I’ve often observed how some members of the Financial Independence (FI) community view work as a means to an end. For some, it’s a burden they can’t wait to shed. While others enjoy their work but become hyper-focused on the goal, losing an appreciation for the day to day process. I have experienced the latter.
As a practicing physician, I find myself in a tumultuous and changing field. I love what I do, but there is more to life than my medical career, so I strive for life-work balance. In order to be a good doctor though, I need to be present, not have one foot out the door.
Everyone in the FI community must find their own balance between planning for FI and pining for it. One strategy I’ve used in my early career is to nurture my role at work, shaping it into a better fit: a sort of dream job. In my view, this is a powerful currency in reaching Financial Independence.
The “dream job” may be a trite concept, but finding enjoying your job allows for the career longevity that we need to enjoy the ride to Financial Independence, not just endure it.
Here’s my take on cultivating career satisfaction to fuel the path to FI.
1. The Gut Check: Should You Stay Or Should You Go?
If your job is so mismanaged, misaligned with your values, or overall terrible, that you drag yourself there each day, it’s probably time to move on. Consider this (right here) your nudge to take action and find something better. To state the obvious: your current position is not your only option!
If, on the other hand, you see potential in your current post, there may be ways to shape it in ways that make it work better for you. Some examples of jobs with potential include ones that allow you to grow in your role, get leadership experience, or travel if that’s something you enjoy. Factors like cultural fit come in here.
Using my career as an example: I found myself in an environment in which I could thrive. It is a meritocracy, where good work is rewarded with trust and more work. It’s a progressive environment, where there are other female doctors and even a female CEO. I am treated with respect by staff and colleagues. These are some of the factors that encouraged me to stick it out when things got tough.
Check out Tired Superherione's take on how working with great people can make you happier at work.
2. Want To Be Appreciated? Be Needed
In 2014, the Boston Consulting Group surveyed 200,000 people around the world on the most important factors in career satisfaction. They found the #1 factor for employee happiness is to be appreciated at work! (Learn more about that research here.)
So how can you feel appreciated? There are many ways, but one way I’ve found is to be a scarce resource. I bring highly sought after skills in a literal and figurative desert. I live in a location that doesn’t attract many doctors, and frankly, it would be hard to replace me.
I’ve become critical to the operation of my group, and that has given me leverage in compensation and scheduling. If I wanted to work in Los Angeles, on the other hand, I’d be competing in a field saturated with doctors who do the work that I do.
Removed from a major metro, in the community, I can provide specialized services to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them. By stepping outside the sphere of competition, I’m fulfilling a long-time dream of providing care where I’m needed.
In what ways are you irreplaceable? Emphasize and develop those attributes. In what ways can you become irreplaceable? Is there a type of work you enjoy that others don’t? Are there tasks you find easy, that others avoid, or abhor? Is there additional training you could get to develop specialized skills?
Find a way to feel needed, and hopefully, thereby, appreciated.
3. Cultivate Autonomy
Autonomy is a key factor in job satisfaction. It’s hard to do your best or enjoy your work with someone breathing down your neck. With autonomy comes responsibility, but it’s worth it.
In my role, for example, I’m responsible for all the image-guided procedures in my department.
I need to get the work done, whether that takes six hours or twelve. Because I’m the sole doctor in my department doing this work on a given day, I can decide which procedures take priority, and how we’ll approach them. I collaborate with the referring doctors throughout the hospital, while enjoying a great deal of autonomy to practice the way I see fit, in the best interest of the patient.
Take action: Brainstorm how you can encourage, ask for, or take back autonomy in your position. It’s sure to boost your job satisfaction.
Listen: Autonomy Mastery Purpose
4. Be An Innovator: Start Something
Using that beautiful brain of yours can bolster your satisfaction at work.
Is there something you’ve been dying to create or implement, that will level-up the work you’re doing? Go for it. Or have you dreamed up a new product or service? Created a new process to get things done? Being a driver of innovation, no matter the scale is a challenge and an opportunity for great rewards.
I trained in minimally invasive cancer therapies, including burning and freezing tumors through a small nick in the skin, called tumor ablation. When I started my new gig, I found myself at a hospital that didn’t yet offer this kind of treatment. I knew I had to start an ablation program.
