048 - The Happy Philosopher

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1 - 28 Hey Guys welcome to the choose F-I radio podcast today we have a very special episode. We're speaking with Jeff the happy philosopher. Several months ago Brad and I heard Jeff on the mat fientist podcast sharing his story and it blew our minds. And Brad immediately reached out to me and said we have to bring this guy on the show and hear more. And so it took us a few months to work it out. But finally it's here and we're able to get him on the podcast and we're excited to share his story with you and really go more into depth about the actual changes Jeff made in his life to pursue happiness.
28 - 76 You're listening to music radio. The Blueprint for financial independence lives here. If you're hoping to unlock the secrets to financial independence and early retirement you're in the right place stay tuned to join a community of like minded. people who are Getting off the. hamster wheel and Taking of their lives in the pursuit of financial independence ChooseFI your home for financial independence online.
76 - 77 Brad I'm really excited about this one.
77 - 137 Hey Jonathan Yeah I'm really looking forward to this. I heard that podcast when Brannen published a couple of months back and I was instantly drawn into Jeff's story as a medical doctor who got burned out of his job and was trying to find a path forward both professionally and in his personal life and trying to find happiness that so mirrors my own life and the pursuits that I've been following and trying to find what motivates me what gets me up in the morning. What are the little things that I find joy in. And it was the last couple of minutes of that podcast that just left me wanting more. And I'm certainly going to touch on some of the precise things that he mentioned but I instantly e-mailed him after hearing that podcast and just said we need you on the show I want to dive into that exact journey and what you found like what makes you tick on a daily basis. What makes you happy. What's working what's not. And in this whole exploration so I think this should be a really fascinating conversation. And with that. Jeff welcome to the podcast.
137 - 140 Hey guys. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
140 - 176 Yeah we're thrilled to have you Jeff. I've heard on the show Brad say at least three or four times. I never dream past here. And the implication being that even when everything is perfect in your life you can still be susceptible to emptiness. And it illustrates the critical importance of cultivating happiness long before you ever hit this magical number of financial independence. And what really resonated with us about your story line is that that is the entire focus of your blog and we're really excited to dig into that content with you. But before we do that would you just take a couple of minutes and kind of introduce your background story for us.
176 - 301 Yes certainly so. So I'm a physician and I really didn't think about financial independence early on. So I guess I'll start my story coming out of medical training. So I started my job and everything in my life was was pretty much perfect on paper. I had a great job great family great income, everything was wonderful but about four or five years into my career I found myself completely burned out. I notice that I just couldn't recharge on my days off. It was really difficult to focus and I really didn't understand what was happening to me because again on paper my life was perfect. Had the great job with a great income. Life was wonderful but I just wasn't happy. And about four or five years in I just I realized that something needed to change. I was chronically stressed out and anxious and I guess my breaking point was I just came home one day and I realized that I couldn't I couldn't do it anymore. So that's when I sort of dived into this journey of financial independence. I sat down with my wife and I said I've got about five years left in my career. And then I'm going to pull the plug and quit at that point I had stumble upon some early retirement blogs early retirement extreme was it was the first one and that was mind blowing. But at the same time completely unworkable in my mind it was just a little bit too on the fringe from Jacob's blog earlier time extreme. I eventually discovered Pete's blog Mr. Money Mustache I'm sure most of your listeners have at least a superficial understanding of what he writes about. And as I dove into it I realize that I could achieve financial independence in a relatively short amount of time with the income I had as a physician and that was my decision. I just decided. And you know after four or five years I would I would quit and do something else.
career, families, medical
301 - 308 We're highlighting this period of time this five year stint that you're actually working as I guess you are attending.
308 - 314 Yeah I was out of training for five years out of training as an attending position.
314 - 338 OK. And I'm sure that the doctors and physicians that maybe listening to this episode automatically get how much time went into that but for the rest of our audience four years of undergrad you're four years of med school potentially up to four years of residency. So you have minimum 12 years of what I guess you could call sunk cost and to obtain this career and now you're you're just a fraction of that period of time into this job and you just you can't do it anymore.
338 - 465 Yeah actually my residency was five years and I did a one year fellowship so it was even a little bit longer. But you're right it was a horrible horrible feeling because there is this huge sunk cost to becoming a physician. And that was probably the worst part of it is just realizing that it was not sustainable long term yet I had put all this time and money into my career. Like most physicians when I when I came out of training my networth was negative or zero because of student loan debt and just lack of income significant income up To that point. the biggest revelation was after I made the five year decision the ultimatum I still realized that I have made my prison sentence shorter but I didn't really make my cell any more comfortable. I still had five years left and I was still completely burned out. So even though I had solved the financial independence portion of this because the math is relatively easy I mean there's all kinds of great articles out there and blog posts that really dive into the technical factors of how much you need to retire and you know the 4 percent rule and variations of that. That's the easy part the difficult part is how do you get through the burnout job dissatisfaction and get to that point while being happy. So instead of waiting five years and then saying OK I'm done I'm going to be happy now. I really realized that I needed to be happy now that I couldn't wait five years that there was no point to it. So that was a turning point for me and got me thinking about a lot of different things. And I started experimenting with my life thinking deeply about happiness and meaning and purpose and how all these things are related to one another. So in many ways the financial independence part was easy but the that the happiness side of the equation was a little bit more complicated. And that's what got me started down this rabbit hole.
career, college-loans, debt, networth
465 - 529 So Jeff there are many people that find themselves in your situation except maybe 10 years to go before they get to the exact place that you are at this inflection point. And in many cases that person may find himself saying to himself I am willing to take on any amount of debt I am willing to do whatever it takes to get this medical degree even if it's a half a million dollars in debt. I'm willing to give up the next 12 years of my life because I know that after I do the four years of undergrad after I do the four years of med school after I do that five years of residency in the one year fellowship even if I'm a half million dollars in debt I am going to have the job of my dreams. I am going to finally have this identity that I've been pursuing for the past four years. And I am going to have income beyond what I have ever imagined. You know there's almost a stark contrast between this level of poverty that you experience as a student and then maybe this relatively decent income that you have as a as a resident but you're doing that under the confines of 70 hour a week job. Finally you have the income you have the identity you have the prestige and how painful it must be to wake up one morning and realize I'm miserable.
debt, medical
529 - 569 Yeah absolutely. I mean just to take another tangent here something I've written about a few times in a few articles is physician suicide the suicide rate among physicians is actually quite a bit higher than the national average. And I think a lot of that has to do with what you're talking about here that when physicians burn out and become dissatisfied it's a terrible feeling. And your ego and your identity are tied up in being a physician. And when you realize that it's maybe not your calling or it becomes a little bit tedious and you become burned out and realize you can't do it you really have nothing else to grasp onto.
