Podcast: Doc G — Financial Independence’s Impact on Health
Episode 37 of the NewRetirement podcast is an interview with Doc G — a financially independent physician, podcaster and author — around the topics of financial independence, the transition to retirement, purpose and health.
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- NewRetirement podcast with Dr. Jim Dahle — The White Coat Investor
Full Transcript of Steve Chen’s Interview with Doc G
Steve: Welcome to the NewRetirement Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Doc G, a financially independent part-time physician and current podcaster and author, about financial independence, purpose and its impact on health.
Steve: Doc G and I are both part of the FinCon community and as someone who is financially independent and is a doctor, and who has also made big changes in his life, he brings a really good perspective on our topic. So with that, Doc G, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you join us.
Doc G: Yeah, it’s great to be here. I’ve had you on my shows. So now, it’s great to come onto yours.
Steve: Yeah, no it’s good. Where I’d like to start is can you give us a quick, couple of minutes on how you got here. The life journey, how you grew up a little bit and decisions you made and what brought you to this point? And then we’ll talk about what’s next.
Doc G: So I was your typical physician. My father was a physician when I was little and I was enamored by him. I wanted to be just like him. I always tell people, he used to have this thing where he’d bring each one of his boys to work with him when they got old enough. So I was the youngest of three, and usually, when we turned around 10, he would take us to the office and we’d go see patients with him
Doc G: I remember watching my older brother go, because he was four years older than me. Then I watched my middle brother go, and I was getting to that age where I was almost old enough and then my dad died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.
Doc G: So I was eight years old at the time, and I just wanted to be just like him. So him dying at that age, it was that age where I idolized him. So this idea of being a doctor was always in my mind. And I can’t even go back and remember a time when I didn’t think, “I’m going to be a doctor.” This was just what my trajectory was. In fact, back then I had a learning disability. I had a hard time learning how to read. I was doing coloring books when all my friends were in their first readers.
Doc G: But it was never a question to me. It was never like, “Oh, he’s not going to be smart enough. He’s not going to be able to figure it out.” I eventually overcame the learning disability, went to high school and college, matriculated and eventually went to medical school. And I never thought much about money or finances. I grew up in a middle class family. Most things were taken care of for me.
Doc G: My medical school fees and dues, all of that was actually covered by my father’s life insurance. So I never really had to worry about being in debt or money. And I didn’t even want to think about it. I just wanted to be a physician and I built a life. I got married, I had kids. But sometime in my late 30s, early 40s, I realized that practicing medicine wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be.
Doc G: I loved seeing patients and I loved those moments where you felt like you were really helping people, but there were so many other moments that were just frustrating. The paperwork, the fears about Medicare and audits, the fears about legal action against you if you made a mistake and God forbid, the fears that you did something wrong and hurt someone. So in the backdrop of that, I was lucky enough to be in an incredibly strong financial situation.
Doc G: My parents didn’t do a lot to teach me specifically about money by sitting me down and teaching me. But they really modeled great behavior. They both owned their own companies, they had side hustles, they owned real estate, they saved way more than they ever spent. So, I grew up with this great model of what it would be to be financially independent, even though I didn’t know what that was.
Doc G: So on the backdrop of getting tired of my medical practice, feeling burnt out, feeling that maybe I had grown up with this idea of being a physician and it was some of what I really loved, but it wasn’t everything. A guy called my office and asked me if I would read his book. That guy was named Jim Dahle, and he’s the White Coat Investor and he wrote a book about investing for high net worth individuals and physicians. And I had had a medical blog at that time, and I had been writing and I had a moderate following and he wanted to get the word out about his book and he sent it to me. I read it and he gave me the vocabulary to finally understand my finances.
Doc G: At that point, I had a financial advisor. I had a basic understanding of investing. I even owned my own rental real estate. But I didn’t know when enough was enough. I didn’t know how to plan for retirement or my future. And I read his book and within one sitting, it probably took me three or four hours to read, it changed my whole life. For one, I knew immediately that I was already financially independent and if I didn’t want to work another day, I could stop right then and there.
Doc G: The funny thing about that, as opposed to being jubilant, it set me off into a spin of depression and anxiety, because all of a sudden this thing that I based my whole life on, this thing that brought me close to my father, who had died when I was eight, this thing that I thought was my purpose in life, I could just walk away. And that scared the heck out of me.
Doc G: The next few years, it took me much deep thought, starting to write a financial blog, eventually podcasting to realize that it was okay to pull away from this profession that was no longer feeling so good and pursue other passions. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
Steve: Wow. How old were you when you read the book?
Doc G: It was 2014, so that was six years ago. I must have been about 40.
Steve: Okay, wow. That’s a pretty amazing story and shout out to Jim Dahle for writing a book that has changed people’s lives. He was on our podcast and he was a great guest and super knowledgeable. I know he had developed a strong reputation on Bogleheads and different communities that, I think, led him on his own journey into writing and blogging and becoming and author and all the rest of it.
