Christopher Guest Post: The Happy Philosopher
Welcome to another Christopher Guest Post, a Q&A interview series that I will run every few weeks to get you better acquainted with some excellent fellow writers who have graciously accepted my invitation to be showcased here for you.
Today, I take great pleasure in presenting The Happy Philosopher, a radiologist who began blogging in 2015 to share his experiences as a formerly burned out physician who made a number of life-altering changes. As a result of implementing new and different practices, he is much happier while continuing to work part-time. There are many lessons to be learned from the good doctor, many of which will be linked in the Eleven questions that follow.
I’d like to thank the Happy Philosopher for taking the time to share a part of his story and answers to my many questions.
What’s a Christopher Guest post?
Inspired by Nigel Tufnel, the character portrayed by Christopher Guest in Spinal Tap, I took Mr. 1500’s ten questions, and amped them up to eleven. If you’re not familiar with the scene, take 50 seconds to watch this video and enjoy the dialog between Nigel and Rob Reiner.
I decided I’d start a Q&A of my own. Not satisfied with just ten questions, this one goes to eleven. Just like Nigel’s amplifiers.
Presenting: The Happy Philosopher
Physicians: What is your specialty or subspecialty and why did you choose it? If you could turn back time, would you choose to practice medicine and choose the same specialty? Why?
Ug! Starting with the dreaded time travel question. Not cool!
My proper answer probably requires 2000 words but I will use my superpowers to be concise. I’m a radiologist. I chose my specialty after rotating through my 3rd year clerkships and realizing I couldn’t see myself doing any of them for the rest of my life. A little panicky, I did a radiology rotation early in my 4th year and thought it was pretty cool. The radiologists seemed like some pretty happy people, and medical imaging was a pretty interesting field, so I took the leap. In some ways it is a good fit for me, and in others it is not, but ultimately I wouldn’t change it. I’ve also questioned if medicine was the right career for me, but I don’t think about it much anymore.
At the end of the day my experiences shaped who I am today and I love my life, so I wouldn’t go back and make any changes. If I were to advise someone similar to me at age 20 or so I would give that person a different framework for making career decisions than I used. Becoming a physician is a commitment of time, money and energy like few other careers and it is impossible to know what it is like until you are actually doing it. There is a huge sunk cost. The filtering and selection process is sub-optimal.
[PoF: I hear you, Philospher. Radiology uses the coolest technology. What you say about medicine in general is so true. I wouldn’t be who I am, where I am, with the life I’ve had without it. But there are easier, less taxing paths to happiness, fulfillment, and yes, wealth (this is a personal finance site).]
Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.
My blog is a guide to freedom and happiness, viewed through the lens of my experiences. I write about anything that interests me, but I always return to this basic idea of freedom. I’ve spent a big part of my life in medical school, residency and private practice, so my world view has been shaped by the medical profession. I can empathize with many of the struggles and problems physicians face.
There are plenty of great blogs about the technical side becoming financially independent, but many neglect the philosophical and psychological aspect of FIRE. Even fewer are written from the perspective of a physician. Often our blind spots and weak points lie in the soft areas like habits, cognitive bias and personality rather than the technical details of financial planning.
Although my blog is not specifically about financial independence or early retirement, I am a big believer in creating personal freedom which is really what FIRE is all about. I write as a physician seeking financial independence. Any physician pondering freedom, financial independence or early retirement will find something useful on my blog.
Is that 11?
[PoF: I see what you did there. Good question, and with that, it’s eleven. With the incredible amount of information out there, rehashing the 4% rule isn’t all that helpful. Personal stories are. I love what you’ve put out there for us so far.]
What inspired you to start a blog of your own? Was there a particular event you remember that made you feel your blog had arrived? Any big plans for your blog in the future?
A few years ago I went through major burnout from my career after only about 5 or 6 years in practice. As I looked for solutions I found many great ideas and support from reading and listening to online content, specifically from the FIRE blogosphere and podcasting community. These were just ordinary people doing things differently and sharing their story through their writing or speaking. As I muddled through my burnout I made significant changes to my life. I went from fairly miserable to pathologically happy, and realized that I now had a story to tell.
Maybe I could create something bigger than just the thoughts bouncing around in my head. Maybe I could be the one providing the inspiration for someone else to work through their personal problems.
Additionally, having a blog forces me to write and it is a pretty fun and inexpensive hobby.
