Losing Your Income Identity After Leaving Your Career, with Doc G
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
If you’ve ever wondered whether there are limits to how much happiness money can buy, what better way to find out than to talk with someone who knows. That’s exactly what I did in this week’s episode of The MapleMoney Show.
Doc G, as he’s known, is a former high earning physician who gave up his practice to become a content creator. He now writes about personal finance, and hosts his own podcast, called Earn and Invest. Doc G and I talk about financial independence, and we tackle the question of how much is enough?
I was really looking forward to this interview, and hearing Doc G’s story. After all, it’s not every day that you hear about someone walking away from the wealth and prestige that comes along with being a successful medical doctor. Not to mention the years of hard work that it took him to get to the level he was at. As Doc G puts it, his career became a huge part of his personal identity.
According to my guest, one of the turning points was reading a personal finance book, and realizing that he was financially independent. Regardless of his success, it wasn’t something he had really considered in the past. But instead of feeling good about this newfound revelation, the moment precipitated a lot of stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Eventually, Doc G had to come face to face with the question of how much wealth was enough? And was he truly happy with the way he spent his time. Although it didn’t happen overnight, Doc G eventually made the decision to walk away from his full time practice, and start spending what he calls his ‘finite time’ on the things that bring him joy.
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- What led Doc G to quit the medical profession
- Why financially independence became a source of depression and anxiety
- When to know that what you have is enough
- How Doc G carved out the work that brings him joy
- Is early retirement a fallacy?
- What is your 9-5 keeping you from doing?
- Different philosophies to financial independence
If you’ve ever wondered if there are limits to how much happiness money can buy, what better way to find out than to talk to someone who knows? That’s exactly what I did in this week’s episode of The Maple Money Show. Doc G is a former high-earning physician who gave up his practice to become a content creator. He now writes about personal finance and hosts his own podcast called, Earn and Invest. Doc G and I talk about financial independence, income identity and the question of how much is enough.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Our sponsor, EQ Bank has partnered with TransferWise to give Canadians a better way to send money overseas. The result is fully transparent and remarkably quick international money transfers that are up to eight times cheaper for EQ Bank customers. To find out more, visit maplemoney.com/eqbank. Now, let’s chat with Doc G…
Tom: Hi Doc G. Welcome to the Maple Money Show.
Doc G: Hey, man, I’m excited to be here.
Tom: Before we get into our topic, I have to apologize. I was on your podcast, What’s Up Next, and I don’t know what I said but the very next episode you changed the name. I normally don’t talk business but I do want to know why you made the name change.
Doc G: We had branded originally as, What’s Up Next? There were so many really good personal finance and financial independence podcasts out there but most of them really focused on how to become financially independent or how to form good financial habits. What we wanted to do is take that next step up and say, “Okay, you figured out how to automate your savings and manage costs. You figured out budgeting and have an idea what to do with investing. But what are those next level conversations?” I really loved the name, What’s Up Next. It served us for quite a while. The problem was, as we got more popular and started showing up on the charts, people couldn’t look at the name and know what the podcast was about. There was nothing about the title, What’s Up Next, that said it was financial. There was nothing that gave you an inkling of what it was so I eventually decided to rebrand it based on being able to see our name and at least know that it was a financial podcast. That way we wouldn’t just lose people who would probably pass right through without giving it a another thought.
Tom: I get the name brand. For people that have read my blog long enough, the Maple Money Show used to be called, (a very boring title) The Canadian Finance Blog. It was very clear people knew what they were getting. So I get the rebranding. That’s what made me interested in it. And I’m glad to hear it wasn’t my fault that I killed the, What’s Up Next, podcast.