Steve: Wow, I think it’s pretty interesting how some people, that when they do get to be financially independent, they then have a whole different set of challenges, that if they haven’t thought about in advance, it becomes a problem. Like our first guest was JD Roth, and we talked about purpose and his whole thing is purpose and it’s all tied up with becoming financially independent and making sure you’ve thought about it in advance, because if you haven’t, then you’re kind of like, “Okay, here I am.”
Steve: It was all about… he went, “Okay, it was actually all about the journey. All about getting here. Now, I’m here. What’s next? What am I going to do next?” Which I know is your podcast and how you frame up the work that you’re doing. So, that’s pretty cool.
Steve: One thing you mentioned in the lead up to this is stealth wealth. You talked a little about your parents and they did their own investing and they were financially independent, maybe they didn’t call themselves that. Kind of any color on how that impacted you growing up or now, when you look back?
Doc G: After my father died, my mom happened to be in business school at the time. She had taken a bunch of years off to bring up the kids, and she was in business school and she was just about to graduate with an accounting degree. So she started at one of the big accounting firms, worked there for a number of years and eventually went into business or herself. She met my step-father, who was a CEO of a large healthcare company, and they were both business people, right?
Doc G: They both owned and ran their own businesses. They believed in real estate, so they bought properties and were landlords. And then my step-dad, who is the CEO of this big healthcare company, also had a passion for coins. So he used to buy and sell pennies and he had his own little business going on the side.
Doc G: The funny thing about that is altogether, between my step-brother and step-sister and then us three boys, they were bringing up five kids. So this idea of early retirement, I don’t even think was a possibility for them. They were thinking about five college educations. They were thinking about me going to medical school. This idea that, “Hmm, we’ll just stop working or slow down,” wasn’t a possibility. But I have to hand it to them, both of them really seemed to love their work.
Doc G: So they made lots of money and so it’s really surprising that they didn’t also spend a lot of money. Now granted, they lived in a fairly wealthy suburb of Chicago and we took some really nice vacations. It’s not like we were hurting. We weren’t starving. In fact, I would say that in my childhood, I never really wanted for anything. But as an adult, I go and look back and they were saving 50 to 75% of their income, probably all throughout those years, even when they were sending us to college.
Doc G: So things just weren’t, it wasn’t a big part of their life. They didn’t buy expensive things. We went on some nice vacations and we had the luxury of not having to scrounge, but for the amount of money they made, they could have been living much higher on the hog. So when I grew up, things weren’t really important to me either. I was much more about ideas. The idea of owning a business was not because you were going to make tons of money. It was the challenge of creating and finding a business that brings wealth and value. But that didn’t necessarily always have to be monetary value.
Doc G: So we just didn’t live the way our bank accounts looked like we should live.
Steve: Well, it is a luxury though to have the cognitive freedom to choose what you want. Or be able to think so freely that, “Ah, I could start a business, or I could do this or I could do that.” Just as a side story, my oldest son is in college and now, he’s like asking about, thinking about, “What should I major in?”
Steve: And my wife and I were just discussing, I’ve given him this advice, “Well, I think that you should definitely have some tech minor, so you have some hard skill which would be good to have.” And then her view is, “He should do whatever he wants and just learn and explore and what not.”
Steve: It is a luxury to be able to think this way versus like, “Hey, I’ve got to come out, I’ve got to have skills to make money.” I think either way, he should have his own skills to… something to fall back on. I do think, for instance, for you. You know you can make money as a doctor. You do make some money as a doctor, but you’ve also reached financial independence. Just having that ability changes your life. So I think it is, just to finish this thought, it is worth it as a person to have some capability that you know you can fall back on in terms of your human capital.
Doc G: I definitely realize the luxuries I had growing up in a stable family where money was available. I think Jim Dahle actually said this to me before. He said, “When you don’t have oxygen, first just getting oxygen is wealth.” But when you’ve grown up all your life and your oxygen’s there, you don’t even think about it. So, I grew up in an environment where I didn’t have to think about that basics and it allowed the luxury for me to acquire some hard skills, which will last me for the rest of my life. But also, to start with real, solid building blocks.
Doc G: Now, when I look at my life and I say, “I’m 46 years old and I can stop working if I want to,” I’m very cognizant of the fact that a lot of work got me to that point. And a lot of it wasn’t even mine. It was my parents and my upbringing and luck.
Steve: Yeah, right. Just to loop back on your mom and step-father, are they still alive?
Doc G: They are still alive.
Steve: Have they adjusted their quality of life as they… I’m assuming they’re retired, now? Or, not.
Doc G: They’re pseudo retired. My mom had some health issues and actually had to take disability. But she still, for instance, does a lot of the accounting for my business and she volunteers her time, etc. My step-dad stepped away from a CEO position, but then was a consultant for 15, 20 years and still sits on some boards and still does some consulting. But for them, it’s more about the joy of the work.
Doc G: Have they increased their lifestyle? Probably not much. After they didn’t have to pay for us kids anymore, they still, again they go on great vacations and they own more than one house which they use, as opposed to being a rental property. So again, not in the poor house by any means, but they will probably die with lots and lots of money in the bank.
