Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Making Mistakes: Part 4

Just when I think I am nearly running out of mistakes I make new ones! But that is all part of the improvement phase of life which I am understanding to mean the improvement phase of your entire life.  I really only have a few left in this series.

This one isn't necessarily the most painful mistake, but it was costly. Most mistakes cost something in terms of money, relationships, emotions, physical harm - if there wasn't some visceral consequence of making a decision how would we knew we could have made a better choice?

Sadly, not all decisions are logical ones - sometimes they are purely emotional ones that you can't argue with even though you know what the consequence will be.

Mistake #4: Taking an entire month off before starting the real job

This is one of those mistakes where I knew it wasn't a good idea, but how do you tell the man/woman who has spent the better part of two decades being told where to go and what to do that they need to start work sooner than later. They have an entire career of work ahead of them. It seems like an eternity and this is the last rest stop on the road.

I think everyone I know looks forward to taking a month off between the end of training and the start of a new job. It is almost expected and is one of the "prizes" we think we all earn. When will there ever be another time that you can take 4-6 weeks off and just do what you want before embarking on a career of long hours, stress, and life saving work?

So when he signed the contract and I looked at the start date I knew it wouldn't be rainbows and flowers. I knew because as part of my homework two years ago, so I would not make a tragic mistake, I ran across this article  appropriately titled Two Big Mistakes Graduating Medical Residents Make. For a time I even had this link on my sidebar so I saw it often. Didn't matter! I forgot all about it in the euphoria that is signing a contract!

Sure, that month off was nice to spend with my husband and children. Yes, it was nice to sleep in and not listen to a pager go off in the middle of the night for an entire month. Absolutely, we had a great time!  We took a couple of weekend trips, visited family, and just relaxed. We did everything we felt we couldn't do during training.

Here is a warning, given in love, from someone who was very recently there:

That time off has a fixed cost. In fact when you look at it from a financial perspective that month off may have been the most expensive month of our entire lives. Think of how much that month off will cost you in terms of dollars. I don't always think about money, but money is important and learning how to tame it is a survival skill.

The larger your salary the greater the opportunity cost of taking time off will be. Let's say your salary will be $400,000/year. If you divide that amount by 12 you are looking at a gross income opportunity loss of $33,333 for that one month that you will never get back or make up. Of course the net amount will be vastly different (love taxes), but even then the net loss would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000. What could $20,000 do for you?

Can you afford to miss out on $33,333 in earnings and approximately $20,000 in cash? Is taking a month off worth that much money to you? If the answer yes, then maybe taking a block of time off is the right decision for you. If the answer is no, maybe starting work sooner than later and then taking a vacation after you have worked for a few months is the right decision. You know doctors get vacation time, right:-)


Spend some time as a family deciding how much time off is needed or appropriate for your situation and financial goals. Have the conversation and consider the financial implications. Are you buying a house, want new furniture, must have a vacation now, just want do do nothing? Once you can identify what your priorities are, you can determine what portion of your income you are willing to miss out on to have it. Maybe all you really need is a week, not a month.

For me, I wish we had started work earlier. In our case, it would have been well worth it for me to move our family in and unpack all by myself. I would have gladly done it alone, in the pouring rain, barefoot, in exchange for the amount that we missed out on.

Now, almost 3 months after starting work, we finally feel like we are catching up from that 1 month we took off. Was it worth it? It was nice, but it wasn't worth missing out on $xx,xxx. One week or two would have been sufficient, a month was too long.

Decide what is right for you and your situation. Decide.

Here is one mistake you don't want to make - Medical Monday's is coming on this next week. Monday November 4th. Yes, the bad news is that it is November and the good news is that you can start the week off right by joining with us!



  1. My husband and I were just talking about this last week- can you read my thoughts or something?! We were thinking of taking the better part of a month off, but I know it would be a huge financial hit. I know because we had a forced month off in between residency and fellowship! With moving to another state and wanting to take a 7-10 days vacation, I figure you need a minimum of 2 weeks off. My husband wanted to have time to help get the new house in order, but maybe we will do closer to 2.5 weeks off instead of almost a month. Thanks for the advice!

    1. Maybe I am a mind reader:-) It's just been on my mind as we've hit the one year mark since signing our contract and thinking about all the things I wish we would have done differently. I am glad you find it helpful.

  2. It's funny, I'm a lawyer and there is a lot of the same mentality upon graduation--after you've racked up $200k+ of debt and spent the whole summer studying for the bar exam, there is the idea that you go on a post-bar trip to somewhere exotic for a month or so, since it'll be your last chance for an extended vacation for a looonnnng period of time (perhaps until retirement!). Almost everyone I know (myself included) did this, and racked up even more debt, despite the fact that it would have been a much more financially-wise decision to start our fancy "BigLaw" jobs right away and take a paid vacation later. I don't know, though, to me the vacation month was SO needed at that time and gave me the energy I needed to start my career off on the right foot. And it's true, in the 5 years I've been working as a lawyer since I haven't ever been able to take more than 10 days off at a time (and that was for my wedding/honeymoon!). I don't regret the month off before starting work, even though it probably was the most expensive month of my life. So, just a thought that perhaps you guys, too, (your husband, especially) needed the month off more than you think now in hindsight? You are right, you are way too hard on yourself!

  3. This is such a great perspective to read about. It's something that is "forgotten" about by people in my situation because we still have years left but then when it is our time...I can see it being so easy to get wrapped up in the "take this well-deserved break, you need it" mentality. Thanks for the great perspective, as always!

  4. Oh man I totally disagree! I had my son as a chief resident and had I not had that time to look forward to (I finished in July, started my grown-up job in October) I would have lost it - I needed that time to re-connect with him as a mother. That is what got me through the end of residency. We financially planned for it...and didn't go nuts when we became attendings - no big car, new jewelry etc. My job paid for our move so it was the (free) road trip of our lives...so quite honestly, it was the easiest decision I ever made!

  5. Thanks for sharing your triumphs and struggles in these recent posts. It made me think of something I recently read about a beautifully strong woman (http://faithandfitnessat50.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/grace-to-get-over-myself/). An old undergrad friend reminded me the other night, when I am overwhelmed, to give myself grace :)

  6. I don't know. Money isn't everything. As someone who is now 11+ years out of training I would suggest that you can't place a dollar amount on the value of spending some time together without the blasted pager. ;) The money will even itself out over time.

    Thanks for a great 'mistakes' series.

    Kris (Dawkter's Wife ... Google is loading me as unknown, but I wanted you to know I stopped in to read! ;) )


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