Doc G: That was it—It was after Tom was on the show we can no longer call it, What’s Up Next. We’ve got to distance ourselves. All jokes aside, for people who don’t do this, creativity is great but if creativity is too far away from letting people know who you are then it doesn’t serve you. That’s what we learned. I loved the name, What’s Up Next. I still really connect with it but it wasn’t really identifying enough of what we are about.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. It’s much better branding. In your other life, you’ve been a doctor. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Doc G: First and foremost, I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t think I was going to be a doctor. Going back to your earliest memories, when someone asked you what you were going to do when you grow up, for me it was always, “I’m going to be a doctor.” I suspect that was because my father was a doctor. He was a prominent oncologist. He died suddenly when I was eight years old. So not only was I looking up to my dad and wanting to do what he did, but then he died and it really stuck in my head that this was what I was going to do. At the time it was interesting because I actually had a lot of trouble learning how to read because I had a learning disability. I ended up needing a bunch of tutors. I almost stayed back a year. In fact, we were planning on moving so I could stay back a year and enter a different school system, and just on the cusp of buying a new house in an adjacent neighborhood, my father died. The house sale fell through and a few months later, my learning accelerated at such a pace that they didn’t have to hold me back a year. All of this was happening but the idea of being a doctor still stuck with me. I was one of those guys who went to college and took all the science classes. I never doubted myself. There are people who say, “I better do well in this class so I can go to medical school.” To me, it was more like, “I’m going to do this so that I can go to medical school.” And that’s what I did. It was my dream—my purpose in life. And I pretty much sailed through. Medical school was great. I enjoyed it. I found it intellectually difficult but very reasonable. It was likely in residency where I started to see the cracks. Residency is a really hard time, especially in the United States. At that time, we were doing our “on call” schedule every third or fourth night so it would be really common for me to work 36 to 40 hours in a row without sleep every third or fourth night. That was the beginning of some of the disillusionment. Later on in my career I practiced general medicine. I was a typical family doctor that takes care of adults. It was great being a doctor but most of what was great was getting harder and harder to do. Sitting in a room talking to people, making the connections— all of that was replaced with computer systems, insurance worries, making sure you were on schedule seeing a new patient every 10 minutes. All I had dreamed about in being a physician became less and less. It put me in a little bit of a quandary at the exact same time I started learning about personal finance. One part of my life was this dream of becoming a doctor but it didn’t turn out exactly how I thought it would. It stopped feeling like it was my life calling. And right at that point, I also discovered personal finance and started looking at my own financial life. That was the impetus for a lot of change.
Tom: And we’ve both of talked on our podcasts about the whole FIRE movement. I hear a lot of people complain, “Well, this person quit but they were making $200,000 or $500,000 a year.” What I find interesting is you said you had a bit of a learning disability and yet you overcame that and became a doctor. Sure, people can’t go backwards but you made that income because of the actual effort in the first place. I think you deserve a little more credit. Some people dismiss this fact thinking you can only become FIRE if you’re high income. That is the easiest way to do it, but there’s work involved.
Doc G: It was hard work to do what I did within medicine. Now, granted, I had privileges—no question about it. I was born with enough innate intelligence to be able to take the tests and memorize the facts. And, I was born in a fairly well-off family. My parent paid for medical school so I didn’t even come out with debt. I was very, very lucky. Now, the other side of that coin is that I worked my butt off. I was the guy in college who, while everyone else was at the football game on Saturday morning, was alone in the law library with 10 books on my side, memorizing all the biology and chemistry. I was the guy who then went into residency and would work a 110 to 120 hour weeks to go to the best place I could to learn—the best institutions. And even after I finished, I ended up living in a fairly aggressive work environment where I was still working 70, 80 hours a week. I was taking phone calls all night long. At the top of my earnings (my highest potential when I was making almost seven figures) I was getting called at 2:00 am or 3:00 am almost every night. And this was on top of getting up at 4:45 am going to rounds at the hospital, going to rounds at the nursing homes, then going to see patients in their own homes or to the clinic. Then taking phone calls all afternoon and evening. So yes, I made a very high income, higher than my peers. But there was certainly an aspect of sacrifice. Part of why I became disillusioned with all of this, especially in my 30s while my kids were growing up, is because I was constantly on the phone. I was constantly getting up in the middle of the night. I was constantly tired. When you have young kids, they need energy and time. And when you’re exhausted and stressed out about your patients who are dying in the hospital, you’re sacrificing a part of yourself for that job. Don’t get me wrong, there are reasons to do this even above and beyond the economics because it was the right thing to do. By taking those phone calls at 3:00 am and running to see my patients, I was hopefully giving them superior care and helping them. So there are benefits both economically as well as emotionally, but it was hard. It’s probably the hardest thing I ever did, especially going through residency. It was exhausting, difficult, physical and emotional.