Getting this service running took a lot of time and patience. It took months to get the equipment needed through a resource utilization committee. Then, we negotiated with various vendors, to see who could work within our budget. The program took two years to get off the ground. Before we started, patients either didn’t have the option or would have to travel hours away from home to get it.
5. Once You’ve Earned Some Clout: Get What You Really Want
After a few years on the job, I had my first (and only) child. I took ten weeks of maternity leave. As I contemplated returning to a schedule of 50-70 hours per week, I realized I wanted a better work-life balance.
Comparing my position with available jobs posted online, I noticed the most alluring positions offered twelve weeks off per year. This kind of schedule would allow for weeks home with my child, travel, or even hobbies; I could have a whole life outside of work!
This amount of vacation time wasn’t allowed for employees, so I negotiated an independent contractor agreement. This allowed me to take an average of one week off each month. With this setup, when I work less, I make less. However, considering I averaged 49 hours per week one recent month, even including a week off, having this extra time off is a sustainable way of working hard without burning out.
While a huge win for me, the change was neutral to mildly positive change for my employer. Long term, keeping me happy and well-adjusted means better career longevity, which ultimately saves them money.
What do you really want at work? If you can dream up a scenario that benefits both you and your employer, that’s a win-win. Sharpen your negotiation skills and get to the table. For the sake of your career, please ask for what you really desire. Here are Tired Superherione's tips for negotiating your salary.
6. Sometimes It’s The Little Things
No matter how busy I am, I try to enjoy the small perks and pleasures of my work environment.
At the hospital, I get free food, and I try to choose as healthily as possible. If there’s time between patients, I can use the cardiac rehab gym, located a short walk from my office. I’ve used these breaks to hop on a rowing machine or treadmill to fit in a mini-workout. Since I live three miles from one hospital, sometimes I ride my bike to work, enjoying the weather and the view.
When I am sent to a smaller, far-flung hospital, I listen to audiobooks or podcasts on the drive. I try to acknowledge these actions as small wins, especially on challenging or long days.
My current position is located in a vacation town, with its attendant tourists and sunshine tax. One spring evening, the annual White Party was wrapping up. I stepped out of my front door to a fireworks display. I held my little boy, barefoot in the driveway, as we watched the spectacle erupt between silhouetted palm trees. This beautiful memory with my son makes me appreciate the uniqueness of our current location.
What can you do to appreciate where you are right now? Can you find an ounce more beauty or pleasure in your day? Observing and appreciating the small joys can add up to some serious satisfaction over time.
7. Be A Work In Progress: Develop Your Leadership Potential
Stepping outside the bubble of medicine, and starting a blog, has inspired me to pick up business books and resources focused on personal development, leadership, and teamwork. Even if you don’t consider yourself leadership material, consider diving into an area of self-development that interests you. It could revive your interest in your job, or spark an idea for an invigorating new side-hustle!
Even if you don’t see the path to leadership opening up to you any time soon, sharpening communication skills, how you work with others, and your mindset are all ways to improve in any area of life. Learning such skills is sure to make your work life more satisfying.
There is a doctor shortage in our valley. Whether for the blistering heat of the summer, a spouse’s job, or a need to be near the coast, many doctors do not stay in the desert long term.
For me, this has meant opportunity. Sticking around for five years, I’ve been a present and a viable candidate when leadership vacancies arise. You might just fall into leadership as I did. It adds an element of learning and growth to the position that I didn’t expect coming in.
Dream Job–Or Not
Whether you have your dream job–or not, these suggestions can help create balance, win-win situations, and ease some of the burn-out from work. Try these suggestions yourself, and let me know how it turns out.
When you have something to strive for, work, even with the attendant stressors, can be gratifying. That’s why career satisfaction is powerful currency on the path to financial independence.
This guest post was submitted by Barbara Hamilton. She is an interventional radiologist who blogs about work-life balance and financial empowerment at TiredSuperheroine.com. She’s on Twitter as @TSuperheroine, and Instagram as TiredSuperheroine.
- Podcast Episode: Creating Your Dream Job
- How To Stay Motivated For The Long Term
- Podcast Episode: Retire Before Mom And Dad