I would say, more often than not, that the best choice in a journey is pretty straight forward. Even in retrospect, the most difficult decisions I have made in my career were common sense strategies. I want to assume that you are progressing on the 180 Degree Dental Journey and as we pull over for a moment to stretch our legs and take a rest, the weather is moderate, and we have found a shade tree to relax under and consider the journey so far. While the trip has really just begun, we certainly have gone far enough that it would be foolish to turn back. We are different, the scenery is different, our practices are changing. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been fulfilling. We are moving from average to unlimited. So, sit back and reflect as we contemplate an obvious but difficult truth when we look at “The Shift” in our lives.
Let’s be honest, shift happens; it happens to me and it happens to you. Sometimes the world can be pretty shifty. Shift is defined as a slight change in position, direction, or tendency. We’ve been talking about climate change in the new Dental Economy and its ultimate demise of the independent dental practice. What’s it going to take to thrive when everything around us is changing? How can we adjust our actions and vision to take advantage of this change? Having your practice strategies just a little off of target can mean disaster in the long haul. Keep in mind that even a 2-degree shift in trajectory today might mean you miss your financial goals in the future by decades or millions of dollars. The bottom line is this: What are you willing to do when you are hit with a face full of shift? Like anyone else, I have had some pretty shifty days in my life.
The American author Washington Irving published a story set during the time of the American Revolutionary War. The story was about a man of Dutch descent who lived in a village in New York’s Catskill Mountains. This book was Rip Van Winkle. Rip was a lazy, but kind man and everyone loved him except his wife. One day he escapes his nagging wife by wandering up into the mountains and ultimately falls asleep under a shady tree. Rip Van Winkle wakes up twenty years later, returns to his village, and finds out that his wife is dead and his close friends are gone. Talk about a major shift! He gets into trouble when he heralds his loyalty to King George III, not knowing that, while he was asleep, the Revolutionary War has taken place. He resumes his lazy life in the village, and so it goes that his tale is believed by the old Dutch settlers and certain hen-pecked husbands who wish they too shared in Rip’s good fortune.
What if you awakened this week from sleeping for 20 years? Do the math. If you move ahead 20 years, how old would you be? The world has shifted just a bit since you fell asleep. The past 20 years have seen dramatic shifts. The world population has doubled, world leaders have come and gone, and countries, once at war, are now allies and the other way around. I don’t have to tell you there has been a recent major shift in world culture. In the last 10 years we’ve seen perhaps the most dramatic shift in the history of our world as change now comes faster and more cataclysmic than ever before.
The 180 Degree Dental Journey is a roadmap for the present to the future of Dentistry. Regardless of what the future holds, some of you simply need to be reminded that your “limiting beliefs” are like trying to drive a car with a foot on both the brake pedal and the accelerator. This can cause a cataclysmic self- implosion ending in addictions, divorce, financial ruin, and death. I am convinced that the reason that many of us have not seen significant change in our lives and practices is because we never really captured the vision and plan of who we want to become. This is so BIG. Today, right now, regardless of the past and in spite of how you might view your future, there is unlimited potential for each of you reading this. I can help, and the 180 Degree Dental Journey is just the thing to get you there. I believe that the course of your life is directly determined by the vision you have of who you are becoming. You are profoundly impacted by your view of the future. Many of us need a new view of that future. It’s what I call a “future story” which can become a driving force of who you will become. What we need is a complete paradigm shift. You may be one of the few that somehow just started reading this series on a 180-degree journey shift. If so, make sure you go back to the first of this journey and take it step-by-step. There are no short cuts. Just go to www.summitpracticesolutions.com/blog and use the search function to find the earlier posts and begin this 180-degree journey with Part 1.
A paradigm is our perception of reality, our view of the world. It is our interpretation of events based on previous experiences and education. A paradigm shift means to have a sudden change in perception, a sudden change in point of view, of how we see things. I feel like each of us needs a new, inspiring vision of what we can become. That alone can raise the lid on our abilities to do things and make changes in our lives and practices.
