The key to physician success: it’s okay to be missing out

It’s human nature to be social.  The collective sensation of being in a group or organization helps us belong. We see this in school, where kids band together for activities. We see this in the doctor’s lounge, where the anesthesia guys chat about the latest hospital gossip. Occasionally we see the loners who shed the collective mentality and shine through their own path. If these novel beliefs are compelling enough for the masses to adopt, then the long wolfs become mainstream.

There has been a push over the last year in the online physician community to venture into seemingly radical pursuits, like trying to retire early.  Other more tempered pursuits seem to revolve around doctors finding self-sustaining means to escape medicine itself. Multilevel marketing, real estate, side hustles, and other income-producing hobbies are the rage. I am always amazed at how motivated my peers are.  The irony is that sometimes it seems like more effort is put towards pursuing something outside of medicine.  Nearly all of the side hustles that I’ve encountered don’t require having gone through the pain, time, and intelligence of medical training.

I had a classmate in medical school who finished his medical degree and a year of internship before joining a huge medical consulting firm.  I never really knew why he did that, since medical school isn’t exactly a walk in the park for most people.  Unless he ends up in the C-suite of a major hospital or healthcare behemoth, it is difficult to justify the financial advantages of the career route that he chose. Fast forward to today. He’s not exactly in the C-suite, but he has a similar income trajectory as most doctors his age and a much greater potential to impact healthcare that most of us will never even dream of doing. Go big or go home, as one might say.

Dare to be normal

Most people would prefer to live according to their own terms, and blend into the crowd. This applies to doctors as well.  Some of us are workaholics; some of us want to do the minimum amount possible.  But average is still somewhere in the middle.  I only know a handful of doctors who actually love booking elective surgical cases the Friday after Thanksgiving or rounding on patients every weekend.  Everyone else just wants to be able to play a round of golf on their off-days, and take their families out on a road trip in a nice U.S.-made German-branded SUV.

Not missing out on this would mean more inches to your belt.

Not every doctor wishes to own a dozen homes, a private jet, or a Maybach.  On the other end of the spectrum, most doctors aren’t going to want to pack up their medical practice, travel the world for weeks at a time, and homeschool their children.  It’s okay to teach your kids about World War I by renting an AirBNB in Sarajevo, but a textbook will probably do just fine.

It’s important for practicing doctors to focus on what is important to their family and careers. There is a lot of noise in the online community with anecdotes of doctors who are able to build an escape route out of envious medical careers that most people would only dream of being in.  There is nothing wrong with being a doctor working 55 hours a week, taking call every fourth weekend, and earning a comfortable living.

There is nothing wrong with being out of the loop

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, can be self defeating.  It doesn’t matter what your colleague down the hall is doing with the latest real estate craze.  You might be missing out on the biggest financial opportunity of the day, but you could also be missing out on the biggest flop.  Just because your roommate quit her stable job as a gastroenterologist to join a startup doesn’t mean that you need to find some radical way to prove yourself.  The key to success is to keep your head in the game.  You are already a physician. You have a better income and lifestyle than many other professionals.  Don’t sabotage it.  Hone your plan for a successful career and follow it.

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