Professional Burnout and Stagnation

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Am I suffering from professional burnout?

Well, not yet, I don’t think. I’m close… there are days I really question what I’m doing, if it’s worth it and if I should stay or quit or whatever, so professional burnout is lurking somewhere nearby.

I’m not sure which came first, this sense of creeping burnout and wanting to “FIRE” (financial independence/retire early) or wanting to FIRE and becoming less satisfied with work.

As I’ve been working on getting this blog going and working to find a cohesive thread running through it (as well as some time in the car listening to psychology/philosophy podcasts) I’ve been thinking about professional burnout, professional stagnation, and the importance of intellectually creative outlets.

I think I’m going to say that I’m not quite at burnout yet.   Having the goal of FIRE (not that I can tell you when I really decided this, but it’s been at least since having a baby) has probably helped me to keep my sights on the shorter term goals.  But lately I’ve been feeling what I would call “professional stagnation.”  Again, not sure what came first, maybe the stagnation was part of my creeping burnout.. and now that I’ve developed a (wishy washy unclear) plan for earlier retirement, it’s just the stagnation part that’s leftover.

Does wanting to retire lead to professional stagnation?

Why would I be suffering from a sense of professional stagnation? Well, as I addressed earlier in my “how do you build a life you don’t feel like escaping” post, there was a good amount of thought that went into our choice when me and my husband moved from a bigger city to somewhere pretty rural:

  • We wanted property, meaning acreage, land, SPACE
  • We wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle for a simpler life with less outward distractions
  • We wanted any children to really have a place that felt like home, where they could be outside
  • We wanted somewhere we could feel like we didn’t need to leave, and that would always have enough to keep us busy at home

I don’t think we really discussed my intent to not be working forever (or semi retiring or working part time or whatever). That wasn’t really something I was considering at the point, despite working hard to save and trying to be debt free. In fact, and I’ll have to dig into this at a later date, we almost bought a property that I would no doubt have spent 30 years paying for and felt a lot of personal stress by being locked into ensuring a steady work situation.

I guess I did know that I wasn’t aiming to seek my personal satisfaction through my career.  If that were the case we wouldn’t have chosen to move to an area with so few work options for me.

Since really coming around to the idea that I want to (mostly) retire early, I’ve found it a bit hard to be as interested in furthering my career (the “type” of pharmacy I practice doesn’t lend itself to a lot of ongoing development either).  If it was easy, I’d be more on top networking, etc.  But for me it’s almost all going to involve travel and funds to do any professional networking or resume building.  That cuts in to time at home and money savings.  Isn’t that the opposite of what I’m aiming for at this point?

I have to recognize too that I’ve got a bit of the bread-winning mother conundrum of really wanting to be with my family, but still wanting to feel like a successful professional too.  Ultimately, I’d rather be with my family than working.

What else could I do? What else would I do?

Don’t get me wrong, my work is fine. It’s stressful. I don’t think most pharmacists would say that their jobs are not stressful.  I’m paid pretty well for what I do. Whenever I consider a “side gig” (what some of you call a side hustle, but I just can’t get onboard with that term, don’t like it, we all have our quirks!) outside of pharmacy work, it quickly becomes quite evident that if my aim is to make more money, I’d best stick to my day job.

Perhaps I will consider less lucrative options when I am actually financially independent and working because I want to, not because I have to.

So, live in a small area and there are not a lot of options for work and I already work two jobs (more on that some other time too). There’s not a lot of room for upward mobility unless I want to take on a job with a lot of travel. Not my goal. Remember, means to an end here.

Busy and stressful as work may be, perhaps because I’m rural and the setting lends itself to not being the most up to date and cutting edge, I think I’m a bit bored with work. Is it burnout? Maybe… A bit like a hamster on a wheel.. Fulfilling moments but overall just running that wheel.  Notice, I call it work, not my career.  Subtle psychology there.

We’ve reached a point financially where I don’t have to work full time and often don’t. Between my two jobs I probably average almost full time, but it does lend me a bit of flexibility if I found something else I wanted to pursue.  I’ve always got my eyes and ears open.

Actually, some drug reps came by asking me about something yesterday and I pulled out a document I had prepared for developing standing orders with physicians offices, (something they were asking about, in their case, in relation to getting their product automatically substituted for something if the prescriber forgot and wrote for the “old” product)… they wanted to take copies.  I informed them “if you’d like to hire me to prepare some for you we can talk” *laugh laugh* me: “I’m only partly kidding ladies…”

So in relation to keeping my mind and ears open for any local opportunities I recently found myself pursuing online job boards trying to find out what might be available to a pharmacist looking to work from home.

