My Perspective on FOMO

I just saw a great post on Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) on Bob Lowry’s blog, Satisfying Retirement. The link is on my home page and it’s a great read, along with many of his other posts.

FOMO for me is different because I’m not actually retired yet. Bob has been retired for a long time and knows what he’s talking about. I’m still just trying to get used to the idea of being retired for now.

Even though I’ve been in phased retirement for over two years now and this coming year is my last before full retirement (see my countdown!), I’m still coping with FOMO.

I check my email several times a day, even when I’m not on service. My position will likely be filled with my replacement well before the year is out. Occasionally I’ll find a trainee evaluation that is time sensitive that I have to complete. I updated the guide to the psychiatry consultation service and notified others about that just yesterday.

What am I going to do when I’m retired? That’s what so many ask me and which I sometimes ask myself. I’m actually having a pretty good time now that I’m finally adjusting to phased retirement. According to the 2018 Report on U.S. Physicians’ Financial Preparedness: Retired Physicians Segment, one suggestion is that physicians try to retire gradually rather than abruptly.

I agree with that and the phased retirement program I’m in has felt right for me. It hasn’t stopped me from FOMO so far, but I’m gradually getting more and more enjoyment from doing things that are not work-related—even though FOMO makes me check my email and the electronic medical record every day.

My wife and I started saving very early on in my medical training and we were fortunate enough to eliminate educational debt early. We’ve always lived simply and don’t need a lot of expensive toys.

Feed me!

I find ways to build a schedule into my day. I exercise and meditate.

I’m not much for yard work, but I try. I get a big kick out of hobbies I’ve rediscovered such as bird-watching.

I like to make silly videos as some of my medical students have noticed. One of them learned how to fold a fitted sheet from one of my YouTube videos. I really enjoy blogging and combining that with my mostly short YouTube movies. You’ll notice I do have some work-related videos, though, some of them fairly recent.

Hey, here’s how to fold a fitted sheet!

The featured image for this post was actually partly a creation of one the residents a few years ago, who by some miracle found a way to combine my photo with a picture of a smartphone. I added a little more to it to make the point about FOMO.

My FOMO nightmare, once upon a time.

I actually didn’t have a smartphone until about 4 years ago. And I still mainly use it just as a phone. I check the step counter when I’m staffing the psychiatry consultation service, but I’ll quit doing that.

In fact, the residents persuaded me to get a smartphone. I had a flip phone for a few years prior to that mainly because a snowstorm caught my wife out on the road while she was driving to the hospital to pick me up from work. I had no way of knowing where she was and was worried out of my mind. That convinced me we needed more than land lines.

I may go back to the flip phone after I fully retire.

I still use a desk phone at work. For the first time in my career, last weekend it just quit working. You can’t imagine how happy I was.

Whenever I drop my pager, I always say out loud to the trainees, “Oh my gosh, I hope it’s broken!” I’m only half-joking.

I won’t miss pagers when I retire.

I dropped most of my social media accounts over a year ago, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Doximity believe it or not. I don’t miss them.

I’ll keep you posted on how my struggle with FOMO goes.

Gauging My Readiness for Retirement

I’m noticing something about my readiness for retirement. Certain activities are starting to be at least as interesting as my work as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist at the hospital—maybe even more so.

For example, my wife and I are hoping that the cardinals will come back to our backyard evergreen tree. They were building a Hoorah’s Nest in there a week ago, which I took a picture of and then they left when they saw us spying on them. This evening, my wife noticed they were back. We rushed to the window (me with camera in hand) and I swear, they peered at us with intense suspicion. Pretty soon, they flew off in a huff.

They are among the most stand-offish backyard birds I’ve ever seen.

Why is this so important? It’s because I am getting so absorbed in birdwatching again now that I’m in phased retirement that I find it fascinating enough to look forward to more than going to work. I think that’s a sign I’m finally beginning to adjust to retirement.

I spent 4 years in medical school, 4 years in residency, and have worked for more than 23 years as a psychiatrist, mostly as a general hospital consultant. Nothing used to jazz me as much as running around the hospital, seeing patients in nearly all specialties, evaluating and helping treat many fascinating neuropsychiatric syndromes, teaching medical students and residents, and I even wrote a book.

On the other hand, I don’t want to hang on too long. When people ask me why I’m retiring so early (“You’re so young!”), I just tell them most physicians retire at my age, around 65. I also say that I want to leave at the top of my game—and not nudged out because I’m faltering.

I saw a blog post that identified that reason for retirement. It was entitled “When Physicians Reach Their Use-By Date,” by James Allen, MD. The site is identified as “Not secure” unfortunately, so I’m not giving a link to it. However, the web site is The Hospital Medical Director and it’s sponsored by Ohio State University–so it’s probably safe.

Now if you do read Dr. Allen’s post, you’ll think I’m flattering myself as a “master clinician.” I don’t think of myself that way. I’m actually more of a demigod.

I’m just kidding. The descriptions of how physicians finally reach retirement sound fascinating. I’m not sure I could just abruptly stop—that’s why I chose phased retirement. Staying on as a preceptor is not appealing to me because I liked the clinical action too much. I’m actually afraid of becoming someone who knows only medicine. It’s one of the best reasons for me to retire sooner rather than later. You’d think I’d identify with the consultant model; I’ve briefly thought of carrying my resignation letter around with me, although not in my coat pocket and not with malice in my heart.

