I remember clearly the moment I reached financial independence. My husband and I were meeting with our financial advisor, and I suggested we put “zero dollars” in the spot for wages income when he ran our numbers. My husband had retired earlier that year, at age 59. I was also still in my 50’s, and I was curious about the outcome if I retired early, too. Our advisor ran the numbers for our financial plan with this scenario, and the results showed we had plenty saved in retirement accounts to support our lifestyle until we are 90 years old. 

I was stunned. I could feel a big smile spreading across my face. My eyes were wide. I felt tingly all over. My heart was pounding. I went to work the next day, still smiling and with a bounce in my step. I went to work with the thought that I was there because I wanted to be there, not because I was chasing the next paycheck. That shift in my mindset made all the difference in my attitude toward my work in pediatrics.

Technically, I was not even contemplating retirement. I love my job. I love all the people I work with. I love the clinical work, and I was involved in some administrative projects that were fulfilling as well. But I was starting to feel restless. I was starting to wonder what the next chapter in my life would look like. Yet, I was scared to change the status quo. With this knowledge of financial independence, I felt a heaviness lifted. It felt like freedom.

That was three years ago. Since then, I have focused on my personal and professional development. I read books. I listened to podcasts. I took courses. Being secure in my finances allowed me to be open to the opportunities in front of me. Instead of slowing down and retiring, I have actually started to enjoy my busy life more.

Knowing that our portfolio of accounts was enough for the future, I began to see my paycheck differently. I began to think about what I could do, now, to enjoy my current stage in life. I felt comforted knowing I could easily finish paying for my kids’ college. I could give them that gift of starting their grown-up life without the burden of student loan debt. My husband and I started to take more weekend getaways. We planned more summer vacations with our kids, creating precious memories together. There were little things, too, like eating out more often and buying more books to read. 

I have also started to create a portfolio of activities that speak to my strengths. I have started to find ways to have a bigger impact beyond just the clinic hours. I do more and more quality improvement work in the clinic, allowing our independent practice to thrive and grow into the changes required by the healthcare system. I found a consulting opportunity, where I can support other practices facing the struggles of navigating the health plan systems. I have even started diversifying my knowledge by learning and investing in real estate. 

Money topics, especially for women, are often scary or taboo to talk about. But it’s not rocket science, it is a learnable skill. You survived the rigors of medical school and specialty training. You are smart and you can learn about money. Financial independence is personal and different for everyone. It’s possible that the number in your accounts is already enough. The next step is figuring out how to make your money life align better with your personal values, allowing you to reclaim the joy in practicing medicine. Find a trusted friend or advisor to talk to. Read books about money. Explore the online space, there are many websites and blogs about personal finance. Reaching financial independence allowed me to see money as a tool and to find ways to spend my time that line up with my values.  The number that my financial advisor showed me three years ago was just a number. But it was the mindset that changed everything.

Blog written by Sheryl Leidecker, MD, FAAP