Steve: That’s another… I did this podcast with Morgan Housel and we talked about, it was like $35 trillion, it’s this huge amount of money that’s piling up with the future generations that the reality is, is that people with money that retire with money, they tend to keep building it up over time. They don’t spend it down. So then they get more and more of it. Your expenses don’t necessarily stay the same.
Steve: Say you retire at 60, you may have these 10 years of, “Hey, I’m cranking, going to travel the world. Everything’s good.” And then from 70 to 80, “I’m slowing down a little bit.” 80 plus, unless you’re some kind of freak, you’re not necessarily globe trotting and spending money. You just can’t spend it.
Steve: But anyway, there’s going to be this whole, hopefully, I mean it depends on how you look at it, wave of wealth that gets passed down and that does change people’s perspectives on their lives, for some people.
Doc G: It’s an important message for young people. It’s really the power of compounding. We talk a lot on our podcast about financial independence and there’s really two ideas about how you get there, right? One idea is you make lots and lots of money very quickly, invest it, crank away for 10, 15 years, save a lot of money and then you live off the investments.
Doc G: The other way is to find passive income sources, or at least income sources that you’re passionate about and then don’t feel like work, and you can start at 22, 23, 24, really young and consider yourself financially independent. My problem with those people who start young and go after the side hustling and the freelancing and those types of things is you really miss out on the power of compounding.
Doc G: So me as a twenty something year old who went to medical school and started making a lot of money right off the bat, I worked really hard for a good 10 years. Now that I’m at that point where I don’t want to work as hard, the money is really working for me. So the earlier you start compounding… that’s why, as you were talking about, when you get older, as opposed to you spending down or drawing down your wealth, a lot of these people, their wealth just keeps compounding whether they work or not because there are limits to how much you can spend.
Doc G: But whether you’re in the stock market or the real estate market, it just keeps growing.
Steve: Yeah, I think it’s… I’ve got to imagine for some listening to the podcast, they’re like, “Yeah, that makes sense to me.” But for some people, for most people in this country, they’re like, “That sounds insane.”
Steve: I see this in my life, right? I live in a high cost living area, and there’s some wealthier people. There’s definitely people that have made the right decisions, some of them, they cannot spend the money. They make so much money passively, they’re just not going spend it. And they’re doing it for the love of it and everything else.
Steve: There’s also people here that might make hundreds of thousands of dollars and they spend every penny and they don’t have any money left over. Which is insane to think about, but that exists because there’s this whole keeping up with the Jones’ thing. But unfortunately, for many people, they didn’t get a personal finance education growing up because it’s not mandatory. And I do want to talk about this.
Steve: And the whole financial services world is like, “Hey, I want to sell you some sweet credit cards. 21 point, 3% is the average interest rate on credit cards, hey student loans.” I do think more kids, hopefully, are much more of like, “Graduating with $100,000 of debt or more is just a chuck load of money. Keep that, don’t do it. Go to a two year school. Go to community college for free, essentially and then transfer and then get out with $30,000 of debt, even if you don’t have a lot of money, it’s a much more prudent choice versus go hang out in college and have a $150,000 of debt.
Steve: I’ve met people like that, too. That’s got to be daunting. Super daunting.
Doc G: I think there’s definitely been a lie perpetrated on the American people and it’s that your financial life has to be complicated. It is true, there are complex financial instruments, etc., but the majority of dealing with your own finances can be fairly straightforward. I didn’t say easy. It can be difficult. It can be difficult to make lots of money. But most of what we really need to do financially is not amazingly hard to understand.
Doc G: I think we’ve been sold this idea that it’s too complicated and most people can’t grasp their own finances.
Steve: Right. It does seem to be changing, though so I’m optimistic that upcoming generations are going to be much more “woke” to the situation and making better choices and having less debt and what not. I hang out in some of these communities like Choozify and so forth and you see people telling these inspiring stories of like, “Oh yeah, I just paid off all my debt, paid off my car. I figured this out.” They had your epiphany of, “Hey, I got financially independent,” or “Hey, I realize this is not the right trajectory I want to be on and I want to fix this up and make changes.”
Steve: Good, so let’s talk a little bit more about your situation and this whole struggle you had around figuring out that once you were FI, that hey, how did that impact your thinking and do you think you could have done anything better in advance to not get depressed and anxious about, “What the heck am I doing with my life?”
Doc G: You know I think I was so in the weeds of building a life that… and I was focused so much on being a physician that I don’t know if I was really able to see past my daily life. And so when I looked at my finances and saw that I didn’t necessarily have to spend all my time being a physician, it was like a mirage disappeared and there was nothing left in its place.
Doc G: I shouldn’t say nothing. I knew that I had passions, but I had always told myself I didn’t have enough time to pursue them. So writing for me was always a huge passion. I loved writing, I’ve been writing a blog about medicine since 2005. I knew that that was something that, in fact, felt more like what I was meant to do than being a physician, but I always figured, “Well, you can never really make a living that way. And I’m supposed to be a physician anyway, so who’s going to really invest the time?” Or, public speaking.
