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Debt Motivates Us To Work

I like to chat it up with my colleagues, pick their brains, see how their mind works. Why do they work as much or as little as they do. What their long-term career plans are and what they would do if not medicine.

My observation has been that docs early on in their career are motivated to work because it’s a challenge, they are still learning and they are more focused on the fun part of seeing patients than the mundane bureaucracy of the job.

Physicians then start families in their mid to late 30’s and so the motivation to work is paying for a growing family and paying off student loans and usually a mortgage.

At some point debt is all that remains as an impetus to continue working in medicine. And that’s what this post is about. The driving force behind working is not exactly what a lot docs think it is.

I would take it as far as to say that we may take on more debt because subconsciously it’s the only reason we are willing to continue working. Buy a larger home, get another mortgage, more reason to work. Start saving for the kids’ college, set a savings goal, continue working. Start worrying about retirement, tell yourself you need a lot of money, work even more.

Should one work in order to generate income or work for the sake of the profession? I don’t have the answer when it comes to working in general, still figuring that out. Medicine, law enforcement, nursing, and teaching though hopefully are filled with more of those who love and enjoy the work.

I feel that I should have a duty to slowly work my way out of my profession if the work is no longer a passion but a means to an end. Should!…

If Not Debt Then Guilt

What happens when you don’t need to work any longer?

Let’s say there is no debt, enough has been saved for the family to do well, and money has been set aside for retirement. Well, there is always one more self-inflicted motivating factor, guilt.

I don’t think I will get any pushback if I said that docs would feel guilty or even be made to feel guilty if they didn’t continue practicing medicine. If they have the potential for a high income and didn’t capitalize on it, well damn it, they must be ungrateful.

We should be working hard and buying a chunky house which will hopefully go up in value.

We should be investing in income properties.

We should start a business. Come up with a new product in medicine. Sell vitamins or supplements or some shit.

We feel guilty or feel it to be a waste to not practice medicine. Despite the risks and day-to-day headaches of the field we somehow have found it to be more important to suffer rather than to cut the noose.

Guilt is easier to deal with, it doesn’t leave an aftertaste. Debt, unfortunately, sticks around much longer.

This is one of the reasons I am a strong advocate of paying off all debt.

Fuck the good debt/bad debt argument.

Owing something to someone creates a regular payment for which you feel responsible for. As long as that payment has to be made our reliance on our jobs for steady income will be artificially high.

How can we stop ourselves from accumulating more debt?

This is a very different question when asked of an average income earner than a physician with quite a bit of income. We know we have the capacity to take on more debt and pay it off. We create this cycle not just because we want whatever the shit that the debt affords us but I think we do it also because the thought of not having debt is scary.

I mean really, case in point, I don’t owe nobody nothing right now. All of a sudden I’m having to face as to why I am even doing what I’m doing. It’s quite a fortunate situation to be in but it’s a bit surreal, nevertheless.

I have no other explanation for this cycle of debt/work when I see a colleague take on a $30k loan for a car. Or when a doc with $500k in student loans assumes another $800k in mortgage debt.

Either we have to become less reliant on our jobs by no longer identifying as physicians, doctors, the highly educated and prestigious or we need to test our ‘passion’ for our jobs by getting rid of or paying off all debt and reevaluating our feelings about our careers.

I wonder if as the need for the income fades whether our passion for the work, which was there in those early years, is resurrected. I’m not holding my breath, but I remember those exciting days working 100-hour weeks jumping from one moonlighting gig to the next. Perhaps it’s like those fiery romantic times early on with our now-significant others. Either the flames have gone out long ago or it’s shining brightly under the surface of the shit that is the stresses of life.

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