Are You A Mime?

crispydoc Uncategorized 18 Comments

I recently re-read an inspirational post by BC Krygowski, a palliative care physician married to another doc who (at their lowest point) was living hand-to-mouth in a big doctor house in an expensive state with $750k in debt.

Like many of us, they realized well into their careers that they were on a collision course with financial disaster; like few, they radically altered their financial trajectory to the point that they are both taking enormous pay cuts in order to make the life they live resemble the life they want.

Reading about BC’s journey made me realize something: physicians are mimes.

What do we have in common with mimes, those most loathed of street artists? Like mimes, we like to sit in invisible shrinking boxes of our own making, trying hard to attract attention as we dramatize imaginary suffering others can’t see or don’t feel.

The White Coat Investor is fond of saying that if you can’t make it on a single physician’s income (~$200k) you have a spending problem, not an earning problem. (For perspective, in 2017, the median household income in the U.S. was $59k. )

It takes a couple with insight, discipline, and a ferocious will to effect change to break the spending habits that constitute our imaginary prison. This is precisely what BC and her husband successfully achieved. It’s important to know that this type of makeover can only succeed if both partners are 100% on the same page about the severity of the situation and the plan of action.

They created a roadmap to financial success and implemented it, describing specific reductions to get them there.

They took advantage of a flexible pre-purchase option for state university tuition and fully funded college education for their children, locking in today’s rate.

They reined in uncontrolled spending by carefully tracking their expenses, isolating the long undetected “bleeders” and stopping the hemorrhage with their fiscal bovie.

They put their fancy doctor home on the market during the housing crash, and moved into a more humble home in walking distance of a great public school district.

They figured out what their new normal was going to be in terms of annual expenses, and after testing it out, they tailored their workload to fit this new normal.

Bravely, they acknowledged that their careers had begun to take priority over their relationship, with predictable results. BC has been brutally honest that, but for this radical realignment, instead of a spendy physician couple earning generous salaries while living hand-to-mouth, she and her husband might well have ended up two broke divorced physicians in dire straits.

They now make it a point to express gratitude for their life of abundance instead of focusing on invisible prison bars.

Not everyone will identify with BC and her husband, and not everyone will feel comfortable acknowledging that a significant portion of their constraints are self-imposed. BC and her husband decided together that their relationship and family life would resume as the central focus of their days, while their medical careers would need to play second fiddle.

Both have given notice at work, and are going part-time. I’m excited to see where their experiment leads.

In the meantime, consider offering an alternative perspective to the complainypants  in the doctor’s lounge who continuously recruits you to join his insane clown posse.

If you’re not going to lead the jailbreak for the physician mimes at your institution, who else will?

Comments 18

  1. Over consumption is an easy trap for physicians to fall into. It happened to our family as well. Altering the course requires making some hard choices, but it can be done. Often the hardest part is admitting to yourself that you have made some poor choices and have to make major changes to avoid disaster.

    If both you and your spouse can admit the way you have been doing things isn’t working, you can start to move toward the solution. One great thing about a doctor’s salary is that it provides enough thrust to get out of most financial traps, provided you are willing to do what it takes to break free.

    1. Post

      Ray, I love the concept of thrust. It’s true that despite our penchant for whining, as a profession we can break out of the rut orbit by force of income and discipline alone.

      First thing you do when you see yourself accelerating toward that financial brick wall is acknowledge it’s coming and get your partner to do the same, then slow the hemorrhage and change course.

      Appreciate your sharing your story and the steps you took to right the ship.

  2. Really great when you hear stories of doctors who right their ship after some mistakes.

    Thankfully my husband and I always held work as secondary to our family. We like our careers but we love our family. Best of luck to this young couple!

    1. Post

      You and your husband seemed to have bucked a lot of trends I see younger docs falling into. One of the things I really enjoy in reading your blog is that you both owned that outsider identity, which I find so important in being able to live differently than your peers. It’s something the wife and I are trying to inculcate in our kids. I’ll keep you posted on how the experiment goes.

