A young adult I treated as a child is all grown up and set to attend dental school soon. We are supper happy for them as we are for anyone who sets their sights high, works hard, struggles and prevails. Bridget and I were having a conversation with them the other day and we started talking about things we wish we’d known when we were in our early 20s (hell, these would have been useful in our mid 30s and probably even our early 40s!). Below are the results of our conversation FWIW. Hindsight is 20/20 and when we are young we know everything so it’s probably a waste of time to share sage advice… but Bridget and I have time so why not?

It is unlikely that you will become wealthy by taking advice from people who are not.

If things worked the way the majority of people think they do then the majority of people would be wealthy. Seeing how that is not the case it stands to reason that you cannot take advice from people who don’t know how to be wealthy and realistically hope for positive results. The statistics show that the majority of dentists are not even wealthy and can’t retire so keep that in mind as well. What Bridget and I didn’t know when we were young was that wealthy people – really wealthy people not those trying to act like they are wealthy – are almost universally generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge, wisdom and time if you approach them in the right way. What’s the right way? Simply ask and then listen!

95% of people you know & almost all the people you don’t know are hoping you will fail.

It’s not personal – they just want to feel better about their lives and seeing others fail accomplishes this. The higher you set your sights the more they hope you will fail. Know this on the front end. Also know that if you do have a setback or even a failure it’s not nearly as big a deal as you think it is. We humans are all much too absorbed in and busy watching our own movies (the movies of our own lives) to care much what happens in other peoples’ movies. We may glance up from watching our favorite movie to gaze at yours for a few minutes. We may even point or comment but very, very quickly we will go back to watching our own movie and forget about yours – no matter how big a failure you have had. Believe me, as someone who has failed often and big and publicly, no one cares about you nearly as much as you do. Don’t be afraid to fail as it is unlikely you’ll do much if you don’t fail at least a little.

People in your life are either elevating you or bringing you down.

No matter what you think, there are none in the middle who are neutral or partly for and partly against you. They are either for you or against you improving yourself and attaining your goals. People may change their stance over time and many will move from being supportive to being a detractor as your success grows. This goes for friends/coworkers/acquaintances/SOs/family members. Some of the people in your life are incredibly supportive by nature. Many are not. The problem with those who are closest to us who want to bring us down is that they are so tied to our identities, our world view, our sense of self AND THEY KNOW ALL OUR WEAK POINTS. Add to this the fact that many of these same people often provide financial support to students/residents and have the potential use this support as a form of control and it’s a recipe for trouble. You need to recognize this and to understand that you may have to choose between achieving your life goals and dragging all that baggage around with you for the rest of your life. If you want to achieve your goals, it is unlikely that you can do so while allowing detractors to remain in your life. The great news is that once you are established and independent you can always reach out to those from your past on your terms and a level playing field if you so desire. It is important to remember that almost all of the people currently in your life are doing the best they know how and doing what was modeled for them – they aren’t intentionally trying to hinder you but the end result is still the same as is the need for separation.

Most of the people you are friends with now will not be your friends by the time you are in practice for a few years.

This is predicted by #s 2, 3 and 4 but important to know this will happen to preserve your psyche. If you are going to break out of the town you grew up in, break the norms for success and refuse to do what is expected of you then you should expect backlash from the birds of a feather that you’re leaving behind (even if you end up moving back home). This is not personal, this is just social dynamics in action.

You can’t have it both ways.

When transitioning away from your family or friends or a job or a significant other –geographically, emotionally, financially or otherwise – and heading off to dental school, residency or to start practicing, you cannot have it both ways. You have to pick what is most important to you and make that primary. Once you decide you must do whatever it takes to make your new dream/goal/vision reality if you want to succeed. WHATEVER IT TAKES as long as it is legal, moral and ethical of course. For example, you can’t take money from negative family members because you think you have to live in a certain place or have a certain phone or whatever and expect them to stay out of your life/not interfere with your goals. You can’t have a significant other with different life goals than you have and expect to make it through the rigors of dental school or going into practice. If you try to make it with mixed motivations, odds are that you will fail – and not in the good way. Those who have been through dental school have seen this happen to classmates over and over. Don’t be that person. Be sure you finish what you start. You can do it!

Learn to support and pull for others. It’s important that you truly hope they succeed!

The only way to avoid most of the negative human attributes listed here is to make a conscious decision to wish others success. I think this is difficult for career students as we see everyone in our class as a competitor for the next educational tier, the best scholarships, the most prestigious residency programs… But the truth is that life is much easier if you pull for others and help instead of wishing ill on those you see as competitors. It takes some practice but you’ll be much happier if you can figure out how to relentlessly pursue your goals while simultaneously hoping others achieve their wildest dreams. Generally what we focus on in life expands and what we already have in our lives generally attracts more of the same. Focus on being positive, helpful, avoiding drama and then let us know about the awesome results you have.

Don’t fear failure.

Despite all we’ve said here, there is no reason to fear failure. We dentists/orthodontists are career students to whom failure is the worst thing that can happen. But honestly that’s a dumb way to look at life. If you never fail that means you probably never tried anything you didn’t know for certain you could do. It’s hard to get anywhere with that mindset.

We live in a great time. Dentistry is an awesome profession. If you’re smart enough to get into dental school that means you’re smarter than you need to be to win the game of life. And please don’t take any of this as negative. These are just observations Bridget and I have made over the years and are sharing in the hopes that others can avoid the failures we’ve had. These topics are generally taboo and we suppose that’s why no one ever shared this info with us! We had to learn almost everything the hard way but we couldn’t be happier with our results even though things didn’t work out the way we drew them up. The struggle was real but worth it – we now have the best group of friends, we love and even like spending time with our kids and our relationship has never been stronger. I guess a big part of the reason we are willing to take on such a tough and risky topic is that things are so incredibly good for us we can’t help but wish the same for others. Have a great week!

8 thoughts on “The Rules

  1. As someone who has been in practice for a while and has enjoyed redirected career choices. I find your insights both informative and invocative to our professional choices. The thoughts from yourself and your wife issue a challenge to enforce change, a daunting proposition. I must admit I am excited about changing ( as this is something I relish and require) but my question is how and where. The daunting element of today is that everything proceeds at a breakneck pace. What is true today is outmoded in a week. There appears to be no absolutes, or long term resolutions. I am in my 60’s and plan to go for 10 more years, and just want to enjoy my profession by providing a necessary service.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I am not entirely sure of what you’re asking. Also any answer would be dependent on current circumstances meaning that if you’re doing well in an owner-operator business you may not want to change, for example. Pls elaborate to the degree you feel comfortable.

  3. I am not positing a question and much a expressing my appreciation for an alternate view. As a person in the stage of his career who truly enjoys my profession, I have been looking for a reasonable way to provide appropriate services to a broader population, without having to play to the perceptions of success. Your right in that we tend to pursue outmoded models that no longer meet the needs of our recipient population. What you are presenting is an alternate view of practice methodology. It may well meet the needs and objectives of where I am directing, it may not. But either way it is a valuable perspective and one that requires further investigation and inquiry.

  4. Everything you have articulated here is outstanding Ben.Brilliant and yet simple —as most great ideas are!!
    I do hope younger folks pay close attention —-they should !

  5. Thanks for the kind words. I don’t know about brilliant – brilliant would have been the ability to avoid all this instead of learning it the hard way!

  6. Well said! I have never understood why orthodontists and organized orthodontics are so afraid of hearing any point of view that doesn’t align with the norm. There is value in having the conversation if nothing else.

  7. I wish I’d known this stuff decades ago!

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