When Will You Conform?

crispydoc Uncategorized 14 Comments

The math of wealth is based on earning, saving and investing.

The art of feeling wealthy is about the stealthy accumulation of marginal gains, disciplined spending habits based on parsimony, and relishing the weight in your pocket of those small figurative and literal coins others will not deign to pick up.

Someone tried to shame me at the beach yesterday

Southern California in late November: sunshine, 80 degrees, wearing shorts and sandals with a predicted 2-3 foot southwestern swell at my local break.

It is conventional wisdom in my area that many tradesmen and wait staff will not show up for the job on days with a decent winter swell, because they are surfers first and foremost. No beach rat gets excited over puny 2-3 foot surf. Yesterday, young and nubile surfers showed up for work and held their noses as if the waves were not just inconsequential but covered in excrement.

Their trash was my treasure. There was slight texture to the water with gentle offshore winds, the water was clear enough that sand bars were visible 6-8 feet below each wave as it formed, and no one else was in the water when I arrived at 8:30AM.

I've been bodyboarding since I was 16 years old. For those not in the know, bodyboarding is the pretentiously more dignified term for what is colloquially referred to as using a Boogie Board, a distinction as completely insignificant as that separating the terms facial tissue and Kleenex.

It's hard for a middle aged man to refer to a foam toy by its borderline pervy sounding 1970s brand name without feeling his testicular volume decrease at an alarming rate - so bodyboarding it will be for the purposes of my writing.

I suited up, put on my fins, and was about to enter the water when a silver-haired 70-something man walking alone on the shore stopped in front of me and, with the chiding smile of an ex-high school jock who missed the blood sport glory days of picking on smaller kids, asked me: "When are you going to get a board?"

Caught off guard by grandpa's condescension, I mustered a flimsy, "Maybe someday? I'm pretty happy on my sponge for now."

Grandpa must have realized the absurdity of the situation he'd created, and quickly backpedaled: "Well, if you're happy, that's what counts."

Frugal shaming is a means of enforcing social conformity

I get asked variants of this question about most of the choices that have lead to either the math or the art of growing wealthy:

When are you going to ditch the beater and treat yourself to a doctor car?

When will you try the $300 prix fix menu at Fudi Du Jour?

When will you start wearing new designer clothes instead of thrift store castoffs?

When will you buy family passes to Disneyland instead of taking family hikes?

I've come to embrace the "other" identity that accompanies rejecting standard social narratives. It can chafe at first, but eventually you are granted dispensation by those in your circle, who begin to warn others that the usual rules do not apply to you.

The benefit is that as you establish a reputation, those who approach you self-select for a similarly unconventional chosen narrative.

Turns out the folks attracted to your beat also like the way you dance.

Precisely the folks I want at my party.

Comments 14

  1. Being a doctor magnifies what others expect you to do. And if you don’t conform to their standard they might think you are not good at what you do.

    You have found the secret sauce to happiness by doing what makes you happy and not trying to project an image someone artificially creates for you.

    You do you.

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      That’s a kind thing to say Xrayvsn. Now if only I could keep the secret sauce from getting all over my shirt, I’d be onto something. What I need is a secret napkin…

  2. So Resistance is NOT futile and you DON’T have to be assimulated? I applaud your ability to remain an outsider and keep your identity without joining the collective.

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  3. At some point, early in my career I quit caring. If you’re not paying my rent or my taxes, I have a place where you can stick your opinion. Cali is a beautiful place but it’s overflowing with pretense and virtue signaling. I don’t care for it. It offends my mid west sensibilities.

    We boogie board in FL non stop as well as surf. No one would dare say a word. I guess in FL we have manners.

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      California breaks run the gamut from a thuggish, locals-only mentality to a generous abundance mentality. I imagine Florida to be mostly the latter.

      I spend 90% of my time at kinder, gentler breaks where at least 2-3 generations are represented, and where the parking lot is full of child carseats – and try to stay away from the chest-thumping testosterone breaks.

      Sometimes the chest thumpers find you anyway.

      I like your rent or taxes threshold – you are a man after my own heart, Gasem.



  4. I remember boogie boarding as a kid in New Jersey. It was a blast.

    Since coming to LA about a decade ago, I have only waded up to my ankles in the water.

    The sun and sand may be warm in LA (even in November) but water is damn cold!

    — TDD

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      There are some winter mornings where the activation energy is particularly high due to the cold – and that’s our wimpy California version of cold. On those days, I have two thoughts that get me into the water:

      1) The water is usually warmer than the air in the morning.
      2) I have never regretted spending a morning splashing around in the waves.

      I sometimes pine for the hooded 4/3 thickness wetsuit I used as a med student in SF that I gave away when I relocated to the LA area in favor of thinner 3/2 suits. But I never regret getting wet.

      Maybe baby steps will be your opportunity to submerge in the Pacific, TDD – buy a used 3/2 full suit off of craigslist for under $50 and start going in August, when the currents are warmest.

  5. For years, I rode a 50 cc Honda Ruckus scooter on my couple mile commute to work. I’m sure a gray haired man looks silly on such a contraption, and often well-meaning folks would ask me when I was graduating to a real bike like a Harley. Most people find it a bit disarming when you kindly but bluntly share that you really don’t give a flip what anyone thinks about much of anything, especially your choice of transportation. After a few years, I did finally obtain my motorcycle license and graduate all the way up to a 125 cc pint-sized Honda Grom. It was fun for a couple years dodging both oblivious and malicious car drivers until I decided I wanted to live to see my kids leave the house and sold them both, enhancing my wife’s peace of mind in the process. It is said it is more fun to drive a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow. The same can be applied to many toys and life pursuits.

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      That’s a perfect analogy, Charred Doc. I enjoy getting more mileage from gear most would put in the donate pile. Makes me feel like I’m winning.

      I had a friend (since the third grade) who decided to ride a motorcycle in adulthood. I promised I would not judge him and asked only that he please consider placing an organ donation sticker on his license. He did, and we made our peace with his risk tolerance.

  6. This post is cleverly written and made me smile on the inside. I too remember a childhood of boogie boarding so your preference strikes me as childlike innocence, which we could all probably benefit from. Good for you for not being a slave to what others think!

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  7. I really enjoyed your post and it is so, so,so true among our own. I’m not quite 4 years out of residency, but I still drive a beater truck. I love it when other docs scoff at my ride, only to find the same ones bemoaning that they will never be able to retire because of x, y or z. I look forward to the day I ride off into the sunset of retirement (in my beater truck) while the fancy cars remain parked permanently at the hospital! By the way, bodyboarding is awesome! Enjoy the salt water and thank you for the encouragement 🙂

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