The White Coat Investor Network[Editor's Note: Today's WCI Network post comes from The Physician Philosopher and discusses the depressing state of mind that comes from realizing you want FIRE but are still a decade away from it. 10 years is a long time, but luckily the benefits of financial independence are a continuum, not a cliff.]

In the personal finance blogging world, it seems there is a race to early retirement.  Yet, no matter how hard I hustle, how much I focus on our savings rate, or how often I think about financial independence and retiring early (FIRE)…. early retirement is still a decade away for my family and me.  And that is a minimum length of time.  It might prove to be more like 12-14 years.

Life often teaches us that moderation is the key to satisfaction.  Can we apply the logic of moderation to the philosophy of FIRE?

Partial FIRE

Enter here Partial FIRE.  Partial FIRE is the point at which you have enough financial freedom in your life that you can reduce your current workload and pursue part-time work.  While normal FIRE entails socking away as much money as you can until you can enjoy a full and early retirement, partial FIRE is a softer version filled with part-time work at an earlier stage.

Partial FIRE will look different for everyone. However, it will usually consist of less time at work and more time doing what you want.  It comes at a cost of creating a slightly slower trek towards traditional FIRE, because a lower income usually means we save less money.

Is the work-life balance we find through Partial FIRE worth it?

Here are four reasons partial FIRE might be helpful in your route to financial freedom.

1.  Better Career Fulfillment

Physicians often talk about their limited time.  The fact is that the current culture of medicine is happy to overload physicians not only within a given shift, but with the total number of shifts that we are required to take.  This is a large part of the reason I created my Hell Yes Policy.  I’m the Anti Fan-Boy of forced overtime.

Time is our only truly finite commodity on this earth.  No matter where you are in the milestones to financial independence, you only get 24 hours in a day and 365 days in the year.  This is true whether you are the hospital custodian or the CEO.  Time is the most valuable commodity we have.  We should not give it away easily.

For this reason, we must use the hours we are given to pursue our true passions.  This also means that when we have a limited amount of time to pursue our passions, our career fulfillment can suffer.  It reduces the amount of time we have to pursue our passions.

Perhaps you want to spend some time on a research project or quality improvement initiative.  Maybe you want to create a personal finance curriculum for medical students.  Whatever your passion, partial FIRE can provide you the time you need to pursue them.

Imagine having one or two days off each week that you could use to devote to a worthy cause. Maybe then you’d have the time to finally chase after that goal you’ve kept on the back burner.

I don’t know what goals or projects you would pursue.  However, I am fairly certain you’d find an increasing amount of career fulfillment through the time provided by partial FIRE.

2.  Reduced Burnout and Moral Injury

The factors that lead to physician burnout seem too numerous to name.  However, I hold that many can be summed up in just a few words. Lack of autonomy.

This lack of autonomy involves not being able to control our lives and our patient care the way that we would choose.  We are forced to see patients in 10-minute intervals.  With each day, there are more buttons to click in the electronic medical record system.  And when we decide an appropriate course of action for a patient, we are told that the insurance company will not cover our treatment plan.

This inevitably leads to burnout and moral injury.

Imagine if your version of partial FIRE involved negotiating with your hospital to see your patients over a longer time period.  Perhaps you bartered for 20-minute visits because you didn’t need the additional money from a heavier clinic volume?

It could also be simpler than fixing your daily schedule.

Maybe additional time off through partial FIRE might allow you to have more time to recover from your demanding work life.  After all, there aren’t many people who feel the same level of burnout and moral injury while on vacation, at the beach, on the golf course, or getting a mani-pedi.

3.  Better Work-Life Balance

After sitting down with my wife and going through The 3 Kinder Questions, I realized that a big motivation for our financial independence is to be able to spend as much time as I can with my kids.

partial FIREAfter going through the questions, I was reminded of the great quote by the Dalai Lama when he was asked about the most surprising thing about humanity:

Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

I don’t want to die having never truly lived.  And I really don’t want to die having never spoken truth into the lives of my three kids.  I want to attend every single tee-ball game, recital, art show, performance, and golf match.  My cell phone will be in my pocket and my eyes will be on my kids.  I want to be present and intentional with my time.

I refuse to wait until my kids are old and gone to enjoy the freedom that financial independence provides.  Instead, I’ll Partial FIRE through part-time work so that I can be there for my kids as often as is humanly possible.

This will provide a better work-life balance for my family and me.

4.  Fixing A Broken System

Many posts on this site have focused on our broken medical system and the burnout it produces.  Traditional FIRE provides an escape hatch for burned-out physicians.  Yet, it also has the power to deplete medicine of a lot of really good doctors.

One of my dreams for medicine is that there will be a cadre of financially literate physicians who will not only stay in medicine, but will endeavor to fix the broken system that currently exists.

Partial FIRE would provide the time they need to make the changes that a full-time clinical schedule does not allow.  In addition, it would allow physicians to stay connected enough to clinical medicine that they could still relate to the people on the front lines – which is a big problem for today’s administrators who hang out in their C-suite offices without ever meeting the people that they lead.

Imagine a world full of physicians who choose to practice medicine because they want to, and not because they have to… that would provide the power for change.

Take-Home: Partial FIRE

Partial FIRE holds a lot of promise for many of the problems that ail today’s physicians.  Even if you are still years away from traditional FIRE, you might consider the moderate option of part-time work after obtaining enough financial freedom for it to become an option.

If you do, you just might find that you fall back in love with the job in a brand new way, find a better work-life balance, and have the time and motivation to fix our broken medical system.

Have you ever considered partial FIRE?  In what way would it improve your current situation?  If you are already there, how has it changed things for you? Leave a comment below.