Doc G: I liked to do a lot of public speaking. I’m now on speaker’s bureau, but if you had asked me back then, when I was 40 years old and just discovering all this stuff, I don’t think I would have ever invested the time or energy. So could I have come to this more gently? I don’t know if it was possible. I think it was just where I was.
Doc G: We all have our unique story of where we end up as individuals and I’m not really even sad that I went through all that with medicine. What medicine brought to my life not only was financial stability, but it gave me a chance to enter people’s lives and do something meaningful. So how could I ever be sad that I spent all these years doctoring?
Doc G: Then it also gave me, like you said, a hard skill which I can use for the rest of my life and even if I can’t go back to doctoring, the organizational skills from having that graduate degree will open doors for me in business and other places if I ever decide I want to work.
Doc G: So I don’t think I regret what I did. I don’t know if I could have done it more gently. I think I needed to be jarred out of the life I was in. So reading that book shook me up. And it was a drastic change. But I needed a drastic change. So, it’s not like I read the book and quit the next day. That started a year’s period of writing.
Doc G: I started a blog about financial independence but more than being information for other people, it was also an accountability journal for myself. So I knew that I was financially independent. I knew that my life’ purpose and identity had been wrapped up in being a physician, at least to that point, and that I needed to transition. But I didn’t yet have the courage or strength to do that.
Doc G: So that actually was the intro into the personal finance financial independence community. I started writing about it, which really helped me clarify my thoughts and then I started meeting people in this community who gave me a lot of the strength and the wisdom that finally led to me cutting back on being a doctor and pursuing things like the blog and the podcast and doing more public speaking. So I think it happened the way it was supposed to happen.
Steve: Yeah. I think you raise an interesting point which is that I’m seeing out there, too. It’s like the pursuit of financial independence as this process and transition period, because it doesn’t… it takes five, 10, typically 15 years. But I think it gets people so excited because they’re like, “Okay, I’m really working towards this goal. It might take a while, but it’s acceptable to work towards it. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Steve: Hopefully during that timeframe, it re-frames what you’re currently doing, gives you some things to really work against and hopefully you’ll think about what is going to happen next. But that process is part of it. And it’s getting refined because everyone’s talking about what is financial independence, how is it going to work and everything else.
Steve: Interesting. So, for you, you kind of grew up pretty upper middle class. Got your degree. You were a doctor for 20, 15 years, something like that. Had this epiphany, transition period and now, you’re podcasting, blogging, podcasting. But you’re still working, right? You work, I think, in hospice? Is that right?
Doc G: So what I did is I looked at what I was doing. I looked at my outpatient practice, I looked at my hospital work, I looked at my nursing work and I looked at my hospice work and I said, “What of this has the most value for me? Is there anything here that still adds to my purpose as a person?”
Doc G: So I got rid of nights, and I got rid of weekends and I got rid of annoying, stressful phone calls. And what I was left with was hospice work. So the hospice work I do as more of an administrative role. I lead teams of nurses, chaplains, social workers and nursing assistants who take care of patients.
Doc G: So as the lead of that team, I am helping them make medical decisions, but I really have none of the stress associated with practice. I have no weekends, no calls. I’m a contractor, so I’m not even employed. I’m self-employed and I contract myself out to one company in particular.
Doc G: So it’s allowed me to divorce all those things that were sucking me dry from medicine and leave those things that I felt were still building me up.
Steve: Awesome. On the hospice topic, a friend of mine has a… I’ve known some people in my life that are dealing with people that are dying or very sick. What do you find best about hospice and when should people reach out to hospice? How does that process go? Something I [crosstalk 00:25:20]. Sorry.
Doc G: So the way hospice works is you are eligible for hospice through Medicare or through many insurance companies when you have a diagnosis where the life expectancy is six months or less. So typically what we see is someone who has one of a number of diseases. Either a type of cancer that’s been treated for years and no longer is responding. Or, someone who’s had chronic diseases that are at their end stage like emphysema or congestive heart failure. Or, we see also a lot of people who are at the end stage of dementia.
Doc G: So this is the time when people and their families realize that the ongoing medical care is no longer adding to their life. It’s causing pain and discomfort. They’re ending up in the hospital or getting procedures that aren’t particularly making their life expectancy any longer, but are causing pain and suffering.
Doc G: So those are the people who are appropriate and usually they’re referred one of a number of ways. They can be referred by their doctor, of if they’re in a hospital, they can be referred by the hospital doctor. Or, occasionally we have family members or patients themselves who realize that’s where they are in life and go to the internet and find a hospice in the area and give us a call.
Doc G: So it’s really meant for people who are six months or less to live, there is a sister, how should I say this? There is an allied practice called palliative care. So palliative care focuses on individual’s needs including pain and suffering and looks at people as a whole, their psychological, social as well as physical health. That is a little bit larger of a discipline and so hospice is a small part of palliative care for the last six months of life.
Doc G: But often people who are suffering from chronic disease or cancers or just from life in general, get palliative care before they end up in hospice.
