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This interview took place in November.
My questions are in bold italics and their responses follow in black.
Let’s get started…
Tell us a bit about yourself (age, marital status, kids, where you live, etc.)
As of this writing, I am about to turn 50.
I am married (we just celebrated 12 years) and we have an 8-year-old daughter together.
This is my first marriage; my wife was previously married; we have no other children.
We live in WA state, somewhere between Seattle and Spokane.
My wife is a Midwest farmer’s daughter. We met when I was in graduate school, and married a few years later.
I grew up in Los Angeles as the original latch-key kid. My parents were divorced early-on and I lived between them for many years. My mother was a secretary, my father was an accountant in the automobile industry.
Throughout my childhood and youth, I vividly recall my father coming home from work, and pouring himself a stiff drink to the lament of, “I’m going to lose my job tomorrow”. He’d be up at 4:15 the next morning, heading back to work, day after day, year after year. I recall vowing to never get a job like that.
I’d seen how my father had the life drained-out of him and I was determined to find a job that didn’t require such an unhappy existence. What I found out was that all jobs required some amount of work – and sacrifice, to some extent – to get ahead.
Jobs (some ‘odd’) that I’ve had over the years:
- SCUBA Instructor
- Stage Actor / Waiter
- Freight Broker
- Funeral Home Employee (embalmer-trainee / “pick-up and delivery guy”)
- Ambulance Driver (EMT)
- College Tutor
I rationalized that I was attempting to ‘make my own way’ and I was trying-on a bunch of different hats – in order to find one that didn’t make me miserable.
While there were both good & bad experiences with these jobs – none of them really ‘stuck’ or made a strong-enough impression upon me.
This all changed when I decided to visit a career counselor.
I took a battery of tests, using my sharp #2 pencil, filling-in the bubbles on my sheet, making sure to stay inside the line.
The counselor took my Scantron, fed it into a machine and then grabbed what appeared to be the phone book for Ventura County.
“What is this?” I asked in wonder.
She replied, “This book has job codes that match your skills and interests. Any of these jobs could be a potential fit. You just need to find one.”
In my mind I watched the $120 I’d paid for this ‘assessment’ swirl in the toilet bowl…each $20 bill moving further into the depths of the American Standard receptacle.
I flipped through the tome of “Career Opportunities” and left the office, dejected.
I was stunned. Frustrated. Stymied…again.
Weeks passed, and I kept turning this over in my head. I replayed the test in my head…the conversation with the lady…I kept seeing that damn book. How was I going to figure out what to do – literally, to be – when I apparently, “…have skills and interests…” in so many things?!?
[Cue: Entrance ‘Cow Pie from Heaven.’]
That’s when it hit me:
If I have the skill and interest in this many things – I am quite likely capable of doing any number of these ‘career opportunities.’
It was this shift in perspective that now made all the difference.
I returned to school in the Fall and dove into an assortment of classes, labs and seminars. I had the mustard-seed of an idea that if I followed a path – any path – good things were sure to come.
Even the unexpected…
An application for nursing school? Sure enough.
But what did I know about nursing? Not a damn thing, apparently.
At the suggestion of a mentor, I looked-into the program and ultimately enrolled.
Within a few years I was working in a Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit, recovering fresh hearts, working with heart transplants and gaining invaluable experience. It was in this capacity that I excelled and decided that I’d found something that I truly enjoyed.
Since that time, I’ve continued to challenge myself and move forward into greater roles and responsibilities within nursing.
What do you do for a living?
I am a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesiologist (CRNA), which means I am a Master’s prepared anesthesia professional.
I’m part of a four-man group providing anesthetic service(s) to a hospital in rural WA.
Additionally, I work (as needed) at other local-area hospitals, surgery centers and clinics. A few times a year I (might) do a travel-assignment providing anesthesia out of town, or in another state where I am licensed.
How much do you earn annually?
I earn $240K – $300K annually.
How does this amount break down (salary, bonuses, etc.)?
- $240K (1099 income) group practice.
- ~ $5K – $50K (1099 income) additional work, mentioned above.
On the salary-front, we pay ourselves ~ $140K / yr, and my wife makes ~ $20K (office / billing management).
Do you receive any additional compensation/benefits from your employer (401k match, stock options, etc)?