569 - 598 So Jeff looking back on your 14 years of medical training and your four years of actual full time work before you reach this breaking point like was there something about the actual job of being a medical doctor that that led you to the breaking point or do you think it was that you hadn't cultivated this happiness in your own life and your own brain ultimately. Like what. What was the ultimate issue now that you've had so much time to explore what you get value out of life.
598 - 633 It's a good question and probably a little difficult to answer. I think it's probably a combination of both of those factors that number one I didn't really realize what ultimately made me happy or how to discover happiness but at the same time being a physician is quite stressful. You know there's there's this constant chronic stress and worry about making the right decisions. So the chronic stress of being a physician and not really cultivating happiness and going towards things that make me happy I think contributed to it.
633 - 653 So earlier in this interview you referred to kind of this path that you're on as a prison sentence. And I know you referenced the fact that you were looking for a way out and you found early retirement extreme and it blew your mind and open your ideas to the possibilities but it sounded like you almost rejected that out of hand. Love to get your thoughts on that.
653 - 743 Right. So when I first stumbled upon early retirement extreme it was mind blowing had never really conceptualized this concept of extreme reality and early retirement extremely early retirement. But that version of it was so far removed from my life that I really couldn't envision or implementing the sort of things that Jacob wrote about even though intellectually it was it was just a fascinating blog and I'm very grateful for him writing it. The the prison sentence is a little bit sort of flowery language but really I think the heart of it is I was trapped and my life was sort of it sort of seemed pre-determined. In other words I really didn't have the freedom to do what I wanted to do if I wanted to quit my job and go do something else. I really didn't feel free to do that. So that's why I use the analogy of a prison sentence. I felt trapped and I think a lot of physicians and other high income long training professionals feel this sunk costs that they put into their career and they do feel trapped. They feel like they can't leave. They've invested too much into it. It doesn't make sense on a financial or any level to quit their job to change careers even if they're mildly to extremely miserable.
743 - 777 It seems to me that especially with the high income earners before they're exposed to maybe the stark contrast of an early retirement extreme or Mr. Money Mustache when you've bought into this lifestyle inflation that comes with this. I deserve it mentality. It's hard to know actually how much money you need before you're able to buy your freedom. I've always found that something that's so fascinating about the FI community is that very quickly we become aware of how much we actually need. And in many cases the high income earner with sunk costs just thinks they have to earn forever right.
777 - 874 That's absolutely right. You feel like turning off that income stream can be frightening because in some cases it's difficult to get back in and turn it back on. And what I found is that just exploring the FI community and learning about how much you need to be financially independent is liberating because in some cases you realize that you're not saving enough and that you need a lot more or you need to cut your expenses. And on the other side of that sometimes some people stumble into it and realize that they either already are financially independent or that they're much further along in the journey than than they thought. In my case it was the latter. When I started exploring the financial side of things I realized that I was much further along in my journey than I thought I was before I started reading these blogs and examining this area. I figured I needed a lot more money to be financially independent just talking to other physicians. I remember one in retrospect hilarious conversation I had with the spouse of a doc and they told me he said happy philosopher you need ten million dollars to retire. And I just kind of like my eyes sort of widened and I thought wow I'm going to be working a long time to save that kind of money. And even that was a couple of years before I went down the rabbit hole of FI and I realized that that was not true. That was way more money than I could ever spend. Well not really but based on my current spending that would be overkill.
874 - 893 So Jeff since finding Mr. Money Mustache in the community what changes have you made in your own personal finances like have you done anything to change your lifestyle. Or was it already fairly under control or had used to come to that lifestyle inflation that that many other doctors might have.
893 - 989 We had a little bit of lifestyle inflation coming out of residency. It was just sort of a natural evolution. As a physician your financial life is pretty interesting because in medical school you're in poverty you have no money you're borrowing money just to eat and live and pay tuition. And then as a resident you are live in middle class income lifestyle. And then as an attending the amount of money you make is multiples of what you make in residency depending depending on your specialty. So we did increase our lifestyle a bit. Coming out of training we bought a bigger house had to buy furniture and things to put in it. But really a lot of things did not inflate. So for instance we still had the same cars that drove my car for 16 years before I bought a new one. So we didn't inflate our lifestyles too much and we really didn't change our spending habits dramatically after learning about financial independence and freedom. I started tracking where the money was going. I hadn't been doing that before and that allowed us to see where the money was going and direct it towards things that made us happy and were a positive in our life and allowed us to get rid of things that we're not adding value to our life. So although our overall spending amount didn't change significantly we did change the sorts of things that we were spending money on.
medical, midincome
989 - 997 Can you give us some examples of things that you were previously spending money on that you didn't subsequently find value in and you cut.
997 - 1040 A lot of the things that we cut were actually little things. So for instance we we spent a lot of money on cable television that we didn't watch much and we would buy books instead of going to the library. So we cut out a lot of things like like that which in the overall grand scheme of things didn't didn't really add up to much. So instead of spending money on those sorts of things we would spend it on other experiences like traveling more things like that more experiential things and less material things.
library, travel
1040 - 1061 So timeline wise you come out of school around the age of 31. You work for this five year period of time and around the age of 36 you say I am just I'm just burnt out and I only have about five more years that I can do this before my I'm going to run out of runway. I have to be out of this job. That's that's the timeline that we're working with right.
