I have always felt that each of us should start our journey with the end in mind. With every goal you should visualize what your life will look like if you accomplish it. How will this all end up? Where will you be? Can you look back and say you did your best or will regrets cloud the memory of lost opportunities and mediocre results? Can you give yourself permission to fall short of your goals, get back up and succeed in your quest for the practice you always thought you would have? Can you see yourself finishing the race as a winner rather than just a participant? Are you dreaming in full color where success smells and feels different than where you currently are? Too many of us have fallen by the wayside, seeing ourselves as victims in life. Our excuses become the myths we live by. Everything in life and business is the result of circumstances we cannot control or adapt to. Some of you will decide to take one day at a time, while never striving for levels of accomplishment that were clearly within your grasp. You fail to dream or imagine a different future. Others will plan yet never act, ending up just settling for the wages of inactivity, disengagement, and excuses. Procrastination and settling are not strategies, for many they are the postscript to a wasted life. A few will choose to be accountable and strive to try again and again until they hit the mark and raise the bar to new levels they never thought possible. Are you the reason that holds the winner inside from getting out?
In the book Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, author Bob Buford focuses on this important time of transition when, as he says, a person moves beyond the first half of the game of life. It’s halftime, a time of revitalization and for catching a new vision for living the second half, the half where life can be lived at its most rewarding. Halftime is a great book and worth the time to read. The thing to remember is that halftime in your life and career, unlike a football game, it is not measured in quarters and timed by the official’s clock. This transition can occur at any time regardless of age, experience, or circumstances. Far too many miss the opportunity that is within their grasp.
Practices are very predictable. They follow a simple skewed curve. Every practice begins at Survival, a time when you are just barely competent and just treading water as you orient yourself to begin your career. A career, by the way, you are not prepared for nor have any idea of the path it will take. The next step on our skewed bell curve, is Growth. Growth is the exciting part of your professional journey and life. You get a job, marry, have kids, pay off debt, hit your stride, buy a house, figure out some of the business of dentistry, etc. You get the idea. It’s exciting, there will be setbacks, but you continue to grow in every aspect. It is the steep part of the curve climbing ever higher. NOTE: Keep in mind that you could enter or leave each step at any undetermined rate or age. You could remain in your growth phase your entire career or life. You could fast forward to the end after the first year. Phases are not measured by hours or years; they are measured by where you are. The winners in life tend to continue to grow. The average doctor will soon hit their next phase called the Plateau. Once here, you see the curve flatten. You hit an area of stagnant profit, growth, new patients. It is as if time stands still and you tend to repeat one day being like another. A replay of Bill Murray’s movie: Ground-Hog Day. Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, becomes trapped in a time loop and is forced to keep living Feb. 2 over and over again. These are the miserable doctors that revel in their hobbies, never are engaged in their practice, and force themselves to go into the office over and over again even though they hate it. Once you stay in the plateau long enough, you hit the two final phases in rapid succession: Decline and retirement. Only 6% of dentists will ever retire financially independent. This is a sad statistic if we look at the amount of money that passes through our hands. In the book The Fulfillment Curve, by Jeremy Williams, we see another bell curve when we consider money and fulfillment. We start at survival again, move up to comforts and finally luxuries. The challenge with most dentists is that they tend to want every luxury at the cost of overspending and debt. So, the question each of you needs to ask yourself is this: How much is enough? You can have anything in life you want, you just can’t have everything you want. Be careful of what you choose. At the apex of our bell curve should be “the enough” but most go to more luxuries, decreased fulfilment and finally death. A perfect bell curve anchored by survival on the left and death on the right with luxuries at the apex of the curve. What should be the apex is the “enough”, or financial freedom. It is at this point that you have Purpose, Responsibility, Accountability, an Internal Yardstick, and Financial Independence. The goal in life is to have Peace of Mind, Be Out of Debt, Savings, Skills, Community, and Income. The perfect last chapter to a life well lived.
Each of us have times when we are just moving down the river of life, pushed by a current that we decided long ago not to fight. Each of these myths I have described in these posts over the past 18 weeks (and there are probably hundreds more possibilities) create a false universe for each of us. We are not really engaged in our practices or we would recognize a myth for what it really is. One more thing to buy, chase, or do that will not move us up any further on the fulfillment curve. Myths are fun to chase but they are a distraction from the real path you should take. Like a kid playing army after watching John Wayne in The Green Berets (1968), it’s fun, but not real life. Buying an electric guitar after watching Eric Clapton in a rock compilation of lead guitarists and never putting in the time to learn to play it. You paid the price to buy it, but you never incorporated its potential in making music. Chasing the myth of the newest shiny object that, once purchased (on credit), will magically turn years of disengagement and poor choices around seems a strategy fraught with time consuming effort for little or no gain. The ultimate wake up call is when you capture a myth and find it held nothing. No profit, no fulfillment, and not a path to where you thought it would lead. I know, I’ve been there.
In a way, we all will chase myths. The wise ones will discover their folly and turn back to mastering the basics and accepting that life is doing the best you can do as long as you keep a servant spirit. That dentistry, at its base, is a relationship of trust with your patients, and a life time commitment to learning. You realize that the goal in life is not a destination where you finally arrive, but enjoying the journey. The goal of this long list of myths is not to tell you how to think, but to help you look at things differently. It will always be your vision. It will always be your responsibility and your results. The truth lies in the fact that many have gone before you. There are great mentors and teachers that will help you to not make the mistakes in life and practice that they made. The challenge is for you to listen to those that know, and incorporate what works without having to reinvent the wheel.