As far as my blog ‘arriving’ it would have to be the day I was asked to do the 11 questions on PoF! J
In all seriousness though, my blog is still very tiny. Much of this is my own fault as I am very lazy and a poor marketer, but I will keep writing as long as I am having fun and I have something to say.
As for future plans I have many ideas. I intend to write more physician specific articles in the future as I feel this is where I can have the greatest impact. There are too many burnt out, suicidal and depressed docs out there right now and not enough resources for them to get information and help. Maybe some can relate to my story and find inspiration to make the necessary changes in their lives.
There will be more podcast interviews, and there may even be a dedicated Happy Philosopher podcast hosted by yours truly in the works. Looking even further I have thought about writing a book, consulting and speaking although my inner Po (Kung Fu Panda) may be too lazy to actually accomplish any of this.
Bottom line: If it is fun, helps people and there is a demand for it I will probably get around to it eventually.
[PoF: The best blogs come from people who have a story to tell. It’s cool to follow someone starting down a path, but there’s a lot to learn from someone who has been down a path (or several paths) for years.
Your podcast interview with Joshua Sheats might have been the first podcast I ever listened to. No foolin’. I look forward to the Happy Philosopher Happy Hour Podcast!]
Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.
Good grief, I’m not even sure I have much more than eleven posts total…
(I just checked. I have 38 at this time. Here are eleven that are not too horrible)
This links to an article I wrote on KevinMD.com about physician suicide. It is personal and was painful to write, but was important for me to do.
Your Most Valuable Asset is another article I published off my blog on the excellent website White Coat Investor. Sometimes we get bogged down by the details of finance, but fail to realize that as a physician our future income stream is really our most valuable financial asset. Here I tell you what you should do to protect it.
How to retire by 40 is a brain download post basically summarizing every FIRE blog I’ve read in less than 800 words. You’re welcome.
This is my second most popular post ever. If you are a physician your time is your most valuable commodity. If you are wasting it watching television you need to unplug and kill your television.
Decluttering Philosopher Ninja Style is another popular post of mine on decluttering. This is a trendy topic these days, but what many don’t realize is the relationship between clutter and freedom. Decluttering is not about getting rid of stuff so much as creating space for freedom. This is a critically important concept. Most doctors have lives that are way too cluttered. Getting rid of physical clutter is the first step.
As Bruce Lee said:
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
Decluttering is rejecting the useless.
Even more important than the physical clutter is the non-physical. In this post I go beyond the basics and discuss other areas to declutter and create freedom in your life. (The third post in this series is in draft form to be published soon).
I am a big advocate for experimenting with different areas in your life, and one area I found that gave me HUGE gains with very little effort was meditation. It is one of my favorite meta-hacks. Many high level performers in all areas (entertainment, business, sports, and military) have a meditative practice and so should you.
Another experiment I did with diet. Tinkering with my diet was eye opening and a little mind blowing. Food is medicine. Optimizing diet is one of the things that can give us huge improvements in our lives.
In Why Your Life Never Seems to Change I explain why we often fail to make meaningful changes in our lives in spite of knowing the tactical details.
Another experiment I did was abstaining from alcohol for 6 months. This was a very interesting experience and I think one that all physicians should consider doing. There is a high rate of substance abuse among physicians and sometimes we don’t realize how much of a negative alcohol is in our lives.
In How a Podcast Can Change the World I tell about an experience that nudged me towards starting the blog. A few months after I wrote this article I did an interview on the same podcast that some may find interesting.
Good grief that was exhausting, forced me to go back and read some of my articles though.
[PoF: You’re a distance runner, but you found that exercise exhausting??? Here’s another podcast with The Happy Philosopher on The Physician Financial Success Podcast.]
At what age are you most likely to retire (or at what age did you retire) from full-time work? What are you doing to help realize your retirement target?
I ‘retired’ from full-time work when I was 40 by structuring a half-time job share position. I have no idea when I will fully retire. Turning off the physician income stream will be a psychological challenge, even when I am financially independent.
I put myself in this position of freedom by having a high income coupled with ‘moderate frugality’, and by moderate frugality I mean ridiculously luxurious and over the top lifestyle compared to 99% of the world’s population (although many physicians may consider my frugality extreme). This resulted in a very high savings rate as a percentage of my gross income.
[PoF: The psychology of leaving a $3 per minute job is going to be a challenge for me. It’s easy to think about what one more week / month / year could buy. Then I’ll remind myself I will have already worked several one more years. If I want whatever the extra work could purchase, I can already afford it. And it’s tough to put a price on freedom.]
