We had the same conversation over and over before embarking on our gap year. “What about the money?” Sam would ask. The question was simple. The subtext was not.
The topic, of course, was Sam leaving his medical practice. The subtext was how could we afford to live without his salary. And the bigger implications: what did this mean for the next phase of our lives? Could we afford to stay in D.C.? What would Sam do as a second act? My location-independent business, Voxie Media, could continue anywhere but we both knew this enterprise would likely not replace Sam’s income as a physician.
We discussed the money question endlessly. The considerations were emotional, practical and logistical. I often responded to Sam: “It’s not only about the money. It’s about whether you can give up your identity as a physician. Can you give up the power and prestige?” That seemed to me to be the bigger question. Sam was in practice as a gastroenterologist for 31 years. How could a guy at the top of his game professionally, a highly respected physician, give it all up?
Loyal readers who have followed Sam’s musings over the past year know the answer: he could and he did. I admit that this was one of the greatest uncertainties for me one year ago. Would Sam become depressed if he were no longer practicing medicine? I knew he loved medicine, despite his frustrations of recent years. He was a great doctor.
It was a question that I felt especially acutely. I had not chosen one path and carved it, for decades, as Sam had. Although I deeply aspired to a single prestigious professional identity – veteran reporter for The New York Times, for example – it never happened that way. I’ve had multiple incarnations: journalist, blogger, marketer, book coach and publisher. These roles have somehow woven together and I love what I’m doing. Give it all up? Never.
But Sam and I are different people.
As I said a year ago, we disagree about almost everything. The small things, that is. The big things we slowly come to agreement on. And that’s how we find ourselves emptying out our house in D.C. in order to put it on the market.
Because there is a money question after all.
We’ve inched into a new lifestyle month by month, trying it out. Our small cottage in Maine now feels like home. Our property taxes are one-tenth what they are in D.C. There are no shops and coffee houses lining the main street in Stonington and consequently I spend far less money on stuff I don’t need. We eat in (Sam does most of the cooking – !) instead of dropping hundreds of dollars a week on restaurants, as we did in D.C. Simply put, we’ve slowly adopted a much less expensive lifestyle and are comfortable with it.
By that I mean that it mostly meets our needs. For my part, I still want a regular shot of urban grittiness. I want the mix of people on the streets of D.C. and Brooklyn where you see every color and ethnicity. I want the multiple coffee shops and yoga studios and J. Crew in a real-life store – not just online. I love the convenience of an Apple store around the corner instead of a three-hour drive away.
Maybe we’ll have a tiny pied-à-terre in D.C. or Brooklyn in the future. We don’t know yet. What we do know is that downsizing and cutting costs means we can afford to travel for extended periods – back to Paris for more French lessons and to Uganda, I hope. And it gives Sam time to explore his reinvention as a radical healthcare reformer.
For now, the adventure – and the uncertainty as it says in the tagline for this blog – continues.
Great article! I love the openness of your discussions with one another and the sharing of them with the rest of us.
Thank you Maureen. The discussions are open, for sure. Sometimes they get a bit heated. One of the few things I’ve learned after being married for so many years is to trust that we will eventually agree on the important stuff.
Debbie, thanks so much for the thoughtful posting about your journey. As I approach these decisions myself in a few years, I appreciate the voice of brave travelers who go before me 🙂
Dee, love hearing from you. We don’t feel brave. More like bumbling along and seeing what happens next.
Quick note to say that I resonate so much with you and Sam and thanks for sharing this. Jim, too, “chose one path and carved it, for decades.” I, too, have always “deeply aspired to a single prestigious professional identity” … and “it never happened that way.” I still miss and need my “urban grittiness” and have finally permitted myself NY ‘fixes’: next week will be my third visit this year!
Living in our village in Ohio brings the same factors of no-pressure cost of living and no-temptations lack of ‘stuff to buy,’ along with the lack of decent restaurants, so we cook at home. Jim does about half or more of our dinner cooking.
We talk about spending a year in a city somewhere — NY or elsewhere. Fortunately, Jim also loves cities, although he has always lived in small towns. Who knows what we will do. And we are in the midst of Jim’s reinvention as a business person/coach to basketball coaches and what seems to be becoming an extremely satisfying professional persona for me.
Thanks for continuing to share your journeys (plural because we each have our own journey, even when accompanying another person) in such an open and loving way.
Your message makes my day. Thank you!