The age of early retirement is coming down rapidly. There are several blogs about retiring at 40. Mr. Money Mustache famously retired at 30. Lately at least two bloggers beat MMM and retired at 25. Do I hear 20? How about 15?
Last month I went to my dentist to have two broken fillings replaced. According to a healthcare provider listing, my dentist Dr. M graduated dental school in 1971. He’s now 70. The appointment was at 8:00 a.m. because I wanted to get on with work afterwards. Of course when I arrived he was already there ready to start. So he must have opened the office at 7:30 or earlier.
Why is Dr. M still working at 70? What gets him out of the bed into the office this early? Is he one of those baby boomers who we hear can’t retire? Does he need the money because he’s an over-spender? Doesn’t he find it repetitive after having seen everything one can imagine after all these years? I’m sure he’s not learning anything new from replacing my fillings. It must be just routine: another patient, another filling to replace.
Dr. M didn’t show any lack of interest whatsoever. As always, he explained what he was about to do every step of the way. The whole procedure took him and his assistant an hour and a half. I’m sure he and his office staff will also have to do some paperwork afterwards.
For fixing my two fillings, my insurance company and I paid him $578. Dr. M runs a small office. It’s just himself, his assistant, his wife as the office manager, and 3 hygienists. After paying his staff, office overhead, and taxes, was it worth it for Dr. M to get up early, drive to the office, and spend 1-1/2 hours on fixing my teeth for maybe $200 net? Especially considering that he must be beyond financially independent several times over by this time?
I doubt he’s in it for the money. He loves helping patients. I can tell when he talks to me. When I check in at the front desk I see two 7-foot-tall shelves full of charts. There’s a real person behind every chart. Dr. M puts a smile on every one of them. I imagine that’s his motivation.
Work is often described as a rat race, from which you are supposed to escape as soon as you can. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s a rat race only if your heart and mind are not in it. When you want to do it, it’s not a burden. I’m glad Dr. M didn’t quit fixing teeth as soon as he reached financial independence.
As the reason for the office’s existence, Dr. M also provides jobs for his employees. One of the hygienists has been with his practice for 22 years! No wonder his office feels like family.
Author Daniel Pink in his bestselling book Drive listed three elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Dr. M has all three. He controls when, where, and how much work he takes. He’s good at what he does. He sees the positive results of his work. When you have autonomy, mastery, and purpose, you will want to keep doing it. If not, acquire them now, so you don’t have to watch the clock and count the days till you can get out.
Besides providing great satisfaction, a positive side effect of staying in your job after reaching financial independence is that it provides the financial means for all the “extras” you hesitated to spend on before. You do what you love to do. It pays for any luxury you care about. Whenever work becomes a burden, you just scale it down or stop. It’s a great arrangement.
[Photo credit: Flickr user Evan Long]
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