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nurse gig economy

When I think of the gig economy, I usually think of driving for Uber, shopping with Instacart, walking dogs with Rover, or charging scooters. I usually think of low-skilled work through apps that take a significant cut of the wages.  

I started thinking differently a few months ago when I heard from Emily Kirk. Emily is a member of the Slow FI Enthusiasts Facebook group and shared that she works as a nurse in the gig economy.  

A nurse working in the gig economy? I knew I needed to learn more about this.  

After doing a bit of research, I found out that the vast majority of gig workers don’t actually work in retail, transportation, hospitality, or “other services.” In fact, the vast majority work in highly skilled professions like professional services, construction, education, and healthcare.  

For many careers, it’s hard to think outside the traditional full-time box. However, I’ve come to realize that gig work is available in almost any profession. While some of the jobs might pay less (and others might pay more), they can give you unparalleled flexibility.  

Let’s get into the interview and hear about Emily’s experience with gig work! 

1. Tell me a little bit about you. 

Hi, my name is Emily, and I am 31 years old. I have been a Registered Nurse for a little over 7 years now. For the last 5 years, I’ve been a travel nurse working in the adult ICU. This means that I would take ~3-month contracts in different locations around the country where there was a shortage of nurses.  

nurse beach travel

My first degree was a Bachelor’s in Art. I have always been an adventurer and explorer, and throughout the years have enjoyed spending time learning about how other people live. FI is one of the lifestyles that interested me from the first time I learned about it!

2. What deliberate decision did you make to slow down and improve your life?

In the middle of a contract this year, my employer made me an offer that would decrease my pay by about 25%. This was not all that unusual since I was working in the COVID ICU and the patient census was fluctuating a great deal throughout the year. Patient numbers were particularly low at the time. 

Instead of accepting the offer like I normally would, I decided to take some time off and reevaluate. 

I quit without a solid plan in place. Luckily, I knew I could afford to take some time off.

I decided to try doing gig work in the nursing field in the interim. The day after I finished up my job, I called a per diem company. I began doing gig work the very next week. 

I was surprised by how easy it was to interview and set up my profile. I can choose to pick up work on a daily basis, and it’s in a much less stressful clinical area. I work with a particular company that posts jobs (including the clinical area, pay, and location). Then, I can decide if I want to sign-up for them depending on whether I’m available and want to.  

With my previous “regular” job, I worked 36 hours a week. I worked three 12-hour shifts (which typically ended up being longer than that due to the critical nature of the job). 

With the per diem work, I now pick up jobs ranging from 4 hours to 8 hours at a time. I always leave on time, and typically choose to work 2 to 4 shifts per week. When I had friends come to visit or when I went to visit my family for a week, I didn’t need to work at all. 

There’s no minimum hourly requirement. So, I am in control in a way that is unmatched with a full-time job. Gaining flexibility has allowed me to enjoy my job more while also enjoying my life and where I live.  

The hourly pay of gig work was about half of what I was making per hour as a travel nurse. So, I experienced a decrease in both hourly pay AND hours. 

Because I have followed the FI community for years and have made reasonable financial decisions, I had a comfortable cushion that made this decision feasible.

Honestly, I wish I could say my idea to slow down came more organically. People attracted to the FI movement and lifestyle are generally quite motivated, so slowing down doesn’t always come naturally to us. We, by nature, are interested in efficiency. 

Because the idea of slowing down was so scary, I required persuasion from family and friends. They could see that I was under a lot of stress over the past year.  

As someone attracted to FI, I had always been focused on optimizing my finances. I started wondering how I could optimize my life as a whole, instead of just in regards to money and savings.  

There were a few resources that were extremely helpful as I worked through this process.  

  • I read a book called “Die with Zero” by Bill Perkins. To be honest, I would not recommend this book to most people because I think the majority of people have trouble saving money. But, this book helped me find a balance in my life and to give myself permission to slow down and enjoy experiences while I still have the time and health to do so. 
  • I also listened to Choose FI’s episode 320, How Many Days a Month Do You Experience Stress Related to Work? that I found helpful. The episode highlighted how easy it is to lose track of the WHY behind financial freedom and how important it is to step back, reevaluate our paths, and decide if our path is aligned with our definition of a balanced, intentionally designed life. 
  • I also previously listened to a Coast FI interview with Jessica and something stuck with me. Jessica said that once she slowed down and started working part-time, she realized her spending decreased significantly since her stress levels were down. Working less hardly affected her FI date at all due to her decrease in spending! 

