Choose The Lifestyle You Want, Don’t Worry About Its Label
I don’t think we are always aware of the pressures that are placed on us. Our partners have certain expectations of us which may or may not resonate with our own expectations in a relationship. Our jobs and our friends and most definitely our families, they all exert a pressure on us by voicing their expectations. Our lifestyles are inevitably judged by everyone around us.
There are certain behaviors that you can display within your community that are considered normal, for such attributes you are rewarded or you can pass under the radar without anyone commenting your lifestyle.
It can be as extreme as driving a raised truck and shooting wild animals on weekends. It could be having hate-tattoos on your body and frequenting white-power websites or rallies. You could be an immigrant with 2 jobs, renting a tiny apartment with 4 kids and living paycheck to paycheck.
You could also be a CEO and jumping from phone call to phone call, drive all over town to different meetings. You can talk down to people without them retaliating, you can drive very expensive cars and live in a very posh neighborhood.
To Be Normal You Must Fit In, You Must Belong
So the above example aren’t made up, right? There are plenty of people in those categories all around us and they exist perfectly fine alongside their counterparts. Nobody would expect otherwise from the day-laborer, the CEO, the white supremacist, the doctor, the lawyer, the vagabond or the auto-mechanic.
Imagine now if people’s lifestyles were crisscrossed. The CEO drove the raised truck, had NRA stickers on his laptop and went duck hunting for fun, sporting an admirable beer-belly.
Imagine the auto-mechanic who gets manicures, wears fancy clothing and rides a bicycle to work. Imagine she is a vegan and has a taste for fine wine. This mechanic is incredibly well-read and has a degree in biochemistry.
Our Society Assigns Us A Lifestyle
I think at some point we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that most of the things we do aren’t because we are all that creative. We didn’t envision this lifestyle uniquely, we simply chose it out of 3-4 options on the same continuum.
The reason it’s important to realize this is not to be self-deprecating, rather to become aware of how much of what we’re doing is based on our exact desires, our own unique choices and become aware of our proximity lifestyles.
Sure, we have to conform slightly depending on the work-environment or the social group we hang out in. We can’t smoke cigarettes right outside the clinic or show up to work stoned to see patients. We can’t flirt with our patients or have neck tattoos and forehead piercings in the clinic.
Well, we can do that, but it will make getting along at work that much harder.
Choose Your Own Lifestyle
I know I’m coming across condescending, and that’s okay, we don’t know each other and, like most of the things I write about here, this is more of advice for myself rather than individual advice for others.
Choose to be poor. This is perhaps the most fitting of juxtapositions when it comes to being a doctor. Live like you have no money, no disposable income, if you so choose.
We are told that being poor is undesirable. And we are told that being poor means that you are getting by on less because you don’t have an alternative choice. You don’t have the means to live with more – and if you did then it’s assumed that you would.
Imagine your neighborhood, your neighbors and your environment. Now imagine getting a beater car that is incredibly cheap to operate and easy to work on. Imagine your hood up on a Saturday afternoon with a couple of jackstands under the car-frame. Kinda makes you cringe, doesn’t it?
Imagine shopping for groceries for a family of 4 and trying to stick to $450 for the month. Imagine not buying any paper towels because it’s cheaper to use dish towels. Imagine dining out maybe 1x every 2-3 months and only getting books from the library.
Imagine telling your friends that you don’t want to order appetizers or drinks because your dining-out budget for this month is enough to pay only for your main course.
Imagine buying clothes at secondhand stores and repairing all your own appliances and doing your own handyman work at home.
Imagine walking 2 miles to the grocery store just so you wouldn’t have to spend the money on gas, driving your car.
It’s Hard Being Different
Focusing on doctors, we certainly are a overachieving bunch. We are well-read, we have put in our dues when it comes to hard work, we have dealt with the most challenging of financial situations, and we have beat ourselves up over making morbid mistakes.
It’s hard for us to show lack of confidence, we rarely can give into fatigue and we can’t bring our personal problems to the clinic or the OR. We need to display just the right amount of superiority with the nurses and expertise with the patients, the right kind of subordinance to our supervisors and the appropriate diligence when it comes to putting in extra work to help the “team”.