Although I joined the fraternity of medicine, so to speak, I’m really not a joiner. In fact, I’ve gradually given up membership in organizations like the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association. I’ve let go of social media accounts like Doximity and LinkedIn—all of them actually, including Twitter and Facebook; I just couldn’t get the hang of those.

There’s a National Association of Retired Physicians (NAORP) that I’ve peeked at. There’s the University of Iowa Retiree Association (UIRA) that I learned about a couple of years ago when my wife and I attended a seminar about retiring from the university. I probably won’t join either one.

I’ve been getting invitations from AARP for many years now (who doesn’t?). The tote bags look nice and I am glad that somebody is lobbying for people my age. I haven’t joined so far.

And I joke about my own fictional organization, Retiree On My Own Time (ROMOT). No dues, no meetings, no minutes, no Robert’s Rules of Order. I’m the President, Secretary, Treasurer (Har!), and the only member—for now.

I’m keeping my schedule open.

Retiring Takes Practice

Retiring takes practice, like a great many skills. I know it’s puzzling to think of retiring as a skill. Skill building feels awkward at first and with time, managing the transition slowly feels more natural. At least that’s what I hope about this retirement thing.

I remember way back in the day of the dinosaurs when I was working for consulting engineers. It was my first real job. I had to learn many new skills in my role as a land surveyor assistant. I started out mainly as a rear chain man and a rod man. These are special tools to measure distance and elevation.

Throwing a chain is a term for wrapping a 100-foot chain. This skill is almost impossible to describe just by writing about it. I could find only one fairly straightforward video about it which shows the proper technique.

Throwing a chain

The last part of it, which is collapsing the figure 8 shape of the chain into a circle is done almost by feel and was easier when I didn’t think about it. Overthinking a technique or skill can get in the way of just doing it.

I did those kinds of things every day for years. I gradually learned other skills until I felt like I fit in with land surveyors. I got a lot of satisfaction out of this kind of work when I was a young man.

But when it was time to move on to college, I found it difficult to adjust initially. I was used to doing work with my hands more than my head. It felt awkward to be in a class with a lot of students who were much younger than I was.

I made the transition and moved on eventually to medical school. That was another difficult transition in which I needed to develop new skill sets. It felt so unnatural that I thought of going back to working for consulting engineers.

But I hung in there and finally settled on being a consultation-liaison psychiatrist. I’ve gone from a consulting engineer world to a consulting psychiatrist world. They both involve consulting. The WHKS company I used to work for has a vision, purpose, and values that are arguably similar to consultation psychiatry in some ways.

I try to listen carefully to my patients and help them shape a better understanding of themselves and their relationships.

I try to provide consultation that ultimately benefits patients, sustains a healthy interpersonal environment for them and clarifies their values, the things that mean the most to them.

I value listening; communicating; being of service to both patients and their physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals; being practical (I used to write the blog The Practical C-L Psychiatrist after all); and I like to think I’m sometimes innovative in my approach to psychiatric assessment, patient care, and teaching the next generation of doctors.

I’ve been a physician for over 26 years counting residency. And of course I spent 4 years in medical school. Retirement is a little jarring and doesn’t yet feel completely natural, frankly. I keep waiting for the chain to just fall into place.

I’m probably overthinking it.

Back in the Saddle–So Soon?

A feature of phased retirement is that I’ve still got a foot in both worlds–the world of chasing all over the hospital as a consulting psychiatrist and the world of retirement. Maybe it’s more like flying through a wormhole vortex between two dimensions. I’ve been off service for months and will be back in the saddle starting this coming Monday. That means I’ll be going back to work in my role as a psychiatric consultant in the general hospital. I’ll be at 50% time and this is the last phase.

Have I been bored? Believe it or not, boredom was less intense this phase. I’ve dealt with this sometimes by finding things to do that seems a lot like–trying to find stuff to do. This includes learning how to fold fitted sheets.

This is only one of 3 fitted sheet folding videos. Of course you should see it done faster, especially if you’re going to qualify for the international Folding Fitted Sheets competition-in Brussels this year, I think.

You get it. On the other hand, it was also a way for me to find out that I sort of like making silly videos. And hey, my wife likes my folding fitted sheets skill. It’s now one of my regular household chores. The linen closet is so much neater.

Preparing for retirement is not all fun and games, on any level. But it never hurts to keep a sense of humor.

The Retiring Consultation-Liaison Psychiatrist

I’m a retiring Consultation-Liaison (C-L) Psychiatrist and this blog is a chronicle about my transition from being a physician to–what? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll find out. I won’t be offering financial advice about how to prepare for retirement. There are plenty of experts out there for that; I’m not one of them. I’m just evolving like anyone else.

I’ve been a doctor for long enough that I’m a bit rusty about doing much of anything else. Just ask my wife. No, wait; don’t do that. I know a lot about being a C-L psychiatrist. In fact, I’m not done with it. I’m in a phased retirement contract with my employer. This is my final year. I’ll be fully retired as of June 30, 2020. For the next year, my days will be a lot like what they’ve been for years. After that–who knows?

That’s really what my days are like in the hospital, believe it or not. It has some good points. I get pretty regular exercise, running all over the hospital, climbing the stairs and whatnot. I see a lot of interesting people and I have loved teaching medical students and residents.

There may be some out there who remember that I used to have another WordPress blog called The Practical C-L Psychiatrist. It’s gone. It didn’t fit my life anymore since retirement is coming up fast on the horizon.

Anyway, I’ll be posting about my changing life for the next year. I’m still not sure if I’ll keep the site after I fully retire. I’m just hoping that, for now, this public journal will help me adjust to the life change and that some of you come along for the ride.

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