3. How has the decision to do gig work in the nursing field impacted your quality of life? 

For years, I made work decisions largely based on pay. As a travel nurse, I was on a track that was lucrative but also draining and stressful. On the positive side, travel nurses often make higher wages than regular nursing staff. 

But, it came with serious downsides. Travel nurses work in less than ideal working conditions. Most of the time, we’re going to places that struggle to maintain a full staff. If they were a great place to work, they likely wouldn’t have this problem. During a contract, we also can’t choose our schedules. This means I would end up working all of the days the regular staff didn’t want.  

My day used to look like this:

  • Wake up at 5 AM 
  • Drive to work 
  • Work in understaffed, stressful working conditions for 12+ hours (sometimes without a defined break for eating/rest) 
  • Drive home 
  • Get home somewhere between 8-9 pm 
  • Have just enough time to do the dishes, shower, and go to bed before returning the next day.  

I was lucky to have 3-4 days off per week if I didn’t pick up extra shifts. But, the physical, emotional, and mental stress I was experiencing was starting to outweigh the extra pay. I believe this trade was worth it and a necessary part of my journey for a period of time. But, continuing to do so began to feel like a Faustian bargain.

I was feeling out of alignment. I dreaded going to work each day. I saw a lot of death in the past year. The pandemic has caused most people to evaluate what is important in their lives, and this is especially true for front-line workers.

Once I started working the per diem jobs, I realized some of the other care areas do not have the same emotional toll as the ICU. And, working shorter days can be life-changing. I could wake up later in the day, take a full lunch break during my shift, or even end the workday at lunch with some jobs! Even 8 hour days still provided me with enough time to run errands, make phone calls, do chores, and exercise! All of these things were previously not possible. 

woman hiking happy boulders

Slowing down has had a very positive impact on my life. I’ve improved my personal relationships. I’ve been able to invest in my health by exercising more, eating better, and sleeping better. I have also learned that there are so many other things to enjoy in life, and I now have time to spend doing them! I took sailing lessons, had friends visit, and spent time training for a marathon. 

Having choices to work in different areas that provide better work/life balance and a lower emotional burden has reignited faith in my profession. As a nurse, I can switch from pre-op, PACU, ER, intensive care, geriatrics, infants, labor and delivery, public health, or school nursing without any additional formal degree. 

I found this particularly interesting when I read the book The Geography of Bliss. A big part of the reason why Iceland’s population is so content is the freedom its citizens feel to float between careers. I get to do this! 

4. What enabled you to quit your job and do nursing gig work?

There are a few important that’s that enabled me to do this.  

First, having no debt, a healthy savings account, and an investment portfolio gave me the freedom to make this decision. That’s the point of saving, right? To use the “F-You” money! 

I also have a condo that I paid off a few years ago (thank you, low cost of living area!) and a roommate. So, I know that even if the worst happens, I won’t be homeless. That’s a nice feeling.  

Nursing is also a very flexible career. Supply and demand have really worked in my favor. There are always nursing jobs available in any city. Honestly, I encourage everyone to be a nurse. It’s incredibly affordable to become a nurse, especially if you take the community college route. It then gives you a ticket to a meaningful and well-paid career anywhere in the country.  Yes, it’s hard work (isn’t everything), but it can provide you with immense flexibility and I think the ROI can be pretty unparalleled if you take certain routes.   

Finally, being part of online FI communities also helped me to make the transition as well. These resources and communities provided me with support, creative ideas, and confidence. 

Without them, I am sure I would have kept chugging along the same path. Why? Because whatever path you’re on is usually the easiest to stay on, even if it’s uncomfortable or no longer serving you.  

Through these online communities, I have learned about other people doing cool things, living in unique ways, and doing it responsibly. It’s been so helpful to be able to talk about finances with transparency. The FI community has helped me realize money is just a tool to help me achieve life satisfaction. 

5. How did your decision to do gig work impact your financial goals or timelines?  

Surprisingly, this decision has not made that much of a difference in my retirement timeline (likely only a couple of years). But, it has made an exponential difference in my life satisfaction.