There is this really tightly bound identities which we hold on to ever since starting undergrad. We identify ourselves by it, we measure others by it and we find a sense of purpose in constantly pushing this image.
Imagine A Life Of Poverty And Simplicity
I use poverty because the kind of lifestyle these days that is simple and bare is considered a life of poverty, not maliciously perhaps but because those who have no choice but to get by on less, live in that fashion.
Some can’t afford having a car while others choose to live nearby work and not own one. They don’t want the headache and expenses of a car. Or they choose to have one car and refuse to take on the extra cost of a weekend-warrior vehicle.
Others refuse to buy something to solve a problem for them. They won’t buy an end-table because they need a place to put a lamp on. They refuse to buy a hand-mixer for the kitchen and they refuse to buy a trash-can, they use an old box instead.
Some will not buy new gadgets unless their old one disappears or dies. They have no cable TV and they choose to have nothing in the house that requires batteries.
Their leisure time doesn’t include driving several miles to a new destination or hopping on a plane to breathe in a different kind of air. They walk/bike to most destinations, they entertain themselves at home or with their family.
It could be a matter of priority. Perhaps the person willing to live a life of poverty is okay with not having all the fancy things in life. Or perhaps they are denying themselves those things for a reason. Maybe they have a savings goal or they are doing so for moral reasons.
Lifestyle By Design
I’ve heard this phrase, “lifestyle by design”, several times now and it resonates beautifully with me. It’s sitting down with pen and paper and writing/drawing out exactly what I want out of my life.
One design won’t work for everyone and it’s certainly not possible to come up with one single design that will work for you, forever. After the design is laid out you have to implement it. Your engineering department will need to see if it can be feasibly applied.
After some trial & error you will go back to the drawing board and create a redesign. Finally, you’ll end up with something that fits you, satisfies the majority of your ideals and desires and makes for a sustainable lifestyle.
It’s not that doctors are lazy or not creative. If anything, we got to where we are by having the exact opposite characteristics. But sadly, we are able to pave our way through life by throwing dollars at problems.
This often-desired ability kills our creativity, it creates a feeling of dependency and it prevents us from growing. Soon enough we become workaholics or become so defined by our jobs that everything else in our life is trumped.
Take Some Steps To Redesign Your Life
A path towards financial independence can reset your lifestyle. I’m sure there are other ways, but I’ve found this approach to be all-encompassing. It addresses life, work, health, love, resilience, identity, civilization, humanity and mortality.
I have learned so much about myself by relying less on external systems that shape the current lifestyles of people. I have felt freedom that I falsely thought I had before. I got a chance to question the majority of my actions, thoughts and way of life.
Whatever you are spending time or money on, whatever you have to track, whatever you have to manage or thinking about, try to evaluate it in terms of whether it’s getting you closer to that ideal lifestyle that you can imagine.
What is your ideal lifestyle? A healthy balance of work and play? More time learning or more time exercising? It might be experiencing adventure or it might be spending more time with family. It might be having less pressure on your person.
My Personal Hurdles
Every person has different priorities in life which can be achieved by overcoming certain hurdles. For me, it was my need for a high income and my identity with my career.
Sure, a high income is nice but when you have to spend time earning it then it’s a trade-off. If money just came gushing out of a fountain then I’ll take a little more, enough to help me feel secure – though I’m certain I’ll find a reason to push that “secure” number higher the more I have.
If I have to trade my time for working to earn income then either the work has to be so pleasurable that the income is just a pleasant side-effect or that income has to be so valuable to me that it allows me to do things in life that I wouldn’t be able to do without it.
It’s only been maybe 2 months since I’ve had a lower income. Starting 2008, I have enjoyed an income well past $100k. 2016 ended with a take-home of nearly $180k.
In contrast, now, I’m taking home maybe $3,500/month. It’s such a liberating feeling – after I came to terms with it.
I identified with being a doctor for so many reasons. It may not be bad to identify with one’s job but imagine how much more amazing it would be to identify more with your being, your life-force, your life-energy – whatever the fuck you wanna call it.
Don’t worry, you won’t hate being a doctor just because you no longer see yourself as “a physician”. You’ll probably do your work while putting less pressure on yourself. What I am experiencing is that I feel more free, less defined and less controlled by having to be or behave a certain way that corresponds to me being a doctor.