1061 - 1063 Correct. Yeah.
1063 - 1100 Then along this process you find the community and you start adapting some of these concepts into your life. But what's interesting about this inflection point that I know you made is you had two choices once you decided to hit that five year run. The one approach was keep my head down grind out my prison sentence and fake satisfaction you know disguise misery as satisfaction that that was the one path. And frankly I know people especially when the runway is short enough that that make that choice. But that's not the choice you made. And the reason we're having this conversation today is because you made a different choice and it saved your job. Right.
1100 - 1172 Right after I made the five year ultimatum decision to myself I started exploring other ways that I could extend my career or do my job differently that would decrease the amount of burnout and dissatisfaction. One of the areas that I explored was going part time which I'm doing right now but it took about three years to organize that and to make it a reality. And the interesting thing is in those three years while I was thinking about the possibility of working part time I had become happier. By the end of those three years even though nothing in my job had really changed. So I was working the same hours I was doing the same same sorts of things I was taking the same amount of call but I had emerged from burnout and was more satisfied and happy it still was not ideal because I really valued the freedom that would come with being financially independent and not having to work. But I had become more satisfied and happy even in spite of changing nothing with my job.
1172 - 1174 And at this point you're still full time right.
1174 - 1175 Correct.
1175 - 1183 So this is really what we want to dig into. We want to find out what changes did you explicitly make that you found resulted in this increase in happiness.
1183 - 1223 My path out of burnout was multi-factorial and complicated but I know that it was really a shift in mentality. So realizing that I had more freedom than I did was a big part of it exploring gratitude and being more mindful and getting into meditation. Optimizeing other areas of my life like you know my diet exercise. All of these little things contributed. It wasn't any one aha moment like I just woke up one day and was was not burned out. There was work and it was a process and it didn't happen overnight.
1223 - 1257 I'm curious if you could take us back to that breaking point. I always want to dive into the mindset so as you said many doctors unfortunately there's a significant suicide rate and you could have gone the other way like you could have spiraled but you chose the pursuit of happiness. I'm wondering if you can put us back in your shoes then and talk us through those early days. You know you had this breaking point which is a significant episode in your life and you chose to get better. Talk us through what that looked like. OK.
1257 - 1340 So just to go on a little bit of a tangent here. There's a difference between burnout and depression and becoming suicidal. They are co-morbidities they are related to each other but they're different. So even though I was pretty burned out and emotionally sort of exhausted I wasn't really depressed in the clinical sense of the term I wasn't suicidal. And there were a lot of things going on that contributed to the anxiety and the burnout and some of those things were not related to my job. I'll Give you an example. So at that point in my life I read a lot of news. I was sort of tied up in the doom and gloom kind of category of blogging and reading. So I would read about things like peak oil and this was all happening right around the financial collapse of 2009. And I was paying attention to all these things and they were compounding the stresses in my life and I was focusing on things that I had no control. I have no control over the stock market or economic systems or politics or things like that. So cutting out all of the external stressful things that I was latching onto I think was a big part of of emerging from burnout.
1340 - 1412 And Jeff in one of your articles I was definitely taken by the fact that you have cut out news like you've cut out television as well. I know in my own life I have to a large degree cut out news and I was someone who was always into reading up on politics and reading up on World News. And I came to the same conclusion that you did which is I can't control it. And it's just going to as you said amplify fear and anger. That's a quote from one of your articles and I found that nothing good happened when I followed this stuff. It was just doom and gloom all the time. And and there was nothing I could do about it. So I know a direct parallel in my own life with that. Another thing I used to be passionate about that I've cut out is following sports to a large degree like I used to put like my heart and soul into my teams. And now since I've moved away from New York and all the home teams I just don't care anymore. And I think back to the time when I used to just devote so much time and energy into these teams that they weren't my team. It was just a Jersey. And it's just so fascinating when I have my family come down and visit like they're sitting watching sports all the time and I've just moved on and I just don't care anymore and I'm curious if you have cut out anything other than news in your life as far as inputs like sports or anything like that.
1412 - 1513 You know it's interesting that you mention sports because I found that over the years through this journey I mirror what you're saying. I have I have become less interested in you know following a certain team. I still enjoy sports just from the from the athletic standpoint from sort of the beauty of the art of sport. But all of these things. News sports rivalries they're all designed to be. Well let's let's go back to news. A lot of people think that the news is the purpose of news is to inform us to educate us but it's really not the purpose of news is to get us to watch more news and to make us feel like we're missing out on something if we're not constantly following the news. You watch these 24 hour news programs and it's breaking news and it makes you feel like it's all important but it's really ninety nine point nine percent of it is not important. Doesn't matter to your life. It's not actionable. Knowing about it and being stressed out about it doesn't add any value to your life. So I encourage people that watch a lot of television and watch a lot of news to cut it out of their life for 30 days and just see what happens. I don't ask people to give up something forever. But I'm a big fan of doing experiments and experimenting with cutting things out of your life that are potentially harmful or not adding value is a big part of growing and discovering happiness and I found that news is one of the bigger causes of stress and anxiety in many people's lives.
1513 - 1523 You know we haven't really hit on this concept too many times but I'd love to get your take on it. That essentially sounds like it sounds like a form of stoicism and it sounds like this concept of happiness through subtraction.
1523 - 1614 Yeah I love that concept I think. I think mad scientists wrote an article along those lines. That's that's great. And maybe even I wrote an article about this I can't remember I think I did it sounds familiar. Most of the time we try to add things to our lives that we think will make us happier. So this is the essence of the treadmill of consumerism. We think that adding more things to our lives will make us happier. But really what will probably make us happier is getting rid of all the negative things in our lives. That's the first thing that we should do. We should get rid of the negatives just eliminate them and then see what's left. And a lot of times the positive things in our life are right in front of us that we don't realize them because there's all these negative things and negative influences running around distracting us. So I wrote an article the title of it was alligators and kittens kind of a ridiculous title but the way I frame it is that the good things in your life are kittens and the bad things in your life are alligators. And if you have alligators and kittens running around your house what would you do. First would you add more kittens. Probably not. You would get rid of the alligators because alligators are way more destructive and negative than kittens are positive. So getting rid of the bad things in your life is is what we should focus on first and then add good things later after we've gotten rid of the all the negatives.
