Your Personal Life Isn’t Your Priority When You Spend The Majority of Your Time At Work
I just had this conversation with a friend who is adamant that one can still live their life to its fullest while working a full-time job, there would be no need to sacrifice one’s lifestyle for a job.
I call bullshit. My math argues against her idea.
Let’s define a full-time job: working minimum of 40 hours a week with about 4-6 weeks of vacation per year – 1,880 hours a year. This doesn’t include the time we spend outside of the job to prep for it, it doesn’t include commuting and the headaches and stresses that come with working full-time.
By accepting a full-time contract you are committed to your employer, who in turn can count on you to fill the holes in the schedule which means more income stability for the business and it also means that you too will have a more predictable schedule/income (the upside of being full-time).
In a similar fashion larger companies with less competition will charge lower fees for their services to customers who are willing to sign a contract and will charge much higher rates or refuse service to those unwilling to scribble in that signature field.
For doctors the prize for working full-time is the benefits package, comprised of health insurance, dental, life insurance, disability, malpractice coverage and vacation/sick leave time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has the latest report out for this month showing 31.4% of the average employee’s hourly wage going towards benefits. These numbers are for the average US employee who makes $23.35/hr and gets $10.70/hr of benefits.
You got the benefits package in exchange for sacrificing your time-independence and not for your good looks. What is that time commitment exactly? 40 hours a week of pure work not taking into account the peripheral work-related stuff. This isn’t a week-to-week thing, it’s a several decade-long commitment for the majority of doctors.
Rest assured that US companies are willing to spend up to 30% of an employee’s hourly wages in form of benefits because they are squeezing that extra productivity out of that employee. I am not making an argument for full-time, part-time or per diem though some of you are already considering your priorities in your current state… time flexibility vs increased time commitment in return for the advertised benefits.
Let me digress even more. The average employee is likely not privy to private options in the marketplace regarding common benefits-package items. Most can buy their own health insurance, life, and disability insurance as well as save and invest for their own retirement.
By purchasing in the private marketplace employees can get far more competitive rates. We are all told that “group policies” offer more benefits and are way cheaper… nay. Nay I say! They are cheaper in comparison to similar bloated plans purchased privately; in reality you would never buy such a plan for yourself. Often times the disability contacts are too vague for doctors, the health insurance is lavishly excessive especially for us, who can manage their own health. Finally, the retirement plans they offer have too few options with too many fees.
The opposite argument could be made that even with a 30% raise and nixing the benefits side-order you would end up with less because a lot of these benefit-packages can be deducted for you through the employer, often lowering your tax burden; insurance lobby groups at work.
And to that I would say that if you have full control of when you work and who you work for then you can strategically structure your income so that you minimize taxes and maximize take-home pay; tax strategizing at work.
The average professional spends 50% of their awake hours working their full-time job in any given year. If you take into account licensing, taking certification exams, CME’s and dealing with work email/calls that number is closer to 60%. This means that the majority of your young life was spent working a job. Not only are many professionals okay with this, they also believe it’s a privilege, with their occasional weekends being the cherry on top of this feculent cake.
People assume that their priority in life is their family, their health, their mental well-being or their religion. Yet they spend the majority of their time on work. Time is the only finite valuable commodity we have and you can’t buy more of it, you can’t barter for more and you can’t go back and spend it differently.
This isn’t a rip on the average physician. I am being blunt in order to drive home a point, my point. As professionals we are living the lifestyle we are expected to live, an expensive and complicated life that requires a lot of upkeep, a lot of income. This system is keeping us indentured. Almost every single one of us can break free as I have outlined on this blog by decoupling from the mainstream earning/spending paradigm, through investing, learning skills outside of medicine, consulting with those who have succeeded before us or have the right expertise and by aiming for financial independence.
"I work full-time and I'm happy!"
If I ask that same person how they would live their life if they came into possession of $5 billion dollars I promise you that working at their job full-time would not be part of it. Sure, maybe for a couple of months but quite quickly that person’s lifestyle focus would change. They couldn’t buy more overall-time with that money, they bought more free-time, time that they can spend as they wish. They essentially bought their freedom. The chains and prisons of the 19th century have been replaced by mortgage and debt bondage. Slavery has been replaced by golden handcuffs.
We have spent all our lives living by someone else’s rules and regulation. We had to be in bed at a certain time. We had to be home by our curfew. We had to sit in a shitty classroom from 8a-3p. Then we had to sit and study and be in lectures for even more time. We have been held hostage in front computer screens or had to stand in an OR for hours. Our time owned by someone else, they decided what we would do and when we would do it.
If you are making only $25,000 a year and have kids and accumulated a ton of debt then it’s unlikely that you will be able to escape this financial prison. But if your salary is $250,000 instead and you aren’t doing anything about regaining your freedom then you may just have been institutionalized.
Let’s say I have a shift Saturday morning but I totally feel like hanging out with loved ones instead… guess what, it’s a no-go.
If it’s midway through my shift and I’m just craving to go for a walk and just can’t think anymore… nope, gotta power through.
If I’m on vacation and want to spend another week away and come back later… I won’t be able to, my full-time job won’t have it.
Some might argue that there are docs out there raising kids, having hobbies and living the life they want while holding down a 50-hour work-week. See, I don’t think they are doing exactly what they want – they are working around the confines of their job. That’s not to say they are unhappy, miserable or wrong but let’s not fool ourselves either; how can a person commit 60% of their time to a job, spend 30% to sleep and 20% (at most) to family-time and claim that their family comes first?
This post is about freedom of time and freedom to do what we want to do. Being able to spend the day as we please without feeling pressured or forced to build our lives around our jobs. Admittedly, a young attending will have a tough time with this because the nature of this career requires us to put in a little more time up-front so that we can learn sufficiently on our own. That, along with our SL debt, makes it easy for us to become workaholics.
I am reinforcing the point that you have to fight for your time-freedom, it will be sequestered by anyone and anything if you don’t keep a watchful eye over it. This transition in time-priority doesn’t have to wait until age 65 just because some fuck-face determined that age 65 is the official retirement age. It can come whenever you want it to come. In order to do so you will need to engineer this freedom, it takes some planning and some sacrifice but in my opinion it is well worth it.