Saturday, November 14, 2009

Money: The Great Divider

I went to this dinner party last night (yes, it was as exciting as it sounds). A girl I know just got a new apartment and wanted to have some friends over. The apartment was very nice. Hardwood floors throughout. Very spacious. We were all joking that it looked like an apartment you'd see on Friends.

A bunch of us were sitting in the living room in front of the television armoire, and someone decided to check out the TV inside. It was almost comical. There was this huge armoire, but inside was a tiny 19 inch flat screen TV, only a little bit bigger than the screen on my laptop. Everyone kind of joked about it, and I remarked that you could get a pretty nice 32" flat screen for around $300 these days. Of course, one of my friends looked at me and said, "Only $300? That's a lot of money! We all aren't pharmacists!"

This short anecdote illustrates how seemingly all my friends and everyone I meet, on some level, can't get beyond the fact that I make a lot more money than they do. I never talk about my salary. I don't show off expensive things. My clothes are just as normal as everyone else. I've worn the same moderately priced watch for about 6 years now. I do everything I can to not let on how much money I make. However, in the end, no matter how close friends we are, they still hold it over my head in some way.

Back when I was young, stupid, and still in school, I used to constantly talk about how much money I'd be making. I didn't brag about it. It was more of a statement of "wow, I can't imagine that." At the time, I worked with a pharmacist who was only a couple years older than me. She warned me that it's probably best to never tell anyone how much money you make because once you do, they start looking at you differently. I didn't understand why that would be the case. Money, while important to living a comfortable lifestyle, never factored into how I judged a person.

Well... maybe a little bit. I always had a little bit of contempt for the uber rich who had everything they could possibly want and still wanted more. However, $100 to $200 thousand per year doesn't make you uber rich. It makes you pretty comfortable.

In any case, upon becoming a pharmacist and noticing for myself how people looked at me when I told them I was making over $50 an hour, I stopped talking about money altogether. I never bring it up anymore. I try to act like everyone else. However, when I do that people will remind me about the money.

If I don't want to call a big raise playing poker...

If I talk about wanting to save money by cutting back on eating out...

If I'd rather not spend my money on some expensive item...

In all these cases, someone will inevitably cut in saying, "C'mon, you make more money than all of us combined."

Even every new person I meet will say to me, "You're a pharmacist? I heard they make a lot of money." I swear that's the first thing out of everyone's mouth. I'm so sick of hearing about it. It makes me feel bad for having a good job. It makes me feel like everyone else thinks I'm better than them in some way.

I've actually been thinking of some sort of career change, and I think a lot of it has to do with this issue. I can't do it yet because I still have loans to pay off. That'll only take a little over 2 more years at my current pace, and at that time, I think I'd seriously consider changing professions entirely. I want to do something that makes me happy regardless of how much money I make. I want a job I look forward to every single day. Maybe that job doesn't exist. All I know for certain is that I've never even bothered looking for it.

The other option that I've been kicking around is after my loans are paid off, donating half my salary to charity. I make $120,000 per year. If as a single guy, I can't live comfortably off $60,000 per year, then there's something wrong with me. At the same time, I'd be doing good for the world. Maybe I could even start my own charity foundation, although I would have no idea where to start.

Those are just some ideas I'm kicking around. I just wish I could explain to people that after a certain point, money doesn't make you happier. Once you get to the level where you can live comfortably, the only thing the extra money allows you to do is buy more stuff. Stuff doesn't make you happy. I'm not any happier having a big screen TV than I was when I was watching an old 20" TV in a 100 square foot college dorm room. My condo's granite counter tops and hardwood flooring don't care about me. They're nice to have and nice to look at, but they don't make me any happier. Money hasn't gotten me the admiration of women. If anything, making much more than all my friends has only served to alienate me.

OK... That's enough rambling for today.


Nathan said...

Mike, you should never feel guilt or shame over your achievements. It would do you well to remember that as a whole, humans tend to congregate to social groups which make them feel equal or slightly superior to their peers as to not damage their fragile egos. If you think you are smart, you are not. If you think you have achieved, you have not. Spend some time with an individual who has developed a multi-national business from nothing but the dust of the earth. Play basketball with a NBA superstar. Walk with a couple happily married for fifty years. Do these things and you will realize how small you truly are. What I am saying is that maybe you don't need to bring yourself down to the level of your social circle, perhaps it is that you need to raise yourself up to the bottom of a different social circle.

