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 Conversations with Leaders in Self-Care: Money, Friends and Health 
 
Interview with Michael Phillips
   as interviewed by Tom Ferguson MD

So what did you decide to substitute for the goal of making a lot of money?

I decided the best thing I could do was to start right now to do the things I really loved, and to spend as much time as I could with the people I really cared about. Of course a person wouldn't necessarily have to quit his job to do that—he or she could just begin to realize that they are not working primarily for money, and make their decisions accordingly.

Can you give us an example of that?

Sure. Let's compare two doctors. One is a doctor who loves his work and sees it as a way of fulfilling himself, and the second is a doctor who doesn't really enjoy his work and just does it to make a lot of money. The first doctor will be able to make day-to-day and moment-to-moment decisions based on how he feels. The latter must suppress his feelings and pain to a far greater extent because his work and his sources of fulfillment—the things money can buy—are much less connected.

If the first doctor finds himself feeling sad and tense, he'll be more likely to ask a friend to help. He may ask a colleague to cover his emergency calls and take off early and go for a walk in the woods. The other doctor, in the same situation, being more dependent on money for satisfaction, would probably push himself more, and make it up to himself with money. He might say to himself, "Boy, I've spent all day seeing these miserable patients, and now I have to go back to the hospital to take care of this stupid emergency case. I'm really going to charge this guy plenty. Then I'll go out and treat myself to a steak dinner and a few drinks. And tomorrow I'll go have a look at that new sports car I've been wanting." Three guesses as to which of these two will be happier and healthier.

So people who are more concerned with money tend to be less sensitive to their bodies' messages?

That's certainly been my experience. A person's ability to listen to his or her body is influenced by the extent to which he or she is capable of being open and relaxed. That calmness lets you listen to the world, listen to your body, and listen to your friends.

You were saying that for some people, a useful health goal might be to reduce their incomes.

If you reduce the amount of money you have to earn, you'll have a lot more freedom to do the things you love, and more freedom to spend time with the people you love. One of my friends recently left a very high-paying job. He's now living on $450 a month and doing work he cares deeply about and working with people he loves. He's better off in every meaningful way than he was before. His friends have come through for him again and again

So is money bad in itself?

It's neither good nor bad in itself. Money is something society pays people for doing what the society—or certain members of the society—want to be done.

Say you're a craftsperson and you knit little hats. And suppose that red hats sell like mad, but what you really love to do is to make blue hats. If you end up making whatever sells, you'll end up doing what the society wants.

The same is true if you're working for a company. You might start out saying, "I'm just going to work for this company for a year to earn enough money so that I can go out and save bighorn sheep." But you'll find that by the time that year is up, the values that went with the job have creeped into you. You get used to the big lunches, the big apartment, the big car. You get used to the ski trips to Aspen.

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 About The Author
Tom Ferguson, M.D. (1943-2006), was a pioneering physician, author, and researcher who virtually led the movement to advocate informed self-care as the starting point for good health. Dr. Ferguson studied and wrote......moreTom Ferguson MD
 
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