Never Work a Day in Your Life

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It is said that if you love your job you will never work another day in your life.

As far as I can see,there’s a certain truth to this, but it’s not the complete truth.

From where I’m sitting, I would say something more along the lines of, “If you enjoy your work, you’re really really lucky. Most people are just punching the clock, or worse.”

I had a buddy in cardiology training, who whenever he was tempted to complain about something, would reflexively say “but I’m not going to complain about it, you know I could be a soldier in Iraq right about now.”

US_Navy_081127-M-0301S-161_Secretary_of_the_Navy_The_Honorable_Mr._Donald_C._Winter_poses_with_a_group_of_U.S._Marines,_Baharia

There are harder jobs than those of a cardiology fellow

And he was right. Even when we had been up all night dealing with cardiac emergencies, and had had to endure endless CCU rounds with an attending who did not have much to offer in the way of clinical skills (but a lot to offer in the way of pedantic lectures on organizational process modeling and health care,”) and we still had a case to present for Cath conference the next day that we hadn’t started yet, we were incredibly lucky. We were learning how to help people. We were learning how to do powerful procedures not unlike real-life video games, and we were focusing on a small part of medicine that we had selected for ourselves because it was meaningful, interesting, and well compensated.

But you know what? We were working. And at that point, I would certainly have rather been golfing, or hanging with my newborn daughter and six-year-old boy, or making pizza, (or sleeping.)

Which I think is an important quality of work. It’s something that you do even when you don’t want to.

Which brings me to my son.

I’m very biased, but I think he’s a bright kid.

And his relationship to work really reminds me of myself.

If he’s focused on a project that he has created for himself, like programming in a new computer language, or learning to pick a new Green Day song on guitar, he can effortlessly spend hours in concentration and hard work.

But if it’s a school assignment, he’ll be found at his desk listening to a videogame podcast, leaning back in his chair, twirling his pencil, and trying to complete his assignment with the least amount of effort and attention possible.

Which I think is another quality of work.

The fact that it’s a responsibility in exchange for payment,(or parental expectations in the case of my son,) robs the task of some of its inherent value.

And this has been an unexpected benefit of pursuing early retirement.

I would even call it a paradox.

Since I started down this path, I’ve shockingly found myself enjoying my job more than ever before.

It’s as if the fact that I’m pursuing financial independence allows me to conceive, for the first time, of a world in which I no longer need to earn money.

And in imagining such a world, I am able to catch glimpses of my work from a different perspective.

I’m able to recognize some parts of my job that I truly love in and of themselves, (like patiently mapping the origin of an arrhythmia. Or hearing about my patients 17 pound Maine coon cat who she walks outside on a leash.)

maine-coon-green-eyes

Maine Coon Cats, a rewarding aspect of my job as an EP

I feel less threatened by other doctors because they feel less like competitors, and more like fellow members of the guild.

I’m see patients more as people, and less as commodities.

It’s something miraculous, akin to a world in which my son suddenly discovers that he does not have to do his math homework, and in so discovering this, he realizes that there’s nothing he’d rather do, than a little algebra.

My only explanation, and it’s not a particularly convincing one, is that pursuing freedom is liberating in and of itself. And that “work,” is in some ways a form of self enslavement, quite separate from actual labor associated with it.

Which is a very long-winded of way of saying that early retirement may not really be about not working at all. It may be about not needing to work. And about being able to choose to work for the sake of the work itself. Or not.

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