Steve: Great. I appreciate getting the color. I think a lot of people don’t understand it. Do you think that a lot of families don’t wait too long to reach out, or patients wait to long to reach out for hospice? Because there’s this whole urge to like we can live. No one wants to die, but everyone dies and medicine is constantly amazing us and people hang on.
Doc G: We definitely have patients who enter hospice and die within 24 hours or 48 hours. It really depends on the patient. There are some people who are fighting a valiant fight and still gleaning value out of life and still having those precious moments with their family members as they’re getting closer and closer to the time when they’re going to not be able to manage their disease any more. But those people are still finding great value.
Doc G: So for them, maybe it makes sense to wait for the last moment. The sad part is when you have people who are so clearly dying and instead of getting really good comfort care, end up in a hospital on a ventilator, getting their blood drawn and getting all sorts of procedures and IV’s put in and all these things that probably are not comfortable and that’s how they’re going to spend their last moments of life.
Doc G: So my goal always is, when death is for sure. When we know that there’s nothing we can do to stop it, you have a limited amount of time left. So some people are really big on trying to increase that amount of time. But that can fall short if you increase that amount of time, but it’s miserable time.
Steve: Yeah, right.
Doc G: So my goal is to help people who realize that the end of life is near and then take whatever time they have left and make that as high quality as possible. So I try to focus more on quality than quantity. Now, something amazing seems to happen and there have been studies that have borne this out, that in many disease processes, especially when you get towards the end, if you focus more on quality than quantity, in other words, if you stop doing these hyperaggressive things to them, they actually might live a little bit longer. And have a better quality of life.
Doc G: It’s not for everyone, and our goal is not to force people to be interested in hospice if they’re not. Our goal is to find people who are interested in it and give them the best care possible and give them the best… to help them feel like they’re living up until that exact moment they die.
Doc G: We don’t want dying to be a process. When dying is a process, it’s not very much fun.
Steve: Yeah, well. I know you’re not directly involved on the clinical side, but are there any stories that you have heard or seen from hospice that stand out to you? Because it’s such a moment. When someone passes away, it can be incredible.
Steve: A friend of mine is a doctor in Germany and he was telling me when he was younger, he was like, “Yeah, I had this patient and I was holding their hand and they died and I was right there.” He’s like, “It was just this moment that was incredible and transformative for him. I’ve heard that from some other people.
Doc G: There are amazing stories in hospice and there are too many to tell. One thing since you mentioned Germany I’ll bring up is we have had the privilege of taking care of a number of Holocaust survivors. And occasionally you’ll get a Holocaust survivor and they just don’t die.
Doc G: You go to their bedside and they’re breathing heavy and you’re like, “This is it.” And you come back the next morning and they’re alive. And they tended to live longer on hospice than other people. You can’t help but wonder if that survival mode which was so important when they were in these work camps, somehow became part of their DNA.
Doc G: So now, how many years later, they’re getting towards the end of life and their bodies just don’t stop. Some of them want to die, they’re ready and their bodies just keep going. It’s really quite amazing.
Steve: What is the book about, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It’s a story about Holocaust, people living in Holocaust camps and how they survived. So much of it was, not how physically robust they were, but psychologically how they learned to deal with it. So it would make sense, I guess, that survivors of that would be so much more psychologically tough than normal people.
Doc G: We have a saying in hospice, you tend to die the way you lived. So if you were a calm, relaxed person in life, you tend to die that way. If you were an anxious, uppity person in life, you tend to die that way. And maybe for Holocaust survivors, they’ve been survivors forever and they continue to be survivors, even in death.
Steve: Yeah. All right. That’s super interesting, but let’s move on from the death zone.
Steve: I do want to talk about the health care side of this. One of the things we talked about leading into this is just how financial independence and retirement affects people’s health. As a doctor and as someone who’s financially independent, I’d love to hear your take on how does financial independence either early or in traditional retirement impact the people that you’ve met.
Doc G: So it’s funny. If you look up data, there’s tons of data that suggest when people retire, they’re morbidity and mortality actually goes up quite a bit. The truth of the matter is, my personal experience is, stress levels tend to go down, right? If you do it right. If you’re not sitting there worried about your numbers and worried that you have enough. But your stress levels tend to go down. You tend to have more time, so I certainly exercise more.
Doc G: And you start focusing… you have time and energy to focus on what a healthy life means to you. People who do financial independence, especially people who retire and retire early, you see them start to focus on things like exercise and meditation and they develop hobbies and they look for more purpose and meaning in life. So, I think it can be a very healthy thing.
Doc G: The converse side of that is if you retire early and decide to sit in your underwear and play video games all day and drink lots of alcohol and sleep four hours a night and go out to the bars and it’s obviously not going to be healthy for you. But most of the people who are thoughtful enough to shoot for this audacious goal of early retirement are all about maximizing things.
Doc G: So once they stop having to maximize their money, they start thinking about their health, their well being, their happiness. So I think it can have profound effects. Certainly my stress levels went down a lot. My wife tells me when she first met me, she met me when I was in medical school and she was like, “You were really funny and smiling and laughing all the time.” She’s like, “After you went through residency and started practicing medicine, that slowly dissipated.”
