Right Place, Right Time: Case Study #1
Me: "I'm so relieved you came straight to the Emergency Department."
Patient: "I'll take lucky over smart any day, Doc!"
This comment came from a patient with a long and checkered cardiac history who walked into a smaller local ED complaining of chest pain, only to experience a witnessed cardiac arrest from a typically lethal arrhythmia (ventricular fibrillation).
The emergency team immediately shocked him with a defibrillator (I'm told he was back to wisecracking in seconds) and summoned an ambulance to transport him to our larger hospital where a cardiologist and cath lab team immediately addressed a plumbing problem in his right coronary artery.
I'd bet he's waited longer for a burger than he did to get a stent.
He got lucky.
Right Place, Right Time: Case Study #2
I had just broken up with a girlfriend of nearly two years. It was a serious relationship that I thought was going to be the one. We'd relocated from the West Coast to the East Coast together, and spent all our time together.
Now my free time consisted of an unlimited plan at the Blockbuster Video a couple of blocks away (it was the Late Cretaceous period before Netflix crawled from the primordial cloud, a time when VHS ruled the land and pterodactyls filled the skies).
Some emergency medicine residents at the program where I was a junior faculty member decided to lay a guilt trip on me about how I never joined them for social events, ultimately persuading me to drive a carload of them up to an event in Providence, Rhode Island.
An attending physician from the residency's sister hospital was similarly suckered into driving a second carload of residents. She was attractive, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, but I was still in the depths of grieving the loss of my relationship and was not looking to date.
Six months later, my funk finally lifted and I called her out of the blue to invite her to dinner. She's now my wife.
I got lucky.
Right Place, Right Time: Case Study #3
In late 2007, we were ready to purchase a home. We liquidated our taxable brokerage account to prepare the largest down payment we could afford. House prices were soaring, and we were concerned that the high cost of living area where we were looking to buy would escape both our price range and the tethers of reality at any moment.
I was itching to leave our apartment after a peripatetic existence. I wanted fruit trees and a garden instead of a couple of potted plants.
The following winter, the Great Recession hit and prices began dropping back to earth. I was still chomping at the bit to put down roots, but my wife tempered my madness. I'd estimate we viewed 60+ homes during our search.
In early 2009, we found out we were expecting a second child. In mid 2009, my wife began wearing the same baggy sweatshirts she'd donned as an undergrad to avoid giving the seller's agent any unnecessary information about our soon to enlarge family.
In the spring of 2009 we closed on our place and moved out of our apartment. My son would be born 4 months later.
It turned out to be near the market nadir.
We got lucky.
Right Place, Right Time: Case Study #4
After purchasing the house, we plowed money into retirement and taxable accounts during the second half of my front-loaded workhorse stage in medicine.
We had an advisor we met with annually. He used jargon we didn't understand at every meeting, referencing current events that were affecting the markets.
We were grateful that we did not have to assume the responsibility for failure if our investments did poorly. We were paying dearly for a scapegoat we didn't need.
Suddenly I hit a wall at work. Burnout set in, and I became desperate to reclaim control of my time.
In researching how much longer I needed to remain in medicine before I could bail out entirely, I came across a fringe movement of people pursuing financial independence and physician financial literacy.
I became part of the fringe. We broke up with our financial advisor. I became a DIY investor, started a blog, attended FinCon, and found a virtual doctors' lounge full of folks who were weird in the same way I was.
I suggested changes to how we ran our democratic group so each member could better control his or her clinical commitment. Over time these policy changes were adopted and, eventually, regarded with enthusiasm.
I got back my time and found my mojo.
I unexpectedly fell back in love with the job I'd been so desperate to leave a couple of years earlier.
I got lucky.
Right Place, Right Time: Case Study #5
Over the past several years we invested aggressively into taxable and retirement accounts, even trialing a year as super-savers.
We expanded our tax-protected accounts by adding defined benefits, backdoor Roth and HSA space for making contributions.
We transitioned from having an advisor to a DIY portfolio of passively managed, extremely low cost index funds almost entirely at Vanguard.
Our expenses went from 1% of assets under management plus load funds with high fees to a mean expense ratio of .06% across our entire portfolio.
We formalized our charitable giving via a donor-advised fund, which had the benefit of making us more generous givers.
Most importantly (and least within our control), we invested during the longest bull market in history.
This led me to re-evaluate our asset allocation. For the past 9 months I'd been uneasy - not because I intended to time the market, but because when I reviewed our original investor policy statement, it seemed crafted with the folly and hypertrophic genitalia of youth.
We were 80/20 for a while, and every time I looked all I could see were big red flags. I overestimated our risk tolerance.
Thanks to the bull market, we are closer than we'd expected to our magic number.
Bernstein's refrain rang in our ears: When you've won the game, stop playing. We hadn't won, but we'd gained a comfortable lead, and we risked losing it.
After the waiting period called for in our IPS, we have right-sized our risk tolerance to fit my revised appraisal of gonadal size.
We are now where we should have been.
We got lucky.