Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Solitary Diner is Famous!

I'm featured in a guest post today at Chief Mom Officer.  Head over and take a look!

And if you've found my site through CMO, welcome.  Leave me a comment so I know who you are.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trading Money for Happiness

Like any good HSP, I don't like to be too busy.  Long to-do lists and piles of unfinished work make me anxious.  Extended periods on call break me a little mentally.  I'm not entirely sure how I survived residency, in retrospect.

As an attending, my happiness is affected a lot by the call schedule.  When the 2018 call schedule came out last year, I was initially ecstatic:  no less than a month between blocks of call*, all of my requested days off, and Christmas off for the second year in a row.  I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that I was working a lot of the long weekends, but that was a small sacrifice for what was otherwise pretty much the best call schedule I could ask for.

And then a revision came out.  And suddenly I was doing two extra weeks of call, with only a two-week break before I had to do my next stretch of call.  And the second stretch of call was immediately before my trip to France, meaning that I would be going into vacation tired and inevitably behind at work.

I was not happy.  I angrily** emailed the person in charge of making the call schedule to try to get it changed, but she had clearly had enough of dealing with demanding physicians, and she told me that I would have to find someone to switch with myself.  She was done.

So I studied the call schedule, looking for someone with whom I could switch one of my dreaded call periods.  There were a few options that would make things better, but all of them had at least one drawback:  during my beloved theatre festival, right before a major presentation, too close to another call period.  No matter how I switched them, the two extra weeks were going to make some stretch of my year miserable.

And then it occurred to me that I could just get rid of them.  Call is as lucrative as it is unpleasant, and there are other physicians who value money more than I do.  A few quick emails, and two weeks of call were gone.

The moment I got the email confirming that someone else was taking my call, I felt light.  I hadn't even realized how stressed I was feeling about my schedule until suddenly it was reasonable again.  I felt the tiniest bit of regret about the money I would lose out on, because I still have a line of credit to pay off and retirement savings to build, but it was tiny.  So tiny.

Having just come off a two-week stretch of call, I am currently even happier than I was initially about my decision to give up the extra weeks.  Even though I like the inpatient work that I do, I have spent the past two weeks counting down the days (and sometimes hours) until I would be able to turn off my pager.  I have hated the constant anxiety that comes from not knowing when I would get paged or what new challenge I would have to deal with next.  I need my downtime to be happy and healthy, and two weeks with none of it is hard.

This is what financial freedom means to me.  The ability to say "This is not worth the money" and walk away from something that makes me miserable.  Two weeks with no call is sweeter than any big house or fancy car will ever be.

*We do 1-2 weeks of call at a time for a total of about 10 weeks per year.

**Not really.  I am not an angry person.  At worst I am slightly passive-aggressive, and even then I'm mostly passive.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

When Money Meets Dating

When my ex and I broke up, I gave myself a six-month hiatus from dating.  I wanted to relearn how to be happy as a single person before I started dating again, in the hope that I wouldn't make bad relationship decisions to avoid being alone.

It ended up being easier than I had expected.  I had been unhappy in my old relationship for a long time, so the absence of the relationship's negativity in itself felt like happiness.  And there are big positives to being alone.  I like planning trips to France without considering what someone else wants to do, and I like always getting to pick the movie. 

Then my ex started dating again, and I got jealous.  I was doing so well with being single that I decided I didn't need to wait a full six months, so I signed up for an online dating site about a week ago.  It has been about as much fun as I expected it to be, with my previously healthy self esteem now as volatile as the stock market.  I check my profile more frequently than Twitter, and I devote way too much of my precious mental energy to the eternal question of "Why didn't she respond to my message?"

A friend of mine who is in a happily committed relationship keeps telling me that I should enjoy the process, which makes me kind of hate her.  Meeting new people is anathema to an introvert, and it is only made worse by the inherent vulnerability of trying to find someone who will like you enough to want to share your bacteria.  The best I can do so far is view this as a means to an end, and if I survive the process without hating it*, I will consider myself to have handled it well.

When I first subjected myself to this hell five years ago, I didn't really think about money.  I was a solid five figures in debt, so I didn't worry that someone was going to pursue me for my wealth.  But now, things are...different.  I'm on pretty solid financial ground for a forty-year-old, and assuming the stock market stops imploding, my finances are going to keep getting better very quickly.  My financial situation removes a lot of ordinary worries from my life, and it also lets me do a lot of things that most people can't.

One of the first things I've noticed with online dating is how different my travel history is from most people's.  "Where have you traveled?" is a common conversation starter online, and I feel uncomfortable listing off all the places I've been lucky enough to visit.  I abhor bragging, and it feels like that's what I'm doing when I say "Oh, I've traveled to all the places you have, but also 20 other places, because I am a rich doctor."  (I'm not actually that awkward online.  Hopefully.)  I know that this is a really nice problem to have, and this is not a complaint but rather a reflection, but it is still weird to me.

The bigger issue that arises with online dating is financial compatibility.  My city has a pretty shallow lesbian dating pool, so picking a partner isn't like customizing a sandwich at Subway.  What if I find someone who is cute and funny and nerdy but is terrible with money?  Or who wants to stay at home and play with the cats while I pay all the bills?  (Note to the internet:  If you are a queer woman who would like to pay all the bills while I stay home and play with the cats, my email address is on the sidebar.)

