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Part 1 Mindset: Self Leadership Tip #10

Do Work
You Love

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Tip 10: Do Work You Love

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, selfdetermined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.
- Dan Pink, Author of Drive

Passion isn't something that lives way up in the sky, in abstract dreams and hopes. It lives at ground level, in the specific details of what you're actually doing every day.
- Marcus Buckingham

Whenever I speak to young dentists about passion, I always hear the same thing. They love dentistry. I was the same way. I had to be. After all, I invested so many years and so many dollars to become a dentist that I better love it. What would my mother say? Unfortunately, passion, as Marcus Buckingham tells us, doesn't live up in the sky. It is a fire that grows every day in the real world through the tasks we perform and the people we do them for. That is why dentists need to figure out what procedures they enjoy doing and figure out the more important piece of the puzzle…whom will you work with. But that is material for another chapter.

First things first, when I started in dentistry, I was very indiscriminate. If the patient had a mouth, with or without teeth, I would do work for them. In time I realized I had my likes and dislikes…and more importantly my mood was affected by the types of procedures I performed. A reliable indicator is to look at your schedule in advance, and if you get a queasy feeling when a procedure or patient is on your schedule, that is a hint that you should evaluate the situation. Marcus Buckingham tells us, in his book The One Thing, that the one thing successful people do is to stop doing what they don't like to do. I wish I had read that advice before my burnout. I would have had a long list including my very special dislike: endo on second molars. Boy, did my life get better when I started referring every root canal on second molars…no matter how much I needed to produce.

Many years ago at a Peter Dawson seminar, I heard him say that our happiness comes from our desire and ability to do predictable dentistry. My second molar root canals were not very predictable. They created stress for me. Behind the predictability, I later found out was the very human trait of a passion for control. Although I have come to realize that there may never be total control over our work or our relationships, but that does not nullify our passion for control.

Dr. Dawson, at that very same seminar, also lit a fire under me (note the metaphor…lit a fire) because he clearly explained dentistry from a comprehensive point of view. He described the various components of dentistry and how they related to one another. For the first time I realized the role of occlusion in helping people keep their teeth and how occlusion contributed to the endurance of my work. It was eye opening, and it created a desire to learn more and more. I began, for the first time, to love dentistry. An ember started to flicker within me.

For the first time, I saw the true meaning of dentistry. I went from doing "tooth" and "body part" dentistry to total comprehensive dentistry. This dentistry carried meaning. As I learned more, and the depth of my knowledge increased through practical application of what I was learning, the fire grew. I became passionate about the work. I was more engaged in the work, and it was more purposeful for the patient as well as myself. The levels of appreciation grew. Staff enjoyed the work more. It was no longer drudgery. The ember became a fire.

I can't say that I have ever become a master. Students have referred to me as a master, but when I speak with prosthodontists and the most respected educators, I realize that I am still learning. That is how complex dentistry really is. It can take a lifetime to master, but that is not the point. As one travels the path of mastery, the passion grows and sustains the dentist. It is what keeps the dentist waking up every day looking forward to coming to work. The road toward mastery is that important. It was Cervantes who said, "The road is better than the inn."

Passion is the byproduct of mastery. With passion and a level of mastery, the dentist can achieve a level of autonomy and control.

What three things does the dentist or any working man or woman want
control over?

1. Their time. We feel best when we are in control of how we spend our day. In the introduction, I mentioned the concept of engagement as a component of well-being. When we are engaged in our work, we are not conscious of time. We are immersed in what we are doing. The best way to describe engagement is through the work of psychologist Myhaley Csikszentmihalyi, author of the wondrous book Flow. The concept of Flow is the ultimate expression of engagement in one's work. When you are in flow you:

  • Get immediate feedback from the work.
  • Have deep effortless involvement with the work.
  • Have a sense of control over the work.
  • Lose your sense of self.
  • Find that time actually stops.

The Gallup Poll people tell us, from their latest poll, that only 17% of workers, worldwide, are actually engaged in their work. The poll includes workers of all sorts from professionals and executives to anyone who performs menial labor. This is a major cause of stress in people's lives throughout the world. It is one of the reasons that I wrote this book. The entire state of our profession is at risk.

2. Their work. As Dr. Dawson noted, having control over the work will eventually lead to happiness…or a sense of well-being and to a sustainable practice. His solution was to learn dentistry at a very deep and broad level. I agree.

3. Their relationships. Of the three, maintaining control of relationships is the most difficult. Yet, there is a way to at least understand relationships better so that we can at least know how far we can go with those we work with and work for. Part II of this guide will help you to understand the nature of relationships and how we can gain some control.

All of these lead to autonomy and a sustainable career whether the dentist is in private practice or in another environment that allows a semblance of freedom of choice. Confucius once said, "If you choose a job you love, you will never work a day in your life." Science now confirms: passion and purpose protect us physiologically, allowing us to work longer and harder than we would if toiling away at a job that we hate.

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