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The Butler Project » Broke

Entries Tagged 'Broke' ↓

A Surgeon’s Paycheck with a Teacher’s Summers Off

I sell business education for a living. For the last four years (almost), I’ve talked to several people each day who are struggling badly financially. I’d guess I’ve talked to close to 2000 people during that time that want desperately to change their financial situation, which means I’ve probably had the following dialogue 2000 times:

Me: What do you do for a living?

Person: (insert any profession from janitor to surgeon - I’ve talked to them all.)

Me: How long have you been doing that?

Person: (frustrated laugh) I don’t know…too long. Years.

Me: So after being in that job so long, about how much are you bringing home annually?

Person: (insert any income from a $500 disability check to $500,000 per year.)

Me: Hm. So making about $____ per year, would you say you’re getting ahead financially or living more paycheck to paycheck?

Person: (whether janitor or surgeon) Hah, paycheck to paycheck for sure. I just can’t seem to get ahead.

It never ceases to amaze me how people can be broke no matter what their income is. Clearly the janitor and the surgeon are broke for different reasons, but they’re frustrated in similar ways. It strikes me that groups at both ends of the income spectrum seem to envy each other.

Said the school teacher of the surgeon:

“It’s not like I’m some brain surgeon or something. Sure I’d love to spend every day on the golf course, but that’s just not going to happen for me. I work 12 hours a day between the classroom, lesson prep, and grading. And for what? Peanuts, and a measly pension.”

Said the surgeon of the school teacher:

“Do you know what it’s like to be on call at all hours of the day and night, weekend and holidays? What I wouldn’t give to be a teacher. Can you believe those guys only work nine months out of the year? Not to mention the two weeks they take at Christmas. Sure, I make a good wage, but what do I have to show for it? It’s not like I have any time to enjoy it anyway. And with the health insurance situation I’m seeing my income drop every year.”

Isn’t it interesting how they exaggerate the upside of the other profession and make no mention of the drawbacks?

No question there are happy surgeons and teachers out there, but I haven’t talked to many of them. The dominant emotion I come across is discouragement, but there is a specific set of emotions attached to every bit of financial pain I discover as I talk to people.

Ask yourself if you can relate to any of the following:

  • “I hate my job.” - Boredom, embarrassment, discouragement, frustration.
  • “I don’t make enough money.” - Anger, envy, shame, fear.
  • “I work too many hours.” - Fatigue, fear of missing out.
  • “I have debt I’ll never pay off.” - Guilt, shame, fear.
  • “My retirement funds aren’t anywhere near what I’m going to need.” - Fear, sense of uncertainty.
  • “I don’t have any college funds set up for my kids.” - Guilt.

My impression is that people feel helpless about their money circumstances, mostly because they’re in the habit of living their financial life as they do. When you have a habit long enough, you become convinced that it’s a foregone conclusion. The fact is it’s still a choice. You can choose to spend less, earn more, save more. The surgeon chooses to live the way she/he does, and so does the teacher.

We can have long conversations about how these people can improve their situations, and we will. In the meantime, look at your life and your finances. Do you accept that you’ve chosen your current financial reality, and that you could choose a different one? Here’s a quote to think about: “The three most powerful words in the English language are “I am responsible.”

How can you benefit from that quote? “I am responsible” is a forward thinking statement. “I am to blame” is a backward thinking statement. Focus on a better future, then develop the disciplines to realize it.

What’s the payoff? I guess you could say it’s the surgeon’s paycheck and the school teacher’s summer off. Imagine what that would be like. Based on my interviews with millionaires I think I can give you some insight on what it takes to get there.