This month marks six years since I walked out of the hospital in Lebanon, Oregon, to the song 18 wheels and a dozen roses, by Kathy Mattea, after my final week of locum tenens work. I was reluctant about giving up surgery at age 54, wondering if we had enough passive income and retirement savings to meet our needs for the rest of our lives.
After six years of retired life I am now very comfortable with the decision. Some things have taken a little time to get used to and others have surprised me. Here is what I’ve learned.
One of my biggest concerns about retiring was would I miss practicing medicine. I was not leaving medicine because I didn’t like it, so the worry that I might miss it was heavy on my mind. Surprisingly, this has never been an issue.
The wise council I got before I retired was to have a new purpose to occupy my time. I spoke in depth about this issue in my book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement. I believe having a purpose was a life saver for me and I am so glad I worked this out before pulling the trigger on retirement.
Even though I stay busy, I especially enjoy the flexibility in my new life to drop everything and do something fun when the opportunity arises. When my kids drop in for a visit or I decide to just pop over to my parent’s house for a visit or someone asks if we want to go on a trip with them, I’m glad I have the ability to say yes.
I went through a period when I felt lost because I no longer had structure in my life. I would wake up with no assigned tasks scheduled for the day and I would spend the day getting nothing accomplished. A day of my short life was simply lost.
In order to recreate the structure I had when I was working full time, I began to create a schedule. My wife and I now plan the schedule for our next week together. When will we be exercising, when do I write an article, when are my coaching calls, and what fun events will be happening. For me, if it isn’t on the schedule, it’s not likely to get done. I like having the important things on the schedule to give me structure in my life.
I have been teaching personal finance for decades, and I have now turned my passion for personal finance into a part-time business. I began by publishing The Doctors Guide series. These books have become best sellers and have won several awards, one of which was non-fiction book of the year.
My sixth book, A Guide to Loving Your Timeshare, came out a few months ago and reached best seller status. I expected a lot of push back about this topic, but so far, people who read it have come out with a new appreciation for timeshares, which is different than how social media has portrayed them.
My online courses, The Doctors Course to Automating Your Real Estate Investments, and The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens, continue to change lives.
My favorite activity is one-on-one coaching. I love it when I get an email telling me a book or blog I wrote changed someone’s life. But these generic life changes are never as powerful as when, after getting very specific with someone’s situation during one-on-one coaching, week by week the person on the other end of the phone has several major breakthroughs.
One thing I had not anticipated was how effective my High Performance Coaching program is for stopping burnout and improving careers. Clarity, courage and influence are key factors to fighting burnout and finding direction.
I am continually being asked to add other things to my teaching business such as a podcast, TikTok videos, conferences, daily blog posts, or a Facebook group. But each thing I add means I have to remove some other peaceful aspect of being retired. I have to remind myself of the reason I creating this business and remember that I am not trying to build an empire, I’m trying to have a purpose.
Even though my wife, an accountant, kept reassuring me I could afford to quit medicine, I still had reservations. It turned out she was right.
The year I retired we started taking a 3.9% distribution from my retirement plans, using the substantially equal periodic payments method, also known as rule 72(t). My final required distribution was last summer. Now that I am 60 years old, I can enjoy the things that happen when you turn 59 ½. I have now reached the age where I can use my retirement savings however I want. If I find something expensive I want to buy, I can now withdraw retirement funds without penalty and buy it.
We also have our real estate investment cash flow from our four apartment buildings totaling 55 rental units. You can read all about creating passive income from rentals in The Doctors Guide to Real Estate Investing for Busy Professionals. It turns out the cash flow from our real estate was enough to fund our retired lifestyle.
My financial business of coaching and teaching has also grown and can cover all our retirement expenses.
After five years of making the 72(t) withdrawals, despite the ups and downs of the stock market, the account balance is larger today than it was when we started taking the withdrawals. Our net worth is also substantially greater than when I retired. We clearly have not gone backwards despite losing my surgical income and living off our retirement accounts, coaching income, and real estate cash flow.
Now that I am convinced we have plenty of money, I am comfortable increasing our charitable giving as well.
When I retired, like so many other retirees, I envisioned doing a lot of traveling. In fact, we have been to more than two dozen countries since we retired. Then two things occurred to alter my desires. The pandemic stopped all travel for a while and I now have two grandsons.
As I write this article, I am currently at a timeshare on a nice Texas beach. This is our final week of a three week trip to Texas. We have discovered that travel no longer sparks the joy it once did. We come into a city and look through the 50 great things to do in the area, and have a hard time finding something we want to do.
We have already done almost everything on the list multiple times. We have already visited enough castles, cathedrals, museums, beautiful gardens, mansions, amusement parks, water parks, miniature golf courses, popular theater productions, magic shows, zoos, aquariums, wildlife preserves, caves, historic train rides, ghost towns, historic ships, helicopter rides, forts, deep sea fishing, go cart racing, trolley rides, jet boats, art centers, sculpture gardens, and more.
I sit here wishing I was back home playing with my grandkids, visiting friends, or singing a song at my piano. In fact, the best part of our trip to Texas was meeting up with friends. Even the best things in life can get old if you do them a lot.
Last year we began traveling again, taking several trips that used eight weeks of timeshare trades. But the old way of traveling is losing its luster. So we will be altering our future travel plans. Now that we are enjoying providing childcare during the school year, we won’t be taking our usual two month snow birding trips in the winter. We are going to move the bulk of our travel to the summers, when our childcare services are not needed. We will also find a way to increase visiting with people and decrease visiting tourist sites.
I would also like to experience more adventures like when we hiked 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
For us, travel will not end, but it is time for a change in how and how much we do.
The best things about my sixth year of retirement
The best part of my sixth year of retirement was being a grandfather. Our first grandson is now two and our daughter-in-law recently delivered our second grandson. The joy of having young children in the house has been missing for many years now that our kids are grown and don’t need us like they used to.
In April, we go back on childcare duty when maternity leave ends. I’m looking forward to the days when we turn everything else off and spend the day playing with the grandkids.
We should be able to finish our home refreshing project this year. I hope to have all the loose ends completed before Christmas rolls around. Then we can sit back and enjoy the sanctuary we have created.
I will continue to use my time writing/teaching/coaching/speaking about personal finance as helping doctors achieve financial success and avoid burnout brings joy and purpose to my life.
We will modify how we travel in the future and incorporate more people and adventure into the plans.
If you are contemplating retirement, and it goes anything like mine, it will be better than you anticipate. Don’t worry if your plans begin to evolve into something new, because they will. When you think you have enough money to retire, you probably do. Travel does not cost nearly as much as you think it will, and the freedom to come and go as you please is very nice.
What do you want to do after you retire? If you have already retired, what have you learned that you could share with those who are getting ready to make the leap?