Tom: Would it be fair to say (based on my own experience) when you had kids that was when things started to change? I know I work quite a bit but at least I work at home so I’m not invisible to them. But even I start to feel like I’m spending too much time working. It would be nice to spend some time with the kids. Is that when things started to change?
Doc G: I would say there are a few pivot points. You mentioned kids. This is a little bit on the side but I probably had a little bit of PTSD left over from residency. I had seen enough bad things and been a part of enough bad things that I had a lot of scars. I had built up really solid walls around myself. If you talk to my wife she’ll say that when she first met me I was a happy, gregarious, comedic person. And slowly over my medical training a lot of that disappeared. I became much quieter. I didn’t laugh nearly as much. I was still the same person but it was almost less of who I was before. And there was this critical turning point after my son was born where I can remember holding him up right after my wife delivered him—when they hand the father the baby, I remembered all those walls I had put up to protect myself to cover up the sadness, shame and fear of all I had seen during residency—it kind of just disappeared and I became much more emotional, open person. I think having children got me back in touch with the person I was before I went through my medical training, which eventually led me to want to spend more time with them. So, yes, at some point I realized I have this thing I do (being a physician) which provides for me financially but it’s also keeping me from being the person I want to be. It may be making me a worse husband, a worse father and filling me with fear, stress and worry. At some point, I looked back at my career and said, “Wait, it’s not normal to spend most of your day being afraid, right?” Being afraid that a patient will get sick and you didn’t see it. Being afraid that the insurance company will decide not to pay you. Being afraid that Medicare (the major insurer in the United States) would all of a sudden audit you and ask for a million dollars back because you didn’t write your note correctly. All of these fears and worries I had just accepted as being how normal human beings walk around—having opened my eyes where I started saying, “That’s not normal. I shouldn’t be walking around afraid and worried all the time.”
Tom: Where did this take you to next? What steps did you take to reduce working 70, 80 hours? How did you get a little more life balance?
Doc G: I’ve found that most times in my life when I’m going to make a big, major, life change it is usually spurred on by beginning with creativity. I read a book called, The Whitecoat Investor, by Jim Dahle it 2014 that was about finances. When I read it, I immediately realized I was financially well-off and, in a sense, financially independent. I inherited some really good financial habits from my parents but I also worked very hard to build up my income and business. We spent very little of what we made. We invested because that’s what my parents did. In fact, my parents were into real estate so by my mid 30s, I had three or four units I was renting out— we were landlords. I had all these good financial habits but none of the vocabulary necessary to understand what that meant. When I read this book back in 2014, it opened my eyes where I realized I was financially independent. I could immediately leave the job that was causing me so much stress. Opposed to being jubilant about that, it actually stressed me out. I got really depressed and anxious because I had spent so much time investing in this identity of being a physician; investing in this identity of not just being a “physician” but someone who made lots of money too. I had invested in this as, “This is who I am… and I’m unhappy. I need to change something but am I ready to let go of the only identity I’ve really latched on to for the last 10 to 15 years?” So 2014 was my awakening but I was nowhere near ready to actually do anything. It took me years of thinking about this and then writing about it. I started a blog about finances called, Diversify. I got involved in the financial independence and personal finance movement which put me smack dab in the middle of people who were talking and thinking about these things as opposed to my normal social group of physicians who had a very singular mindset of how to live life. All of a sudden, I was around people who were saying, “You have enough money, why are you working and doing things you don’t like to do?” Starting around 2017, I got very serious about this idea of transitioning from a life filled with medicine that was no longer fulfilling my needs and no longer really feeling like me, to doing more creative things like writing about personal finances. I had done a bunch of public speaking and eventually, I started my podcast, Earn and Invest. I realized that what really brought me joy was creating and communicating things I had always pushed to the side. I had written poetry—I had even written a few books about medicine that I self published. I’d always done this stuff but there was this voice in the back of my head telling me that’s the stuff I do for fun… You’re a doctor for a living. When I realized I was financially independent, I didn’t have to be a doctor for a living anymore. I could do what I felt was more consistent with my purpose, my meaning, my identity. As it turns out, creating was the answer. And the beauty of it was that I no longer had to rely on doing this for money. I could do this because it felt good, because it felt consistent with who I am. If I made money, great. And if I didn’t make money, as long as I felt like I was using my time well, adding to the goodness in this world, then that was good enough.