1614 - 1642 That's interesting because I'm currently reading a book called 13 things mentally strong people don't do. And it's by an author named Amy Morin. And I heard her on a podcast recently and she is echoing a lot a lot of what you're saying which is it's not always about what you do in your life to make it successful or to make yourself mentally strong or whatever it may be it's carrying back the negative things that are holding you back because they are so much more destructive.
1642 - 1665 Jeff I love that you highlighted this idea of decluttering. Because that's something that I know you've written about. I loved your article de-cluttering philosopher ninja style and in my favorite sentence in this entire article is it's kind of like what I would imagine if Martha Stewart ran fight club radical counter-cultural and very very polite. It is a beautiful well-mannered kicked to the groin of consumerism.
1665 - 1692 I love that. I wonder who wrote it. Yeah de-cluttering is is a huge thing and that ties into this whole getting rid of the negatives in your life. But there's multiple forms of de-cluttering. And we think of de-cluttering we tend to focus on the physical things in our lives. And I think that's a good place to start. So that article that I wrote I wrote out after reading the Marie Ricardo book.
1692 - 1696 That's called the The life changing magic of tidying up.
1696 - 1765 Yeah it's a great book and it's sort of a paradigm shift. So that was a book that I when I read that book shifted in my mind what the purpose of material things were and the essence is they're here to bring us joy. And if they're not bringing us joy we need to get rid of them. But in addition to that there are so many other things in our lives that we can de-clutter. For instance your email inbox your friends the front screen of your iPhone your commitments. All of these things are worth taking a hard look at and eliminating or letting go of the things that don't add any value or add negative value to your life. So I love the concept of de-cluttering but taking it beyond just the physical I think will make a big difference and a lot of people's lives. Another example of this would be at work. Many times there are commitments and things that we worry about in our in our jobs that really aren't necessary. So if we can get rid of those negative things in our careers and our jobs a lot of times positive things in our career or or job can emerge.
1765 - 1782 What I love about the article that you wrote was this line and it refers back to intentionality which in many cases seems like almost this source that a lot of this information flows downstream from. But it's as if we are not intentional about our lives. Clutter will fill it. Nature abhors a vacuum.
1782 - 1823 Yeah. I mean we all intuitively know this to be true. So when you clean your house and de-clutter if if you're not intentional and mindful about things come in the space will be filled. I mean it happens in my house. Somehow I get rid of a lot of stuff and then the next few months it it fills again. It's just nature. Entropy disorder chaos. So we have to be intentional about things that we bring into our lives. Because if we're not that they will just somehow appear they will appear on our calendar our schedule in our house and we won't necessarily know where they came from.
1823 - 1870 Jeff that's a very powerful item there at the end. I find that my calendar now fills up and sometimes I don't even know how it happened. I'll take a coffee meeting or a lunch meeting or you know this or that. And by the time I'm done looking at my week I have so few hours left to myself to do something productive or do something that I actually am going to thoroughly enjoy or even just time to sit and reflect or read a book or anything and it's like the tyranny of the schedule. And I think because I'm not applying that intentionality to it it's just becoming overwhelming. So I'm curious if you've found that in your life as far as like I have a hard time saying no I guess and have you been more intentional with your time as well as as these items.
1870 - 1907 So I have been more and intentional with my time and I wrote an article on power of saying no this is actually a hack a life hack if you will that is extremely useful if you don't know how to say no commitments will fill your schedule. You have to be willing and able and good at saying no to things that don't add value to your life like those coffee meetings or obligations that just somehow slip into the calendar. So learning to say no is in some ways a super power that will open up so much time in our lives.
1907 - 1932 But I think so interesting about that statement is that while it sounds very simple at face value to say no it's not just whether or not you're saying no. There's also an art form too saying no. Have you ever noticed that someone rejects you and you don't even realize it whereas someone else does it and you take it as this great offense that you know wounds you to your soul and in many cases the differences their approach or their skill. And I think that is worth focusing and highlighting.
1932 - 1968 Absolutely. I think that you can say no in a way that that is polite. And you know makes the person feel feel good about it. You don't say no just to say no and be mean but by saying no you're really saying yes to the value of your own time. Every time you say yes to something else you are giving up a part of your freedom and your time for that. So by flipping it around that way and framing it that way I think it can be easier to say no it's really just having respect for your time.
1968 - 1994 So you are 31 years old and you wake up one morning. You realize. I just can't do this anymore. And you talk to your wife and you say I'm burnt out. She kind of gives you her tacit approval for you to come up with this five year runway where at the end of five years you just tell her I don't I don't think I can make it anymore. And I'm curious what did that five year process actually look like for you. And it's my understanding that you are currently working so something must have shifted right.
1994 - 2040 Right. So I think the most interesting part of my journey is that at the three year mark we're a little a little bit before that. It looked like it just wasn't going to work out. That part time was not going to be an option. It was too complicated. And at the three year point two and a half year point I had accepted that I made just keep working full time. And interestingly enough I was I was pretty happy at that point. So I made changes to my life in other areas without changing a single thing in my job. Yet I was happier. At Three years I did end up going part time and that was a really great thing. It was it was good for me. But but I still was happy at that point even if I needed to keep working full time.
