We have touched on this in previous articles and it bears repeating: The best strategy in life and business is to learn how to ask the hard questions. The right questions followed by direct action are the quickest ways to get where you want to go. Knowing that there has never been a dental graduate who slogged through dental school, walked across the stage for the diploma and then jumped up and down yelling: “I can’t wait to be average”, we need to ask: Is average enough?
At first glance, being average is not necessarily a negative term. Statistically, it is just a math designation for a group of somethings. You just add a group of numbers together and divide them by the total amount of numbers to get the average. Average will always be there. In Dentistry it is a practice that collects $650,000 a year, with a 67% to 75% overhead, 25 to 30 new patients a month, and 4 employees. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but is it enough? If you are one of those people who doesn’t mind being average or doesn’t care, then no, it does not matter. I want to speak to those rare people where striving is important. Where continued and never-ending improvement is a way of life. The group of dentists who are fine with going to an average restaurant for their anniversary or having an OK surgeon doing your cancer procedure can stop reading.
Like it or not, average turns out to be that peak of the bell curve where most people fall. If you fall in that area of average you have plenty of company. On the left is below average, and on the right is above average. The greatest numbers of people fall into the average slot, because it is easy. Show up, do the work, and you will end up being average. Show up early, ready to work, striving to excel and average will be in your rear-view mirror. With this in mind, is average enough? While I don’t think of this statement when I say average, L. D. Pankey said: “Average is the best of the worst or the worst of the best”. Pretty harsh, but in a way pretty true. You got into dental school because you were at the top of your class. Why would anyone with a winning track record settle for average after they graduate?
I want to help you grasp where average is OK and where it borders on a wasted life. Being average doesn’t matter from an income perspective. If you can save 14% to 20% of your income, reinvest it at a 6% to 12% rate, and live within that sustainable life style. If you do this, we know you can control your burn rate while leading a significant life. The problem occurs when you allow your lifestyle to strip you of the ability to save and invest. Leading a life of sustainable finances guarantees that you will have choices no matter when you retire or where you ultimately end up.
Above average clinical dentistry ought to matter to each of us. Yet few dentists ever approach their potential of excellence in dentistry, much less approach the competence level of the doctors we read about doing full mouth rehabs. Being just OK means performing at a level below what you would want for yourself. That level of performance is approaching incompetence at best and malpractice at worst. In a way, practicing just OK could mean an integrity deficiency. When did it finally happen? At what point was “just OK” dentistry allowable in your practice?
The trick in life is to continue to strive to be the best “you” that is possible. It is not your performance score and other people’s opinion that defines your self-worth. It is being accountable for everything you do regardless of the situation or who was looking. In every aspect of your life, you should move towards excellence. When we look at the end of our time here on earth each of us should want to look back and acknowledge that we did the best we could do. Commit to this “end in mind” strategy, and each day will be guided by a tireless pursuit of excellence.
There is a great book out there penned by my friend Dr. David Phelps: The Apprentice Model
“…one of the most effective ways that you can control outcomes in your life is to control who you surround yourself with. The right kind of friends, mentors, and advisors won’t let you settle for average. Average is too little to settle for. We’re not talking about money. We’re talking about your purpose, about living well”. I would add this could be the definition of a life well spent. It goes beyond success to significance.
I want to close with a quote from Seth Godin’s Blog: Words That Matter
“Discipline, rigor, patience, self-control, dignity, respect, knowledge, curiosity, wisdom, ethics, honor, empathy, resilience, honesty, long-term, possibility, bravery, kindness and awareness. All of these are real skills, soft skills, learnable skills. If they’re skills, that means that they are decisions. A choice we get to make. Even if it’s not easy or satisfying in the short term. These skills are in short supply sometimes, which makes them even more valuable.”
This is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS