Social capital and rigorous careers

A few years ago, Tim Urban published a thoughtful piece in the NY Times Opinion pages on how COVID-19 stole our time during the pandemic.

Tim is most known for his blog, Wait but Why, where he often posts pictures of an expected adult lifespan in weeks.

Tim also showed how much time and presence we get with our children.  More than 90% of that time happens before age eighteen!

So, where am I going with this?  As physicians, we have doctoral-level training in… the arrival fallacy.

There is always something else to learn, to train for, a better or higher paying job that will finally lead us to everlasting happiness.

Our first big hurdle was getting into medical school.  Then it was studying for Boards.  Then, it was getting into a great residency (and surviving). Then, it was getting your first job. Then it was repaying your student loans or buying a house or…  It’s never-ending!

Using Tim’s little box illustration, we can vividly see how dangerous this is. Look back to the parent time illustration above.   Our medical training takes – at minimum!!! – seven years and far more than that for many of us.  That is roughly half of the time our kids are at home.

Here’s my challenge to you, dear readers.  Think about the most important people in your life – your spouse or partner, children, siblings, and parents. They may be a handful of dear friends.

I heard a great analogy this past week.  Sahil Bloom asked, “Who are your front-row people at your funeral? Who are those that ache for you, have fond memories, and miss you dearly when you are dead?”

Here are the more painful questions: how many days did you spend with each of those most important people in the last month?  Or in the previous year?

I say that family is important, yet we have struggled to get out to the East Coast to see my wife’s family.  Heck, we only just returned to Utah to see my family for the first time in three years!

How many more times will you see your parents in person? How many more holidays or birthdays will you celebrate?  If we are honest, we never know the answer, but I know we can say fewer than we’d like.

For anyone with large professional aspirations, we make significant personal, family, and financial sacrifices to achieve our goals.  I’m not yet ready to discuss whether those sacrifices are worth it, although I think they are.

While the sacrifices of money and time loom, I have been focusing on personal and family sacrifices lately.

I attended the University of Utah School of Medicine. I was less than an hour away from my parents and siblings.  While I didn’t see them every week, I spent significantly more time with them than when I lived in Philadelphia for law school and my anesthesia residency.

I love skiing.  Let’s say I go on two ski trips yearly and ski ten days total.  How many more ski days do I have left in my life?  Would it be different if I lived near the mountains?  I bet I’d ski more.

A few years back, I was at a professional crossroads.  I was ready for a new location and looking to move to a new city or a new adventure in a mountain town.  While I loved the people and the job in the city, I knew my soul needed to be near the mountains.

Now, every day I come home, and I am grateful to see the mountains from my living room.  I can mountain bike out my front door!  Even better, now that we have a two-year-old at home, we can share our love of the mountains with our son.

Proximity matters – whether it’s seeing friends and family. Or being near activities that enrich your soul.  That might be the mountains, like it is for me, or it could be museums and cultural events you’d find in a large city.

I know all of you have full lives with family, personal and professional obligations.  And yet, living close to the most important people in your life means you will see them more frequently.

I remember when we lived in Portland.  We became fast friends with our new neighbors.  We’d often lean over the fence, see if they were home, and head out to an afternoon happy hour.  Spending time with them was easy because of our proximity.

Now that we live over three hours away, our time together has to be planned.  We still prioritize time with these friends, and it has less of an impromptu feel.  When we meet, we must have Big Plans!  We can’t just hang out because this time is so valuable.

And knowing that relationships are one of the most critical foundations of a good life, what are you doing to strengthen and build those relationships?

I don’t think we all want or need to move near our families and friends.  But it is worth considering who our favorite people are and asking if we prioritize these relationships.

What does any of this have to do with financial planning?  I’m glad you asked.  Saving, investing, and planning are foundational to a solid financial life.

And the entire point of planning is to use your money to build a life with meaning and purpose, filled with people you love.

A successful plan allows you to make decisions where money is not your top factor.  You can choose a job near friends and family, even if you earn less.

Our goal is to make decisions aligned with our core values and live a wonderful, satisfying life.  Keep up the great work.  Stay the course!

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