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How To Spend Your Free Time In Retirement

As someone who writes daily about financial matters relating to healthcare professionals with a strong emphasis on being able to secure an early retirement, I have just realized that I am a bit different from many of my colleagues. When it comes to retirement I don’t think I can run out of things to do in order to fill my free time in retirement.

I have recently finished several books on the topic of retirement and each and every author spends an incredible amount of time focusing on the retiree’s state of mind and how they can find meaning outside of their 9-5.

I consider myself retired and I am not running out of things to do but I am running out of time to do them. So in this post I will just talk a little about the state of mind of being retired, not having a set schedule to report to, and finding things to do to occupy our time.


The Job Structure

One of the downsides of a job is that it indentures us to a specific routine. The biggest portion of our day, the time when we have the most energy and creativity, is commanded by an employer.

Spend enough years doing this and you will get used to it. It becomes the norm and everything outside of it will seem foreign, scary, and impossible.

The routine of a job is important and necessary. It creates order and it ensures a predictable manner in which an employer can run their business. Unless you are an employee for a startup you will have very little wiggle room. Your creativity is curbed and your skills are manicured to fit the service that’s provided.

A job is also wonderful because it allows us to earn an income without the headache of running a business. Fresh out of training, a PA may not want to learn business law, deal with hiring employees, and learn social media marketing. She wants to sharpen her clinical skills, obtain more efficient HPI’s, and master her procedural techniques.

While spending the first 3-5 years working your ass off will pay off incredibly well, putting your head down and droning along for another 5-10 years will kill your spirit. You’ll become institutionalized and possibly forget that there is a lot more to life than your medical career and that j-o-b.


Focus On Non-career Interests

Some of the younger readers won’t believe this but a day will come when you won’t be enamoured by your job. You will reach that point when doing an aneurysm repair is no longer challenging. Being a brilliant diagnostician no longer gives that feeling of invincibility. They call this being jaded but I don’t believe that’s the right term. It’s more of an enervation from lack of stimulation.

Recognizing when you’ve reached the point in your career where you can be called a competent attending is critical. Don’t give me that false humble bullshit; accept your competence, own it, know where you stand in the ranking, admit to what you’re incredibly good at and also recognize what you suck at but perhaps don’t care to improve upon.

Quite a few of our colleagues will never reach this point. They come to work shocked that someone left a fucking straw next to their keyboard; they want this reported to the Chief and have even considered taking “their” keyboard home with them at night. They are still overwhelmed when 10 URI patients check in at the same time. Their measure of high acuity is when they had to tell the nurse to call 911 for a chest pain patient in the outpatient setting.

Don’t worry, you’re not that person. Most likely you’re in the latter group of those healthcare professionals who passes the point of being an incredibly competent expert in their specialty. You have passed that point and don’t realize you did. The monotony of the schedule is getting to you. You know the patient has gout as soon as you walk into the room and want to prescribe an NSAID or a corticosteroid and leave because you know that dude is gonna lose his shit if you tell him to follow a low-purine diet.

You are close to the point of burnout. You are still trying to master your career not realizing that you already have. The more effort you put into your career the worse it gets. You start recognizing that most published research articles are bullshit and realize that you have not only mastered evidence-based medicine but have added your own artistic flare to it. But why the hell aren’t you enjoying your career? Why is it feeling like a drag?

Aim Your Focus Outside Of Your Job

We’ve established that you are now a hot-shot attending. You are efficient and competent but you are no longer challenged by your career. So what now? I think it’s time that you stop being a medical student and start doing whatever it is you want to do.

Yes, you still got debt and a partner who only cares about you if you’re a doctor or NP or PA or whatever. You aren’t in a place to cut back on work and if you were, there likely would be minimal support from the supposed loved ones.

However, instead of draining your body and mind at work, hustling, and “doing your best”, it’s time to pull back a little. Stop being a perfectionist. Give into a few patients, not every battle is worth fighting.

Instead, start thinking back to your childhood and recall every single one of your interests and passions you used to have. Do any of those still resonate with you? Was it tennis? Poetry? Music? Traveling? Learning languages? Start spending more effort and energy on those things.

If you find your passion outside of medicine then start telling yourself that tennis is what you do and medicine is something you practice on the side. Or that music is where your heart is and medicine is there to pay the bills. Dream big because what’s the worst that can happen, you fall back on a career in healthcare? I think you’ll be fine.

Encore Career

Perhaps you always wanted to be a carpenter or an interior designer but there was something about medicine that you couldn’t pass up on. If you have an inkling for an encore career it’s time to explore it.

