What the First Year of Retirement Looks Like

Many doctors dream of the day they will retire and travel the world. I was one of them. Way back in medical school, I set my sites on retiring at age 50. As I neared my retirement date, I had some apprehension: Would I like being retired? Would I miss medicine? Would I get bored? Would I have enough money?

Now that I have finished my first full year of retirement, or more correctly repurposement, I know the answer to these questions. Let me show you what my first year of retirement looked like. You might be surprised.

It all started on the morning of February 20, 2017, at 7 AM, when the call week ended on my final day of locums. I went into the hospital to make rounds, sign out, and turn in my pager. One doctor asked me what song I wanted to leave with. I said Kathy Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” That song had been playing in my head all week.

As I left the doctors charting room for the last time, one of the doctors played that song (I’m listening to it now as I write this). I had a spring in my step and a smile on my heart. I went back to our apartment to meet my wife as a retired physician. We finished packing, turned in our keys to the apartment, and said goodbye to a long career in medicine as we headed home.

We arrived home, unpacked, celebrated my son Brian’s 25th birthday, and prepared for an upcoming trip. Seventy-two hours after retiring, we got on a plane to Los Angeles to attend Roger Love’s “Voice of Success” weekend seminar. Upon returning, we had two days to prepare for a month long journey to Israel, Spain and Portugal. My 55th birthday party was in Israel and Carolyn, my wife, celebrated her 54th in Madrid, Spain.

We got back home at the end of March and finally felt like we were retired, for a week and a half. Then I got on another plane and flew to Hollywood to participate in a singing event and a session with my coach, Roger Love. I got back home to celebrate Easter without worrying about being on call for the holiday.

Since I was no longer traveling as a locums, my wife and I were able to return to leading worship at church once a month. After leading worship eight to twelve times a year for 20 years, we had stopped when my locums work frequently took us out of town. Now we were back on stage.

In May we booked two time share weeks back to back. The first one was just north of San Diego. We rode our tandem bike almost every day on the sunny southern California coast. Then we drove to the second time share week in Las Vegas to see a few shows.

In June we booked another time share near Houston, and visited mission control and two presidential libraries, before driving up to Dallas, for a family reunion.

In July my son, Brian, got married to his new bride, Jenny, on 7/7/17. We sent them off to use one of our time share trades for their honeymoon.

Me, Becky, and Keith Before the Race

Later that month, we took our motorhome to Diamond Lake. We arrived on Monday and stayed until Friday. Now that I was not working during the week, we could avoid the weekend crowd. My youngest son, Keith, brought his girlfriend up to visit with us one of the days.

In August we used another timeshare week at Big Bear Lake in Southern California, followed by a weekend in Hollywood where I got the opportunity to do a stand-up comedy routine at the Improv. I had spent a lot of time in July working on that routine. Afterwards, we came home and zipped to Portland, OR to participate in a Spartan Race, an obstacle course in the mud, with my son, Keith, and my sister-in-law, Becky. We stopped to visit some friends on the way home and watching the solar eclipse with them.

In September, I went to a Christian men’s camp with my son, Brian. Following our weekend at camp, Carolyn and I prepared for a six week motorhome trip across the country. We drove down to a High Performance Conference in San Diego and then spent three weeks travelling all of route 66 from LA to Chicago where I was a mentor at a SEAK physician conference. We then headed down to Dallas for a blogger conference, FINCON, and met some fellow physician financial bloggers. We worked our way through Utah arriving home on November 6th, just in time to vote. I published a video each day, along with several pictures, chronicling the trip on my Facebook page.

We were then home for two weeks, before heading to Portland, Oregon to celebrate Thanksgiving with Carolyn’s family. We got home just in time to hop on a plane to Branson, MO. My mother and one of her friends joined us for this trip and we saw a live show every day for a week. This was another time share trade. We then drove to Nashville for some more timeshare fun the following week.

In December we saw the local production of the Nut Cracker ballet, which I had always missed because I was working. We had everyone on my side of the family over to our house Christmas Eve and then went to Portland, OR, to spend another Christmas with Carolyn’s Family. I was happy to be off call for every holiday that year.

Martha and Keith in Mexico

In January we took a cruise with my son Keith, which was a college graduation present. His girlfriend and my mother shared a room and accompanied us on the cruise. This was an 11 day, round trip cruise to Mexico from San Francisco.

We then stayed home for three weeks before hopping on another cruise ship. This one was a 31 day cruise to South America and the Amazon. Carolyn’s aunt, Etta, and one of her friends joined us on this one. On the anniversary of my last day of work, I was on a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil, near the equator, enjoying the sunshine.

In addition to my travels, during my first year of retirement/repurposement, I continued to promote my books, was a guest on several podcasts and became more active on social media. My third book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement, was released in the fall and later became an Amazon best seller.

We discovered, after a few calculations, that we were away from home 50% of the year travelling somewhere in the world. We visited 15 states and 11 countries. I did miss medicine one evening after watching a Hallmark movie about a doctor. The movie brought back great memories for me of my long and happy career in medicine. Then the feeling passed. You can read about that moment in my blog post titled “Will You Miss Medicine When You Retire.”