2040 - 2052 So I think there's probably a lot of doctors that would that are listening to this that would maybe like some more details on what part time actually looks like for you as a radiologist. How were you able to land that or set that up. So
2052 - 2126 there are a lot of ways to to work part time as a physician. And the way I do it is a job share. So I share a full time position with with another radiologist. We are one one full time equivalent in the system. There are a lot of other ways that physicians can work part time they can just work part time if their group decides that they don't need a full time position. If they're overstaffed for instance or if they want to have four and a half full time equivalents instead of four or five. One can work locums which is a temporary job. Typically groups that have somebody out on leave or others short staffed will want somebody to fill in temporarily. So that is an option. I'm sure there are other creative ways that I'm not thinking of right now but in my profession in radiology I think part time is a little bit easier to arrange because radiology is more of a shift work sort of profession whereas some of the primary care professions or specialties the patients expect to see their doctor. So it's a little bit more complicated. For for part time positions.
2126 - 2154 So in many cases and often this is the economic situation of going a half million dollars in debt to get a degree. But medical students will pick a specialty based on an expected rate of return or that higher salary. But the decision you've made to go part time obviously is going to come with a reduction in salary and it strikes me that you sound like you are happier for having made that choice but that would to some degree seem to defy logic based on maybe the normal equation that people use.
college-loans, medical
2154 - 2216 Yeah I completely agree. The decision I made to go part time economically on paper was a horrible decision because the biggest asset that a physician has typically especially in their 30s 40s is their ability to work and their ability to work full time and that's their biggest asset. So turning off half of that income stream at a relatively early age is not financially a smart decision. From a pure financial. Right. Write it down on a spreadsheet decision. But ultimately the goal in life is not to accumulate the largest pile of money. The goal in life is happiness and contentment and satisfaction. So if working part time or changing careers or changing jobs within a career if that is what is going to make one happy then that's the right decision.
2216 - 2256 Yeah I love that. And that's what we somewhat affectionately known as F-you money while you might not say if you do the job you can pick and choose aspects that you like about the job or in your case pick to only work a portion of the time. So I think that's what we're constantly talking about here where when you are accumulating this power in your corner by saving money you can make these decisions from a position of strength as opposed to oh no my World is going to crumble if I don't have my full paycheck for 30 days. Right like so many people who were living truly paycheck to paycheck. So yeah I completely appreciate that.
Jonathan_Catchphrases, savings
2256 - 2284 Jeff in light of the logical statement that we just talked about the physician during this window from 30 to 40 maybe 30 to 45 this could be their peak earning years. And you've made the decision to go part time. And while I think at face value that that could seem illogical in light of this article you wrote talking about the marginal utility of money. I think it makes perfect sense to me and probably also to Brad. But I'd love to hear you break down the concept of the marginal utility of money.
2284 - 2404 Sure. So I wrote this article how understanding the marginal utility of money will make you happier. And it's really expanding upon some of the concepts that were in the book Your Money or Your Life. I'm sure a lot of your listeners have read that book it's a great book but the whole idea of that book and this article is that there's a curve of money and happiness and it's not linear. The first money you spend in your life is going to bring the most happiness and the last amount of money in the last dollar you spend is probably not going to bring as much incremental happiness. So the more money we spend we may become happier in some ways. But at some point the curve levels off and it requires a lot of money to really bring small amounts of happiness and if you think about money being fungible with tis some money and time being the same thing for somebody who earns x amount of dollars per hour so the more they work the more money they make really money and time are the same thing. So you're spending money on happiness but you're also spending your time on happiness. And since time is not infinite It really is one of the few commodities that we have that that is not potentially infinite as we all have a defined, more or less, lifespan on average as we age our time becomes more valuable in some ways because we have less of it. So we're trading time for money and then we're using money to buy happiness. Yet at the same time our time is becoming more rare and the more we spend the less happiness we obtain. It's a little bit confusing and I drew some graphs with my very high artistic skills on that blog posts.
2404 - 2437 I'm a huge fan of your graphs but I will say I think that if you're having trouble with that concept it helps to go to the the end of your fraction of time it goes to that concept of scarcity it goes to those moments approaching your death and if you think about it this is kind of morbid. I know you wrote about it if you think about that last year before you pass away. How much value does money have to you at that point every single second that ticks and the clock money becomes significantly less valuable and you would give away all of your money in order to go back and reclaim more of your time.
2437 - 2495 Right. Exactly. It's an easy concept to grasp once you see the pictures but it's it's really hard to implement. It's surprisingly hard to take that and apply it to your life. For a lot of people but just having that realization you realize that when we trade our our time for money there's no right or wrong answer. It's it's a dilemma it's a tradeoff. So when we when we trade it isn't inherently good or bad it's just a choice that we make and it has consequences. And the further we go into that trade the further along in life we go the more risky it becomes if we're not happy because we just have we're gambling with less time that we have left. So if we're mindful of that. I think it forces our hand to try to be happier. Earlier in our life and not wait because you never know. You never know when when when things are going to take a turn. Either health problems or ultimately death.
2495 - 2504 You know what I think is so powerful about that concept is that the obvious way to get the best of both worlds would be to trade your time for money doing something that brings you happiness right.
2504 - 2526 Oh absolutely. Absolutely. And we I mean that is the Holy Grail so to speak of a career if you can find something that you love to do. And as a byproduct you get money for it. You get paid for it. I mean that's great because it's free. You know if you love something and you're getting paid for it it's free it's free time. You would have done it anyways.
2526 - 2552 And to me that's why you know Brad always says Financial independence is like a superpower. And we've been so intentional about separating the FI from the early retirement piece of this because FI gives you the freedom to fail. And if you define it that way you can potentially build this construct in which you're working and you may earn money. But those two don't have to be related to each other instead you have that freedom to fail which then allows you to do something that you love.
2552 - 2610 And Jonathan not just the freedom to fail but the freedom to explore. And I think that's what Jeff is talking about here with with this pursuit of happiness that because you had the financial side of things down pat you can take a step back and look at your life holistically and say what do I get value out of what do I enjoy. What would make me happier. What can I progress towards that are going to bring me some value in the future. Like all these things are really really important. And Jeff real quickly obviously we're talking about the marginal utility of money and there is this point of diminishing returns where additional dollars just aren't as valuable. I'm curious like how you thought through that in your own life was it did you sit down with a budget and say these are the items I get value from. And here is the savings I need to hit my FI number in X number of years like were you that intentional about it or talk me through that process of how you determined what brought you value in your life.
myfinumber, savings
2610 - 2647 I the way I approach it is on a case by case basis. So it's not something where I sit down and go through spreadsheets and it's just every spending decision I make this subconscious mental calculation in my mind is Is it worth it to me. It's them it's the your money or your life concept. Is this purchase worth. No one hour two hour five days of my time at my job. That's how I approach it a lot. I love that concept. And that's that's how I tied in with the marginal utility of money.
