By Dr. Joy Eberhardt De Master, WCI Columnist
Money, money, money. We talk about stocks and bonds. We talk about diversifying income and passive income. We talk about how to make and spend money. We also need to talk about community.
Yes, we do. People with a community live longer. They have better health and, frankly, they can save more money. They learn from others’ mistakes and can ask for help instead of spending money. Community improves quality of life, and it can do something that money can't: build relationships.
I know about community. And the lack of it. Disability has taught me that. Knowing my limits and finding those who can support me, knowing my strengths and sharing my abilities, I found two communities during the pandemic: my neighborhood community and white coat investors.
Building Communities in My Life
I moved houses in 2019 to an intentional community, not knowing COVID loomed around the corner. You may be asking, “An intentional what?” It was (and still is) a planned community where people share common resources—tools, time, and nature. You don’t have your own lawn mower or mow your own lawn. Your neighbor may keep bees and share the honeycomb with you. Or you may have a four-wheel drive car that can help get food for others on those rare snowy winter days. Before COVID, it meant monthly meals and life celebrations—the summer ice cream social was the highlight.
The brood and I settled in this two-acre condo-style neighborhood that has triplexes and duplexes scattered with a few single-family homes. The move to this community was for the kids, of course. The space to roam, trees to climb, and friends to play with pulled us there.
I dragged my feet as the house cost more than I could stomach. I didn’t like the idea of a jumbo mortgage for a fancy house and more square footage than we needed—2,500 square feet with two full bathrooms and four bedrooms, one with a walk-in closet and bathroom suite. It all felt like an unnecessary luxury except for the outside space for the kids. The unfinished basement clinched the move for me; it was space I could convert into rental income, thereby making up the cost of the mortgage.
Then, COVID hit, not a year after our move, and we lived and breathed and worked from that home. My older child attended virtual school for a year as the thud-thud-thud of construction work echoed in the basement. I huddled in my bedroom to work since it was the only room with a locked door. Our extra bedroom was a preschool for my younger kid. Grant money shuffled from my employer to me to the school nanny to cover COVID-related childcare expenses. We rented out the basement space for $1,650, offsetting the monthly mortgage of $3,800.
In the midst of it, I asked for help from the neighborhood community. I was stressed and prepping to have to work as an intern for the internal medicine physicians if COVID census required it—yes, me an outpatient pediatrician. I was jealous of those getting (I mean having!) to stay home. The neighborhood had a common house (a house shared by the condo association for visits from friends and family) sitting empty with no visits allowed because of the pandemic.
I asked to use it and was quickly told yes. My commute evolved into a walk down the infinity circle sidewalk and up a flight of stairs. I was close enough to home in case disaster struck between my highly spirited children but far enough away that I could work. I did not have to pay for it. And due to the grant from my employer, I did not have to pay much of anything for the nanny to come to my house.
My community had helped me. But my neighborhood wasn’t the only community I found.
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I Sold My Rental and Changed Jobs to Save Myself
What I Found at WCICON
In 2020, a good friend invited me to speak as an expert on a panel of women physicians. A group called The White Coat Investor was hosting its virtual conference. I spoke. I got swag. I got on the email list.
In 2021, after my tenure with Doximity as an Op-Med fellow, I applied as a columnist to write for WCI. I got accepted—which is why you're now reading this column.
My highlight in the spring of 2022 was flying to Arizona for the in-person conference as a columnist with WCI. The resort was posh. A lazy river floated outside among chairs with conference-goers virtually attending the next session—outside, in the sun, in February. The gym had a Peloton bike. The food—oh the food—was scrumptious and plentiful, though I did have to ask for hot sauce on occasion (my Mexican tastebuds called for it).
I made friends at the conference—locals from Arizona, executives from the Midwest, and specialists from the East Coast. I even got to hang with the female-identifying speakers who shared their journey as women in medicine. Later, a gathering that celebrated women in medicine pulled folks together around tall tables with an open bar. I stumbled through the evening in my attempts at neurotypical conversation, my younger sister helping me along the way. I had reached my max sensory load.
Did WCICON help me forge bonds with other physicians—women or otherwise? My fellow columnist, Disha Spath, started hosting a virtual women's happy hour (you can sign up for upcoming dates here). Colleagues now reach out to me over text, or they PM me about something I’ve written. I like the low-key nature of it. I like knowing that you, my reader, may take something helpful from what I’ve written.
Thinking back to the conference, my favorite memories were helping a friend exit the parking lot and getting my sister food so we could eat it together in our room. I liked the walks in nature and the slow mornings. I liked being in the desert. I’m glad I went. Will I go back in 2023? I hope so. The place is great for families with kids as well as for singles and couples. I’d like to take my kids this time. They would love the lazy river and the space outside to explore. Last year, I enjoyed quiet evenings in the spacious bar or outside at the fire pits. I could even see the stars at night.
So, do I consider WCI a community of mine? I’d say so. It's a community like my neighborhood. I do find I miss the camaraderie of the early COVID days. It felt like the community was moving into my world—one with ongoing limitations and yet also new possibilities. But I wouldn’t have made it through the pandemic as well without either of these communities. For me, life is just a little better while in a community.
Have you found that having communities make your life more meaningful? How have you discovered your own communities? Comment below!