Why It’s So Hard to Give Up Work


If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that my financial goal is a gradual retirement. Things are going well, and as my passive income streams have continued to increase, my clinical time in medicine has been gradually decreasing.

In fact, based on my latest income report, I’m at the point where I can afford to give up around 40% of my work. [Update: I'm now financially independent from medicine!] I’m fortunate because I have some control over my schedule; being paid by the shift or case means that if someone wants to pick up a shift from me, I’m more than willing to let them.

At least, that’s how I feel after the fact. But there’s always that moment when someone asks to pick up my shift or case that I find myself hesitant, even reluctant, to do it. However, once I go home and spend time with my family or friends, I’m always glad I gave it up.

So when I’m asked, what initially holds me back? I struggled to figure out why and I think I’ve narrowed it down to two things.

Fear of the Unknown

If I’m being totally honest, I really don’t know what my future will look like (does anyone?) and there's a fear that comes with it. I hope that my future contains a life where I have the choice to spend my time however I'd like with whomever I'd like. But is that just a fairy tale?

A lot of that depends on my financial situation. One way I try to combat this fear of the unknown is by being aggressive about creating multiple streams of income so if one income stream falters, I'll have other sources to fall back on.

Most financial independence calculations assume that your expenses will be the same or decrease in the future. I currently have two children. Will I end up needing to pay a huge cost to help educate them? Sure, right now the plan is for public education, but what if those plans change? What if we decide to have a third (or fourth!) child, and how would that change things?

My parents have also recently retired. I want to make sure they're well taken care of and there's a possibility they will have to rely on me financially at some point in their retirement. Will I be ready to handle the situation of supporting both my children and my parents simultaneously?

So ultimately, I’m afraid that unforeseen expenses will come along and because I gave up some shifts, I won’t have enough money saved up to cover those expenses in the future.

At its heart though, this is kind of an unreasonable fear. Sure my expenses may go up, but my passive income is increasing as well and we can always adjust in the future if necessary. But it’s impossible to know one way or another, so that fear partially keeps me from giving up work.

Loss Aversion

As I mentioned before, I have the ability to give up almost half of the time I spend in medicine. Mentally, however, just knowing that fact hasn’t made it any easier to give up a shift. I had a hard time explaining why until I learned of a little human behavior psychologists call “loss aversion.” This is when our brain subconsciously looks at a situation and decides that the pain of loss will be greater than the benefit received.

In my specific situation, giving up the shift means losing income, while the reward is the pleasure of spending that time as I please. It hurts to “lose” that money quite a bit, even though I gain something far more valuable–time.

Of course, if presented with the two options (work or have free time), I would choose free time with my family. But the fact that I am assigned certain shifts and then proceed to give them up is something else altogether.

So how do I counter this? Perhaps the solution is simply to be assigned fewer shifts in the first place, but I believe that my brain could also use just a little bit of rewiring. With my passive sources of income, I’m covered for at least 40% of the time and can spend it doing the things I want to do. It’s time to see that time off as way more valuable than the money earned from the occasional shift. After all, isn’t that the whole point of early retirement?

I’d love to know, does anyone else struggles with this? What do you do to fight it? For those who are financially independent but still working, besides just working for the enjoyment, do these factors play a part in your continued work schedule?


  1. I would like to think that I wouldn’t have problems cutting back on my shifts in the ER, but then again I’m still a few years away from being in that position. Who knows what I’ll think or how I’ll act then?

    I have given away some of my shifts if people request to work them and haven’t had any reservations in doing so. At this point, work is just work. And while it means a smaller paycheck, I think the free time to spend with my son and family is more than worth it.

    • That’s the right mindset and I just keep having to remind myself of the same thing. Some people definitely struggle with loss aversion more than others. So you’re a few years from cutting back? What are you doing to get yourself in that position?

  2. Congrats on the accomplishment of being able to give up 40% of “required” work if the opportunity presented itself.

    Nothing can replace quality time with your family, nothing. Being able to spend quality time with my kids and to be active in their lives was one of the main drivers for me opening up my business. I want to be present for as much as possible while still earning enough (passively and actively) to support my family.

    Being able to choose when and how you work is an incredible opportunity. Great job.

  3. There’s probably an element of scarcity at play. By this I mean, it may seem easier to “lose” shifts than to get them back. Naturally then, it is hard to willingly give up something that is in scarce supply. None of this may be reality, but if the perception is that once it is gone it is hard to get back, then your instinct will be to not let it go.

    It may be helpful to think in those same terms when it comes to time with family: “once this period of my kids’ life passes, I can never get it back.” Perhaps that will make it easier, psychologically, to give up shifts.

  4. it took me 4 years to quit, I think it was a bit of both but I phrase them as “fear of change” and “timeliness perfectionism” (or trying to time it perfectly, which is impossible of course)
    you have kind of a nice deal there where you can dim out work instead of switching it off completely
    good one!

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