Financial Planning For Resident Physicians, Item #1 Live Your Values Today

This is the second article in a series dedicated to helping the resident physician take steps to put their house (financial and otherwise) in order. My previous article is an overview of all the items I will cover and can be found here.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Item #1 - Dream.

Before you decide on how much wealth you want to accumulate, or when you will retire, or how you’re going to be a “Physician on F.I.R.E” or a “White Coat Investor,” you should really do some deep thinking about what you want your life to actually be like now and in the future.

There’s a lot of people trying to tell you how to live. Heck, I’m one of them! So it’s a wise person that understands who they are and what they value and how they want to live their life. If you don’t take the time to think about this first, you won’t know what the dream is, and therefore, will not likely achieve it.

Live intentionally or drift.

The way I see it, you can either live intentionally, or drift.

Not long ago I sat in an airport eating a meal. I confess I was a little saddened by the great multitudes of people plugged into their devices as they walked through the airport.

Have I been that guy? Absolutely. So often so that it scares me. The countless individuals engrossed in their devices and not connected to the world around them is a metaphor for a danger that we all face.

That danger is that if we don’t identify how we want to live, we may find that life passes us by while we are caught up in things of comparably little importance..

What are your intentions and values?

By identifying our underlying values and determining how we want to live our lives, we take an important step in understanding who we are. That may seem odd, but have you taken the time to get to know yourself? Are you energized by people, or do you cherish regular alone time? What inspires you? What gives you fulfillment? And how do you make these things a part of your life?

When my family and I lived in Texas, I really wanted a Jeep Wranger. You know, one of those ones with the four doors. While driving on one occasion I pouted that “everyone has a jeep except for me.” I can be a baby sometimes. But one of our deepest values is time with our family, and a lot of our family live out West. As I reflect on the options between a nice-looking vehicle (with really poor gas mileage), it occurs to me that my family will always cherish the experiences each summer as we enjoy traditions and routines with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends, and that a cool vehicle isn’t worth it if it means we can’t afford that yearly trip.

It is by identifying your values and how you want to live that you will begin building a life you actually desire, instead of one filled with material possessions, but empty of what really makes you happy.

How do you identify, and then live, your values?

It may not be easy to identify what is important to you, and therefore, how you should structure your life. Especially if your a busy resident, you can’t spend all day with your head in the clouds. There’s work to be done and you already have too much on your plate.

Let me offer a suggestion: Create a document where you can add your thoughts as they come, whenever they come. This can be a notebook, or a Google Doc, notes on your phone, it doesn’t matter. But you’ll be surprised by the thoughts and ideas that you have at seemingly random moments throughout the day. I encourage you to write down all the thoughts that come. Don’t worry if they seem foolish or silly or if you think they sound stupid. Your goal isn’t to judge, it’s to capture ideas.

Once you’ve done that for a few weeks, schedule some time (10-15min) on a regular basis when you can read and edit your ideas. It’s important that you do this regularly to remind yourself of what you value, and to measure your progress towards your vision.

I spend every Friday morning at 8:00am reading through my vision for life. It’s taken some time, but I’ve identified some very specific things that are important to me. Some of these things do deal with financial goals, but many are focused on how I will live. I share some of them below (you’ll notice I write to myself in the second person—maybe a little weird, but oh well):

  • Trust in God

  • Communicate with your family. Tell your children how you feel when they misbehave instead of yelling at them. Show them by example how to express themselves.

  • Wait at the bus stop with kids every morning.

  • Take your wife on a date every week.

    • You plan it and you treat her well. This is the most important investment you will ever make.

  • Attend the family reunions every year.

  • Serve the poor and needy.

  • Take family skiing during Christmas break each year.

  • Max out tax-advantaged accounts every year.

  • Work remotely in cool destinations.

  • Work with a close group of 50-80 clients.

  • Develop writing and presenting skills.

  • Continue learning indefinitely.

  • Don’t rush.

  • Have a lot of fun along the way.

  • More hours worked doesn’t automatically mean they are better hours worked.

  • Slave to no one and no thing.

  • Be comfortable being vulnerable and not having to be perfect.

  • Face fears and build confidence.

To be clear a lot of these things I don’t do very well. But that’s part of the point. I have standards that I’m working towards.

Begin by thinking and then capturing your thoughts on a document. In little time at all you will find that you begin to form a vision for how you want to live, and ways that you can begin doing that now, even with the demands and exhausting schedule of residency. You won’t be able to live out your entire vision, but you’ll be working towards something special. That direction will be invaluable.

This is your dream.

Don’t be surprised if what you value is completely different from what your peers, society, or our culture seem to value. The point isn’t that your vision should be different for being different’s sake—though I am a fan of being different.

More importantly, it will be that you’ve taken the time to understand yourself, to dream what life could be like, and in consequence of that dream, have begun taking small steps that make it a reality.

Happy travels.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


These are my opinions, unless I’ve specifically cited other material. The information and ideas I’ve presented are for information purposes only. Before you implement anything, make sure you have a thorough discussion with a qualified professional who understands your situation.

Donovan Sanchez