Doc G: So it wasn’t that I was upset all the time. It wasn’t that I was melancholy, but about six months after I pulled back from medicine, she looked at me and she said, “Your humor is back.” She’s like, “I forgot how funny you used to be before all this happened.”
Doc G: I think that speaks to this idea of stepping away from those things that cause you stress and anxiety. I certainly feel like I’m back to who I was before I went through this process. I was a much softer, kinder person before I went to medical school, and especially residency. It kind of beats it out of you.
Doc G: I think I’ve returned a little more to the carefree, happy, silly person that I was before.
Steve: That’s awesome to hear. I think it’s interesting that your spouse, your wife can see that, so there’s so few people in your life, in anyone’s life. Your siblings, your parents, longterm, maybe high school friends that see you from inception through these various parts of your life.
Steve: Your friends from medical school are like, “Oh, here’s Doc G. Super serious, stressed out guy.” Who knows, maybe we’ll have fancy wearables that are on us and we’re like, “Hey, Doc G you’re a little grumpy, maybe you should rethink this whole medical school thing.”
Doc G: You know the funny thing is my kids, right? So I have a 12 and 15 year old and they only knew the post-residency dad. They were born after I was practicing. So they didn’t really see that side of me. So I think it’s very fun for the to see their father maybe a little bit more silly and a little bit more lighthearted than they used to remember me when I was always rushing out of the violin concert to answer the phone or when I was missing their practice for whatever reason because I couldn’t be available.
Steve: I wonder have you run into any kind of tests that can help people assess themselves from point to point? Probably there’s nothing out there, this is such a different way of thinking about your life. We’re always so in the moment versus looking at how has my life and psychology changed over the last three decades from where I was?
Steve: Just as a side note, I think that when people… depression’s such a huge thing in our country, I think a lot of people, they don’t recognize that they could be depressed. It’s so hard to see and they’re kind of living with it. It sounds like maybe you could have been diagnosed as partially depressed for a big chunk of your life, given how-
Doc G: You know it’s reactive, depression and anxiety, and it is so common amongst healthcare givers and physicians that we don’t question it anymore. The physician suicide rate is double that of the average population? There have been story after story of physicians who have committed suicide. In my small area, there was a woman who swallowed a bunch of pills and swam out to the middle of Lake Michigan and died.
Doc G: There was the surgeon who got hit by a train and it was always really suspicious because it’s like, he was driving his car and drove right in front of a train. Physician suicide is a huge problem. There are studies that show that most kids go into medical school excited and happy and engaged and by the time they finish fourth year, the depression rate is well over 50%. So it’s a real, real issue.
Steve: It almost feels like… I have a kid that plays a lot of sports and they give him a baseline for concussions and then if they get injured, they retest them and stuff like that. It almost feels like it’d be cool to get a baseline on people, on your personality at 20 or whatever, and college. And then re-baseline every five years and just say, “Hey, just so you know, you’re looking pretty different or sounding pretty different than where you were and it might be worth assessing yourself.” But you’d have to do it over that super long timeframe.
Doc G: Yeah, the problem in medicine is there are vested interests in not addressing these issues. The current system is set up to work for hospitals that have a work shortage, there are not enough physicians. Residents come in and work 30 hour shifts, 36 hour shifts. If you were to pare them back to normal hours, the hospital would have to hire people to come in and do the work.
Doc G: There’s a reason why the system is the way it is. It’s been built that way and if you want to just talk about financial issues, there are a number of people who enter third or fourth year medical school, realize that it’s not for them, but it’s really hard when you’re 150, $200,000 in debt to turn down this job that will pay you mid-six figures at some point, if you just keep going with it.
Doc G: So there’s a lot of pressure. Even if you decide medicine is not for you, to stick in the game.
Steve: Yeah. That’s the reality for probably most things. So I just remember being in college and I started getting my systems engineering degree. I got into my junior year and I’m like, “This is so painful and hard, but I’ve already invested this much. I’m going to finish,” and I did. Now, I’m glad I did do that, but I did make different choices. I didn’t go into chip design after school, which I think would have been a mistake.
Steve: I went into more of a software design focus, consulting thing, which I think was a better fit for me. Lucked into that. And also, part way through my career, I actually had something like you. I had a company, we sold it. I decided to go into a bigger company. I got laid off, but they gave me this out-placement thing where you could take this personality test. I took this huge personality test. It said you should either be a lawyer or an entrepreneur. I already knew, I had already started companies, right. Felt like that’s an easy choice.
Steve: But it was kind of cool to get it validated from a third party perspective that your skills and interest align behind this kind of a job. Hopefully, we get to a place in the future where people aren’t always loaded down with the money concerns and they can figure out what a better fit is for them early in their lives and, as a result, have more fulfilling lives.
Doc G: Yeah. Or, at least find something that doesn’t make them depressed and anxious.
