PRN: Life Lessons Learned

Physician's Money Digest, March31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 6

Educationally oriented people, particularlythose who live professionallybased on the results of rational studies,sometimes have a difficult time reconcilingthe received wisdom of academiawith that of experience. If we're lucky,and we're around long enough, thesetwo forms of learning may be integratedto help us navigate the real shoals andstorms of our lives. Or, as Robin Williamsput it, "Reality, what a concept!"

One thing I've learned from my accumulatedexperience is that the saying,"Time is money," is truer than I expected.In a fee-for-service profession, morework usually (a sardonic tip of the hat toour managed care friends) means moremoney, and vice versa. But there is a secondapplication of the adage that thoseof us with snow-capped hair havewatched to our personal amazement—compounding interest. We heard that ifyou save regularly from an early age andwait for a career's worth of time—almostregardless of the return in any givenyear—you actually could come out withenough money for retirement. Gettingrich slowly can be frustrating, but it is anear certainty if you put your moneyaway early and wait long enough.

Prospering Through Patience

A second financial lesson I've learnedover time that affirms what scholarshave told us is that while you are livingyour life, and watching net worths grow,it can be alarming to see that the processis far from smooth or steady. But economicactivity, like virtually everythingelse in life, is erratically cyclical. So that'swhy experts all recommend diversifyingyour investments into different areasand rebalancing periodically, because noone so far has been able to tell where orwhich kinds of financial instruments willincrease or decrease in value.

Which leads to the third amazing lifelesson from the seers who tried to teachus in word and print (but whom we didnot really believe until we could witnessthe live effect): "Time heals all wounds."If you wait long enough, all cyclical stainswill come out in the metaphorical wash.In the long run, the ups and downs don'tmean much, especially compared to ourpeaks and valleys on any given day. Staythe course, at least in your money affairs.

Realizing the Possibilities

Which segues to the last financial lifelesson I've learned to be true: Everythingis negotiable. If you accept other'sassertions that "It's a standard contract,"or "We don't negotiate," youactually already have, if by abrogation,and the other party benefited. Thisdoesn't necessarily mean everything inlife is just a zero-sum game; it has moreto do with the ability to make choicesand be aware of the possibilities.

The real question of balance in ourlives between what we are taught offinancial affairs and what we inducebased on our own experiences is this:Can you manage to do well enoughfinancially to allow you to focus on themore important nonfinancial areas oflife such as service, family, health,recreation, and meaning? That's a lifelesson well learned.

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a partneron the Stanford UniversityGraduate School of BusinessAlumni Consulting Team, is apracticing primary care physician.He welcomes questions andcomments at