RMO: 10 Steps to Designing a Perfect Life

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Resident Medical officers (RMO) are 2nd+ year doctors.  They have survived the sick initiation ritual of internship and are asked at every performance review what they want to specialize in.

Young professionals have often been fed a powerful script by their parents and society. As a result, some can feel under pressure to succeed and meet expectations.

  • Expectations for your life get ingrained into your brain from toddler-hood.  It’s often decades later before we question the script we’ve been given.
    • Work hard at school
    • Get good grades
    • Get into a prestigious university
    • Work hard and please the boss
    • Buy a house (probably the most house you can possibly “afford”)
    • Get married (to a person of the opposite sex, (Same race?) from a respectable family, with a “good career”
    • Progress up the career ladder (RMO, Registrar, fellow in medicine) and be a “Go getter”
    • Have babies (for ladies, not too soon, but soon it will be too late.  There is a small window and you must get this right).
    • Continue earning more…and…more…and more.
    • Obviously, you’ll have to work super long hours, but all that time away from your family is a worthy sacrifice after all.
    • Upgrade your car.  And home.  And wine.  And clothing.  And jewellery.  And cuisine.  After all, you are successful now!
    • Take a few weeks holiday a year (apart from Americans who seem to get a few days if their lucky)
    • Work, work, work
    • Midlife crisis – it’s all a bit pointless after all – new car, new wife, the pool boy…
    • Retire

This is Your Life and You Only Get One

It’s actually a bit depressing laid out like that!

You only get one life.  It’s your life.

The above script may be exactly what you want.  But if you don’t question it you will never really know.

The infamous “Midlife crisis” I believe, comes from suddenly realizing this is NOT what you want.  After all, it’s often easier to conform to expectations.

The RMO / young professional years are a perfect time to take some time and consider your choices carefully.  For the RMO, definitely take this time before committing to postgraduate exams!  Paying thousands of dollars, and more importantly, thousands of hours studying for an exam you end up not needing would be a very painful experience!.

Design Your Life – For the RMO and Other Young Professionals

1. Dream big

What do you want your life to look like in 15-25 years time?

  • Who do you want to be?
  • What do you want to experience?
  • Which achievements are important to you?
  • Who do you want to be close to?

Write down a description of that ideal life.  But don’t limit yourself, just let your imagination go wild.


Another way of looking at it is, what would you do if you won the lotto jackpot?

My partner loves to buy a lotto ticket.  I disapprove, of course, it’s a silly waste of money. But I have enjoyed indulging in the fantasy of how to spend the money (especially in the broke RMO years)!

Recently we were discussing how we could have family discussions each year to decide how to allocate charitable contributions from our theoretical lotto win.

And then I realized…. we can do that right now!  The values donated will obviously be smaller, but that wouldn’t dilute the experience for our family.

We donate regularly to a couple of charities already and want to increase our giving.  This would be a great way to involve the kids in our giving!  How strange it never occurred to me before the lotto fantasy!

If you won $5 million dollars tomorrow, how would you change your life?  Would you continue with your career?  And would you change your location?

2. Consider lifestyle

How much do you want to work in an ideal world?  If and when you have a family will this change?  Does out of hours work and the thought of on-call fill you with dread or not a big deal?

Do you want to travel long-term at any point?

Which parts of your life to you love right now?  And the bits you hate?

3. Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals and think Long-term

Use your fantasy inspiration to decide on long term priorities and set some big hairy audacious goals.

Having a long-term plan will help you avoid getting into “Drift”.

Drift can result in poor financial and life decision making based on the easiest options.

Most people drift for some periods of their life. Reviewing your dreams and goals regularly will help you get back on track to the life you want to live

4. Always question the norm

Ideally, you want to find a career that bridges most of your desires – Work you will enjoy, that you can earn a decent income from (any form of medicine will achieve this) and that will be sustainable for you in the long term.

If your fantasy lotto involves long-term travel, consider whether this is a priority and maybe take time out before further training to see the world.

I’ve known plenty of RMOs who have saved to take a year off to travel.  One locumed six months of the year in Australia to fund six months EVERY YEAR bumming in Bali!

It doesn’t feel like it at the time, but post-graduate training can go very fast.  You will have plenty of years as a specialist in whatever career you choose.

If you want to take some time off early on, do it.  Make sure you are living YOUR life, no one elses.

5. Look at those 20 years ahead of you

When choosing a career, don’t focus too much on the job in the next 5 years.  You will work far more years as a consultant, or fully fledged professional.

Consider the short term sacrifice in terms of lifestyle, study and exams.  But if it lease to your ideal life for the 20+ years after, it may be right for you.

