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How Much Is Enough To Just Walk Away?


We all do a balancing act, when we think about it, between frustration and that elusive sense of security that would enable our sometime daydream.

Yellow Brick Road

Ah, the age-old question when you are tired at the end of the day and your frustrations have ganged up on you. There is an undeniable emotional appeal, expressed in fantasy numbers of net worth, to express Johnny Paycheck’s famous song “You Can Take This Job and Shove It!”

I hate to come off of the satisfying dream in the sky to ask the rational question: Walk away to do what? A survey on More.com found that 60% of respondents would leave their jobs to pursue some unnamed passion if they had $1 million squirreled away. I am guessing that these were not docs. Meanwhile, 7% of the same group said no amount of money would induce the Big Hike. Again, for docs, this number is probably much higher.

We all do a balancing act, when we think about it, between frustration and that elusive sense of security that would enable our sometime daydream. And the economic safety factor really gets down to a sense of control, the very thing that is threatened by multiple frustrations.

You’ve probably seen the financial company ad campaign featuring people walking around toting large signs with amounts like “$2,136,549,” or whatever. The actual “Number,” those ads refer to is largely dependent upon a variety of factors. The first is how self-reliant are you? If you are so inclined, it would take a smaller Number in assets to allow the security and freedom we all desire if we were not receiving a regular paycheck.

The second factor is what kind of lifestyle are you interested in? The independent, low-maintenance type person will need less money and has the luxury of an easier out. Those enamored of the more typical American Dream will need a bigger number to feel comfortable. Keeping up with the Joneses’ house, car, vacations, college, and retirements, costs. We all know it costs a lot.

Now, does “walking away” mean retirement from medicine, an extended drop-out (sometimes euphemistically called a sabbatical), a new career or what? The hard part of this fantasy exercise is we have to be careful to remember that false assumptions can lead to big-time disappointments. And our walk-away fantasies have a way of changing behind our backs as life circumstances change and change us.

Consciously or unconsciously, many of us want to not only have money to allow us to do something, but want to do something focused on the money itself. Like leave a legacy to our family or to some charitable purpose. The sky is the limit here, bounded only by the possible.

I know a Silicon Valley engineer who “walked” at age 36 when his company went public and he suddenly acquired a bigger number than he could have dreamed. He did not take up a second career, or devote himself to hedonism, but rather has become known for his attention to philanthropy. Those possibilities were not previously in his mental wheelhouse, but he became lucky and repurposed himself.

So let’s ask ourselves these questions: What is your “number?” How did you arrive at it? How will you get there and what will you do when you arrive? Aye, there’s the rub of it!

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