All Work and No Play

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading this blog, you may be under the impression that side hustles are all about easy money with no downsides. Although I wish that were the truth, the reality is that there is no free lunch. Everything has its price, including lucrative side jobs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to share some of the repercussions of biting off more than you can chew. Just because you can monetize every waking moment doesn’t mean that you should. There have been several times as an attending where I have learned this lesson the hard way. Here are some of the downsides of taking side hustling to the extreme.

You’re Always Tired

Days off aren’t just blank spots on the calendar. They are there for rest and recovery. Being a doctor is a demanding job. Some of us see dead people on a regular basis. We make dozens of high risk decisions every day. Some of you do complicated procedures that take laser focus.

No matter how tough or resilient you think you are, you will eventually get fatigued if you don’t give yourself a break. When you replace rest and leisure with side hustles, you are draining your battery at double speed. Eventually those high risk decisions take a little more time to process. Procedures start to go a little slower. You’re not able to multitask quite as well. Think you’re immune? Trust me. You aren’t.

Never underestimate the value of a full night’s sleep.

You Lack Surge Capacity

Docs who specialize in disaster management love to talk about surge capacity – the ability of a health system to absorb an unexpected increase in demand during a mass casualty event or epidemic.

When your schedule is already running at max capacity, the littlest thing can throw a monkey wrench in your plans. Even something as simple as a flat tire or a sick child can be tough to manage when you’ve committed every waking moment to some money-making activity.

You Ignore Your Health

When your schedule is packed to the brim and you’re chronically sleep deprived, the first thing to go out the window is your health. When I was broke and my time wasn’t particularly valuable I used to go to the gym, mountain bike and jog. Now as a wealthy father of 3 my free time is totally consumed by working and parenting. You know what I gained along with all these kids and cash? 25 pounds of fat.

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This guy doesn’t have 3 jobs and 3 kids.

Your Spouse Loses Patience

You can keep telling yourself that you’re working overtime to support your family, but do you know what your spouse wants more than the extra cash? You. They want your time and your attention. Men (myself included) are particularly oblivious to the subtle hints their spouses drop about the extra work hours. Usually by the time you become aware of the fact that your spouse resents the amount of time you spend at work, they’ve already been resenting it for quite some time.

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Sometimes these subtle hints are hard to notice.

You Lose Empathy

We often interact with people on one of the worst days of their lives. We tell people horrific news and often get to see the worst humanity can inflict on each other. It takes empathy and patience to deal with these situations.

I always find that I spend a few extra minutes with each patient after I’ve had a stretch of days off. I take that time to sit down, answer extra questions or grab that warm blanket. Those little things make a big difference to patients, but when you’re burnt to a crisp they always seem to take too much effort.

Trying to Find Balance

So how am I going to change my ways? What will I do differently in 2019 to strike a better work/life balance?

Actually use vacation time – I usually only use about half of my 6 weeks of vacation. Taking a week of vacation costs me $8,000 right off the bat. I need to stop viewing vacation time as a money pit. Starting in 2019 my goal is to use 100% of my allotted vacation time (and resist the urge to fill the void with side jobs). Even if I just spend those weeks lounging around the house with my kids, it will be a time to recharge my batteries.

Learn to say no – Once you know where to look for side hustles, you start seeing new ones everywhere you go. Even my existing side jobs contact me on a weekly basis asking me if I want to pick up more hours. As much as I like people contacting me offering to pay me thousands of dollars for easy work, I need to do a better job of saying no. My goal for 2019 is to not pick up any new jobs unless I’m replacing a current one for something that is more beneficial for my sanity/health/family life.

Prioritize family time – The past 3 years have been parenting survival mode. In a span of 16 months we went from having 1 child to 3! I want to make more time for my kids and enjoy their youth while I can. My daughter is almost 9 and I don’t know where the time went. I want to dedicate more time to my kids both as a group but also doing special things individually with each child. You only get one chance to get parenting right.

Prioritize my health – My financial success has come at the cost of my physical fitness. My goal for 2019 is to exercise at least once a week and lose at least 10 pounds. I would love to set a goal of exercising 3 times a week, but until all my kids are in full-time school I just don’t see that happening. Baby steps.

Keep ahead with my writing – This blog has become a fantastic creative outlet and a great way to process my thoughts on medicine and money. With my hectic schedule I am usually cranking these posts out less than 24 hours before they’re posted. I’d like to stay a few weeks ahead so this continues to feel like a fun hobby rather than a homework assignment.

