The Gifts We Give Our Kids

I recently read an intriguing article on how to talk to your kids about money. Some of the more powerful points the author makes about kids and money were:

  • Respond gracefully to “no” and “not now.” The ability to delay gratification is a crucial life skill.
  • Teach the difference between having and affording.
  • Kids need to know where money comes from so they can figure out how to get it for themselves.

From speaking with other physicians, I sense that we all struggle to some degree with how much to give our kids and how to speak with them about money.

I’ve been thinking about what and how we teach our kids and what we owe them, not just financial resources but especially what lessons we pass on.

Now that my son is talking full force, it strikes home how perceptive he is and how much kids pick up, unbeknownst to us.

Whether that is feeling loved, safe, and secure, or seeing his parents act kindly to others and watching us read books instead of staring at our phones.  He sees all of this.

It got me thinking of what lessons I want to teach.  Would I like to see him succeed financially?  Of course.  But more than anything, I want him to be a good human being.

What obligation do we have to teach the next generation?  This could be your children or those you coach playing baseball or soccer.  It could be a new crop of medical students or the incoming residents.  It could be some of the young adults you mentor at your church.

One of the best parts of being a financial planner is teaching my colleagues how money works and how to build the life they want. I know the difference it makes in someone’s life.

My first attending job was in an academic department in Oregon.  I enjoyed learning from more senior colleagues and the teaching and learning with medical students and residents.  I miss this default learning environment from my academic medicine days.

I don’t know about you, but I am eternally grateful for the attendings who trained me.  Whether that was the indomitable Dr. Linda Chen or the force of nature that was Dr. Dimitry Baranov, they helped me become the clinician I am today.

But the non-medical lessons were even more powerful. I look at all the good Dr. Jim Dahle (aka, the White Coat Investor) has done for medicine by teaching personal finance.

I learned that you are (almost) never alone. There is someone there – a senior resident, an attending, and a heckuva lotta nurses to help. This is true in all areas of life.

Whatever you are going through or struggling with, someone else has before you.  So, ask for help.  That could be in person.  It could be reading a remarkable autobiography.  There is no sense in struggling for the sake of struggling.

Dr. Jonathan Gavrin taught me the importance of delicious food and international travel. But maybe the best lesson Jonathan taught me was the power of kindness. We never know what someone else is going through.

I frequently return to this Hemingway quote:

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”

We will never be free or happy if we constantly think about what we lack. Happiness comes from being grateful for all that we have right now.

These two quotes are complementary:

“One version of confidence is: I’ve got this figured out. Another version is: I can figure this out.”
– James Clear

“You’re never ready for what you have to do. You just do it. That makes you ready.”
– Flora Rheta Schreiber.

The right time is almost always before you think you are ready.  Having children. Getting married.  Making the scary career change.  If you have the confidence to know you can figure out what comes your way, you can move sooner and faster.

It’s not always as simple as pushing forward or taking that leap of faith, though.

We often pull back, get scared, and rarely learn how capable we are.  I also believe that we can’t possibly commit to everything.  Choose the handful of people and activities that drive you and give them everything you’ve got.

“Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”
– Hunter S Thompson

This quote may be guiding my thinking more than most right now. Instead of thinking about what you want to do (be a doctor, a real estate investor, or work in tech), figure out how you want to live and create a way to fit work into that life.

I’m still working on this one, but I’ve become excited about getting my Fellowship in Wilderness Medicine. I love being outside, particularly in the mountains. This is a way to continue learning and using my medical expertise to help my community while doing it in a place I love.

Here are some more general thoughts or lessons on life I think are worth passing down:

  • There are not many things in this world we truly control.  Friends and family will get sick and die.  You may lose a job unexpectedly.  Tragic and brutal events will happen in your life.  You do not get to choose what happens to you.  But you always have a choice of how you will respond.
  • You can always choose to be generous and kind.
  • Reality minus expectations = happiness. If you think the world owes you something, you will end up disappointed. The world doesn’t owe you anything. You can’t sit around waiting for the world to come and hand you what you think you deserve. If you want something to happen, you have to take action. Go positive and go first. – – Shane Parrish
  • Be the most interested person in the room.  People love talking about themselves.  Get curious and get the other person to open up.
  • If I could give you any gift, it would not be money; rather, it would be lifelong curiosity.  There is so much joy in learning.  Never lose that childlike wonder.
  • Find brilliant and talented people working on complicated problems.  They will make you better.
  • Never be the smartest person in the room.  If you are, you are hanging out in the wrong rooms.
  • Life is not about constant home runs.  The way to success is by avoiding the significant errors that will kill you: smoking, diabetes, and cancer.  Or divorce.  Or an addiction.
  • Winning is taking small steps each day.  You don’t need to run a marathon every day.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish with an hour or two of dedicated and focused attention every day. Or how much money you can save by starting early and being consistent with your saving habit. – Shane Parrish

I’m curious to hear the most essential non-medical lessons you learned during residency. Please comment and share them with me.

I want all of you to live a bright and burning life.  To decide what is important to you and create a life around that.  Stay the course.

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