Dating is so frustratingly difficult. 

*I was going to make a joke about being murdered, but have you heard about the horrible murders in Toronto's LGBTQ* community

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Grief is Not Linear

When I was in my third year of medical school, my Dad asked me to feel a lump in his armpit.  Seven months later, he died of the melanoma that had metastasized from a tiny mole on his arm.

Surviving my Dad's death was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  I wrote about it here once, in the part of the blog that was lost in the great purge, and I described it as being like walking around without skin.  Everything hurt.  I made it through my last two years of medical school only thanks to some very supportive friends and terror at the thought of not matching to a residency program.

And then my Dad was gone and medical school was over, and I thought that I had left grief behind.  I didn't think of him often; I could talk to patients about death without crying; and I started to feel happy again.  (Or, as happy as a neurotic first-year Internal Medicine resident is capable of feeling.)  I was moving on, and grief wasn't coming with me.

Until it did.  When I matched to fellowship, I grieved the fact that my father would never know what specialty I had gone into.  When I started dating my first girlfriend, I grieved the fact that he would never see me dating a woman, even though he'd reached a tenuous peace with me being bisexual.  And then again, in the middle of my last and longest relationship, I grieved that my girlfriend would never get see firsthand how much I am a clone of my father.

I have been surprised over the past eight years to realize that grief never goes away.  It lies dormant for a while, sometimes long enough that I can forget it was ever there, but it inevitably returns, each time just as painful as when it was fresh.  Every time it comes back feels like a surprise hit to the chest, knocking the breath from my body.

The same thing is happening right now with the semi-recent end of my relationship.  A few weeks ago, I found myself humming happily at work, and I distinctly remember thinking about how nice it was to be so happy.  I was even going to write a smug blog post about how good life was and how bloody happy I was, but I was enjoying my happiness too much to bother.

And then my ex-girlfriend started dating again.

And posted pictures of her new girlfriend on Facebook.

And now I feel like I'm 14 instead of 40, because I am hurting over my ex-girlfriend's social media activities.  I am supposed to be over her, and yet I find myself barely able to drag myself through the day.  I cry on my drive into work, because I have to pass the coffee shop where we waited while we got winter tires, followed by the restaurant to which we took her friends from Egypt to try schnitzel.  Grief redux.

And it is completely irrational, because there is no part of me that wants to go back to the relationship.  It's not even that I want her to not date, because I do want her to date and to be happy.  I'm not a horrible person wishing misery on her just so that I won't be miserable.  And yet, I am sad.  Horribly, inexplicably, unexpectedly sad.

And I can't even drink, because I'm still on call for eight more days.

Friday, February 2, 2018

How Do We Talk About Money When We're Rich?

I've noticed something interesting about language in the personal finance community.  A lot of the bloggers who have been financially successful have gotten there as a result of being some degree of frugal (from Frugalwoods extreme to Physician on Fire more relative frugality), and as result, even when people have a lot of money, they don't necessarily think of themselves as being rich.  Instead, the term "financially independent" is often used to describe net worths that many people would consider enough to make someone "rich".

Does it matter?  Is there any difference between describing yourself as financially independent versus rich?

From a totally self-absorbed perspective, I think it does.  Even though I am way far away from the net worth of Physician on Fire, I have recently started thinking of myself as rich.  I am earning six times the median household income for my city, I'm increasing my net worth at a delightfully high rate, and I can afford to buy pretty much anything that I could possibly want.  I am very financially lucky, and I will hopefully continue to be this lucky until I retire at some to-be-determined date in the future.  This, to a person who spent all of her life until recently at the lower end of the middle class, is rich. 

And for me, there's value in calling myself rich.  It helps me control my financial anxiety by reminding myself that I am actually doing really well, even though the part of me that craves security always wants my net worth to be higher.  It reminds me to be grateful for what I have, because this level of earning and financial security is not ordinary.  It also makes me mindful to not be a jerk to my friends who are not as financially well off, and to invite them over for dinner instead of out to eat at an expensive restaurant.

Personally, I also believe that being rich carries with it some obligations to society.  People who are rich have a disproportionate amount of power in society, and I believe we are morally obligated to use some of that power to help shift society towards greater equity.  That might mean voting for progressive tax laws that favour lower income earners, even if it costs you directly (i.e. doing the exact opposite of what the POS Republican tax bill just did).  Maybe it's advocating for a $15 minimum wage so that people who work full-time can at least come close to supporting themselves and their families with a single job.  Maybe it's giving some of your wealth to charities that help marginalized people and strengthen the communities they live in.

When we don't call ourselves rich, it's easy to ignore these obligations.  It's easy for someone with a $2 million net worth to say "I'm just an ordinary guy trying to live frugally" while leaving a shitty tip for his underpaid server.  But if we acknowledge our own wealth, it at least gets us closer to recognizing that the server needs (and deserves) that money a lot more than we do.  And maybe acknowledging our own abundance makes us a little bit more likely to share it with others.

Thoughts?