Observe the peers 10+ years ahead of you in your chosen profession.  Are they happy?  Would their life style suit you?  Do they have any regrets?

6. Choose your role models carefully

The people you are surrounded have subtle effects on your thinking over time.  It’s insidious.

Your immediate social group set the social norm.  This can lead to escalating expectations and extreme lifestyle inflation in the case of doctors.

Make an effort to spend time with consciously chosen role models.

Do you want to hang out a mate who medic volunteers around the world, managing to live on half a year of income or someone  who is always looking to upgrade their vehicle and comparing the features of the latest models?

If you’re content to live a suburban life where you biggest excitement is your mode of transportation, that’s fine.

Others will be bored out of their brains and hitting an early life crisis pretty fast!

7. Leave room for flexibility

Life is fickle.  Situations change with extreme rapidity sometimes.  You change as well.

Opportunities of a lifetime come along with little notice.  It is prudent to leave room for a sudden change.

If you have maximized your borrowing capacity and purchased the most house you can possibly afford (conventional wisdom), you’re stuck.

Mortgage stress can leave very little room for unexpected emergencies, impromptu weekends away or health scares.

Burn out is significant issue in medicine, and I imagine in other careers.  You owe it to your patients and yourself to be able to take time out if and when you need it.

If you spend almost everything you earn, you have no freedom to choose time off if and when burn out hits.  When a family member gets sick.  Or your suddenly overcome with an intense desire to spend a year exploring South America.

Amongst doctors (and probably most professions) there are usually two financial types.  The majority have pride in their successful status and like to show it off.

The minority see the huge potential with their generous income potential, actively limit lifestyle inflation and have bigger lifestyle plans with their cash than consumer purchases.

The latter wouldn’t be caught dead in the BMW I sniggered at recently, with personalized registration DR123.  Would anyone really be impressed by that?

There is no right or wrong (apart from a “Dr” number plate).

It’s about who and what you want to be.  If you choose to spend your cash on the house and cars, I forbid those jealous comments when Doctor Stealth Wealth takes another mini-retirement.

You have the choice who you’re going to be!

8. Get ahead with retirement planning

Both Docs in the example above can easily put off retirement planning.

This is WAAAY easier if sorted earlier due to the magic of compound interest.  It is really miserable, if possible, trying to catch up after age 50.

A common mistake (I made it too) is to think the small amount you can save and invest now is too tiny to make a difference.

Just start.  Get into the habit .  It will grow quicker than you think.  And you will later be able to increase if needed.  $276/fortnight for 35 years at 7% makes $1 million. Financial security and eventually wealth are build one dollar at a time.

– Make a Financial Plan.  

I know it’s hard, its so far away.

You don’t know how much you will need saved or what you want to do.

Make a best guess plan now using the below questions and this article.

Working to a plan will mean your in a far better position when you are more sure of your goals and change the plan.

Do you want the choice to retire before your preservation age? If so you need some investments outside superannuation

  • What age would you like the choice to retire at?
  • How much income do I need (guess same as now if this is too hard)
  • How much money do I need to save if earning 5% taking into account.
  • How much is going into superannuation each year?
  • What’s the short-fall?
  • Start working up to investing this much inside / outsider superannuation
  • Carefully (professionally) chosen property investments brought 20-30 years ahead of retirement are going to make this incredibly easy
  • Index funds/ ETF are less scary and faster to get going.  They will produce decent income faster for timelines under 15 years.  Learn to “Invest like a girl” to get better returns.

9. Revisit your Dreams and Goals Every Year

Of course they can change completely.  But if you have done the above steps, odds are you are in a far better position to pivot to the new plan.

Set a date – your birthday?  New year?  Tax time?  Set a reminder.  Dreams change.

10. Always Allocate Fun Money

It’s important to have fun along the way.  Life is short and unpredictable.  If started early enough, investing really doesn’t have to mean deprivation.  Prioritise “fun spending money” with each pay.  Just set a limit on how much and only spend up to this and squeeze the most “fun value” you can from each dollar.

If you want to delve deeper into life design, this article was inspired by Life Design*.

We only get (hopefully) 80-100 years on this planet to give it our best.

Many people live with regrets of all the things they didn’t get round to. Don’t be one of them!

Aussie Doc Freedom is not a financial adviser and does need offer any advise.  Information on this website is purely a description of my experiences and learning.  Please check with your independent financial adviser or accountant before making any changes.

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2 thoughts on “RMO: 10 Steps to Designing a Perfect Life

  1. Great post ADF, I wish someone had told me this a decade ago. I’m up to point 8 on that list of things to accomplish for a “perfect life” and I have never felt so unaccomplished. Keep up the great work, we need more docs to talk openly about finances!

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