It has been written before, but the problems you are facing are the same as those faced by every other dentist.
You worked hard to get where you are, you passed the exams and you got through the interview. So why, for some, does this feel hard? Why does it feel like the plan hasn’t come together? Why do you feel trapped and forced to endure rather than feeling autonomous, free and inspired?
Why are you hoping your dental career story has a happy ending but it seems that is a long way off?
Well, let’s start with you. No, in fact, let’s start with me. I knew dentistry could pay reasonably well; many of my parents’ friends who were dentists seemed to do ok. But I didn’t get into it for that. I wasn’t a specific money chaser; I was more of a nobly minded yet naive people pleaser.
You may be a money chaser extremist; there are plenty of those – or, like me in earlier chapters of this story, a people pleaser fundamentalist; these are not few in numbers either.
There is a linking spectrum between the two, but many of us got sucked predominantly into one side or the other.
This is how it felt:
I leant towards people-pleasing. I wanted everyone to like me. To be the favourite dentist of every nurse. To make every patient think I was wonderful. To be a loved team member, adored team leader, to get the five star reviews, to get referrals from others.
It’s a painful lesson to realise this is impossible.
Completely impossible. So the current people-pleasers, you know who you are, there is a considerable cost to what you are doing. Beware the price isn’t too high. For those that it is, some have to leave dentistry when it comes to settle up.
If you try to be everything to everyone you will end up nothing to no-one (excuse the double negative, but the words just flow like-well-more-betterer that way).
Who makes you pay? Well, for many people you can exceed their expectations, but there is a pool of people who you will never make happy. Not with price, nor precision, with politeness. Your certificates are meaningless. Punctuality and prowess are equally unappreciated.
Trying to please this sort is a losing game and costs you the actual valuable investment you should be making in quality patients, your family and indeed, beloved reader, you.
I bet some of you have been so affected by a difficult patient it affects your family time that evening or weekend. I’m guilty of this. Like I said, my early leanings were definitely biased towards people pleasing. Patients who prey on such people spot you a mile off and enjoy your subservient energy. They schedule to see you as your eagerness to make them like you makes them feel important and popular. They’ll keep you in a court jester role for as long as they can get these feelings.
The opposite of a people pleaser is a money chaser. If you’re not one, I’m sure you know one. It may be your principal or an associate colleague.
Again, don’t confuse the message here. I work to earn money. I like working hard and getting good rewards for it. The problem is when profit sits above purpose. It sits above wellbeing and it sits above the goal of a happy, healthy patient.
The true devout money chasers actually look for opportunities to do dentistry, even unnecessarily. Certainly, they wouldn’t do that work in their own mouths. They set financial targets rather than reputational ones. The profits have skewed the delivery of health care, so that they are not u on the patients’ and associates’ health because they sadly do not care. Money, money, money. It’s a source of temptation to slip into this way, especially if the whole practice ethos has this running through its very DNA.
The examples above are two extremes. Neither are happy. Money chasers never get enough and, frankly, if you are one of these you should have chosen to work at Goldman Sachs. I have a buddy there whose year may include a 2 million quid bonus. But he calls it a ‘bad year’ as last year it was 3.5. If he gets 4 million it’s still not a good year, just a better one. He’s never had a good year, just better ones and bad ones.
In the 2008 financial crash his world fell apart and he had a nervous breakdown. He is not the same anymore. Still a nice guy but something has gone.
Yes, crying in his McLaren is nicer than crying in a skip, but I swear there is more to happiness than that. Truly.
Dentists who chase money exclusively are in the wrong race. It’s that simple.
Money has become a drug to them. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t work for free and I’m not poor, but I can’t compete with professionals working in fields where they are making money for the sake of making money.
Yet, as per our discussion at the start of this article, the other end of the spectrum is also an imbalance… with our people pleasers who tend to think the world is lovely, just like them; and if they keep trying they can make everyone happy… and, when everyone likes or loves them, “I’ll be happy then….”. Another impossible goal.
So, what can we do?
Essentially, we need meaning and direction and to feel value in moving towards something.
We need purpose or a mission, and establishment of the practice culture you feel in your heart.