      BC really has her act together. She could host a “Radical Physician Financial Makeovers” reality show – on second thought, maybe that’s it – you’ve helped me hit on my exit strategy from medicine!

      Always happy to hear from you, Dr. MB.

  3. Thanks Crispy Doc for highlighting BC’s transformation. I have seen on her on the Physician on Fire facebook group page and she is always incredibly helpful with great tips, etc.

    Having a partner on the same page is key (I personally think it is THE most important thing). As you well know, mine cost me 7 figures before I finally broke lose from her.

    1. Post

      I couldn’t agree more, XRayvsn. I know you speak from experience.

      My list of the big deal-breakers in relationships:

      1) Shared common vision of the future
      2) Geography
      3) Money (save vs. spend)
      4) Religion
      5) Kids
      6) Sex

      The more you that align, the better, but any one issue can sabotage the relationship depending on how significant a barrier it becomes.

      I do hope you are able to trust in people again after your experience, Xrayvsn. Despite humans being the biggest consistent source of disappointment, they are also incredible sources of support and love if you get lucky and happen to hit one out of the park through friendships or romance. Wishing you good luck in finding a healthy relationship in the future, my friend.

  4. Mimes are masters of illusion. Doctors are masters of illusion as well. The illusion is being more than you are and pretending you can afford more than you can. The illusion is refusing to understand the joy of enough, and the relentlessly excessive cost of too much. The cost of too much is not linear but exponential. There is no drama in this, just illusion. If you own $10 and you borrow $10 and spend $9 you have $0 once accounts are settled assuming 10% interest. Make no mistake accounts are always settled, and stupidity is always exposed. Stupidity is not a life sentence however. Just embrace enough.

    1. Post

      Physicians are fortunate that our incomes provide the thrust, as Ray eloquently called it, to change trajectory and recover even from big mistakes. It’s not a matter of if you’ll make a stupid mistake, but of owning it and reading up on personal finance so you don’t repeat it.

      The hardest part is acknowledging that you, who mastered the Krebs cycle, could be stupid. Fortunes are lost on the reluctance to admit this, and rebuilt quickly by those who can say it and move on.

  5. Interesting concept. I suppose “thinking outside the box” and “stealth wealth” is the opposite of being a “mime”. And physicians would be better off practicing stealth wealth instead of being a mime.

    Instead of sitting in invisible shrinking boxes of our own making… physicians should think outside of the proverbial box. Or at least step outside of the box, take a step back, and look at the big picture. Love, family, relationships, happiness, fulfillment, among many other things, are more important than career and money.

    Instead of trying hard to attract attention to dramatize imaginary suffering others can’t see or don’t feel… physicians should stop being complainypants, be more humble, have more humility, and more compassion for the people who are really suffering. It would be very tough for most people to empathize with a physician making $200k (or more) a year who is complaining that their life sucks. It’s best to avoid this scenario by practicing stealth wealth and avoiding the hedonic treadmill of lifestyle inflation.

    1. Post

      All it takes is seeing one shanty town in another country or looking after one child of a meth addict or alcoholic to immediately ground us in reality and pull us out of our well of self-pity.

      We have it better than most, and we have an income that is far more forgiving of mistakes and bad luck. Insure properly against catastrophe as WCI preaches, and you are sitting pretty.

      Appreciate your insights, DMF.

  6. “What do we have in common with mimes, those most loathed of street artists? ”

    When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of movie Tootsie. I was working as an usher in a movie theater when this was out (1982), and I always got a kick out of the scene where the Dustin Hoffman character pushes a mime over. I got a kick out it not so much because I loath mimes but because the audience would always laugh and applaud. Yes, the mime is indeed the “most loathed of street artists.”

    Oh, and great post, by the way. I’m checking out BC’s site now. Her and her husband orchestrated an incredible turnaround.

    1. Post

      I wonder if the modern day version of bread and circus would be to sell cheap beer at a stadium and watch Dustin Hoffman in full Roman body armor take on a troupe of half-starved, ferocious mimes. My elevator pitch would be “Marcel Marceau meets Ben Hur meets The Warriors.”