Three glaring problems became apparent to me:

  1. My small affordable house does not lend itself to a working home office that is private and HIPAA compliant, especially when the rest of my family would be home while I’m trying to work. (“Minimalism” scores 0 here for me).
  2. Often these jobs called for evening or night work. I’m not a night person. I love my sleep. You have to be good about being focused and self directed. I’m not saying this would be impossible for me as I’m usually a very focused person at my job getting tons of things done without any real direction (well sick people glaring me down does keep me on task, and I’m the boss, so I have to keep others on task and complete goals all the time)… But that’s AT a job. If my study habits as a student are any clue, a job working for someone else where I sit in a room with the distractions of home may not be the best option for me.
  3. Plus, these jobs usually pay less than an onsite position.  My goal is to save to retire at this point, not just support the family, so unless the job is just AWESOME with great work life balance or benefits, I don’t see myself opting for a major pay cut.

Nonetheless I’m still looking for ways to stay active in my profession, network with other professionals, expand my skill set, advocate for patients and my profession, etcetera.

Making the most of the current situation and getting creative

After a few months of job board searching, without much awareness or thought on my part, my itch to blog again started developing.  I can have an outlet for creative pursuits that give me a sense of accomplishment I’m not really able to get at work.  There’s an added bonus that if you happen to be pretty good at what you do, you might make some money blogging too.  I think it’s good to be transparent about this.  I don’t have any large aspirations of making a bunch of money, but, if I get lucky and I can quit my day job, or at least, work the day job even less, that would be cool.

Which leads me back to the beginning of the post… Being that my kick in the butt to do this was a bit of professional stagnation, I feel some drive to incorporate my career. But I’m not sure how much I really have to say about it, and I’m not wanting to be an “ask the pharmacist” situation.

Ultimately my interesting topics relate to me personally (at least, that’s what I feel like I have the most to talk about). How I’m getting where I am in life. Why I’m getting there. What are my motivations. What struggles am I having and so on.

So who should be reading me? Youngish professionals seeking to remain professionally fulfilled while focusing on their health and mental well being. Younger families striving for financial independence so that they can pursue lives (professional or not) that are fulfilling to them. People who’s lives don’t match the standard view (and who don’t want it to!)… Fellow contrarians. People into doing things for themselves, both in an effort to save money and continue their personal growth and development.

So here’s to ongoing personal discovery and working to achieve happiness, however that looks for you, and keeping your long term goals in sync with your current mental state and health.

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Regina is That Frugal Pharmacist. She’s a PharmD, mother to a son with cancer, breadwinning wife, personal finance enthusiast, artist, writer, and entrepreneur. Regina’s single-income household has been debt-free, including her home, since she was 28 years old.
Her money approach is “holistic financial health.” She encourages mindful spending, awareness of the non-monetary costs of choices, and aligning personal values with money habits. Regina sees a frugal lifestyle and mindset as an important part of environmental stewardship. As such she’s interested in ongoing efforts towards self-sufficiency and sustainability.

4 thoughts on “Professional Burnout and Stagnation”

  1. You touch on some interesting points here. I too have questioned if the desire to FIRE (and reading all of these fantastic FIRE blogs) has decreased my career satisfaction. It really is an important idea to explore. Fortunately for me, I do enjoy my job enough to want to work for a while. Becoming FI is definitely a must, but being able to RE (whenever I want) would be a luxury to have in case my job satisfaction does decrease at some point in the future. Great post!

    1. That Frugal Pharmacist

      The chicken and the egg problem all over again!

      Intellectually, at my income level, I know that I am not willing to do many of the things that many early FIRE people are able to do. And, I don’t want to make a job out of jumping through the hoops to save enough money to RE either.

      I hope my posts pick up some speed with new young professionals, especially for those who may be in some debt, as an encouragement to PLAN life you want to retire early. If they end up loving everything and their jobs, wonderful for them, and that means they will enjoy an even more awesome retirement! But if not, at least you put yourself in the position to have options.

      Thanks again for taking the time to throw some feedback my way.

  2. Fellow kinda-burnt out pharmacist here. I started getting into personal finance and the thought of FI/FIRE about a month post-residency. It’s refreshing to read similar thoughts to the mental back and forth I’ve been having over the last 12-18 months. The side gig thing especially! I just cannot rationalize the time/compensation for a side gig as compared to my current salary – even though I would LOVE to have some variety in my work.

    Look forward to following some of your posts 🙂

    1. Hi Liz! Glad you found me and hope you find my more recent posts enlightening! I’m actually out of work right now so rethinking how much I’m willing to take for side work. Something is better than the nothing (other than prn emergency calls at my per diem job) and unemployment! It’s interesting re thinking my hourly value and playing around a bit with what it would look like if I actually retire early.

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