“Someday Syndrome” is prevalent in many walks of life, but it is particularly bad in medicine. You know what I am talking about. “Someday, when I have graduated medical school …” or perhaps the more common phrase is, “Someday, when I am an attending …” Phrases that start with this sort of expression imply that today is not good enough. And I am here to tell you that if you cannot find contentment today, it is possible you never will.
Someday I’ll make enough money
Someday Syndrome impacts how much money we feel we need to make to find happiness. “Someday” we will earn “enough,” which begs the question, what is enough?
Studies have shown that people feel that they would happier if they made 20% more than their current income. This was true whether the person made $30,000 per year or $300,000. People have a hard time being content with what they have, even if contentment is the real secret to financial success.
Ironically, the peak for long term satisfaction happens somewhere between an annual income of $75,000 -$105,000. For low cost of living areas, like where we live in North Carolina, the number is on the lower end of that spectrum. For high cost of living states (e.g., California or New York), increased long-term satisfaction peaks just above six figures.
The point is that this number is drastically lower than most attending physician incomes. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you truly believe “a little more” income would solve your current problems, I encourage you to reflect. Go through the Kinder Questions, and then pare your life down to what is important and stop spending money on the rest.
Someday the work will be done
Someday Syndrome impacts our jobs, too.
I’ve found this to be a major area of my slow fade towards burnout. After my wife started her full-time job, commitments that used to seem reasonable were all of a sudden more than I could tackle.
Suddenly, I found myself in a world where my “to do” list was ever increasing. This resulted in constant stress in my life until I finally realized that it is okay to say no to some things.
In the end, I realized that no matter how much work I got done, there is always more work to do. The internal (and external) checklists I create never cease to have an end. Papers must be published, work must be done, and blog posts must be written.
In a way, this can become a work treadmill (similar to the idea of hedonic treadmills) where no matter how hard we run, we are always stuck in place. We never make any progress towards our goal of finding contentment.
Someday I’ll be happy when I buy …
This form of Someday Syndrome takes many forms. Sometimes it comes in the form of buying the attending house. Maybe it is a new car that you think will make you happy. Or perhaps it is the country club membership.
Regardless of the status symbol you feel most drawn to purchase, the result is the same. These things are unlikely to result in any long term happiness. As Jonathan Clements teaches us in How to Think About Money (arguably my favorite personal finance book), our money is much better spent on experiences rather than things.
Despite this, we feel compelled to live the doctors’ life. Though we fight, it is much easier to become Dr. Jones than it is to become Dr. EFI.
This is something we all fall prey to at times. Myself included. Yet, the truth remains. If we cannot find contentment in today and the things we currently own, we are unlikely to find it in new possessions.
Contentment is the key to success
To combat Someday Syndrome, we must find contentment in today. We must be content with our station in life, the possessions we have (lest they possess us), and recognize that more money isn’t the answer.
The reason that this is key is that excessive spending and habits cut in two directions. What I mean is that the more money you spend, the more expensive your lifestyle becomes. And the more expensive your lifestyle becomes, the more money you need to save to become financially independent.
In other words, a more expensive lifestyle requires a higher savings rate and a longer time to get there. In the end, we will find that even that last hurdle (the almighty financial independence) will not make us happy.
Life is about the journey. Not the destination.
So, if you can find contentment in today, you will not only be required to save less and accomplish your financial goals sooner, but you will also see that what you were looking for in financial independence has been there all along.
As Robert Jastrow has said,
“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Don’t be the scientist who is chasing after their dreams so hard that they don’t stop to figure out the philosophy of life. Find out what is important to you, dare to live that life now, and find contentment today.
The take home in today’s post is simple. Learn the art of gratitude and contentment. Recognize that Someday Syndrome is very real.
That next professional hurdle, bonus, or status symbol will not make you happy. More money won’t make you happier either.
Finding contentment in today is the real recipe for financial success. Design the life you are meant to live, and then chase after it with reckless abandonment.
If you do that, you might find that “someday” is today. You’ve been there all along.
James Turner, also known as “The Physician Philosopher,” is an anesthesiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, The Physician Philosopher. He is the author of The Physician Philosopher’s Guide to Personal Finance: The 20% of Personal Finance Doctors Need to Know to Get 80% of the Results.
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