Tom: A couple of things from that; you mentioned having people to talk to that got it. They were in that same headspace. I just want to let people know Choose FI Facebook groups are great. There are local ones just so you can meet people. Because you’re right, you get in these circles where nobody seems to care about personal finances; it’s something you don’t talk about. I’m sure there are all sorts of different local groups like meet.com. Is it meet.com or meetup.com?
Doc G: That could mean two different things.
Tom: Yeah, I don’t want to send someone to a dating site. I’ll make sure I get the right one in the show notes. But with that, you can find people that are in the same space who are willing to talk about this and make it so much clearer for you. The other thought I had from what you said was this idea of identity. Throughout your career, you meet someone and the first thing that they ask is, “What do you do?” They are basically asking what your job title is. Is that how you saw it in the past? What would you say now? If you just met someone now, what is your answer to what do you do?
Doc G: Being a physician gives you a bunch of prestige. Wherever you go it automatically brings a certain amount of respect. I would say the same thing about making money. I own my own business so I tend to do better than most physicians. There is a certain amount of prestige and feeling good based on that. I’m an achievement junkie. Anyone who goes to medical school, law school or is serious about what they do, you really become an achievement junkie. You thrive on achieving. And this really met that need. And that’s great but it just wasn’t making me happy. I knew it wasn’t making me happy because I was going out of my way not to let people know I was a physician. I would go to social events and do my best not to tell people what I did for a living. So that identity never really fit me well. I clung to it but it wasn’t serving me and that was the real pivot point when I realized you can’t have enough time… times two. You only need enough, once. I was holding on to this physician identity, to this high-earner identity because I kept on feeling like I needed more than what was enough. And at some point I realized I already have enough, I can’t benefit any more by having enough—times two. But you know what I can benefit from? The time and energy I can take away from these things that are no longer adding anything extra and put them into much more identity-affirming activities. It was no longer affirming my identity being a physician. It was no longer even affirming my identity making a lot of money. That all was great, but it wasn’t making me happy. The benefit of getting to enough is that you can start seeing what really affirms your identity. Wealth never ends. You can always have more money, but time is finite. I started realizing that I needed to use my finite time better because I wasn’t going to get an extra star for having enough (times two) or enough times three. The little precious time I have left, however much it is, I’d better use well. So what do I tell people when I run into them at a party? It’s a lot of fun to say you’re a podcaster or content creator. I don’t really make that much money doing it but it really is fun to say that. A lot of times I’ll just say that I do hospice because that’s one part of my career I really held on to—doing hospice work. When I realized that being a physician wasn’t making me happy anymore and that I had enough, I just started chopping away the things I didn’t like about being a physician. I wasn’t ready to let go of that identity completely. There are things about being a physician I still really love. But what didn’t I like? I didn’t like being in a private practice with all the patients who were calling on Saturday night at 10:00 o’clock in the evening to tell me they had a runny nose. So the first thing I did was get rid of my outpatient practice. Then I just did nursing homes and hospice work. But I was working all these weekends and the nursing homes were calling me at 2:00 o’clock in the morning because they had to since nurses are required to do that based on certain protocols. Eventually, I got rid of the nursing homes and was just doing hospice. Now, that was great, but then I got tired of working on the weekends or taking “call” at night so I pushed it down further and stopped working for the hospice and just became a contractor where I had finite amounts of work I did just during the week with normal hours; no nights, no weekends. When I got down to that point, I felt pure joy doing the job. I was still making some money so at least I had that affirming thing where if the economy drops or something bad happens, I not only have enough, I still have a steady income stream just in case. The time I spend doing this activity I really enjoy but it also gives me a huge amount of time to pursue whatever else I want to do. I spend maybe 15 hours a week now being a hospice doctor and about 30 hours a week being a content creator, whether that’s the podcast, the blog or doing social media stuff. Being a physician is a heck of a lot more lucrative but I got rid of everything I didn’t like. Now I can be as successful or as unsuccessful as I want with those 30 hours of being a content creator. As long as I’m enjoying doing it, it’s fulfilling my needs. As long as I feel like I’m making the world better, having a lot of fun or getting into great conversations like these, it’s worthwhile.