Get on forums, take courses, sit down over lunch with a successful interior designer and learn it as a hobby. Don’t make it a chore. This isn’t medical school, you’re not trying to gunner your way through it. Focus on the things that interest you the most. Perhaps you always wanted to learn color palettes and how to design the perfect color scheme – spend time doing that. Don’t get bogged down with marketing and how competitive it is, where you’re gonna find clients and whether you need to go to school for it.

It might be a career that you know nothing about but always wanted to learn about – gemology? Can’t think of anything? Browse through online courses such as Khan academy or other online courses.

Fight Tenure

Finally, fight the temptation of tenure. You get very few benefits from being with a large medical group for a long time. Vesting in a pension is perhaps the biggest thing but I can think of very few situations where a healthcare professional needs a pension. Sure, it’s incredibly lucrative but it comes at a huge price.

I wrote about walking away from my own pension which is the equivalence of walking away from $800,000. I’m glad I did, not because I didn’t like my job but because I didn’t want to miss out on these wonderful opportunities that I would otherwise not have had.

Tenure also presents itself in the fear of switching careers or jobs. Maybe you are comfortable with one particular medical group and don’t want to learn another one. Perhaps you want to live in a different city/State but don’t want to leave the coziness of your group.


Productivity Without A Job

It’s a common belief that if you aren’t “working” then you aren’t contributing to society. I’ve heard this many times and you will too, should you decide to retire early. If you don’t perform the work you were trained to do then you are considered to be unproductive.

Naturally, this is a bunch of crap. Likely propagated by those who get to benefit from you continuing to earn a high salary. I’ve even heard that it’s unpatriotic … who knows, maybe it’s immoral as well?


Though I would define productivity as what value you create for yourself and those around you, I would say that the most important aspect of productivity is that you create sustainable value for yourself before anything else.

In this highly structured society there isn’t much you can do for others until you are in a stable situation. There are exceptions. I am awestruck by those who fight their own tough daily battles and yet manage to give so much to other. But that’s not me and maybe that’s not you.

A level of independence, security, and stability is needed from which position you can reach out to others. What’s the point of seeing patients, curing disease, and saving lives when your own life is in shambles and at the verge of destruction.

Contributing To Society

Nobody should be telling you whether you are or aren’t contributing to society. It’s on you and what you can tolerate and what you can bear. It’s not that others are ill-intentioned, but they will hold others to as harsh of a standard as they hold themselves. They will beat up on others emotionally as much as they do so to themselves. It’s not healthy.

There are so many ways to contribute to society – pretty much anything you do for another person that brings them pleasure, saves them time, increases their productivity, improves their health, their state of mind, etc. It can be paid work, it can be individual assistance, or it can be organized volunteer work.

The front desk person at the gym today who checked me in is productive. He checked me in, greeted me kindly, and served me a cup of espresso. Without him I couldn’t be at this gym climbing. Would he be unproductive if he stayed home and painted? Fuck no.


All The Things You Could Do With Your Free Time In Retirement

Free time in retirement might seem hard to fill, at first. However, give it time and soon you’ll have more things that you’re gonna wanna be doing than there are hours in the day.

I guess the best way is to unleash a massive list on the reader. It’s just really hard to convey it any other way. I suppose before I bombard you with an exhaustive list, let me mention that everything in retirement takes place at a slower pace.

Things Take Much Longer To Do – Time Slows Down In Retirement

When you cook, you’ll take your time. When you clean the house, you do it slowly, patiently. When you sit down to read a book, you’ll do it for a while longer than when you have pressing things to get to. When you go for a walk, you’ll walk a little longer. When you play tennis with friends, you’ll stay a little longer, have a beer or coffee afterwards, and maybe take the long and scenic way home.

It’s already 7pm today in Barcelona and all I’ve done is shower, run out for a junquillo, prepare my desayuno, boulder at my gym, and write for this blog.

In a bit I’m going to go home, shower, prep dinner, and go to bed. That’s the whole day right there. And I gotta tell you, I don’t feel unproductive, not one bit.

What You Can Do With Your Free Time In Retirement

  • read books
  • foster animals
  • exercise more
  • start a new sport
  • go for walks
  • write a book for yourself or publish it
  • get into computer programming
  • work on your own business idea/plan
  • spend more time with your nieces/nephews
  • live abroad
  • take over your own investments
  • learn to bake
  • learn to cook
  • indoor garden with hydroponics
  • garden outside
  • take college classes in philosophy or business
  • learn new languages
  • YouTube how to repair shit around the house
  • learn a new career
  • teach in a medical school in a developing nation
  • learn a new specialty without going to residency
  • learn about alternative medicine, integrative medicine
  • open a yoga studio
  • learn how to do yoga
  • open a restaurant, open a cafe
  • turn a part of your home into a B&B and meet travelers
  • offer your place up for couchsurfing


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