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“A majority of life's errors are caused by forgetting what one is really trying to do.” – Charlie Munger

by Dr. David Phelps

Munger’s words resonate in my own life, and in what I see in my work with hundreds of hardworking professionals and high-income earners.

Many years ago when I was driven to work all hours of the day, trying to create a financial security moat of protection for my family, I had a sudden realization that changed the trajectory of my life.

I was working hard on my dental practice while also building my real estate portfolio. I was bit by the real estate bug at an early age and I worked on the two in tandem. 

Then my daughter Jenna was born. A new life, and the beginning of a family. It was great.

Two and a half years later, Jenna was diagnosed with high-risk leukemia. She went through horrific treatments very young (almost a toddler) until she’s five years old.

It is a tough time. I was not prepared for it. In a situation like that, you just do the best you can. But sometimes, the best we can do does not get you to where you want to go.

Being driven, having goals, trying to be fruitful – these are not bad characteristics. But where it goes wrong is when you lack crystal clarity about what you are driving toward. 

Success will be elusive if it remains undefined. 

The Mystical “Someday” Trap

Most people have goals to create a life of abundance. They want freedom. Yet a lot of us will tend to procrastinate. We put it off until we think we get to a certain destination.

A destination that we’ll get to “some day” in an uncertain number of years that will allow us to have the freedom to fully enjoy life, take some stress off, and be with the people we want to be with.

“Freedom” takes on a mystical quality because we don’t know what that destination is or how many years it will take. There is not an actual, physical mountain you’re going to climb and as soon as you arrive at the peak you’ll know you made it. It does not work that way.

Yet we think there is going to be a magical moment where we just know it. I’m here to tell you: That is NOT true.

This does not mean you shouldn’t be goal oriented or that you shouldn’t work hard. The essence of what I’m saying is: If you don’t have clarity about what you are looking for, as Munger stated, you will make mistakes.

Not just financial mistakes. Other more lasting mistakes. Mistakes that you’ll regret at the end of your life. Memories not made, moments missed out on. Mistakes many of us have made.

If not for Jenna’s early health problems when she was young in life, I might not have learned a very important lesson in my life.

The Value of Time

I hadn’t learned the value of my time, and what I could do with it if I put my mind to it when the battle with Jenna’s cancer began. It was only seven years later when Jenna had end-stage liver failure that I finally decided to prioritize my time and attention on what truly matters (Hint: It was not more money). 

Reality hit me right in the face “What am I doing? Why am I still doing all this? Is there some way I can buy back some of my time?”

Clarity on what matters changes your perspective

Clarity on what matters changes everything.

I worked hard for many years. Could I not buy back my time? Did I still have to be on that treadmill to some mystical destination? In the meantime, I would miss my life and my time with Jenna. She may not survive the next incident. She has been an unusual outlier for a young child to go through leukemia, epileptic seizures, and now a liver transplant by age 12. I couldn’t afford to risk what time I had left with her. 

Fortunately for me, I had an economic game plan (I called my “Plan B”) for freeing up time. I couldn’t have foreseen my daughter’s catastrophic health crisis, but I was blessed to have created a financial parachute that was ready when I needed it. 

A Different Path to Freedom

I had accumulated equity in real estate by paying down my debt. I also had my practice equity and I decided at a relatively young age to cash in the chips. I transferred that equity from the sale of my practice to passive real estate.

That real estate was then producing income without me having to be physically present. In contrast, if I was still working that same equity in my practice, I would be required to be present to produce income.

But I no longer wanted to devote most of my time to actively producing income. My practice was restraining my freedom and the luxury to be able to take time off like I can today. Transferring equity from the sale of my practice into real estate is what changed everything.

I thought at the time that this was a temporary arrangement. I thought I might return to dentistry. Maybe take a year or 18 months off to focus on my daughter through her health situation.

But the permission I gave myself to take that time off and the margin I created with it, gave me a different outlook on life.

And I don’t look back with regret on the education I had, the formal training, dentistry, or helping people. But I now had a new opportunity to change the evolution of my life. 

I serve people in a different realm now. I used my experience in life and the real estate arena to provide value. My work today has more meaning and significance for me than I could have ever imagined. 

Clarity is a Powerful Motivator

Clarity about what you want in life, if you are truly honest with yourself, can change the dynamics of the life you’re living.

Maybe you’re content with the money you’re making, the life you have, and how you’re providing for your family. If so, great. But if you’re not happy with where you are now, it’s time to change your plan, your way of doing things.

“But how can I do that if I don’t go to work? Do I have to sell my practice or my business?”

No. It starts with a reality check. But you have to do it with your family – a spouse, or significant other. Once you start having those conversations, you can begin making demonstrable changes in your life.

You don’t have to keep heading down this road to nowhere – Climbing a mountain with no peak in sight, looking back at a life full of regrets because you never had clarity of the primary objective. But with clarity comes a powerful motivation. Now, you know what is at stake. Now you know what you’re aiming for.

Clarity and honesty. What is it you want? More money? A bigger practice? What for?

Once you define what you actually want, you can start making progress in the right direction.

The Value of Mentors

Surrounding yourself with coaches and mentors is key to designing the life you want. If you don’t know how to get there, others who have been where you want to be can help you fold time. They can show you different ways of doing things that you couldn’t figure out yourself without spending years figuring it out.

You are not ignorant or incapable. But what you’re looking for is not a “do it yourself” path, wasting time on trials and errors. No, your priority is to save time – and we never have as much as we think. Seeking guidance from others who have done what you’re looking to do is the answer. 

Mentors can also help us overcome self-limiting beliefs. We often grow up indoctrinated into certain beliefs that restrain our thinking, telling us there’s only one way to do something. There is not.

The way I did it (income-producing real estate) is not the only way to provide the freedom you want. We all need help breaking through the indoctrination of our youth, and having the right people around you is the fastest way to do so.

My last piece of advice: Don’t procrastinate. Don’t put it off. Take the opportunity to challenge yourself. Challenge the beliefs you have regarding your time, what you want from it, and how to get it. Make the changes necessary to advance toward what you truly want.

Picture of Dr. David Phelps

Dr. David Phelps

About Author Dr. David Phelps, DDS
When his young daughter was hospitalized with leukemia, Dr. David Phelps, DDS was able to turn to his alternative investments, step away from his dental practice and be by her side. From this experience, he created Freedom Founders in 2012. This community helps dentists and other professionals take control of their retirement investments to produce passive cash flow, security and live life on their terms. Today, David is host of the Dentist Freedom Blueprint Podcast, as well as the CEO of the Freedom Founders Community.

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