Image Source: Game of Thrones, HBO
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.” ―The Night’s Watch Oath, Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin
Well, you can scratch the first few lines for me. I have lands, a wife, and children which I have no intentions of giving up. However, I have decided to start this blog to try and help the Free Folk (or Wildings as those soft Sothron Lords refer to us) who live “North of the Wall” in Canada to weather the coming storm. Make no mistake, White Walker Wynne and now Night King Morneau are on the move with their legions of undead.
Like a shuffling undead army, their governments need life, in this case money, to fund their political agendas and they seek to extract it from the rich successful professionals and entrepreneurs. The winds behind the politics of envy blow strong and this group is the perfect target since they are a small part of the voter base to be dragged down into the seething horde for consumption. Make no mistake – Winter is coming….
The environment in Canada for physicians has a lot of parallels to the seasons in Westeros, the fantasy setting of Game of Thrones. There are bountiful Summers of variable multi-year lengths that are usually long enough that many forget the equally long and brutal Winters in between. But The North Remembers…
I trained towards the end of a Winter in the late 1990s. There had been a little over a decade of vilifying physicians as greedy whilst cutting their pay and their ability to provide quality care by starving the healthcare system (sounds familiar). The government had also reasoned that since physicians ordered expensive tests and treatments – it followed that they’d have less cost if there were less docs. So, they cut medical school enrollment drastically. Predictably, these moves led to a doctor shortage due to the “brain drain” to greener pastures in the USA coupled with the decreased production of new doctors.
Ultimately, it reached the point where there was public outcry, Summer came, and there was a doubling of medical school/residency slots over a few years and increases to doctor fees over the course of the ensuing decade. This eventually worked and the brain drain was reversed around 2010. Since then, we have been heading back into Winter, with the most Stark example being Ontario where there have been unilateral government clawbacks to fees of about 5% and no real good faith negotiation for several years.
This cycle of seasons will no doubt continue as governments think in 4 year terms and react by over and undershooting the longer term target as the pendulum of public opinion swings.
With this latest Autumn over the past few years, I found myself becoming burnt out and cynical. Not a good place to be only 11 years into my practice at the tender age of 41, but not uncommon. A couple of Canadian surveys done in 2006 showed about 50% of doctors have symptoms of burn out. Perceived lack of control over one’s situation is a strong risk factor for burn out and that certainly described how I felt due to the unilateral government actions, associated media campaign, and challenges within our hospital from continually tightened budgets.
My case was relatively mild with largely some irritability and a bunch of bitching-moaning-feeling-sorry-for-myself. This gave me significant internal conflict because by any measure, I really have it made in the shade with my career and I am usually a glass half-full kind of guy. I have also strongly subscribed to the mentality that you should be proactive and act on your environment rather than have it act on you with you being stuck reacting – my bitching-moaning-feeling-sorry-for-myself was definitely incongruent.
I’d like to say that with my awesome inner awareness and powers of self-mastery that I diligently embarked on a process of evaluating my priorities in work and life, and explored my options (eg. retire, move, change up my practice or career). What really happened is my wife gave me a kick in the ass – she’s great for that – and told me to do just that.
If she were a Game of Thrones character, she’d probably be Daenerys Targaryen – not only is she the “Mother of Dragons”, but she also really hot and has a similar temperament. Sadly, I identify most with Tyrian whose self-described role is to “drink and know stuff”.
I discovered a few things with that process that led to the final conclusion that I should start this blog:
1) There are many others with similar feelings who are critically looking at what makes them happy, what is important, and what their options are. The Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) community online has already been doing so.
2) It is easy to feel isolated as a professional who is thinking about FIRE when popular culture is still very much one of consumerism and your colleagues are (or seem to be) very career focused or “workaholics” with anything less being a sign of weakness or lack of dedication. Reading the stories of other doctors in the FIRE online community like Physician on FIRE, Happy Philosopher, or Dads Dollars Debts was like hearing my own story. They resonated deeply with me and were inspiring and affirming. I hope this blog with both my story and those of others that participate provide this comfort and motivation to others.
3) I had actually already pretty much achieved FI. I did this because it was how I was taught to manage my finances by my parents (who retired at 55) and my aunt and uncle (who retired in their early 40s). I took for granted the wisdom that they passed on to me, but apparently it is novel enough that you can call it something cool like FIRE and there are people who need to learn about it. I think that I can contribute, particularly within the Canadian context.
4) Having FI within grasp, I still don’t want to retire early (RE). I have many reasons for that which will form another post and I think that they are shared by many professionals. However, having FI provides has other benefits for professionals besides RE that we can explore. Or rather, I think for my purposes would consider the RE more for “Re-focusing” work to my priorities.
With Winter coming, the night is dark and full of terrors. I hope this blog will help provide some light for Canadian professionals in the icy north to proactively take charge of their financial lives and work towards FIRE and the power it provides. Hopefully, my blog lifespan will exceed that of many of the main characters in Game of Thrones.