Finding Your Perfect Month

Finding Your Perfect Month

Our guest post today is by my business partner, Dr. Eric Peterson. Dr. P loves his work but loves being outside even more. He spends most of his free time recovering from joint injuries due to ski accidents in the terrain parks and running ultra-marathons all over the world. 

Finding Your Perfect Month

Wednesday morning. Ahhhh…the fresh morning air, soft red dirt, and beautiful red rock buttes of Sedona. I love this place! I wrapped up a little trail run this morning with my 11-year-old Labrador. Man, this dog is still kickin’ it! Last year I could take him on 15-mile runs, but I think he is slowing down a bit now. Nonetheless, he loves it, and he’s my most faithful mid-week trail-running buddy. Understandably, my other friends are usually working.

It truly is a blessing for me to be able to take advantage of one of life’s most priceless commodities: time. We all live busy lives, and oftentimes time itself is not on our side. Many of us have spouses, kids, and family responsibilities. Work tugs at us at all times of the day, not just when we are at the office. Most of us are also probably involved in extra-curricular activities, community organizations and church functions.

The list is a mile long. I get it.

Husband and wife by mountain lake.
“If you could envision a perfect month of your life, what would it be?”

Many of us – if not most – are still whittling away at debt, while perhaps trying to secure enough for a rainy day. “Free” time might not be in the equation quite yet. And then there’s the concept of retirement, which often sounds elusive or impossible. There can be so much to do and so much on our minds, that at times we feel bogged down by life itself. It can feel daunting, and can sometimes rob us of peace and happiness. We have all been there.

But I must say, that as the miles ticked by this Wednesday morning in Sedona, I wasn’t feeling a whole lot of sadness or stress. In fact, quite the opposite: I was in heaven! I’m in the middle of the week-and-a-half off that I have each month. Time to play, and to write this article before my kids get home from school!

Now, please, let me cover some important points. No, I’m not entering retirement, as some of my friends tease me about. No, I’m not a ‘heavy-hitter’ in the world of orthodontics and making the big bucks. Yes, I had to work my ass off early on in my career to have some time off now. No, I’m not independently wealthy. Yes, I had a lot of debt (at one point my combined debts were over $1M, including student loans, practice loans, and a mortgage).

And no, we don’t have a huge practice. Someone looking from the outside may think we do, since there are three doctors in the office, but I promise you, that is not the case at all. Our partnership and friendships work out great and provide us with the work-life balance we desire (the intricacies of a successful partnership are a separate topic in and of itself).

So how did the three of us, who are all at very different points in our lives, get to where we are today with so much free time outside of the office? How did we find this life-work balance? Those are fairly complex questions with a lot of answers, but I’ll take a stab at it.

We worked hard, tried to make good decisions, live well within our means, and – perhaps most importantly – we defined what was important to us and went after it.

Think about it. What is important to you? Are you living the life you want to live… or at least working to get there? If you could envision a perfect month of your life, what would it be? Are you making decisions that support your life vision, or are you making decisions that hinder it?

Each decision we make, especially as it relates to work, earning, spending and debt, affects how we spend this thing called Time. And interestingly enough, we all have about the same amount of time. What are we doing with it?

To the three of us—who all love being orthodontists and taking care of our patients, staff and practice—time to do other things is important. All three of us love to travel, spend extra time with our families, and spend time outside. My junior partner and her family have been to 15 countries on 6 continents and in the last 5 years. She rides a bike to work half the year. My senior partner loves to go heli-skiing in Canada for a week each year. He remarked that he would rather spend his money skiing than driving a nicer car (and no offense to either of my partners, but many high school kids drive nicer cars than they do). Both of them would rather spend their discretionary income on life’s adventures instead of cars or other material things.

At some point, if you are spending lots of money, you either have to work more, or something else has to give. If we wanted bigger houses, nicer cars, or to spend all our income every month, we’d be trading those things for time spent working.

Now, I realize that what’s important to me or my partners isn’t necessarily important to others. Other people may prefer to spend their extra time in the office, seeing more patients, and perhaps making more money. Each person should define what’s important to them and stay true to it. That’s the best recipe for happiness, in my experience.

Hiker jumping. Mountain sunrise.
“Time to enjoy the other things this life has to offer was more important than the money I gave up.”

I don’t define my life by my profession. I am an orthodontist, but I’m also a husband, a father, an ultra-trail runner, outdoor enthusiast, and world traveler. I love being able to spend some extra time with my wife. I also love to pick my kids up from school on occasion and take them to get an after-school treat. Those are all things that are important to me. So I’ve tried to make decisions that enhance that possibility and give me time to do everything I want to do.

Did I take a long-term pay cut when we brought in my junior business partner? Yep! But at that point in my life I had paid down some debt, and I was working more than I wanted to. And when you pay down some of your debt, it is a very liberating feeling: you’ve got one less weight on your shoulders. The trick is to not go back into excessive debt by buying more things, which would obviously require more money and more time at work.

For me, time became more important than money.

Now, I didn’t always have the luxury of that decision, but when I did, I made it happen. I didn’t worry that I didn’t make as much as some of my other orthodontist friends, or have a house as big as theirs, or whatnot. To me, having more time with my family, more time to travel, and more time to enjoy the other things this life has to offer was more important than the money I gave up.

All of our pendulums swing at different rates between work and life outside work, and even within our own lives the balance may have to favor work over life outside work for awhile. But it’s important to realize that the decisions we make relative to spending, debt, and living within our means will certainly dictate the direction that pendulum is heading, and at what speed.

Think about the work-life balance you want in your perfect month and make decisions that will get you there. Don’t worry about what others are doing or what other people have.

Live the life you want to live, and you’ll never regret how you spent that one irreplaceable commodity: Time.

(The original version of this essay appeared in the Progressive Orthodontist in June of 2017.) 

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