Tom: This is where I think the whole FIRE movement gets a bad rap. I’m not a big fan of the (RE) retire early part of it. I’m all for FI and all that but the idea that you have to retire early; you have to be this 40-year-old that just stops doing anything for the next 50 years of your life doesn’t make sense to me. Obviously, in your situation you came to the realization that you were already financially independent so you didn’t really have to plan for it. You just fell into it, which is great. It comes from the effort you put in. But for someone in more of a normal situation, more of an average salary, they are going to have to plan ahead a little bit for this. What are your thoughts on this idea of not really quitting? You don’t have to retire early. You can actually kind of trim it back and work your way toward that.
Doc G: I think retire early is a little bit of a fallacy. You have these people who are interested in FIRE who leave their jobs at 35 or 40 and when they do they say, “Well, I’m not going have a maid anymore. I’m going to do all those things I was paying for because now I have the time to do it.” So they’ve left their engineering job, let’s say, to become a housekeeper because now they’re spending their time cleaning their house instead? To me, you’re going to do some kind of work your whole life. Work is just expending energy. The question is, are you going to be paid for that work or not? And is that work going to give you joy? If I stopped being a doctor and was just a podcast and content creator, I’d be doing that because I enjoyed it. I may or may not get paid for it but I’m still doing work. I’m still putting in those 30 hours a week. I think you’re going to work your whole life. You can call it early retirement when you stop working for someone who pays you a paycheck. But I think it’s much less clear than we make it out to be. We have all these wonderful FIRE gurus that are out doing their thing but a lot of them are do-it-yourself people. They’re out there doing work anyway. It’s just not the paid kind of work you’re doing for “the man.” And that’s great because the more you can control your life, the better. I enjoy work. We are going through a pandemic and a global recession. Do you want your FIRE plan to be bulletproof? Make sure you still have some income. I have a skill I can use to do something that pays me. I can sleep really well during an economic downturn. I feel no reason to go check my investments. I feel no reason to worry about changing the allocations. I’m in it for the long-term and I don’t even have to tap any of that stuff because I’ve got a paycheck coming in.
Tom: And it obviously changes the math a lot for people. They don’t have to hit this magical FI number where they don’t need to work at all. If you’re still going to work 20 or 30 hours—you just want a career change and do something less and have more of your time, then that number changes drastically. If you’re working 40 hour week at a career and now you’re going to go do something else for 30 hours, as long as the pay is not too low, the rough math is that you don’t need all your income to come from your investments or anything like that. For a lot of people, to look at it that way makes it more attainable. It doesn’t mean you have to save 70 or 80 percent of your income just so you can quit cold turkey all in one day.
Doc G: The calculation in my mind when it comes to work—what is it keeping you from doing? If my doing this hospice work is keeping me from spending more time on the podcast, which I think would be great for X, Y, Z reason or if it’s stopping me from traveling. Or if I’m spending less time with my children because it’s that time of the week when I should be picking them up from school but I can’t because I have to be in a meeting, that’s when you start thinking maybe you shouldn’t be doing that work. But if you’re lucky enough or have crafted your life well enough to do these types of activities and craft them into exactly what you want, there’s no reason to get rid of them. I even enjoy having a schedule. For me, knowing that I have 12 hours a week where I have to be in meetings, really grounds my week. And it’s so few hours that I feel like I have the whole world still left. But it’s enough where every week I know I have somewhere to be and certain people to meet. I have normal social interactions which I just think are good. I get all the benefits of having a job without all the horrible parts of having a job.