Being self-employed, my wife and I are ‘employees’ of my company and we have a self-directed 401k with a profit share plan (PSP).
We also have a taxable investment account and an H.S.A.
How long have you been working?
I’ve been providing professional anesthesia services since 2009.
How long have you earned at least six figures?
Out of graduate school, I accepted a job with a small group in the Midwest.
It wasn’t lucrative but it was a good-enough opportunity to gain experience and some financial stability.
Approximate annual breakdown:
- 2009-2011: $120K (W2). Started my own company in ~2011.
- 2012: $170K (1099)
- 2013: $175K (1099). Moved from the Midwest to WA state.
- 2014: $220K (1099)
- 2015: $230K (1099)
- 2016: $250K (1099)
- 2017: $240K (1099). Contractual change(s) of group.
- 2018: $260K (1099)
- 2019: $285K (1099)
- 2020: Estimated ~ $300K (1099) secondary increased demand due to COVID-19.
What have been the key steps you have taken that have allowed you to earn this level of income?
Step 1: “Get the necessary education to start in your field.”
To get to where I am today, I had to do a considerable amount of work up-front. I didn’t have a plan early-on, and it took me a long time to figure out a direction.
This was primarily because it took me a long time to ‘grow up’. After I got out of the service, I spent a lot of time screwing-around – partying, going to school without a plan, spending my time (and money) on ‘fun’.
It wasn’t until I finally made a conscious decision to do ‘something’ that things started to look up.
Looking back, it doesn’t necessarily matter when you start, but that you make a plan to get there.
Step 2: “Your first job will not be your last job.”
I made sure my first job would provide me the opportunity for the most practical, independent experience I could obtain. While the pay at this job was marginal, the experience I received would benefit me down the line.
While many of my peers were making more money at bigger hospitals, they were also in more restrictive practices, oftentimes with limited opportunities.
Step 3: “Develop your skillset.”
In my first few years of practice, I took continuing-education classes on my own, and I buffed-up my skills that were either lacking, or weren’t being utilized. I dove into new technology that was coming on-scene and became proficient in its use.
When I was told that the group wasn’t interested in moving forward with new skills and technologies, I knew it was time to make a move.
It was around this time that I started my own company and began taking assignments on my vacation week(s). These were the steps toward independent practice and freedom from W2 employment scenarios.
Step 4: “Market yourself.”
If you’ve developed yourself and your skills, you know what you are capable of. Look for opportunities where you can shine and market those hard-earned skills.
Be aware that very few people are going to provide advertising for you – you will need to self-promote and network.
I knew my strengths and I touted my abilities, which opened many doors.
Which of the following career advancing strategies did you employ (if any) and which were most effective: A. Doing well within your current company and being promoted. B. Jumping around from company to company always seeking a higher salary & responsibility. C. Entirely changing your career path from a lower earning field to a higher earning field (going back to school, etc)?
I’ve (mostly) moved to alternate locations / practices when it made sense to do so.
Early-on I didn’t make jumping for money the goal – sometimes the money was there – but oftentimes it was the opportunity to do something different, or to pick-up a new skill.
In this line of work, jumping for salary is a double-edged sword and needs to be considered against your personal tolerances.
For example, there are a number of lucrative jobs available, however they may be located in very remote, rural locations, or in high-density urban areas – both of which need to be weighed against what you &/or your family want to be exposed to.
Additionally, high-salary positions often come with high-stress, high-volume practices with an expectation of long days & nights, mandatory on-call commitment(s) and time-consuming administrative duties.
While considering that you’re making more money, you must also consider the toll it takes on you physically, mentally and emotionally. Burnout is real.
Bear in mind: frequent job-hopping doesn’t necessarily engender trust amongst your peers, and sometimes has negative connotations associated with it.
You may be considered someone who is “…difficult to work with…” – or – “…can’t stay put…,” – or – “…has no loyalty…”
With these things in mind, moving from one practice to the next needs to be done with some pre-planning and care.
What are you doing now to keep your income growing?
We invest into our SD401k monthly, and we fund our Profit Share Plan (PSP) as early as possible. With the availability of the catch-up contribution, we’ve each been adding an additional $6,500 to our 401k’s since early this year.
