 2017 at 6:18 am
    • Reply

    My mom was FI, which allowed her to say ‘no thank you’ and retire when the administration wanted to make major changes. She has been a lot happier to have her time as her own. 10 years before I doubt she would have considered it.
    Being FI meant when a management change saw my dad retire early, he’s been fine.
    I have seen how unpredictable employers can be and am working towards my own FI to be able to adapt to whatever happens in the future. 🙂

  1. […] My favorite post this week comes from The Happy Philosopher who writes that you don’t need to hate your job to want financial independence. […]

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