I have to say Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It might feel like the world is pretty divided at times, but I think something we can all agree on is that it’s important to take time to show gratitude and say thanks for all that we’ve been given.
In fact, they say gratitude is the key to happiness. It’s not always easy, but I try to spend a few minutes each morning in gratitude—to God, my family, my friends, and anyone else who has helped me get where I am today.
It’s always easy to thank people for the good stuff, for presents, for gifts, for something nice, but how often do we look back and say thank you for some of the challenges we’ve encountered in our past?
For it’s in those tough times that the most growth typically happens. I think that’s the key meaning behind the phrase “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
This being primarily a financial blog, I decided to look back on the tougher financial hurdles I’ve had to deal with in my life.
Now, to be honest, I sometimes feel silly for mentioning financial challenges when I know that there are so many people who have far less and haven’t been given the opportunities I’ve had. So, understand, I realize it’s all relative.
Here are five financial hurdles I’m thankful for.
Credit Card Debt
I held several jobs in college—as a tutor, a district manager for a coupon savings book, a telephone fundraiser for our school, and a snow shoveler for the local museum to name a few. College is where I learned how to grind.
But I also found myself in a good amount of credit card debt. Like many college students, I signed up for the free t-shirts and thought they were some gift from up on high. I could just put purchases on this little card and pay the minimums each month. Never mind the interest rate and how the balance was growing. As long as I paid the minimums, I was fine. I would figure it out later.
I liked to go out and eat once in a while and live the college life. Well, that grew into over $25,000 of debt that I carried into and through medical school.
Eventually, after meeting my wife in medical school, I learned that having all that credit card debt wasn’t a necessary evil. She came from a family that always paid their bills in full. Silly as it may seem, that concept was new to me.
When I made the decision to pay off the balance, it felt insurmountable at first. Fortunately, after medical school, I had the opportunity to do some moonlighting. I hustled like crazy and I worked to pay off that debt in full.
Being in that situation and knowing what it felt like to climb out of it, I've never let myself get back there. I still use credit cards today, but I use it simply for travel and cash back rewards. I’ve paid the balance off each month since. I learned how reckless I was and it was a great lesson for me.
I took out loans in college and medical school as I'm sure most of you did. I was fortunate to go to my state medical school, where the tuition was significantly lower than if I had gone to a private school.
However, by the end of school, I still had accumulated six figures of student loan debt. Because I wanted to learn how to handle it better, I randomly attended a financial talk. One of the topics there was how to consolidate and refinance your student loans. Well, I decided to do it and was able to lock in an extremely low interest rate. I learned about the concepts of amortization, loan interest, and paying off debt vs. investing.
Ultimately I learned how to pay off my student loans through cash flow and that taught me the power of using different cash flow investments to pay for expenses and, ultimately, to obtain financial freedom.
Stock Market Crash
I finished college during the booming tech stock era. After graduation, I spent a year working in a research lab and while the assays were cooking, I’d spend time glued to stock tickers. Anyone remember Datek? Well, I thought I was good at day trading and for a while I was. I keyed in on a few stocks and tried to ride the waves. At first, things were great, but then came the crash of 2000. By the end of that year, I had lost more than 75% of the value of my stocks, and yes I sold my stocks at the bottom.
To this day, I still remember that humbling moment when I realized how horrible I am at picking stocks. Today, I actually know some people who do it well, but I know they’re in the minority, and I know I am not one of them. It’s kept me from taking huge gambles in the stock market ever since. Fortunately, back then it wasn’t 75% of a whole lot; today, the stakes would be significantly higher.
So what do I do today when it comes to managing my stock portfolio? I keep my holdings in a few diversified funds and really never look at it. I learned my lesson and in fact, when I think about that time in my life, I'm reminded that I'm better off focusing on real estate.
Buying a Home
By the time we finished our fellowships, my wife and I were ready to settle down. We found what we thought was an amazing home. Our offer was accepted but we had the most difficult time finding a loan. Unfortunately, no one teaches you about the process and at times we almost gave up.
Fortunately, someone in the hospital pointed me to physician home loans or physician mortgage loans. Apparently, these loans allowed me to put down a smaller down payment, which worked out well for us because we had little saved up.
It was an extremely painful process, but I took what I learned and started to help my friends through the process. Not long after, I created a company, Curbside Real Estate, to help other physicians navigate the home buying world as well.
This is what I consider the start of my entrepreneurial journey. It was a side hustle that has now become a significant part of my life.
It's amazing because we not only get to help physicians purchase homes, but we try to do some good in the world by helping to build homes for orphans and fund academies to teach disadvantaged kids a skilled trade.
It's been an amazing ride so far where I've learned so much about business, entrepreneurship, and even giving, and it couldn't have been possible without my personal difficulty in buying a home.
Getting a Footing at Work
When I finished my training and started working as an attending in 2011, surgery volume overall was down. The country was still recovering from the Great Recession of 2008. The anesthesia group I joined was somewhat overstaffed and I couldn’t get the number of cases I had hoped for. At the same time, some of my friends’ practices were being bought out, and they were facing huge pay cuts or the choice to leave their jobs.
That’s when I realized that physicians’ jobs and finances aren’t really as secure as I’d thought. So I began to figure out how I could create additional, multiple streams of income to hedge against changes in medicine.
I started learning about investing in real estate, and I started putting it into practice by jumping into real estate crowdfunding and owning my own rentals. I started thinking about other side hustles. I also began dreaming of financial independence from medicine.
I started talking about it so much at work that some people encouraged me to blog about it. I decided to give it a try and a few years later, here I am. I credit the tough time finding my footing at work with ultimately helping me figure out how to diversify my income.
Thankful for the Hurdles
It’s funny, we all hope for only good times, but when we look back, we realize it’s the tough times—when we faced rejection and challenges—that were the pivotal moments and that how we reacted in those times determined the direction of our lives.
So I am extremely grateful for those times and thankful for the people in my life that have been a part of the journey, including you, the readers. Thank you for supporting this site, for being part of our community, and for doing great work as physicians and parents.
Have a very happy Thanksgiving!