2647 - 2690 That's great. And if I can introduce a new phrase view what I call that is I'm a valueist. I'm not frugal I'm not cheap. It's I determine what I value in life and it sounds like you are extraordinarily similar in this regard. And if that again hits that like you said a subconscious decision for what makes sense then that's something that I deem a value and I purchase it. Like I don't second guess or hem and haw. It's just it's like a zero or one. Essentially I'm like I determine does this make sense based on the price do I value it. Does it make sense based on the time that I have to allocate those type of considerations. And if so then it's a go. And if not I'm never going to second guess it because I didn't value it.
2690 - 2714 Yeah I completely agree. It's the distinction really between frugality and cheapness. Just being cheap and saving money for the sake of it is isn't really going to make isn't really going to add value to your life. So most of my decisions right now my purchasing decisions are based on value and happiness rather than cost for instance. So I like the term valueist.
frugality, savings, valuist
2714 - 2732 Yeah. It's a good one and I'm curious what have you spent money on that does bring you happiness. I know that you know you just alluded to that like what have you added to your life. So we talked about about subtraction but are there items that you've added that have had a demountable impact on your happiness positively.
2732 - 2813 You know it's surprising when I when I look at my what I spend money on I really don't buy a lot of material things. Most of the things that bring us happiness are experiences. So you know having a really expensive car a closet full of designer clothes those things really don't bring me any happiness so I don't you know. We don't buy them but I'll give you an example of an area that that like I recently just purchased a new guitar and this is actually a pretty good example of frugality versus cheapness. So I had this old guitar for years and it wasn't a very good guitar. I bought it in college. In college I was spending all my money on rent and beer. So it wasn't a whole lot of guitar money but it was a it was an OK guitar and I've been playing this for years. Always meaning to upgrade to a nice guitar. And recently I finally got a pretty nice guitar and looking back at it I realized that that was a great way to spend my money because guitar is something I love to love to do. Not great at it but I was being cheap. I was I didn't want to spend the money on a nice guitar. And when I did I realize that I probably should have bought one years ago because it brings me a lot of joy to play that nicer guitar.
college, frugality
2813 - 2823 Jeff you've really focused on this idea of utility and happiness are different concepts and they often get confused when you're not looking at it rationally right.
2823 - 2923 Right exactly. So a good example of this that I wrote about would be would be a fork. So all forks are pretty much the same. There's not like a new fork technology that allows you to eat more comfortably or better. I don't know maybe there is but the cost distribution of forks is immense from almost free like like a garage sale fork you know that you get for five cents to the finest Sterling Silver engraved fork that could cost hundreds of dollars. The $100 fork isn't necessarily going to bring you any more happiness than the garage sale fork or fork from from Target for instance realizing where that utility levels off. So at some point some item is going to fulfill the utility that you need it to do. And you can upgrade it. You can spend more money on it but it isn't necessarily going to bring you any more happiness. You owe it to yourself on bigger purchases bigger spending decisions to really analyze the utility and happiness that that something's going to be going to get you a car a car is a perfect example. You can spend anywhere from you know a couple hundred dollars to six figures on a car and at some point you're going to fulfil a utility that you need and you don't need to spend any more you're just buying maybe a little bit of comfort and you have to ask yourself is that going to bring me more happiness. Is it worth my time. Is it worth trading my time for the money to bring a tiny amount more of comfort.
2923 - 3032 Jeff that's so interesting because that's that's how I approach my purchasing decisions as well I'm sitting here with this huge smile on my face as you're going through it because it's so reminiscent of my own life. And it's funny I just was in a sporting goods store a couple of days ago actually a daughter Molly and I we one of our experiences and this is kind of a free thing we do is we love walking through a sporting goods store and trying out some of the equipment and just kind of having this fun little adventure together and it's completely free. But what we actually saw was treadmills. OK so this one brand had three different treadmills right next to each other. One was $900 one is 15 and one was 1900. And for the life of me I stood there for 10 minutes trying to figure out what the differences were between these treadmills and I couldn't find them and I was thinking precisely like what is the marginal utility of spending this extra thousand dollars. And ultimately the only difference was the size of the TV screen that they had on the dopey treadmill. I kid you not. It was insane. I tried to figure out if there was anything else but it's almost like people derive satisfaction by spending more money sometimes like oh I got the best. So therefore it's great. Right. It's almost like justifying this weird decision like you're not getting any extra value. And I like sure I would never buy a treadmill but I can understand someone buying a treadmill that $900 one is going to operate the exact same as the $1900 one. And you have $1000 more in your bank account. It's amazing how many different decisions are like that. And I think that's really valuable. But you pointed that out to the audience about this marginal utility you find. What the value is in each purchase and don't spend any more on bells and whistles or a designer name brand or something like that. That's just the noise. Like cut through and figure out like what actually matters.
3032 - 3108 So just to add to that the problem with just buying something that's better is that you're going to adapt to it. We all do. We're human. Our minds more or less work the same. So an example my life is when I bought my car or even wrote a post on this. And when I bought my new car my 16 year old residency car was just not cutting it anymore. But when I first started driving that car I mean it was amazing. I felt like I was in a spaceship. It was. It had features that were not even invented when I bought my original car in the first few weeks I drove it it was. It was amazing. Even in the first few months but now I'm used to it. And that's my baseline. And I'm not really any happier driving that car anymore. So just behind something that's better isn't necessarily going to make us happier in the long run. We have to be really mindful that when we're just buying new things we get that little burst of those burst of neurotransmitters that make us feel good almost like a like a drug. But it's not going to last. So unless we have excess money in our life or we have to we're trading our time for money in a way that brings us joy we really have to be careful of that or we'll be working forever in a job that we're not necessarily 100 percent happy in.