I’d say we’re on the JLCollinsNH.com Index Fund investment plan, and invest 100% into SWTSX (Schwab equivalent of VTSAX). Shout-out to Uncle Jim for his ‘Simple Path to Wealth’ wisdom and guidance over the years.
We paid-off our home in early 2020 – and on the heels of that – COVID-19 arrived. This was probably one of our best uses of money: we bought peace of mind, just as we (unknowingly) were about to enter this pandemic.
Our previous mortgage payment now goes into our taxable account, our emergency fund (currently at > 6 months of living expenses) or our travel fund.
We automatically invest $50 month into the Nevada 529 Plan (Vanguard) for our child. I don’t know when / if we will stop doing this, so it’s essentially on ‘set it & forget it’ mode. (Of course, I track it, but I like to think I can be cool).
We previously owned rental real estate in the Midwest, but have since sold it off. I am not inclined to manage tenants again; however, I do miss looking at homes, planning projects, making improvements, etc.
Normally (outside COVID-19) I will take short-term, ‘travel’ assignments when I have availability. This means, I will provide anesthesia-coverage at another location (hospital, surgery center, office or clinic) where they have a ‘need’ (example: vacations, maternity / paternity leave, or an unplanned absence in the group, etc).
Usually these jobs are of short-to-medium length in duration (although some can be long-term) depending on the situation. Due to the nature of these assignments, compensation tends to be at a premium for highly-qualified individuals, and generally includes expenses such as travel, lodging, licensing and meals, etc.
If I like the location / personnel I’m working with – I strive to book assignments on a semi-regular basis, as it’s often a treat to go see friends / peers in different practices & locations. This has been important in earning more, as I can plan in-advance, coordinate coverage and determine how much I need / want to work in order to achieve our financial goals.
What are your future career plans?
Our practice is good, and the work I do is highly-rewarding. Most of the time I drive to work happy, jovial and enjoying the prospect of what the day might bring.
While I could feasibly work another 15 years, I’m considering a wind-down in the next 2-3. I have a wide variety of other interests in my life – and I’d like to spend time continuing to develop those hobbies and interests.
I’ve considered that I could go ‘part-time’ locally or just do a few travel assignments as it fits into my schedule and aligns with our financial needs.
However, with that said, I am always on the lookout for a surgeon that wants to open a private, office-based practice or surgery center near me. Feel free to call me at 509-5….
Have you been able to turn your income into a decent net worth? Why or why not?
Our net worth is approximately ~$1.2M*
- 401K + PSP = $1M
- Taxable Acct = $150K
- Cash + Business Cash = ~$125K
My home is paid-off but not included in my net worth. Zillow estimate is mid $500K.
I’ve tracked my net worth since 2011 and update it monthly.
Shout-out to the MadFientist Brandon Ganch for his FI Spreadsheet which I’ve been using since 2016.
Things that have helped improve our net worth:
- Marrying someone who is cost-conscious.
- Tracking our savings / net worth.
- Paying off student loans.
- Buying gently used cars.
- Index fund investing.
- Paying off our home.
- Not increasing our lifestyle as our income increased.
Things that have not helped our net worth:
- Chasing speculative investments.
- Being sold on a “business in a box”
- Gurus & seminars.
- Trying side-gigs rather than focusing on my own business.
I’m happy with our financial net worth.
I learned about FI/FIRE later in life – it took me a long time to mature and get my act together – and I’ve learned many lessons along the way.
Although I sometimes wish that I would have had my “stuff” together earlier in my life, this is my trajectory & my story.
I hope this is reassuring to your readers, and let’s them know it’s never too late to make a change or get going.
I am reminded of this:
“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.” (Bill W.)
What advice do you have for people wanting to grow their incomes?
- Choose a career path, see where it leads: opportunities will present themselves.
- Try to avoid paralysis by analysis.
- Do your best.
- Earn more than you spend.
- Marry the right person.
- Train jiu jitsu: you’ll develop self-confidence, discipline and mental clarity.
- Make many mistakes & learn from them, they are in fact, inevitable.
- “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” (KISS principle)
- Don’t compare yourself to others; focus on your path.
- Take care of your health (physical, mental and emotional).
- If you have interests in other areas, develop them and strive to have a hobby outside of work.