Regrets or Resolutions? Reflections from 2017

There are plenty of uplifting points with transitioning into a new calendar year—new 401k contributions, new Roth IRA contributions, and simply a clean start to targeting life goals that perhaps we fell short on from the previous year. A new digit on the calendar can surprisingly impact us psychologically more than we realize.

Just as how we should establish a financial checklist, having concrete reflections on life goals provides us a mechanism to stay focused. The following are five goals for 2018 that all doctors should consider reassessing:

Increase your savings rate.

We all should know by now that our expenses should never exceed our income. The greater the difference between income and expense, the greater firepower you will have to build net worth. Most people are going to be limited by their incomes, so it is important to adapt our expenses accordingly.

As I mentioned previously, 2017 was a rocky year for medical income for me. I’m sure that some of you have experienced similar struggles or will experience them at some point. I’m also sure that most of us who went into medicine weren’t planning to live as if we kept a five-figure salary for our entire careers either. But how much you prepare for a rainy day can certainly help you weather what you can’t predict. The stock market in 2017 went on a tear, and perhaps it’s getting to the point that even the local departmental store clerks are talking about investing (hint, hint: these are the modern shoe shiners). Don’t expect it to continue indefinitely. I know some people out there save 50% to even 70% of their incomes, but we should fine-tune our own savings rate.  Find your comfortable savings rate, and try to top it. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Time management and organization.

Time management is obviously critical for all physicians, but it is ironic that I know plenty of physicians who are derelict on their own time. This includes time at work and outside of work.  The doctor who stays to chart notes in the electronic health system after signing out is the common scene at the hospital. Likewise, I know physicians who fiddle around on their free time tinkering with home maintenance that would actually be better managed by outside help. I am guilty of this myself. You only live once.  Only you can dictate the value of your time.

Improve your health.

Monetary wealth is useless without physical and mental health. This is why disability insurance exists. We can become injured even if we live in a bubble. However, there are factors that we can control in our own health. Decades ago, we saw doctors discouraging their patients from smoking yet are puffing on their own cancer sticks. Today, I see some doctors preaching the virtues of weight loss and diet yet are overweight or obese themselves. Lead by example.

What is interesting is that I often see discipline correlate with health. Many of the superstars in medical school were also marathon runners or triathletes.  Coincidence? Maybe there is a correlation between efficient use of time, health, and success.

Job Satisfaction 

Even though the satisfaction of bringing back life every day at work justifies your career doesn’t mean that you are happy with your job.  Regulations, compliance, and insurance mandates are the factors that make doctoring unpleasant.  It doesn’t hurt to reassess your job satisfaction and determine whether any of the active issues are deal breakers in your job situation. If they are, you’d better strive to fix them.

Career longevity

Life does not go on forever. How many years do you have left in your career? Are there any health issues that might curtail your working years? One can go into a deep philosophical treatise on your career, but look at things practically: do you have enough savings to live off of? Are you able to put your kids through school? What do you plan to do with your time if you call it quits? This is where you decide whether your financial plan is sufficient to secure your future based on the existing trajectory. If not, then you’d better figure out an alternative.

What situations do you plan to reassess into the New Year?

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