What does an ideal retirement look like for you? What will you do with your time when full-time work is in your rearview mirror?Honestly, I don’t know. It depends on what you mean by ‘retire’. It is such a loaded word with subjective meaning. If I quit medicine and write, or speak or consult am I ‘retired’? I like the term financial freedom, where earning additional money has no effect on my lifestyle.
Cutting back on work has given me more time with my family, time to write, read, go on more trips, hike, play my guitar, sit on my front porch, etc. I think when I ‘retire’ I will just do more of what I am already doing. I will probably do more long-term travel. I love the space in between things as much as the things themselves and freedom creates this space.
I can’t see myself just doing nothing; I think I will always want to do something ‘productive’, only financial freedom will allow me to do it on my own terms. If I want to work 50 hours a week on a project or 1 hour I will have that choice. Retirement for me will be the space to create art. (http://thehappyphilosopher.com/creating-art/)
[PoF: Sounds ideal to me! Cutting back in the manner you have creates a nice transition. I don’t wear an IRP badge, so I’m not going to try to tell you what your definition of retirement should be. I’ll be using the term “retired from clinical medicine.” That’s pretty black and white.]
I’ll give you eleven sentences to dish out advice to a young physician. Any and all advice is welcome. We talk about personal finance, so money is fair game, but if you have advice on being a better doctor, a better parent / spouse / friend / human, we’re all ears.
- Live like a resident for a few years at least until you have paid off your student loans.
- Grow slowly into your salary.
- Choose your life partner carefully.
- Assume you will burn out between 40 and 50 and plan accordingly; if you don’t burn out, congratulations, you have beaten the odds!
- Optimize your physical and mental health to increase your resiliency within a very stressful and often times dysfunctional medical system.
- Lean to say no and how to delegate tasks that can be done by a non-physician.
- Have a mentor/coach/friend that you can bounce ideas off of and help you see your blind spots.
- Seek help when you need it; our medical brainwashing training discourages us from ever showing weakness or seeking help.
- Spend time with your kids, time and attention is really all they want unless you condition them otherwise.
- Don’t tolerate abuse.
- Be kind to everyone; you never know when your kindness will make a huge difference in someone’s life.
[PoF: That’s just fantastic. All of it. One that young physicians might dismiss, but would be wise to heed, is number 4. You, me, and just about everyone else who finished residency ten or more years ago planned on working full-time for 25 to 35 years when we graduated. I’ll get in a little more than half that.]
You’ve got eleven days to visit anyplace in the world with an $11,000 budget. Where do you go and what do you do?
I think I would go to Hawaii, maybe Maui or Kauai. Maybe I could hang out with Mr. 1500 and convince him to let me drink some of his Pliny. I would fly first class and stay somewhere with a nice beach.
I would hike, snorkel and lay on the beach. At night I would go to fancy restaurants and order exotic drinks with little umbrellas in them. I would carry a big stack of $20s and tip everyone like I was a rock star. If I had any money left over I would buy a super nice Hawaiian outfit (shirt, shorts and sandals) and wear it all the time when I got back to the mainland.
[PoF: I’ll be in Maui in a couple months, wearing the Tommy Bahama shirt I picked up at a Goodwill in Oahu. Stick an umbrella in my IPA, and if you send me a stack of twenties, I’ll gladly dole them out rockstar style.]
Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.
1-7. Coffee, no sugar, full cream.
- Herbal tea; great replacement for beer when abstaining from alcohol and you already drink too much coffee.
- Margarita on the rocks with salt. Must be freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, no crappy sugary mix.
[PoF: That’s a lot of coffee. Keeps you from nodding off in a dark room, I suppose.]
Now, eleven foods.
1-11. Anything Mrs. Happy Philosopher prepares for me, she is a wonderful cook! J
[I’m trying to decide if you’re truly that enamored with your wife’s cooking, trying to get out of the doghouse for something you’ve done, or just plain tired of answering these questions. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt; she must be one excellent chef!]
How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me?
My advice is to keep writing, keep creating. There has never been a time where it was so easy to be heard and to make a difference. It has never been so easy to be so connected. We need more voices in the physician space, writing about the things that matter to us.
[PoF: You are right about that. It’s not tough to get your voice out there, and there are more and more of us sharing our perspective, knowledge and experience with the rest of the world. Thank you for taking the time to be a part of this series. Glad to get to know you better!]
Previous Christopher Guest Posts:
My cell phone is on Republic Wireless. I pay closer to $25 a month for 2 lines. How much are you paying?