I heard about an area in Northern Mexico called Tara Humarn where people run 70 miles as part of a regular religious festival. Most of us think of a marathon race (26.2 miles) to be the ultimate running distance. That’s child’s play for them. Literally, children run that distance of 70 miles. Now, that’s a paradigm shift. You see, a paradigm becomes a set of rules that determine our boundaries, and our paradigm boundaries become the filters or the lens through which we see ourselves and the world. For most of us, the paradigm or image of ourselves has been instilled within us from others in our lives. For many of us, the view we have of ourselves the BIGGEST boundary we have to becoming the person, the spouse, the parent, the doctor, or having the practice we always thought we would have. High-performers in any endeavor always have a clear and positive view of the future.
Here is a major problem for most of us. Many times, a new vision is in such conflict with the old us that they cannot mix. That’s why I call it the 180 Degree Dental Journey. It is a turn about to a new trajectory from our old habits and ways. The damage comes when you try to bring everything from your existing and past strategies along to this new vision. Like it or not, you are working at capacity. Everything you do, and I mean everything, is precisely designed to give you the results you are currently getting. If you want a different result, you have to move towards doing everything differently. The new patterns, new habits, and new relationships, all create an entirely new trajectory and each one is necessary.
I have used this illustration many times in speaking to groups. In November 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged Honduras. 5,600 people died, 12,300 were injured, and 8,600 disappeared. In addition to the loss of human life, 150 bridges were destroyed. The most modern and well-built of all the bridges was the Choluteca Bridge that survived intact but suffered perhaps the greatest indignity. The course of the river moved right out from under it, leaving its builders wondering what to do next. The Choluteca bridge itself is perfect, except that it now straddles dry land. Mitch changed the course of the Choluteca River, and there is water where the access roads used to be. Now, there are no solutions. It is very difficult to change the current. The river is in a totally different place. The story shows not only the story of a bridge, a river, and a country, but it also provides a powerful metaphor for all things modern, self-important, and self-assured. It also serves as an appropriate metaphor for the new dental economy we find ourselves in. What you face, the challenges that hold you back, are not the perfect storm but climate change in dentistry. This is a perfect metaphor of dentistry facing unanticipated change. The USA Today article reads, “the graceful arches of the New Choluteca Bridge stand abandoned, a white concrete sculpture far from shore, linking nothing to nowhere.”
Could it be that Dentistry has experienced a financial, cultural, and reality shift so dramatic that it’s now been left behind, still standing but now far from its original intention? Unaware of the massive shift, and perhaps unwilling to change, Dentistry just stayed where it was, slipping away from any relevance in a new world of consumerism while delivering an overpriced, underprepared dental education.
I can picture dentists (common place example of “thinking like a dentist”) standing on the bridge just looking over at the river wondering when it would come back under their beautiful bridge so they could pronounce it useful again. Imagine still others, trying to convince everyone else that someday, surely the river will shift back under the bridge. It never happened in Honduras with a bridge, and it will never happen to Dentistry. While these dentists stand on the bridge holding on to days gone by, others come to the bridge only because it is a tourist attraction, gawking at how odd, how amazing it is that some would think that it still serves much of a purpose.
What do you do when shift happens and former things and methods of the past don’t work anymore? What happens when you “build it and they don’t come”? I believe there are emerging thinkers and leaders who can see a bright future in Dentistry, and I am excited to see what is in store for each of us in the coming chapter of our dental career. The 180 Degree Dental Journey is a shift from following what others do with limited results (the common place), to preparation for an unlimited productive future in this new dental economy that rewards remarkable planning and preparation and punishes the average dentist for not being remarkable (the common sense); a crowded profession of doing just “ok” rather than striving for significance and excellence.
Rip Van Winkle was ridiculed because he stubbornly held on to his allegiance to a king who no longer ruled. As we talk about shifts in our dental world, one thing stays the same: Change is constant and each of us must act quickly to embrace it and adapt to an ever-changing profession. What decision do you need to make that will directly impact your future tomorrow? Do it now. Remember that shift happens.
Michael Abernathy, DDS