3108 - 3155 Well Jeff thank you. Just generally for being willing to share so much of what you've struggled with what this journey has actually look like. I mean we talked about this idea of burnout. We talked about de-cluttering. We focused on what the pursuit of happiness practically what it actually looked like for you and I think that's going to be very valuable for audience for people that see the danger of that burnout in their near future and people that are already experiencing it and are trying to recover from that what I think is so cool about your story is that you know you had this five year runway which you told your wife I'm going to have to get out. And now it's five years past that point and not only are you still in this particular job that at one point felt like a prison sentence but you're thriving and I'd be curious what final tips or takeaways could you pass along to our audience.
3155 - 3234 Probably the probably the biggest thing is just having gratitude. I wrote a lot of posts over on fifteen hundred days do you guys. Yes we did. We're big fans of Carl and Mindi. Yeah yeah I am too. Love his blog. I wrote a guest post over there called How to be the happiest person in the room and it really focuses on gratitude and I think internalizing gratitude and making that a part of your daily practice. You know if we haven't touched on that already is really one of the bigger meta life hacks. My whole message is that we should be focusing on happiness and once we once we achieve that really everything else can fall in place in our lives. And the big thing that I learned throughout this journey is that happiness is a skill. It doesn't just emerge. And in some of us we have to practice it. So if we're not happy we need to take the steps to learn how to be happy. We need to implement the tools to create happiness. And what I found through my journey is that gratitude is the foundation of my happiness. It's really a Meta skill like no other. Be relentless with gratitude. And your life will change.
3234 - 3255 Jeff that's extremely powerful. And I'm curious like on a on a granular level like what does gratitude practice look like in your life. Like how overt are you about it. Like do you write things down in the morning do you write them down in the evening or is it just more like you said like that metaskill know that you're just constantly cognizant of it or what does this look like practically.
3255 - 3318 So in my life it's a very informal practice. It's a lot like meditation. So when I find myself feeling sorry for myself or feeling bad about something in some situation in my life and I catch myself I always try to stop take a breath and reframe it in a way that that expresses gratitude. So you know if I'm having a bad day at work and it's stressful or I'm in pain I always try to reframe it and then think of the things that are going positive that are positive in my life and focus on the things that I'm grateful for. And by reframing that the negative things are less negative. They don't have the same impact. I realize that a lot of the things that are that I think are negative are really not important. They're not that big of a deal I make more more of them than they are.
3319 - 3351 Yeah that's so crucial and I hope everyone goes back and listens to that and really takes that in because so many people when you just go through your life so many people are just complaining and griping about little grievances and they don't understand why they're unhappy or why their lives aren't working out the way they wanted to or why they can't get out of a situation like they're just constantly harping on the negative. And I love that mental reframing and I think it's it's so important. Sorry I really wanted to take a minute to emphasize that so yeah. Thank you very much.
3351 - 3394 You bet. The reason that a lot of us are unhappy is that we are not designed to be happy. Our brains are not that is not their primary goal to make us happy. The primary goal of our brain is survival and historically we have survived by being vigilant and stressed out all the time. And those threats are largely no longer there but we still have that wiring in place. We still have this inherent anxiety all the time. And if we can just realize that and interrupt that process continuously until it becomes a habit that will make us happier.
3394 - 3410 Yeah and that's the the space between stimulus and response that we're constantly talking about here in the podcast if you if you just interrupt that like you said and just find that space. You can choose to respond differently and I think that's really powerful.
3410 - 3428 Yeah. I mean for me that is the essence of mindfulness and meditation is to is to interrupt to interrupt that stimulus and make a conscious decision whether you're going to act upon it whether you're going to allow yourself to become worked up.
3428 - 3432 All right Jeff. Now have you have you heard our hot seat yet.
3432 - 3443 I have. I have listened to your podcast several times so I knew this was coming.
3443 - 3471 In a world drowning in debt and rampant consumption. Trapped by the chains of lifestyle inflation. These questions highlight the secrets of those who are broken free. Welcome to the choose F-I hot seat.
3471 - 3476 Wow did you guys hired Jim Collins to get the voice over for that.
3476 - 3480 Wouldn't that have been awesome. Maybe that's next year.
3480 - 3480 I bet he'd do it.
3480 - 3484 Maybe we could get him to do a Christmas special.
3484 - 3486 Nice.
3486 - 3489 Alright Jeff question number one your favorite blog. That's not your own.
3489 - 3521 Favorite blog. No I don't read blogs as much as I used to but I think I'm going to have to be really generic here and go back to Pete's blog Mr. Money Mustache because I think that is just there's so much good information on that blog and the the framing the way he frames and approaches life is I think beneficial to a lot of people myself included. I got a lot of value out of his blog especially early on when I discovered it going through burnout.
3521 - 3529 All right. Question number two your favorite article of all time. Now we encourage you this can either be one that you wrote or somebody else's.
3529 - 3545 Favorite article of all time. You know there's so many good ones and so many that I've probably forgotten about. But I'm going to go I'm going to go a little bit different here. So there's a blog called wait but why have you stumbled upon that one.
3545 - 3552 Yes we've actually a couple of our guests have have mentioned articles from wait but why. So that's that's interesting. I'm curious to hear where you're going.
3552 - 3570 It's a great blog and all of his articles are very thought provoking. But since I haven't really bashed on social media yet which is something that everybody should be very mindful of and probably cut out of their lives. There's an article called Seven Ways to be insufferable. On Facebook I recommend that one.
3570 - 3579 I like the sound of that. We will definitely link up everything you've mentioned all your articles and these ones as well and the show notes so everybody can check them out there.
3579 - 3591 Excellent. And if I if I have to throw one of my articles in there I think the how to be the happiest person in the room articles. One that I love even though it's not on my blog. I like that one. That sums up a lot of my thoughts.
