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Part 1 Mindset: Self Leadership Tip #19

Seek Mentors and Role Models

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Tip 19: Seek Mentors and Role Models

I encourage all of you to seek out teachers and mentors that challenge you to think for yourself and guide you to find your own voice.
- Renee Olstead

You know by instinct that it is impossible to "teach" democracy, or citizenship or a happy married life…They come, not from a course, but from a teacher; not from a curriculum, but from a human soul.
- Jacques Barzun

Dentistry can be a very lonely profession. We tend to live in a cave. Too many dentists never really grow into the profession after graduation. I incessantly refer to a dental career as a journey. Abraham Maslow transformed his interpretation as a maturation process, from survival to self-actualization with his Hierarchy of Needs. Many dentists take this journey alone.

I once read a book on sales titled, You Can't Learn to Ride a Bike at a Seminar. The title is a perfect description of learning from certain courses of study, as Jacques Barzun writes, like democracy, citizenship or marriage. Dentistry too can't be learned at a seminar or from a book. The dentist, in order to learn and grow in every aspect from the technical to the profound, needs role models and mentors.

Dentistry is more than a profession or a craft, it is an art, and mastering any art requires good coaches and mentors. Good mentors have travelled the road and are willing to teach it. The best mentors will have your best interests at heart and provide the dentist with not only the knowledge and wisdom from hard earned experience, but also with resources that cannot otherwise be obtained. The good mentor has been there.

The term mentor comes from the name of a friend of Odysseus from Greek mythology. Mentor was charged with guiding Odysseus' son Telemachus when Odysseus went off to the Trojan War. The term has come to mean in English, someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague. Think Obiwan Kenobi or Merlin the Magician. Dentists need to find their own Obiwan Kenobis. Mentors make practical information accessible by using clear and vivid explanations. They take the complexity out of learning, but not necessarily the difficulty. We all must go through our own rites of passage as we travel from survival to selfactualization. It starts with role models.

Role models act as your vision of how you want your future to look. Aristotle would tell his students that "what is valuable and pleasant to a morally good man actually is valuable and pleasant." In other words you know what a good thing is by seeing what a good person does. Artist Salvador Dali advises to copy the excellence around you: "Those who do not want to imitate anything produce nothing." Copy. Copy. Copy. Your role model should not only be able to do and explain the kind of dentistry you want to do but also be the example of how you want to live your life.

Technical dentistry does not exist in a vacuum. Your dental career is meshed with the rest of your life. Search for a role model who seems to have balanced his work and home life. Role models can be found in many places. Courses and seminars are usually good places to look for your future coach or mentor.

Locally, the best place to find a mentor is at a study club. Study clubs are becoming more popular these days. If potential role models are difficult to find, I would hire a coach. In my own career this was a lesson that didn't come early enough. With early coaching I could have reduced my learning curve significantly. Through the years, I have had many role models, mentors and coaches for technical dentistry, communication skills, leadership, business and public speaking. Nothing will accelerate your career more than finding a good mentor/coach.

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