The Physician Philosopher Podcast
TPP 90: Finding Purpose and Connection Outside of Medicine w/ Dr. Jordan Grumet
Finding purpose in life outside of medicine can be challenging for many doctors. Dr. Jordan Grumet, a hospice and palliative care doctor who discovered financial independence to ward off physician burnout, has some key ideas from his upcoming book regarding this. There are some things I have been personally working through over the last two years and a topic that MANY doctors ignore until it is too late. Keep reading to find out how doctors can gain financial independence to live a fulfilling life that is full of purpose, connection, and identity.
Who is Dr. Jordan Grumet
Dr. Jordan Gromet and I have known each other for a very long time. We started in the old days blogging about personal finance and even shared a hotel at our personal finance conference! He is a doctor, podcaster at The Earn & Invest Podcast, and author who has spent a lot of time discovering his purpose. In his new book Taking Stock: A Hospice Doctor’s Advice on Financial Independence, Building Wealth, and Living a Regret-Free Life, he shares his advice and lessons learned through his journey. His book is being released on August 2, 2022.
When Dr. Grumet was a kid he idolized his father, who was an oncologist. He had a brain aneurysm at 40 and died suddenly when Dr. Grumet was only seven years old. He always wanted to be just like him and never wanted to be anything but a doctor. As a child he had a learning disability, but he overcame that and shot through high school and college into medical school. Becoming a doctor was everything he thought it would be. He got to help people, be a part of their lives, and be a part of complex decision making.
He also suffered through post-traumatic stress disorder from residency from watching people die and feeling helpless. Medicine was a part of his identity and when he was at the bottom of the well of burnout, he felt there was another important part of him. He loved to write, tell stories, communicate, and speak publicly. These were all things he told himself he couldn’t do for a living because they were hobbies.
Dr. Grumet and Personal Finance
He was looking for a way out because being a doctor was causing him a lot of stress. He started looking at personal finance. He wanted to find out how much money he needed to free himself from this thing that he thought was his identity. In 2014 Jim Dahl asked him to review his book, The White Coat Investor, on his medical blog. This gave him the information he needed. He realized that there was a specific number he could work towards achieving to be able to pull back from medicine. When he realized that he was already there, he got depressed and confused because being a doctor was his identity. Being able to financially walk away from being a physician would get him out of burnout but would also leave a big empty space.
Finding Purpose in Life
When he realized that he didn’t know who he wanted to be besides a physician, he started writing and thinking more about his purpose in life. Who did he want to be? For two years he continued as a doctor and worked to figure out that he wanted to define himself as a communicator; someone who writes, someone who podcasts, someone who public speaks, and someone who is passionate about personal finance. He slowly left his job as he became more confident in this identity.
While this identity fit him more comfortably, he didn’t want to give up being a hospice physician. He got rid of everything that didn’t fit into his identity and held onto the things that he enjoyed, and the things where he could control his hours and not have to worry about nights and weekends. All of this exploration led to personal finance, podcasting, and writing the new book.
Getting Clarity in Life
While he is farther on his journey than I am, I have cut back to a couple of days a week. When you realize you have the financial freedom to walk away, you ask yourself the questions, “Who am I if I am not a doctor practicing how I have my whole life?” and “What will I do with five days a week free?”
In his book he talks about how, working in hospice, mortality can sometimes bring a lot of clarity. I am an anesthesiologist and I see death, but it is very finite and quick, which is different from him. People think that a hospice diagnosis means it is over right now, and a lot of times that is not the case. It means that you have a set amount of time to live whether it is weeks, months, or years and you start looking at your life. You start reviewing what you did or didn’t do and start thinking of your regrets. And people still live every moment of every day, and he helps them use that time well.
He helps people come to terms with the fact that they’re dying and deal with the physical, social, and emotional symptoms of this. It impacts the rest of their life no matter how short or long that is. They never have regrets for not working more or for not working weekends. They never have regrets for not reaching their financial goals either.
When we are younger, we aren’t thinking carefully enough to consider things as if you knew when your last day was. It is because we are scared of dying. It is easier and definable to go for the low hanging fruit, which are false goals like financial goals. Dr. Grumet’s goal is to help people to start thinking about these things earlier in life and being more intentional with their focus.
A lot of doctors who clamor for financial independence think that if they make it to that number, they will be happy, but then they aren’t when they get there. That is what makes it a false goal. You are going to work your whole life either way. It can be at a job or at home cleaning the house. You are just trading off how you fill your time. We can’t buy time; we can’t trade for it either. All we can do is change what we do during our time. We need to be intentional about the risks and rewards of what we put in that time.
You can work at a job you don’t like to make money, but then you are specifically putting something in that time slot you won’t enjoy. Putting away money for the future so you can fill that time with things you like later is a way of storing the ability to control what things you do with your time. That can go very wrong though. If you hate what you are doing and are unlucky enough to die young, you will never get to enjoy your time. Nobody knows when they are going to die so it is important to be more thoughtful about how we spend our time.
Money Mind Meld
The money mind meld takes our eyes off the real goal in life. We spend our time concentrating on money because it is simple, and it is the low hanging fruit. Thinking of this protects us from doing the truly hard work of figuring out who we are and what is really important to us in this finite life. We have this false goal because we all think it will make us happy, so we continuously pursue it. It confuses us and takes away from the deeper meaning of life; who we are, what we want, how we identify ourselves, and what are the important connections in life.
When you are dying you realize that you literally and figuratively can’t be worried about building a net worth anymore because now your time is finite. The money mind meld stops us from thinking about life being finite and it stops us from realizing that we are dying from the day we are born. Dr. Grumet’s idea is to see through the money mind meld and get back to important goals: purpose, identity, and connections.
One quote from his book really resonated with me. “When we evaluate our achievements in the rearview mirror, most of us realize that the joy was in surmounting obstacles. Overcoming desperation, setting a plan, and making progress are what happiness actually looks like.”
Focusing on the progress over the end product isn’t always easy. Dr. Grumet tells his kids that they may never reach their dreams, even if they get 95% of the way there. There is beauty in the climb.
Some of the best years of his life were when he was in medical school and residency because he was in the process of becoming. He made meaningful progress, and every day was fascinated by what he could learn and how he could grow.
We all need a climb. A climb is something that is deeply meaningful to us that relates to our purpose and identity. We also need to feel like we are making progress and we have to enjoy the path. You have the goal, the obstacle that is important to you, and the process of getting there that is enjoyable. When you marry the money and mindset with the climb, you make it all come together.
Find Your Purpose
Finding your purpose will depend on your personality type. Once you figure out what your purpose, identity, and connection is you then can figure out your finances and build a framework that will support that identity. You can read more about this in Dr. Grumet’s book.
Always go to purpose first, then look at framework and which path or mix of paths works best. Think about this before you get to burnout. We encourage you to change and define those paths. Don’t do it when you have a terminal illness…do it today. Today’s thought is this, doctors don’t have to wait until they are dying to live a life of purpose, connection, and identity.
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