Steve: Yeah, and they’ll do better work. Hopefully, we’re going to have less people that are cranking away on things they hate and then like, “Oh,” they get to, “I retired at 65. I just spent 40 years doing something I hated.”
Steve: All right. Cool. Just to wrap up the health side. If you’re go to retire, it can actually be detrimental to your health unless you find something really interesting to do and you get busy on exercising and taking care of your mental health. Finding good purpose and all those other good things.
Steve: Good. So, all right. I think I’ve covered a lot of what I want to touch on. Actually, well one more area, just for you personally in terms of how you’re invested. I think it’s always interesting or our audience to hear how are people doing it? What’s the mix?
Doc G: So I am about one-third real estate, one-third taxable investments and one-third non-taxables. So, real estate, I own four condo’s which I rent. So I’m a landlord for them. For my taxable account, it is mostly in a total stock market index, VTSAX, but I try to be anywhere around 80% stock and general broad-based indexed funds and then 15% bonds and then something around 5% cash. I think right now, I have roughly a full year’s worth of cash saved.
Doc G: Then, usually for my non-taxed, 401K IRAs, I have a lot of bonds in those because it’s just an easy place to hold bonds. But generally, I try to maintain that 80/15/5. And I would also mention what other people don’t mention is… so we talk about different asset classes, right? We talk about the business asset class, real estate, we talk about stocks and bonds, but I consider by skills in asset class, too. So I have a bankable skill, as we were talking about.
Doc G: Being a physician, I can contract myself out doing things that I like. So I don’t worry as much about being as safe. At some point, you could say, “Well, you’re working less. You should really do more bonds, less equities.” But given the fact that I still have income and that I still have a bankable skill, I put that kind of on the asset side.
Steve: I think that is one risk that F.I.R.E. people take if they don’t work… you have this huge asset of your human capital that does degrade over time, you can make more money at 40 probably, than you’re going to make at 70 or 80. So you have to be thoughtful of how you’re using that. So when you look at your life, there’s some money coming from passive income, from the real estate, there’s some money coming from your work.
Steve: Are you also taking dividends or income streams from your bond portfolio and stuff like that? Is that kind of the mix?
Doc G: Yeah. So right now, almost as an experiment, I’ve been really watching how much I’m bringing in from dividends as well as rents to see, could I completely exist without ever drawing down, just on rental income and dividends? And I’m pretty close. The way I look at it now is, my wife and I still work. We don’t need to, but the fun thing about that is (a) I get to do something I like; and (b) I can then be extravagant. So whereas a lot of people like to, for instance, travel hack and have lots of credit cards and save money by doing it that way. I just know that I have this extra income, I can do whatever I want with it. If I want to take a nice, big vacation, I don’t think twice about it. Because I think of most of my living expenses is already taken care of. Whatever we make in our jobs is just over the top.
Doc G: Because of the nature of compounding, our investments keep growing regardless of what we do.
Steve: Yup. How many hours a week do you work to make income, or a month?
Doc G: Technically, I have to be in about 12 hours of meetings a week. But I also answer about 10 or 15 texts or pages every day. So, I don’t know if you could put an hour on it, but I have to be somewhere physically 12 hours a week.
Steve: Okay. So maybe 30 to 40% of your time is traditional work?
Doc G: Yeah.
Steve: That’s still, I feel like that’s healthy for folks. You have a huge amount of control and you’re doing what you want. You’re clearly happy or your family can see it. So lots of good benefits for how you’ve constructed your life. I think that’s so important to hear people’s stories about lifestyle design.
Steve: You were thoughtful. You’re in control and I think that sense of control is huge for people. It’s a huge thing for our audience. They want to feel like they understand their money. They understand their income, their expenses, they know how the money flows and they can manage certain dials.
Steve: Like you can manage how much you work, how much you try and take off of passive, how much risk you’re taking in your portfolio and be comfortable that you’re doing all those things. So it’s awesome to hear that.
Doc G: Yeah, and you don’t necessarily have to be financially independent. I think that’s something that I really did learn is, if you’re cognizant of these things before financial independence, you can still turn those dials. So if you turn the work dial to a place where you really enjoy it and you’re making income from it, you might not need to retire five years early, because you might be liking what you do.
Doc G: Or, you might work five more years, but do it part-time so that you can enjoy what you’re doing now. Fulfill your sense of purpose and identity whether that’s at work or a hobby or whatever it is and find a sustainable level of work for maybe longer periods of time. So that’s one of the big lessons I learned is, I did it one way. You don’t necessarily have to do it my way.
Doc G: You can do it much, much slower and enjoy the process more.
Steve: Right. I think that’s a great point of view. So, very often we’re all thinking about, “Hey, there’s this big milestone in front of me. I’m going to hit that goal and be done.” It could be that, “Hey, you’ve been working and saving or 15, 20 years or whatever, you’ve piled up a few hundred thousand dollars. Maybe you can make the change you want to make right now to do, “I want to be a music producer instead of working at a big bank,” or something like that.
