Financial Independence: A Pathway To Stop Selling Out The People We Love

crispydoc Uncategorized 10 Comments

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 relish the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” as deployed to devastating effect when excerpted by William Bernstein.

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?

Comments 10

  1. Interesting concept. Throughout medical school and residency, I had to turn down going to various events. Graduations, concerts, parties, dinners, birthdays, etc. It wasn’t all the time. But it was more often than I would like.

    It got to the point where my family and friends would ask me out of courtesy, but semi expected me to either turn down the invitation or flake out after realizing I was placed on call that day.

    After a few years in practice and with the ability to predict and control my schedule, I said no more. Now I am committed to stop selling out the people I love. Financial independence and career stability definitely helps.

  2. Unless we were actually doing in house call, we ALWAYS went to every event. We would just take phone calls in another room if needed.

    So it has been amusing watching our other family members who are non physicians tell us how busy they are all the time. And how they can’t make things because of work.

    I think we always had that party side to ourselves. So unless I physically could not attend due to in house call- we were always at any parties.

    My med school classmates were also the same. Work was work but we had a great time going out together. It is not surprising many of my classmates have always kept a balance.

    I realize that I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by like minded friends in Medicine.

  3. ” thoughtful physicians are among the most reliable recruits to become bricklayers on the road to hell.”

    What a powerful phrase. I have referred to you as a wordsmith before on my blog and it’s stuff like this that supports my stance.

    It is true that it is not just the physician that has to sacrifice a part of their lives to medicine. It’s the family as well. I remember my dad was always working as a busy internist.

    Reaching FI can help claw back some of this but you also have to be wary of worsening it in your pursuit of FI if you are not too careful because you can justify it in your mind

    1. Post


      Appreciate your comment. It’s never a question of whether we sacrifice, but how much, and whether the trade off is worth it or simply serves to maim us.

      A fingernail I won’t miss, but certain careers demand arms and legs. Capital “D” Doctors were accustomed to existing as a leftover stump of a torso which used to react like a Monty Python skit – indignant that they still had capacity for yet greater suffering (“‘Tis but a flesh wound!”), insisting the hospital continue to bring it on.

      We are the vanguard (positive association intended) of doctors who opt to limit the sacrifice in order not to become stump torsos. Perhaps by insisting on our wholeness as human we can relate better to patients whose concerns about medicine tend to run along the lines of a failure to be viewed as whole beings.




    Nobody does a cleaner production than Chester.

    Your welcome to your guilt. You’re welcome to your illusion of control and the idea it truly matters. You have a little control. Occam’s Razor is named for William of Ockham, a 14th century English Franciscan friar, logician and theologian. Ockham’s theorem states: Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the one that requires the least speculation is usually better. This is the code of the road to live by. Occam’s is the basis for parsimony, the idea you pay no more than necessary but honestly pay the full price of what is necessary. If you teach your children well, there is no guilt because the benefit is maximized despite the hell. If you taught your children well they will teach theirs well also, and the benefit will be maximized.

    1. Post


      Thanks for the music and the lesson. I like to think that, having cut back, I practice medicine by optimizing the parsimony of guilt. I am absent just enough to make the family miss me, but not so much that I miss the high value events in their lives. Having lived before on the “absence makes the heart grow resentful” and “absence makes the heart take for granted” parts of the curve, I feel much better off inhabiting the inflection point where “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It’s the guilt equivalent of the efficient frontier.



      1. You got it dad, but add one dimension, they have to attempt to live in balance on their efficient frontier as well. That is your job, to progressively teach them “well” proper co-dependence and proper independence.

        1. Post

          That final dimensions is the most difficult, and the one I have the greatest difficulty conceding (to our collective detriment). The challenge is that even at a young age, where I imagine their frontier to exist and where it actually does may not be the same spot. And it’s more effort than it ought to be for me to gracefully accept their chosen point and respect it. Working on this.

  5. Hey Crispy Doc,

    One of the benefits of my wife and I discussing our fiancial position (despite the fact it bores her) is that she knows exactly where we stand.

    Your little-kid-induced-psychosis example particularly resonates with what she put up with from me over the years. Now, she is much more forceful about me saying no to some of these compromises.

    She also interacts with our department members as our deparmental admin. So, whether the person to be helped is in her good books also weighs in. She seems to get way more gifts/offerings than she used to.


    1. Post

      Loonie Doc,

      No matter how much I’d like to help someone out who needs a last minute shift covered, my marriage needs to come first. Life got much better with the introduction of the line item veto as exercised by her. I also find that she remains our collective memory for who was naughty and nice in the previous years when trying to stretch to help someone out.

      I want to be a team player, but I want to remain married even more – but that’s only because I married up.

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