3591 - 3598 Yeah that's a great one and we'll definitely link to that as well. Question number three your favorite life hack.
3598 - 3629 So we've talked about a lot of life hacks in the episode. So I'm a I'm going to go this isn't necessarily my favorite life hack but it may be something that's a little bit non-intuitive and I wrote an article about this and I think that for people that are habitual drinkers going on an alcohol fast for six months or more it is extremely liberating and educational and will allow people that drink regularly to realize the potential negative effect of alcohol on their lives.
3629 - 3646 So Jeff when you say habitual drinkers like let's say my wife and I have like a beer or a glass of wine. Literally one every night like would that would that be a habitual drinker and like we would benefit from cutting this out. Are you talking about like people who are like drinking to get drunk or you know that kind of thing.
3646 - 3679 I think both. I think everybody who consumes alcohol on a regular basis it's worth doing the experiment to see how it affects your body how it affects your emotional state. And more interestingly the effects the subtle effects of alcohol on society that allows you to step outside of the of the habit of alcohol and see it in a way that you may not have appreciated as somebody who drinks regularly not necessarily just you know raging alcoholics. you know a couple couple of drinks a night.
3679 - 3692 Right and that certainly ties back to the happiness through subtraction that you've talked about previously in the episode. So Jeff what kind of time period are we talking about here is this like something you could do over 30 days. Is it something longer. What would you actually get benefit from.
3692 - 3727 Yeah the time period is important actually because I've done 30 day alcohol fasts and you don't get to a place of self-reflection. And 30 day 30 days is easy. Six months is hard. Because you you're going to be exposed to a lot of social situations that you may you may feel like you need to drink to fit in and you can't really avoid those in a six month period in a 30 day period it's easy. You just you just avoid the triggers. And but it's not as it's not as interesting. I'll leave it at that.
3727 - 3738 That makes perfect sense and right you obviously cannot avoid triggers for half a year. So that's I I am very impressed by that. All right Jeff Question number four your biggest financial mistake.
3738 - 3757 Well my biggest financial mistake was also probably my best decision. And we talked about this financially. My my biggest quote mistake was going part time. That's that cost me the most financially. But ultimately as we talked about it was a great it was great decision for me.
3757 - 3784 What I love about what you said just said Jeff and we've said this on the show before we talk about this idea that it's just math. And so you know do what the math tells you. But then this idea that just because something is optimal doesn't mean it's the right choice for your life. And once you tie in this other concept of the marginal utility of money you made the right choice for your life and it can be the it's amazing that that can be your biggest financial mistake. And at the same time it can be the best choice you ever made.
3784 - 3801 Yeah exactly. I like the way you framed that. Yeah I mean I can look back and point to investments you know where I lost a lot of money thousands of dollars but they're nothing compared to the amount the the opportunity cost of giving up half of my of my income.
3801 - 3804 All right Jeff. Question number 5 the advice you would give your younger self.
3804 - 3871 These are always just horrible. I hate these questions. The advice I would give my younger self these actually are extremely difficult questions to answer because all of the decisions I made in my life got me to where I am right now. So if I were to change something I may not be where I am now. All of the struggles in my life have sort of got me to this point. So eliminating those struggles may I may be a different different person and may not not be as happy as I am but I think two things that kind of popped into my head. All right. Our number one learn to be present and that's that's something that that's a skill that I'm still working on but especially earlier in my life I had trouble with this. I would live in the future worrying about it or reminisce about the past and have regrets. So just learning to be present I think is is the advice I'd give myself.
3871 - 3876 And we do have a bonus question for you. Your favorite purchase made on Amazon this year.
3876 - 3906 Yeah I knew this question was come in and I actually went through my my Amazon purchase and it it's all just a bunch of crap it's like oil filters in iPad cases and a book that I was like 28. On the whole list at the library that I didn't want to wait six months to read. So. So nothing. Nothing life changing on Amazon but I think I think the best purchase I made this year that stands out is the new guitar. And we talked about that great guitar.
3906 - 3956 I was actually kind of interested to ask you this question not because now because I had any idea what you were going to answer because I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be a TV. And the reason I say that is you had this really fun article talking about this idea of kill your television and how much you despise not just 24 hour news but TV in general and what was so hilarious about is down at the bottom of the article you had this picture of this landfill just full to the brim of just old and abused and used TV's cracked screens and everything. And then down right below that I think you had an affiliate link for a for a television on Amazon and it says if you clicked this Amazon link and buy a television I will hang my head in shame and promptly donate any commission I received to some worthy cause to try and counterbalance the levels of ridiculousness and the universe. Namaste
3956 - 3959 I don't think anybody bought a television. Thank goodness.
3959 - 3966 Thank you so much for coming on the show today. This has been a lot of fun. And before we let you go what's the best way for people to connect with you.
3966 - 3981 My blog the happy philosopher dotcom and all of my contact information and social media can be found on that site I'm on Twitter Facebook. And there's a contact page if if somebody wants to send me a message.
3981 - 3982 Thank you so much Jeff.
3982 - 3982 Awesome.
3982 - 4040 Hey this is a lot of fun and we had a blast. And to our audience thank you for being a part of the Choose half community if you want to support us here four easy ways 1 Leave us an iTunes review. You want to do that. Just go to choose FI dot.com slash iTunes two use our page to sign up for travel credit cards. If you want to travel the world with miles and points instead of your hard earned dollars then just go to choose F-I dot com slash cards and get started today. Three if you're working on the milestones of five. Set up a personal capital account to track your progress and use our affiliate link. It's completely free and just go to choose F-I dot com slash PC and Paul C as in cat and four and most importantly find your friends coworkers and family members who might be open to this message and tell them about the podcast. Have them start with episode 38. The why of. And right behind that. Have them go listen to Episode 21. The pillars of FI. It is a fantastic starting place. All right my friends the fire spreading. We'll see you next time. As we continue to go down the road less traveled. You've been listening to choose FI radio podcast where we help middle class America build wealth one life hack at a time.

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