Steve: Okay, I can actually pull the trigger and try it, see what happens. Or, try it for a couple of years, or try for a year and see what happens. That’s definitely a powerful thing because you’re going to probably be doing something anyway, so you might as well try to get to doing… at least have the cognitive freedom to think about what you could be doing and maybe taking a risk to pull the trigger and give it a whirl, because you can always go back.
Steve: One quick thing on this, I was talking with this guy who’s in FinTech, I was at this Twitter FinTech meet up which, it sounds like, “I’m just going to go.” [inaudible 00:48:35], was in San Francisco. We went to the Press Club which is a fancy drinking establishment in San Francisco and by wife… so I know this guy, Gavin Baker, who I’m hoping to bring on the podcast at some point, sponsor a shout out to him, “Thanks for the beers.”
Steve: But anyway, I was talking to this FinTech guy who works for Goldman Sachs, works on the Apple Card product and it was clear that he had the capability and skills to be an entrepreneur, he’s been thinking about it. He’s done entrepreneurial things, but he hasn’t pulled the trigger to go completely on his own. I run into this a lot with other entrepreneurs, many people that want to do it, they’ve been thinking about it, they may have been thinking about that for years, and they don’t… some of them pull the trigger. Many of them keep punting it down the road.
Steve: I think if you can reframe things, you may be more likely to just pull the trigger, because there never is a good time. I think this person will actually do it, because he’s working on the path of financial independence. He’s pretty frugal. He’s already saved a bunch of his income and he’s got all the human capital that he needs.
Steve: Anyway, okay. Well, look. This has been great. So as we wrap up, any key influencers, communities, other podcasts that you love. I do want to give a shout out, sorry I should have said this in the beginning, but to your What’s Up Next Podcast, which was great to be a guest on. I think your panel format is really cool. And you get a lot of good ideas out there and have a great give and take from having multiple people on at once, which is got to be hard to do, to coordinate all that.
Doc G: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s great getting a bunch of people together and having one of those conversations that you could imagine having at a dinner table with a bunch of friends, but your friends happen to be really thoughtful about various financial issues. So we really enjoy it.
Doc G: I have a bunch of podcasts I like. Of course, there is NewRetirement.
Doc G: I have started working with Joe Saul-Sehy, from The Stacking Benjamins, so I’m a big fan of The Stacking Benjamins Podcast. And Money With Friends. Of course, I’m a big fan of Choozify. So if you’re in the financial independence world, they are definitely a go-to podcast. My friends, Matt and Joel, do How To Money. I like them quite a bit and there’s just so many other ones.
Doc G: Grant Sabatier does Millennial Money. Coach Carson has a podcast. There are a lot of great ones out there.
Steve: Yeah, no it’s awesome. There really are. And they’re educating a lot people. It is kind of amazing right? Sit here, roll some audio and video and reach thousands or tens of thousands of people, hopefully helping them make good choices.
Steve: Any other big lessons you’d love to share with our audience on the way out here? Take-aways that you’ve had from your life to this point?
Doc G: As you were talking about your friend who was thinking about jumping into entrepreneurship or not, being a hospice physician, you see a lot of people at end of life. So what do people regret on their deathbed? Well, they regret not taking a chance on something they believed in. So speaking to your friend, you live once, and that’s what people think about 20 or 30 years, or 40 years later when they’re on their deathbed.
Doc G: They think about people and they think about those things they always wanted to do but never had the courage.
Doc G: So have the courage now.
Steve: Right. I think that’s a huge lesson for people. Another thing that I’ve been thinking about more is, have the confidence to take big risks. It could be starting a company, but also in whatever you’re doing, to envision that hey, it could be bigger than you think it’s going to be.
Steve: We’re starting to think that way about your business, like what we’re doing around planning. We’re starting to focus more on building a virtual financial advisor. Now, we’re thinking, “We really could disrupt the whole space. Maybe it is possible.”
Steve: I think we used to think, “Hey, we’re going to have our little part of this.” But now, we’re like, “We think this whole system needs to get changed in a big way and it’s going to have to come from the outside.” So one thing I love about the FinCon and the FI community is just this movement of people that are trying things in a very different way that are just like, “I’m not coming to you from being inside of Goldman Sachs or Bank or America or Wells Fargo. I’m coming to you as someone who’s done this, pulling different switches on my own. It can be done, but you have to take control and do it yourself.”
Steve: So it’s been good to hear the stories of people like you that are part of that and contribute to that.
Steve: All right. Well, I think that’s it. So I’m going to wrap it up.
Doc G: Thanks for having me on. It’s been a lot of fun.
Steve: Yeah, no I appreciate your time. So thanks, Doc G for being on our show. Thanks Davorin Robison for being our sound engineer. Anyone listening, thanks for your time, and hopefully you found this useful. Our goal at NewRetirement is to help anyone plan and manage their retirement so they can make the most of their money and time. If you made it this far, I hope you check out Doc G’s Podcast, What’s Up Next. You can also visit their site at DiverseFI as well.
Steve: And if you want to find us, we have a Facebook group or you can look for us on Twitter@NewRetirement.