Reflections of a Physician Turning 60

Last March while we were traveling home in our RV from our snow birding trip to Mesa, Arizona, I turned sixty. On our way to Southern California to meet some friends, we stopped at a bakery to pick up a cake. We enjoyed celebrating my birthday that evening with our friends, but it didn’t set in until a few days later that I had entered the decade in which most people think of retiring. It made me think, am I now old? I don’t feel old.

Back when my parents dropped me off at my freshman dorm at Stanford, I remember thinking my dad was old, yet he was not even 40. I am now two decades older than what I used to call old.

There have been so many changes since I started college. Back then my car had an eight-track stereo. My phone was a land line and long distance calls were made after 5pm when it was cheaper. I typed my papers on a typewriter (no spell check) and a mistake meant retyping the whole page. I had to go to the library to dig up information for my research papers, as there was no internet. Computer time had to be scheduled at the library to use the big mainframe to complete my computer programing assignments, as no one had a personal computer.

A lot of things went through my head as I realize I am now in the last third of my life. How is it going? Am I happy where I am? Have I lived a life worth living? I have been retired from my surgery career for five years now, was it the right choice? Will my money last the rest of our lives? Following are my thoughts of what life is like at age 60.

1: Am I glad I retired when I did?

Leaving my general surgery practice at age 51 was a tough decision. I spent the three years after leaving my practice as a locum surgeon helping lone rural surgeons get some much needed time off. I started Financial Success MD and began writing books to help physicians improve their practice and their finances. My first book won an award for non-fiction book of the year which prompted me to retire completely from medicine and help teach other physicians how to have a better life, avoid burnout, and become financially secure. That book later became a best seller.

I have not missed surgery which I believe is because I found a new purpose in life. Since I quit medicine many physicians have grown unhappy with the direction medicine is going as corporations take over.  In 2020 along came a medical nightmare that created a very stressful situation for everyone in medicine. I’m glad I missed both of those issues.

2: Will the Nest egg last?

Before I retired, I often found myself worrying about the amount I had accumulated in my nest egg. Is it enough to last the rest of our lives? The numbers looked good, and my wife kept telling me we had enough to take us through the rest of our lives. But I still was uneasy. As it turns out, yes my nest egg will last. It continues to grow even though we are using it. I have finally become at ease spending money. Although transitioning from saving for retirement to spending my retirement funds took time. 

I no longer worry about sequence of returns, inflation, recessions, or stock market melt downs. It is only after I have been retired for a few years that I am finally at ease with the strength of my retirement plan. It is no longer a theory. The combination of eliminating personal debt 21 years ago, substantial rental real estate income, many years of maxing out my office retirement plan contributions, and working part time coaching physicians, and writing books and courses have culminated into a comfortable lifestyle in our retirement.

Having lived on both sides of debt, having a lot of it, and having none of it, I can firmly state I am so glad I paid off my debt when I did. It is especially nice not having any debt to service in my retirement years. Do not carry your debt past your working years. Not having a home mortgage weighing me down in retirement is so nice, although it is hard to describe. It also allowed me to retire sooner with a much smaller savings balance because I had no debt payments for my savings to cover.

3: My body is not the same as it was when I was thirty

Don’t mistake this for meaning I am now an invalid. Three years ago I walked 450 miles across Spain and last week I put in 120 miles on my bicycle. But I do not recover from physical stress the same as I did when I was young. As a resident I could work all day, all night, and the next day and after a good night’s sleep I would be back in good stead. Now if I need to pull an all-nighter, it takes a few days to recover.

I can’t keep up with the young cyclists anymore, but having money helps. I purchased a very nice road bicycle with a motor. Now I can hang with the pack again on Tuesday nights. My new bike makes me feel young again. 

I saw my physician last week for my 60,000 mile checkup and it looks like I may have to start a prescription medication for the first time in years. Seems my blood pressure is working its way up into bad territory. I’m hoping if I return to my bicycle racing weight, my blood pressure will decline.

4: Travel plans have not gone as we laid out

I had hopes of traveling the world while I was still young and able. The first three years after seeing my last patient we did just that. We were on an adventure somewhere in the world more than half of each year. Since I retired from medicine we have crossed the border of more than two dozen countries, hiked 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and our longest cruise has been 31 days. Then the world of travel came to a standstill.

For two years we have done almost no traveling. We have spent much of that time redecorating our home, which we have lived in for 25 years and needed an update. While in the midst of decorating our first grandchild was born.

Now we enjoy spending time with our grandson two days a week. It is fun to have the time and energy to be an active grandparent. Can’t wait to incorporate grandchildren into our travels. 

With childcare in mind, as the world of travel opens up again, we will be modifying how we do it. Since my daughter-in-law works for the school district and has summers off, the summer is the best time for us to leave town. We plan to do more summer traveling and less winter traveling until the grandkids are in school. 

5: Our spending pattern changed

It took a few years after I retired to get out of the saving mode and into the spending mode. After so many years of putting money into our retirement plan it became a habit. We needed to break the habit we had acquired as we moved into the spending phase of our life.

We are realizing that we can afford to do even more than we expected when we retired. People label this ability FatFIRE. We can actually increase our lifestyle in retirement over what we did during my working years. But that increase in spending took a while to accept.

I finally bought the grand piano I always wanted, and should have purchased years ago. We are paying to fix things up around the house that have not been done in years. It feels good to pay cash for things and never worry about what the item costs. 

I have stood next to people who said, “I don’t know about that. That is a lot of money.” I used to say that too and it stopped me from doing many things over the years that I would have enjoyed immensely. I now don’t look as closely to price tags and if I want it, I just get it. My wife is transforming as well. We are both trying to get our parents to do the same. Now is the time to enjoy the money we worked so hard to save. 

6: Coaching has been life changing

Before I retired, I wanted to have something productive to do in retirement, so I started Financial Success MD. The idea was to write a book series to help physicians improve their life and finances. I then created a financial makeover program and started coaching physicians. Then I became a Certified High-Performance Coach. 

Walking people one-on-one through financial, life and practice transformations as their coach has been more rewarding than I had ever dreamed. I didn’t see that coming. Now I like coaching more than writing. But I need to continue both writing as well as coaching since I can only help a few people one-on-one, and thousands of people are helped when I publish a book. I have found a happy medium.

Although I really enjoy coaching, I have chosen to only take on a few clients at a time so I can also enjoy my retired life. I never want my coaching or writing to become a full time job. I’m passed working long hours. One doesn’t need to build an empire to have a purpose. This means I can be very selective as to who I accept as a client. I never dreamed that coaching would help the coach as much as it helps the client.

Summary

Overall, I have enjoyed turning 60 more than I thought I would. I have total freedom to do what I want when I want to do it, thanks to an early implementation of good investment philosophy. We are happy and healthy and ready to explore the world.

Reflections of a Physician Turning 60