I’m a sucker for witty personal finance quotes as much as the next person. When we take a family excursion to the library, my magnetic north draws me immediately to the finance section (okay, sometimes it attracts me to the travel section as well).
I love the vinegar and oil interplay of a folksy and warm saying by Warren Buffett against the background of an intellectual sniper shot fired by Charlie Munger, especially when they are making the same point in complementary ways.
I ponder the motivational phrases recited at the start of the White Coat Investor podcast, which inevitably remind me that I really need to check out a book by the obviously brilliant and wry Morgan Housel.
While nonfiction makes me an ever more savvy investor, it’s fiction that helps me understand and better relate to the experience of being human – an experience that extends to my understanding of money. As part of a book club, I was reading “Three Floors Up” by Eshkol Nevo last night when this little treasure detonated:
When someone entrusts you with his money, he entrusts you with all the hard work that has brought him that money, all the small, painful, humiliating compromises he’s made along the way.
Boom. Dark truth revealed.
It’s hard to risk the money we have earned in ways we are not proud of.
Not prostitution and drugs, but little ways we sell ourselves short or sell our loved ones out that we would not choose to make if we were in a position of financial strength.
I can think of at least a few offhand examples that might resonate with you.
As a member of a group, you get one chance to build your reputation as a giver. I adore and have benefited from the culture of givers that characterizes my medical group. Having witnessed a culture of takers in other scenarios, I vastly prefer the former.
You will be asked to assume roles that put you in conflict with the needs of your loved ones.
Pick up an extra shift to help a sick friend, and miss your daughter’s basketball championship.
Stay a couple of hours late to help your colleagues on a busy shift, knowing your spouse has been driven crazy from time alone with small children all week and was counting on those adult hours together as part of your therapeutic weekly check-in.
Join the hospital committee because it makes global sense to align and enmesh your group’s interests as much as possible with the hospital’s interests, even it means another day’s commute to and from work and another opportunity lost to spend time with your spouse when he or she could really use the companionship.
Take on supervision of students or residents or PAs without compensation for the decrease in efficiency, because your director explicitly asked you due to your reputation as the “nice” physician.
We make these compromises every day, motivated in part by our financial insecurities.
Certainly, we owe a debt of gratitude to our colleagues who help us out and have a legitimate desire to support our friends when they need our help in return. We want to preserve the culture of givers that makes our workplace collegial and satisfying.
Certainly, we want to lead virtuous lives where we make impactful contributions as upstanding members of the institutions we comprise.
But someone beyond the physician ends up on the losing end of many of those calculated transactions.
Those whose love we take for granted frequently pay the price of our compromises.
We can try rationalizing it away: Honey, by obtaining that promotion or being a team player I am ensuring I get to keep this job, advance to profit-sharing, make our mortgage payments and keep the kids in the schools they love. If I do this, we deepen our roots in the community.
It can be done with the best of intentions; thoughtful physicians are among the most reliable recruits to become bricklayers on the road to hell.
But let’s acknowledge that if we were in positions of financial security, we might not need to sell our loved ones out quite so often.
This gets to the heart of Financial Independence and the sense of authenticity those who pursue it seek and emanate so earnestly.
Financial Independence affords a pathway to stop selling out the people we love.
We accumulate our pile of money and maybe, when it has grown to enough, we can repay or ask forgiveness for the debt we asked others to endure throughout the accumulation.
If I pay for college, will you forgive me my absence during your school years?
If we dine together every night on this cruise and the next, will you release me from the righteous anger of the nights I left you alone with our child?
Can a career widow (or widower) whose spouse betrayed them for the mistress of medicine ever truly reconcile with that spouse after reaching their financial enough?
Will the lingering cost of the infidelity, of putting career first, remain?
They may be small, painful, humiliating compromises, but did we have the right to ask our loved ones to make them?
Will we seek their forgiveness in time to deserve redemption?