Perfect timing is the “crutch” of the “out of touch”. There is no perfect time to buy a practice, change your course, have children, or raise the bar. Regardless of what you call it, waiting for perfect timing to take the next step goes along with the idea that you need all of the data before you can make an informed decision. Procrastination is the title we give ourselves to qualify why we never act. We wait for the perfect time only to see one more opportunity wasted or pass us by. The most famous successful people have the ability to act quickly with about 60-70% of the information they need. They occasionally miss the mark, but the error is minor and easily corrected. This is not failure. You only fail if you don’t get back up and try again. Failure is not final, and as long as you can take a breath, there are opportunities to seize and goals to accomplish.
I wanted to close with something a little personal. I have had the opportunity to fall down in my journey more than most. In fact, one definition of an expert is someone who has failed at a particular area more than anyone else. Below is a copy of Robert Hastings prose The Station followed by an excerpt from one of my books.
TUCKED AWAY in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision in which we see ourselves on a long journey that spans an entire continent. We’re traveling by train and, from the windows, we drink in the passing scenes of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at crossings, of cattle grazing in distant pastures, of smoke pouring from power plants, of row upon row upon row of cotton and corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of city skylines and village halls.
But uppermost in our conscious minds is our final destination–for at a certain hour and on a given day, our train will finally pull into the Station with bells ringing, flags waving, and bands playing. And once that day comes, so many wonderful dreams will come true. So, restlessly we pace the aisles and count the miles, peering ahead, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Station.
“Yes, when we reach the Station, that will be it!” we promise ourselves. “When we’re eighteen. . . win that promotion. . . put the last kid through college. . . buy that 450SL Mercedes-Benz. . . have a nest egg for retirement!” From that day on we will all live happily ever after.
Sooner or later, however, we must realize there is no Station in this life, no one earthly place to arrive at once and for all. The journey is the joy. The Station is an illusion—it constantly out distances us. Yesterday’s a memory; tomorrow’s a dream. Yesterday belongs to a history; tomorrow belongs to God. Yesterday’s a fading sunset, tomorrow’s a faint sunrise. Only today is there light enough to love and live.
So, gently close the door on yesterday and throw the key away. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad, but rather regret over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.
“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less. Go barefoot oftener. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along. The Station will come soon enough.
Life is all about the journey, not the destination. If you cannot find a way to enjoy the trip you will have wasted your life. Don’t get stuck in the “I’ll do this when” excuse mode many of us live in. It will never be the perfect time to do anything. There will never be enough information for you to digest in order to not make a mistake. The real mistake is not going for it. Now is the time to embark on the changes and actions described in this book. Excuses and procrastination accomplish nothing but holding you captive. If you are reading this, you are ready to do it. For those of you that “live to work” rather than “work to live”, I have one other quote from A Day at a Time by Zondervan, 1974: Called Destination Sickness: “the syndrome of the man who has arrived and discovered he is nowhere. He has achieved his goals and finds they are not what he had anticipated. He suffers the disillusionment of promises that petered out—-the payoff with the kickback! He has all the things money can buy and finds decreasing satisfaction in all he has. He is satiated and unsatisfied. He’s got a pot full of nothing. He’s in the land of ulcers and cardiacs, alcoholism, divorce and suicide! He suffers from the “neurosis of emptiness.” He’s the man who has become a whale of a success downtown and a pathetic failure at home. He’s a big shot with the boys in the office and a big phony with the boys at home. He’s a status symbol in society and fake with the family. “Destination sickness”—the illness peculiar to a culture that is affluent and Godless.
As we come to the end of chasing the Myths of Dentistry, I hope we all can agree that “perfect timing” may be pretty close to the top of the list when we consider that inaction is far worse that acting too quickly. That nothing moves the needle without you putting your foot down in an act of “go”. Far too many doctors have one foot on the gas pedal and one on the brake. Secondly, I think we should all agree that we do chase myths and that we have not arrived at the place we really want to get to. Finally, I believe that no one has a perfect track record in life. That we all have a “born on” date and a “use before” date. After you die, that use before date will be memorialized on your tombstone. The most important part of that last inscription marking your birth and demise are not the dates, but the dash separating them. It’s not when you were born or when you died, it is how you lived that will be remembered.
John Maxwell says it best in his book: Failing Forward: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes.
Rule 1: You will learn lessons.
Rule 2: There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Rule 3: A lesson is repeated until it is learned.
Rule 4: If you don’t learn the easy lessons, they get harder. (Pain is one way the universe gets your attention.)
Rule 5: You’ll know you’ve learned a lesson when your actions change.
Thanks to everyone that has taken the time to read this series on the Myths in Dentistry. As always, I believe that this is how you Summit.
Mike Abernathy, DDS
PS. I read this recently from Alan Weiss: “The highest ROI I know is self-investment. What greater asset do you have? Yet people make every excuse possible not to better themselves if it means spending money or time. It’s not like they’re starving, or the house is falling apart. It’s just a refusal to invest in themselves which, I believe, is often rooted in this fear: “What if I invest and still don’t get better? What does that say about me?”
We would love to help you along your journey to practice, life, and financial success. Go to www.summitpracticesolutions.com or give us a call at 800.252.0955.