What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An Idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks, right in there somewhere.
This veritable quote comes courtesy of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb in the Oscar-decorated 2010 film Inception. The plot revolves around the unstoppable force that can result from a “fully formed” idea.
I consider myself to have experienced Inception. Not at the hands of a Hollywood heavyweight sporting a bit of chin stubble, but by a man in Colorado with a computer and a mustache.
As a relatively frugal physician, I like to score a good deal, and I did when I picked up a Microsoft Surface on or around Black Friday, 2014. A month later, in between study sessions for my $2,100 Board maintenance of certification in anesthesia (MOCA) exam, I was playing with my new tablet. One of the pre-installed apps was MSN Money. I opened the app, swiped through a few pages, and came across this little gem of an article, “How to retire early – 35 years early.”
The 3,200 word article / interview told the story of blogger Pete Adeney, a.k.a. Mr. Money Mustache (MMM), an engineer who retired from an uninspiring engineering career at age 30 to live a more meaningful life. I learned about his background, his philosophy on spending, his investment strategy, and his complete freedom to enjoy life as a family man without the burden of paid employment.
“That’s peculiar,” I thought, and I went back to reading about action potentials, peristalsis, and pulsus paradoxus.
A few weeks later, I was back at the library, studying in my corner, wishing I was home with my family instead of memorizing minutiae that has no relevance to my actual job. “What was the name of that guy with the mustache again? Pete? Yeah, that sounds right, Pete.” Google promptly directed me to his very own website, mrmoneymustache.com.
Over the next month or two, my anesthesia study sessions consisted of alternating about 10 pages of study material with one MMM blog post. Back and forth, rinse and repeat. By the time I was ready for my recertification exam, I had read every post the mustachioed man had written. I can’t say I became a full-fledged mustachian physician, but I was most definitely inspired.
Weeks later, I got my letter. I passed the test with flying colors. I wouldn’t have to take the darned thing again for ten whole years*.
Inception: When an Idea Takes Hold
Would I still be working in ten years? I wasn’t so sure anymore. You see, an idea had been planted in my mind. An idea that had taken hold and couldn’t be shaken. I looked more intently at my current financials, my savings and spending rate, and I knew I could Retire Early. The idea was on my mind and in my mind. I had experienced Inception.
I thought about what I would do with my life and my time if I didn’t spend about 2,000 hours a year working a sometimes stressful job for money I didn’t really need. I thought about all my friends and colleagues who would be working those jobs for decades longer to support an upper-middle-class lifestyle.
I thought about the depressed medical students struggling to keep their heads above water, and the burned out doctors trying to buy happiness at the Lexus dealership when the money could be better used to buy time, an asset far more valuable than any fancy car.
Over the next year, I continued on my quest to explore The Idea. I read other early retirement blogs. I read books and websites devoted to personal finance. I discovered Dr. Jim Dahle’s whitecoatinvestor.com and more fully adopted a Boglehead philosophy.
I had previously assumed I would work until I was at least 60; that’s what people do, right? I would be quite wealthy; anesthesia pays well and I was on track for an 8-figure portfolio eventually.
After Inception, I knew about another option, an option that would leave me with all the money I need, and more importantly, the freedom to spend my days as I see fit.
My head was swimming with ideas. I had ideas to implement, and ideas to share. I wrote some ideas down, and decided I would start a website of my own. I made a New Years’ Resolution to follow through with the plan.
On January 9th of 2016, I launched PhysicianOnFIRE.com. Why this name?
* A couple months after learning I had passed my Board recertification exam, the Board informed me that the rules were changing and I had taken the test unnecessarily. I would now get to enroll in the alternate system, dubbed MOCA 2.0. Thank you, Board, for confirming I am making the right choice to retire early!
18 months after I experienced Inception, I had my own website, the pages of which are viewed at least 5,000 times a day and growing. Early retirement is clearly in my future. The more I read and write about it, the more concrete The Idea becomes.