You’re Not Special

Your mom lied to you.  I know she seemed sincere when she said you were special, and you had every reason to believe her.  You were precocious and charming as a child.  You always did well in school.  When you told your family you were thinking about becoming a doctor they were excited and supportive.  You were special, after all.

You got through the MCAT and aced your med school interviews.  You kicked butt at the med school of your choice and before you knew it you were kicking butt in residency too.  Now here you are – you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year doing a job that gives you autonomy and earns respect.  Maybe you really are special.

You’re one in a million, but amongst 7.4 billion it’s just not that special.

It turns out you’re just human like the rest of us.  That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  Here are a few reasons you should forget about being special and focus on being human.

The Clock is Ticking

Sometimes as physicians we feel immune to the very diseases we treat.  Even when you see people your own age dying we can find reasons to shrug it off.  He probably smoked.  She probably has a strong family history.  There’s no way that could happen to me.  Like we talked about in I See Dead People, death doesn’t care about your plans.  It will come and go as it pleases and it doesn’t think you’re special.

shallow focus photography of hourglass
These are the days of our lives.

While you’re busy making plans, your life is going by.  Don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking you can delay happiness until retirement. These are your good years, so start acting like it.

“Physician Finance” Isn’t a Thing

You may not believe it after being inundated with ads for doctor mortgages, financial advisors that specialize in physician finance, and a variety of financial products targeting high income professionals, but your finances aren’t special either.  Basic math doesn’t change just because you make a lot of money.

The same basic Boglehead investment philosophy works whether you make twenty thousand a year or twenty million.  Live below your means, invest early and often, diversify, minimize taxes, keep costs low and stay the course.  Do this during your career and you are virtually guaranteed to become financially independent.

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper
This is a special doctor calculator that only adds special physician numbers.

Just because you earn a high income doesn’t mean you suddenly need special ways to build wealth. You know that restaurant your brother-in-law wants you to finance? Remember that convoluted real estate sales pitch you didn’t quite understand but invested in anyway? Don’t let your illusion of being special turn you into someone else’s piggy bank.

Someone Else Could Do Your Job

One of the Cold Hard Truths That Can Make You Cold Hard Cash is that everyone is replaceable. We all like to think that we are the smartest, kindest most beloved physician but somewhere out there is a doc that will do your job just as well for less money. Even worse, somewhere out there is a hospital administrator who thinks they can replace you with an inexperienced nurse practitioner for 1/3 the cost.

Don’t get so convinced of your specialness that you forget the basic rules of keeping a job. Show up on time. Work hard. Play nice with others. Be kind. Everyone knows at least one arrogant doctor who thinks they are immune to these rules. Don’t be that person.

Personal Relationships Matter

Remember all the family dinners, holiday parties and get togethers with friends you blew off when you were studying biochemistry or rotating through the ICU?  Medicine is one of the few careers where your job gives you a license to check out from social obligations.  Your friends and family may give you a pass because you’re a doctor.  Don’t let yourself get away with it.

backlit dawn foggy friendship
You were at work when this photo was taken.

Carve out time for the people who are important to you.  Don’t use your job as a crutch.  The overworked doctor excuse will only work so many times until the people you care about start to give up on you.

Embrace Your Normality 

It’s OK that you believed your mom.  She’s a convincing liar and she’s not to be trusted.  The rest of us know the truth – you may be a doctor but you’re just another average person doing the best they can with what they’ve got.  The sooner you accept this fact, the better off you’ll be.  It’s time to stop being special and just start being you.

What do you think?  Has being “special” ever come back to bite you?  Share your thoughts and comments below.   


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11 thoughts on “You’re Not Special

  1. I just got off the phone with my mom yelling at her that she lied to me! LOL.

    I agree with every point of this post. People think higher income means you can get away with more and not play by the rules as much. The more money you make, the more money is at risk that you can lose.

    Well now that I’m not special anymore, I am going back to work before some cheaper doc tries to snake my job 🙂


    1. You are special – those X-rays gave you superpowers!

      It takes a healthy dose of self confidence to make it this far in medicine. Part of what keeps it in check is during your training you are constantly challenged, sleep deprived and poor.

      Fast forward to being an attending working half the hours for 10 times the salary in a job you could do effortlessly in your sleep – suddenly there’s no counterbalance to your specialness. We all need people in our lives who can give us a well needed reality check from time to time.


  2. Truth SHS. Well said. It’s easy for physicians to feel that they are special because they are in a position of authority and respect. But take away our white coats and we are really no more special than everyone else around us. I’ve fallen into the trap of using medicine as a crutch. An excuse to not be fully engaged with the people dearest to me. Sometime it takes a life changing event like a health scare or a divorce to remind us of our “unspecialness” and to jolt us back into recognizing the basic elements that make us happy, whatever those may be. I can tell you it’s not money, or prestige, or achievement.


    1. I’ve been guilty of this too over the years. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

      Although work can be an excuse for not spending time with family, your family can be an excuse not to connect with friends. I’ve done better with the “busy doctor” crutch, but I fear I may have replaced it with the “busy father of 3” crutch.


  3. Wow, you are always spot on with these posts. I’m not a physician, but whenever i stop by i can usually fins something that almost universally applies to all of us (especially high income earners).

    But it’s cool to also get that perspective of a Doctor in that you see people die everyday, but somehow feel except to the rule of life…. You are not special!

    Yeah, i love this one. Kudos man!


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