      Then again, we might just be sick human beings with a penchant for senseless violence.

      Thanks for the encouragement, Mr. Groovy. Always makes me smile to see you stop by.

  7. Hi CD,
    I don’t find doctors to be whiny complainypants. More like “suck it up and never complain unless someone else isn’t sucking as hard as you.”

    Financially too. Doctors have been cut hard in Ontario, Canada, in our fifth year without a contract with the provincial government, so they simply cut our pay while giving more pay and bonuses to other allied health groups and, more importantly, wasting millions on bureaucracy and scandals.

    Doctors are working harder for less, with higher student debt and more stress. If we point this out, that’s complaining.

    Tough. Someone has to speak out for justice.

    In the meantime, yep, better reign in the spending like BC’s family. That’s how we’re going to survive.

    Not picking on you, CD, but there’s enough anti-doctor rhetoric where I live, and as you know, we’re losing doctors to suicide. If I have any fault with the FIRE movement is that the victors tend to lose empathy for anyone who’s not winning the financial game too.

      1. Post


        No worries – your point is reasonable, and taken in the spirit it was intended.

        I agree that physicians tend to be taken advantage of when it comes to the business of medicine, allowing others to control their destiny, reminiscent of the Animal House hazing scene: “Thank you sir may I have another!” Our training certainly reinforces the idea that we should absorb every new stressor or hardship without so much as breaking stride or a sweat.

        With respect to the differences in Canadian vs. U.S. physicians, there’s a fascinating exploration of why the two neighboring nations developed such different systems with distinct approaches to physician remuneration in Paul Starr’s “The Social Transformation of American Medicine.” A lot of it was attributable to lobbying on the part of the American Medical Association at a particular regulatory juncture in time (which also explains why MD and DO schools joined forces to the exclusion of other variants of medicine) for greater political influence. A wonderful read if you are at all a history of medicine buff.

        I find that doctors tend to complain more when they compare themselves to selective members of their peers from university. When I came of age, everyone was starting an internet company and making their first couple of million by their late twenties, or else joining a hedge fund, while I shared an apartment with 3 roommates and packed my lunch to save money in med school.

        The pity party that begins in med school often continues in the hospital – and while you are right in pointing out that many of us are exploited by political and financial stakeholders with dubious interest in our well-being, we have ourselves to blame for allowing comparison to be “the thief of joy.”

        The truth is that even when we are beat down professionally (which I’d agree is neither just nor fair) we are still living better than most of the population.

        It does not mean we should suck it up and accept a bad deal at work.

        It does mean we should acknowledge that we have the potential to live an extraordinary upper middle class life instead of bemoaning our inability to live a one percenter life.

        That was my intended point, and I’m sorry if I did not make that clear.



  8. Hi Crispy Doc, et all.

    Wow, thanks for the feature and the comments! Overwhelmed!

    And I SO do NOT have my stuff together—to the point that I just realized this blog post was here despite DH (Dear Husband) mentioning it to me when I was in a sleep deprived haze of getting ready to leave the country for three weeks (we’re doing a three week home exchange right now—trust me, I’ll be blogging about this in a few weeks).

    Loved reading all the comments though I have to clarify, I have avoided specifying which speciality DH is in for various reasons. Let’s just say I’m partial to CD for a reason…..

    And yes, physicians are excellent mimes! To the point that my blog next week is a “confession” of sorts after having a discussion along these “docs are mimes” with a friend of mine who wants me to spell certain things out in my blog.

    So, see you all next week! Hugs from Alhambra!

    1. Post

      Apologies for the mix-up in your husband’s profession – I’ll go back and correct the references, in the meantime please forgive any distress or confusion I unwittingly caused you or him.

      Enjoy Ethpaña!

      1. No distress at all! (and I forgot: kids currently go to a private school).

        But yes, I am having problems with this whole listhping thing one has to adjust to in Ethpana! I am constantly saying, “?Mande?” 😉

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