I had a great year my first year retired/repurposed. A big surprise was to see my tax bill fall to zero! You can read about that here. My worries about missing medicine did not come to pass. My concern of having enough money to do all I wanted was not warranted. Boredom did not set in. I would have loved to live this life earlier, but that would have meant giving up medicine sooner and I don’t think I could have done that. I’m glad to be in this next phase of my life as a repurposed surgeon, teaching other doctors how they can live a healthy, happy, debt free, and financially secure life.

I hope you will continue to follow me on this great journey and prepare to take the journey yourself. We are planning on spending a little more time at home this year. With so much time away, home feels like a vacation now. But I do have my sights on some great travel destinations and would love to do a world cruise. We’ll see how it all pans out.

If you would like to better prepare for your eventual retirement, pick up a copy of my book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement. Bon Voyage.

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11 thoughts on “What the First Year of Retirement Looks Like”

  1. wow. My own retirement, age 67, approaches in two months. Not quite burned out but I don’t have to be dragged away kicking and screaming from the EMR. My financial aspirations are much less than described here and the need to pursue my every amusement or indulgence isn’t there either. A 40th Anniversary cruise to Europe postponed from last year. Some attention to my two blogs. Maybe work in the next political campaign. Annoy the kids by visiting them. Working was not the barrier to losing those ten pounds or progressing better in my exercise program, so the added flexibility of time probably won’t be either.

    As I go over those things I want to do in the first six months, very few were really postponed by the diversion of having to go to work each day. In planning some projects for the current half-year, my reading and study goals all proceeded. My enjoyment of my kitchen took place. I have almost the garden that I set out to have. Some of my writing projects were probably not completed because of work priorities, but most everything else could be scheduled into my own time. In all probability, I will still be doing the same things, only perhaps able to focus on doing some of them more thoroughly with the added flexibility that comes with being retired.

  2. The greatest unknown for me is predicting expenses when I am no longer working.
    That key number seems so critical to all of the calculations. Even now with an empty nest I do not see our expenses dramatically falling. We still have the big house , and my wife tells me we aren’t moving. No motor home, but we have a boat…probably worse than an RV for expenses. Like you, we like to travel and enjoy life. Then there is the huge unknown of medical costs after stopping work.
    Right now at age 54, I am honing in on age 59.5 as I think I will probably need to access some of the 401K money, but that depends on how fast the real estate portfolio grows. SO, many unknowns, but I can’t see myself typing into an EHR for more than 5 years…

    • NJDoc,
      You do not need to wait until you are 59.5 years old to get your 401(k) money penalty free. I discussed this in my book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement. You just need to use rule 72(t). It will calculate a set amount you must take each year for five years or until you reach 59.5. Don’t let that be the reason you wait. Best of luck to you.

  3. Omg Dr. Fawcett,

    My husband is a slug compared to you. I just stayed close to home with my kids for the past decade living my off peak lifestyle.

    Congrats! You sound very very happy. That is a wonderful way to start this new chapter in your life.

    Btw. Have you informed all the Residency directors about your books. They would help so many docs start their careers off correctly. So many of us stepped on many land mines unnecessarily.

    • Dr. MB,
      My mother is in your boat. My father doesn’t want to travel but she does. She came with us on some of the adventures last year.

      I have informed residency programs of my books. Some have jumped in and purchased a bulk supply of books to give to their residents. Most have just ignored it. They are too busy trying to teach the residents how to practice medicine and don’t have time to teach them about life and money. That is why they should use these books, so they won’t need to take the time for this.

      Best of luck to you. I hope you graduate to your peak lifestyle soon.

  4. Definite great read and something to aspire to. I currently have earmarked my 53rd birthday as my launch date (which would coincide with my daughter leaving the nest for college and that was brought down from the original launch at age 55. I’m currently 47 and may even bring that number down some more as there will be a point where I truly feel like I can safely retire without concerns financially (healthcare biggest issue)

    Did you do a safe withdrawal rate calculation and if so what did your retirement nest egg amount to in terms of annual expenses? (25x, 30x, etc)?

    • Xrayvsn, it sounds like you have a great plan. When I pulled the trigger, my youngest was in his final year of college.

      I didn’t use only a nest egg. I had two parts to meet before I felt good about leaving medicine and giving up that income. The first was a passive income from my rental real estate that would meet 100% of my expenses. The second was a nest egg that would produce 50% of my expenses if I took out 4% per year. This covered 150% of my expenses and the real estate income would be growing and I would also get a bump up when I started to take Social Security several years later. I felt with both of those pieces, I would have a safe and happy retirement financially.

      As it turned out, I have been able to not take any money from my retirement nest egg, and use only my real estate income and money I have received by selling out of my practice and other investments that required me to be a practicing physician. I am doing better financially in retirement than I anticipated. It will get even better as income from being an author begins to grow, but I did not count on any money from being an author to make my choice to retire. That way it didn’t matter if my writing succeeded or failed, I would still have enough money.

      If I had to rely only on my nest egg, I would have wanted 25X of a little bit more than my actual expenses, so I had a cushion. I guess that would be the same as needing 30x of my expenses.


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