Medical side hustles can certainly accelerate your path to financial independence. The good news is there are almost limitless ways to make extra money with your medical training. The bad news is if you’re not careful you will become a victim of your own success. Only you can decide if the rewards are worth the risks.

What do you think? Have you ever over-extended yourself with work commitments? How did you manage to strike a better balance? Share your thoughts and comments below.

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18 comments

  1. I front-loaded my career, so early on I went long stretches overextending myself. But I was in my twenties, and I could get away with it. Take that vacation man! Americans are so weird about that, we leave more vacation sitting on the shelf than any other country. And on average we get less than any other developed country. Take the time off

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    1. The irony of high salaries is the more you can afford a vacation, the more you stand to lose by taking time off. My paid vacation time and continuing Ed. reimbursement funds are worth as much as the median American income. Whatever I don’t use gets cashed out in December.

      I need to stop looking at it as potential income and treat it like mandatory health and wellness time.

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  2. All very important points made. Side hustles are a great source of income but it also consumes what little free time you have so you have to be careful to balance this. Blogging for me has been a time vacuum, but it has been fun. I am lucky that before I pressed the launch site button, I had a month where I wrote content and created an archive of almost 30 posts. (I believe I have used them up by now, although there may be 1 or two left on the schedule). But because I gave myself such a head start, I still have been writing and pushing my archive number ahead (believe it or not, I have already started filling in January and Feb schedule and that is still leaving about 25 posts waiting in the wings (good problem to have).

    Vacation is incredibly important. I used to view it as a money pit too (have to pay someone to cover me and since it’s eat what you kill type payment system it caused my financial bottom line to take a hit). But life is more than money. It’s experiences and that’s what vacations give. Glad you saw the light.

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    1. I would love to get that far ahead with my writing. For a few years I was using all my vacation time and we were taking my daughter on all sorts of places, including overseas. Now that we have two toddlers in the house our big trips are temporarily on hold. As the boys get older and become better travelers I think it will be easier to take the time off. Few things get me more excited than planning a trip to a new destination.

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  3. Spot on, SHS.

    I think balance is key. I try and stay two weeks ahead on my blog so that when things come up it doesn’t derail me or stress me out. I’ve also tried to be more intentional about putting the phone down when I am around my wife and kids. They deserve my time.

    Most of all, I’ve learned to say no to things I am not crazy passionate about. There are only so many hours in the day.

    TPP

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    1. I definitely need to do a better job of putting the phone down when I’m home. Cell phone addiction is a real thing and I need to detox.

      Saying no to extra ER shifts and chart reviews is getting easier and easier, but the cardiac rehab job is hard to turn down. I essentially get paid $1000 to sit alone in a quiet room for 10 hours and work on the blog. As a father, you know that 10 hours of peace and quiet is a rarer commodity than unicorn tears.

      Maybe I should make myself a WWTPPD bracelet that I can reflect on when I’m in my moments of weakness.

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  4. Agree with your plan for 2019. No need to work yourself to death and burn out. You can always make more money, but you cannnot make up for lost time.

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    1. I enjoy the variety and easy money that side hustles provide, but I’m hoping to find a better balance going forward. I’m not ready to take a page from your part-time playbook, just yet. Like Casey Jones, I just keep drivin’ that train.

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  5. Vagabond beat me to the punch.

    SHS – The window of time your kids will want to fly a kite or go tidepooling with you is finite. You’re a clever guy and there’s no doubt you could find hundred dollar bills to keep picking off the floor up no matter where you look. Time will be harder to find and recover going forward, so just keep that trade-off in mind.

    I never laugh quite as hard as when I read your posts and tweets – if this is you pulling last minute material out of an orifice, I can only imagine what you fully rested might pull off.

    I’m starting the SHS fan club,

    CD

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    1. I’d say 80% of my material is pulled directly out of the keester.

      20% comes to me while I’m running a code, intubating or pulling something out of someone else’s keester. I guess you never know when inspiration will strike.

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  6. I will play devils advocate. Other than your family, your health should be at the top of your priority concerns. If you have time to blog, you have time to exercise three times a week for 30 minutes. Make it higher on your priority list.

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    1. Agreed. People can always find excuses, but I should make it a higher priority. I enjoy the creative outlet of writing, but some of my best ideas have come while running through the woods. I should start telling myself that jogging will improve my writing as well as my waistline.

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