I see loads of dentists working aimlessly – literally without any aim. They think they want more money but do nothing, they want more private practice and do nothing. Not because they’re lazy, they just haven’t picked a direction to aim at. The ancient Greeks had this term – Hamartia – it referred to the critical flaw undermining the hero in so many Greek tragedies, but it also refers to sin.
To be aimless was to sin. You have to aim. You have to stop waiting for the good times and go and make them.
As usual, I expect you have had no training in this and are probably more worried about a CQC inspection and meeting your UDAs.
Hamartia: Lack of meaning and lack of fulfilment is exhausting and can have one of a few negative outcomes.
Read the following, and see if any of them resonate with you. Please don’t for a second think this piece is calling you a sinner. It’s the relationship you have with yourself that is under the spotlight.
Having aim, having purpose and having meaning makes you feel positive.
Listless time-wasting and not fulfilling your potential is like guilt in terms of feelings. It actually almost hurts. The shame is a source of discomfort which can grow and compound if you keep adding to it.
So, what are the most common concerns?
• Medico-legal risks and hazards
• Debt and finance
• Diminished quality of work due to time pressures and material limitations
• Protection for yourself from deteriorating mental health – yes, you are allowed to have anxiety about developing anxiety!
These can manifest in a number of ways, but the most common are issues with diminished self- esteem and feeling inauthentic. These negatives actually take the place of positives so become bedfellows with anxiety (your future) and depression (your past).
These in turn can manifest as behaviours which offer short-term relief. For example:
Working for the weekend and hitting the booze on Friday night, then hating yourself and dreading Monday morning.
So, aimlessness is a self-considered sin, and we need to pick up the bow, practise with it and hit some targets. Therein lies purpose, meaning and a sense of deep value.
No-one has ever taken exercise and thought “Wow, that was a bad idea” (assuming they didn’t get injured!). No-one has ever learned useful new information that improves their understanding of the world and regretted it.
Finding a target to aim for can be uncomfortable and A LOT of us are allowing comfort to become a cage.
If you go to the gym and it’s entirely comfortable nothing changes with your body. If you push yourself just the right amount you get maximal gain.
Staying sweat-free and never getting DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) means you’ve achieved nothing. It’s the same professionally. Staying in your comfort cage means never ruffling feathers, never facing any fears, never doing what you know you need to do. You procrastinate and dither and wait.
Remember – please, please remember: Everything that is action > inaction. Doing nothing achieves nothing.
Waiting = inaction. Upgrading = Action
I know, I know, comfort feels nice and safe and warm, and it’s not scary or painful or challenging, but you plateau and it’s boring, and actually it’s not a plateau – it’s a decline. Staying comfortable without exercise means your body declines and ages. All unused parts of your being (mind and body) atrophy and die if not reminded they are needed.
Also don’t fall for the tricks your mind plays. Reading a book on personal development and not actually practicing it is as good as nothing.
I see threads on postgraduate courses advocating a bias towards theory rather than hands-on. What? Seriously?
So…the brain surgeon operating on you has been lectured and read it in a book but never actually done it…whereas another surgeon has practiced the exact procedure a hundred times…who do you want to cut open your skull?
Seriously, choose now!
We put masses of emphasis on adequate hands-on experience. Every. Single. Day.
What else? Well, you may or may not know you have an inner critic and an inner coach. These two can work harmoniously, but the balance is often off – and typically, as dentists, the inner critic has the louder voice.
You can get a better insight into your own voices if you do a detailed personality test. That is probably the first place to start finding your discomfort as everyone has bits of themselves they can work on. Good God, I do!!
When this current crisis is over, people will still value the same things.
You will still feel pride in your meaningfully spent endeavours. Your learning enhances your wisdom, your knowledge becomes visible to everyone, your expertise in your profession brings you a sense of justified authority and calmness. A replete, well-trained expert dentist will be in as much demand after the pandemic as they were before.
Patients, like everyone, have a subconscious mind which never stops. It is taking all of the above in all of the time, and that forms 95% of the patients’ choices.
Make sure you are ready!
See you soon on our upcoming Advanced Operative Aesthetic and Restorative Dentistry (PgCERT)!