How to become a healthy doctor Part 1 – Don’t sweat the small stuff

All of us have obsessive compulsive tendencies, whether or not they’re pathological. In a way, attention to detail is critical to our career success. It is also the achilles heel to our interactions with friends and family.  I see this in my patients all the time. We all have our stories of taking care of unreasonable (read: crazy) patients. When I encounter crazy patients with crazy spouses or family members (read: folie a deux), I just want to run out of the exam room screaming. We’ve all encountered these situations.

But the name of the game in having a financially successful medical career is also to have some insight on what your flaws are. That’s the only way you can figure out what tendencies are not compatible with happiness of those around you and your own happiness. Case in point: I know a guy who always kept his office desk messy. The spouse was always neat and organized.  They are no longer together.  It would be short-sighted to assume that differing views on organization resulted in incompatibility, but correlation and causation are murky relationships.

What constitutes the small stuff?

We’ve all read arguments about how daily coffees from your local fancy barista will cost you thousands of dollars in additional annual expenses, and when invested appropriately in financial-blogger-approved funds you’d shave off a few years from your working career.

The math on the savings is clear, but how is the duration of your working career impacted if you are earning $200,000 a year?

What about $60,000?

What about $1.3 million?

Your earning velocity will determine which expenses are going to be considered “small”.

Micromanagement of financially inconsequential circumstances may be detrimental to your health. 

I hate overpaying for gas. How many of you live in a place that has gas like this when the rest of the country pays a third less than what you are?

Hey, we’ve got it better than the folks in Europe.

Prices like these entice me to search for a Costco or Sam’s Club to fill up. Lines at the pump typically also go three to four cars deep on weekdays, and even ten back on busy weekends. Whether you drive an extra five miles, wait an extra 20 minutes, and save 40 cents a gallon ultimately depends on a huge number of factors:

  • How much time do you have to spend in a day
  • How often you fill up your car
  • How much you save per fill-up
  • If you drive a Hummer H2 with a 32 gallon tank

This is the small stuff that is frankly unhealthy to have to decide. I know a surgeon who goes out of her way to save on gas fill-ups for a very fancy car. I think that over the course of a career, she’d probably save a few months of work by saving on gas. But is it worth it?

I used to struggle with minutiae, but I’ve slowly let the reins loose as life gets busier and as I strengthen my financial plan.  It’s unhealthy to have to make these decisions, and the goal is not to get yourself in a situation to need to deal with them in the first place.

For the gas savings scenario: if going out of my way to save at the pump is going to make a significant impact in my financial situation, then I’d better unload that Hummer and figure out my commute problem instead.

How much do you guys sweat the small stuff?

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2 thoughts on “How to become a healthy doctor Part 1 – Don’t sweat the small stuff

  1. It is funny how irrational we can be with pricing. If gas prices go up we complain and change behavior even if it doesn’t make a material difference in our life at all. When stocks decline we complain and get fearful (unlike when gas prices go lower). Even if lower stock prices would allow us to by more shares and ultimately make us richer.
    Economists who think we act rationally are really blind to human behavior.

    1. True. As far as oil prices go, I’m all for electric cars/hybrids, but I remember reading an article in Wired recently that the mode of delivery of electricity in the U.S. can actually impact the environmental difference of an electric car (i.e. if you live in a region where coal creates your electricity, you still might be better off driving your gas vehicle to offset carbon emissions+environmental cost of manufacturing the electric car)

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