In “Die with Zero” Bill Perkins discusses the “compound interest” you receive from experiences throughout your life. He calls it the “memory dividend.” What he means is that the things you do in life will have memory payouts forever. 

The value of compound interest related to my money has always motivated me to earn and save as much as I can as early as I can. Thinking about the “memory dividend” in this way was really motivating. I decided I wanted to make some deposits into the bank of experiences.

I realized I had better take advantage of a time in my life when I am healthy and physically capable of doing the things I want to do. I think the decision will add a few years onto my retirement deadline, but the memories and friends I have been making will make that worth it. 

If my work is more enjoyable, having to work a few extra years doesn’t sound so bad. I don’t need to rush to the FI finish line and retire as quickly as possible. 

6. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?” 

I had a big wake-up call when I realized that my relationships were suffering. 

Usually, I needed to take time after a shift to decompress before seeing anyone. One day, I happened to see a good friend (who doesn’t work in health care and has an intentionally low-stress life) right after working a shift.  

When he saw how stressed I was, he expressed that he was really worried about me. At first, I wanted to brush it off. In my health care bubble, we normalize so many unhealthy things that the rest of the world would not accept. Brushing them off allows us to cope. 

But, having someone from the outside share their opinion was revolutionary for me. We had some discussions about money, health, and the potential value of alternatives to working a job that is wreaking havoc on my physical and emotional life. 

After this conversation, I put some numbers into a retirement calculator and realized that I would be okay in retirement if I stopped saving now and lived in a low COL area. I had reached Coast FI. All I needed to do now was cover my expenses. 

After realizing this, I knew I was living out of alignment with my values. The people in my life are very valuable to me, but I felt like I did not have the emotional, mental, or physical energy to give them the time and attention I wanted. 

Once you’ve built up some financial freedom, this can free up time to decide what values are most important to you. 

Finances are just one part of a balanced, healthy life. Money is just a tool. It is helpful (and necessary) to have it, but money alone will never give you a fulfilling and satisfying dream life. Once you have a decent amount saved, it is time to reflect on your next steps and what you value most. 

7. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to do gig work? 

FI is everything!!! The community support and resources have helped me gain so much knowledge and feel confident in my decisions. 

There really is no other gift as great as financial control of your own life, and knowing that the best thing it can provide is freedom. “F-you” money is priceless- but the next step is having the courage to use it! 

8. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision? 

Run the numbers! You might be closer to your goals than you think.  

If you are considering a change, your soul probably needs it. You may even find passion projects or meet connections during your slow-down period that bring you more prosperity than you ever dreamed of. 

Having your finances in order is simply a tool to help you live a happy and successful life. If your finances are in order but you aren’t enjoying your life, what’s the point? 

Listen to your mind and heart, slow down, and see where the path takes you. 

Thank you, Emily, for sharing your story with us. And, thank you for your service on the front lines during the pandemic. You truly deserve a break.  

There are a few key things that struck me about this interview. One of them was that through online FI-focused communities, Emily realized that people were living unconventional lives and they were doing it responsibly

I absolutely love this insight! I think there’s a misperception that taking a YOLO approach to life means you need to frivolously spend all of your money. 

I actually take a completely different approach to YOLO. I know that saving money and building financial freedom is actually the thing that allows me to truly design my best life. I don’t need to quit my job to travel for 6 months only to come back completely broke and live in my parent’s basement. I know that I can design a life that will allow me to work enough that I don’t jeopardize my traditional retirement and live the life I want now. Building financial freedom is the foundation for designing your best life.  

However, financial freedom alone cannot provide you with a satisfying life. 

I absolutely loved when Emily said, “Money is just a tool. It is helpful (and necessary) to have, but money alone will never give you a fulfilling and satisfying dream life.”  

If you have built financial freedom, you need to take steps to discover your values and create the life you want. It won’t just happen!  

How can you use your financial freedom to design a life you will truly love? Could exploring gig work be one option for you?  

Then, like Emily, you won’t need to rush to the FI finish line.  

nurse mask headshot

If you’d like to continue following Emily’s journey, she’s the producer for the My Shity Podcast, hosted by Adam Copeland. It’s so shitty, it only has one T (their tagline, not my commentary). They interview people about their day-to-day jobs (and share a poop story at the end of each interview). They’ve interviewed cheesemakers, delivery drivers, bartenders, juggles, etc. You may even get some new ideas for gig economy jobs! 

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