Tom: Yeah, it’s always nice to get those interactions. The water cooler talk of people that truly do just quit their jobs don’t realize how much they’re going to miss that when they’re just sitting at home. Maybe they’re getting an idea that right now, actually. If you’re currently working at home, you’ll see the difference. What’s your advice for someone that wants to head down this path? Let’s say they’re doing 40 to 80 hours a week and they need a change, what steps can they take to get started?
Doc G: I think there are two philosophical paths, two main paths. There are probably more than this but you can look at it two different ways. You can either say, “I’m going to front-load the sacrifice; work really hard for a set number of years, save a lot of money and get there faster…” Whether that’s financial independence, financial security, you can get there faster by front-loading the sacrifice. Once you’re there, plan to build the life you want for maximal enjoyment. That’s one philosophical path. The other philosophical path is to change your life now. Maybe accept less income, but craft your life the way you want it. Knowing it may take you longer and you might have to work for a longer period to get there, you won’t mind it because you’ve crafted it into what you want it to be. I think you have to decide who you are. Philosophically, I thought I was crafting my life by becoming a physician—by doing exactly what I wanted to do. As I went further in my profession, I realized that actually wasn’t what I wanted to do. What I really wanted to do is create and communicate. But, I had front-loaded the sacrifice so much it allowed me the opportunity to transition out of being a physician easily. So where are you philosophically? Once you decide that, then you make decisions. If your decision is to front-load the sacrifice, then you really work on maximizing income, investing, setting up whatever side hustles you want and get your financial house totally in order. Then set a timeline of when it’s going to stop. The second most important thing is, once you stop doing the front-load sacrifice you need to decide what it is you are going to do with your life because you want to make sure you’re transitioning to something. That’s one way. The other way is saying, “Okay, I’m not going to wait through 10 years of sacrificing. I’m going to make my life better now and craft it into what I want and accept the fact that it could take me an 10 extra years to get to where I want to be financially. But I’m going to be enjoying the path the whole way, so it’s fine.
Tom: That’s great because it shows there are options. It isn’t “all sacrifice” or anything like that. You can play with the numbers. And if you never fully quit, then the numbers are even easier. Can you let people know where they can find you? We mentioned the podcast, but just let them know where they can find you online.
Doc G: Yeah, the best place to find me is earnandinvest.com. That is the podcast episode page. I am on all social media. Instagram is earnaninvest. Unfortunately, the correct spelling of earn and invest was taken up. Twitter is also earnaninvest. We have a Facebook group which is the Earn and Invest Facebook group. That’s facebook.com/groups/earnandinvest. All of those places are good places to meet me. You can message me on any of those platforms. On Facebook I go by Doc Green. Mostly I go by Doc G but, unfortunately, Facebook wouldn’t accept that so I became Doc Green a few years ago. But I’m happy to interact with anyone. Check out the podcast. We do panel episodes as well as single-person interviews two days a week on Monday and Thursday. I’d love to have you take a listen.
Tom: We’ll get that all included in the show notes. Thanks for being on the show.
Doc G: Yeah, it’s been a blast, man.
Thanks, Doc G, for opening up about your journey to financial independence and for sharing some of the challenges you faced along the way. The space between money and time is something everyone striving for financial independence will need to make. Your story is an inspiring one. You can find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/102. We’ve recently marked our 100th episode here on the Maple Money Show. If you’ve been around for all 100 episodes or you’re just tuning in for the first time, I thank you for listening. Also, we’ve been releasing videos from past episodes over our YouTube channel. If you’re interested, head over to maplemoney.com/youtube and hit the subscribe button. I look forward to seeing you back to next week when we have Tracey Bissett joining us to show how we can improve our financial fitness.