As to money specifically, I personally have a current net worth at 25 that rivals a large majority of retired persons in the United States. To get here, I saved my money since age 10, bought my first house at age 16 and spent seven years going to school so that I could practice pharmacy. I too, have not even begun to achieve monetarily. Why have I worked so hard, many people ask me, and I tell them three main things. First is that I want a comfortable life (check). Second is that money can be a great fetter, chaining one to the ground when they should soar. Third is that money can be a great motivator of good, and in the right hands has the potential to change the world.

If you want to donate to charity, do it (though you already give up half your salary). If you want to keep it all for yourself, do that too, it is yours. A great many people gave up their lives so that you may have the opportunity (not the right) to be happy, honor them by doing so.

Never let any person make you feel guilty because they could not, or have not (which does not make a difference) achieve what you have. There will always be someone richer, smarter, better or happier than you are, should they feel shame because you are not at their level?

"You life is yours alone, rise up and live it." Terry Goodkind

was1 said...

don't ever feel guilty about making money. we are not the evil rich that so many of our elected kings want to tax to death. but many people are of the mindset that anybody who has $1 more than they do should be punushed somehow.
if you want to give back, think about endowing a scolarship at your alma mater for a pharmacy student from an under-represented class (ie. male). they might even name a building after you some day. or send me a check. my wife wants a lexus. ;)

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Lots to think about. Nathan has interesting and valuable points. If I had money, I would start a business.

Michael Guzzo said...

You sound like a nice guy Mike.

Not that I'm anyone so smart as to give someone else advice, but have you considered finding better friends?

What kind of friends go out of their way to make "their" friends feel bad about working hard and achieving the American dream? A good friend would be happy for you.

Before you decide that you don't deserve all of the money that you've earned, consider this -

As far as I know, you didn't do anything illegal or immoral to get where you are today. You made smart choices, you've worked hard, paid your dues, and earned everything you have. Market forces determine how much pharmacists get paid, not you. It's out of your control and could change at any time.

So, don't feel guilty about how much you make because of petty and jealous "friends".

Instead of donating that money to a "non-profit" charity that pays it's CEO hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, save and invest it for your own future.

Frantic Pharmacist said...

I think pharmacists are well paid for what they do but I certainly wouldn't apologize for it. It takes a lot of work (and money) to get a pharmacy degree. We look upon a lot of our work as routine and we sometimes forget how much responsibility we hold. As soon as a mistake is made, the buck stops here. And many pharmacists work under conditions that cause them to feel they are not paid nearly enough.

Anonymous said...

I am only a student and I am already experiencing what you are talking about. I remind my friends of the time I have been in school and the loans I will have upon graduation. They still love to tell me I can afford to do this and that because I make "pharmacist money". They never say anything in a spiteful or mean way but it still gets annoying.
Once and a while I will get patients commenting on pharmacist salary, I just change the subject but it is still annoying.

My classmates can not believe I plan on going into uniform service branch of pharmacy after school because they "do not pay enough".

Money money money. I enjoy money but I enjoy my quality of life and quality of practice a whole lot more!

pharmacy chick said...

I stand in agreement with most of the above. NEVER feel guilty about what you make. You went to school for a lot of years to make what you do. I too get the same crap dished to me.. "rich Pharmacist" is what I hear.."oh, you rich pharmacists can do this or that..." OH yea?then why am I working 13 hour me being RICH is when I no longer have to work for my works for me. I am far from that point. Ignore their comments. 100k a year isn't rich. Its comfortable..but far from rich.

Anonymous said...


Why not live off 60,000 and invest/save the rest of your money. If you do that for a while you will be able to retire young and do whatever you want with your time after retirement: charity work, medical relief missions, travel, find a new job/hobby or just relax.

Nicholas said...

Good work on making headway for yourself. And similar to what the other commentors have said, either let your friends know how unhappy it makes you that your money seems more important to them than you are...or drop 'em.

And if you're in need of a charity: They're amazing, they save countless lives every year in so many ways, and they won't care about your money. Hell, they'll take your time instead.

Rock on, yo.