Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mid-Life Crisis

Hey all,

I hope you had a good weekend. I hate the Monday holidays. Mainly because I am usually off on Mondays and when everyone else is off on Mondays, I just don't feel very special. And you know it is all about me.

Did I tell you I am reading a book called I Sold My Soul on eBay? This guy, an atheist, decided to sell 50 trips to church on eBay. He was willing to hear what someone had to say and give them 50 chances to convert him. He ended up selling this particular service for $504. This book chronicles events of his church experience. It is well-written but hard to read. This guy goes into church,critiques what he sees, and he tells you what he is thinking. That is kind of like a patient, who let's say is a computer programmer, who tells you how you should do your fillings or even worse, how to run your practice.

I don't think that churches can't learn from him, but he says things like, "I keep hearing them talk about being saved. Do I need to be saved if I don't feel lost? I feel like I have it all together and I know for sure that I am not lost at the present time." But most things churches do (and people in them believe) would seem silly to someone that has NO faith. I just don't want to read about how silly me and my church look.

I watched an old movie this weekend called "Causalities of War." It has Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox in it. It is pretty good. It is about five guys on a long mission during the Vietnam War. Along the way, the guy in charge raids a farm village and kidnaps a young woman. One of the five is very vocal about how he thinks this is wrong. They take her along with them and you can imagine what they do with her, all along the one guy protesting. When they get back he tells his superiors, "What happens in the bush, stays in the bush." Then he goes to the highest guy he can find; the general says, "Forget about it." Well, he takes it all the way to the top and is finally vindicated. It was pretty good.

Alright - enough of the fluff, let's get to the topic...

I was thinking a lot about Friday's blog. I know it might have struck a chord with a lot of you, but I feel like there might be an underlying issue. Fifteen years after becoming a dentist, i sit and think a lot to myself. Sometimes I think to myself, "Damn, this is awesome. I absolutely love what I do."

But you know what? There are also times when I say, "This is it?" I look around and think, I went to four years of college, four years of dental school and worked my ass off as an associate for 8 years. Then I bought this practice and I am seven years into that and...

Most of the time it is a grind. It is becoming less and less exciting to see the same things over and over again. I understand this feeling, and I understand see how people can see that same thing going on in a lot of avenues of their own lives. For instance, their spouses...

My assistant is a mother of two. Her daughter and son-in-law moved away for work and her son is still in town but is trying to go to school and work and is not around alot. She told me she was sitting in the pool this weekend floating by herself. Her husband was sitting inside watching golf and she could not help think to herself, "Is this it?!?!"

It is this way with so many things in life. How about kids? Everyone says kids are so great. And they are. They really are, but there is a point where you say to yourself, "What the @$#%$T$@% was I thinking?" And I haven't even hit the teenage years yet.

How about your car? I can see how having a nice car is cool. It is nice having luxury. I don't have this, but I do get to ride in nice cars once in awhile and I can see how it is addicting. And when you have a nice car but it is 3 years old and all the new cars have so many more bells and whistles, you start to feel a desire for a new one. Same with houses. I love my house but I can tell you when I go to the muckity muck neighborhoods I start to say, "Man, I want that."

Why would it be any different with our spouses and our professions? Now I know I have talked about this recently but it keeps coming up (I guess I am mid-life crisis age so it is hitting home). I think what happens is we get into thinking it is going to be great and it is great. But even great can get boring. And great sometimes doesn't buy us all we want. So we start to change. The things that made us great at what we do get put to the side. The things that made us sleep better at night are not that important. It could start to become about YOU, and that could be bad.

I can see how some people get cold. They don't care about the relationships anymore. The tooth probably can get away with doing a filling but why bother with all that, when "well, let's see how this goes," will get you by? Let's take all the emotion out of it. "It needs a crown," and walk out of the room. I don't need to know about all the money issues you are having. Do you see what I am saying? Or am I rambling?

I mean, we all get those patients that come in for a "second opinion" after their dentist told them they needed 20 fillings. You look in there and don't see any issues at all.

Some dentists get tired of being at the office. You can see how people can get tired of sitting around the office. They don't have any patients so they don't come in. Why would they? Me, even if I don't have any patients, I am still coming in. There is so much that can happen while I am here - and besides, at this point in my life, I don't have much going on outside of here. What is happening is that dentistry is becoming a means to an end, and that is bad.

If you are young, you must prepare for the day that everything you find exciting can become mundane. But how do you prepare?

I have to tell you that luckily I don't feel this way. I feel like if I make the day exciting it will be less mundane. I try to have fun. I play around all day. I play 80s music. I joke constantly. As far as making teeth more, I have begun to study more and have been reading more peer-reviewed articles. I still love getting to know my patients. I try to make the office fun for me and my staff and my patients. I might do a surprise root beer float party at the end of the day. I cut out comics to put up in the staff lounge. My motto is "Fight complacency."

And the same with my marriage. If it becomes mundane and boring then you can see how people will think the grass is greener on the other side. I am not going to tell you how I make my marriage less mundane (let's just say a trip to the adult toy store is in order... OH GROSS!!!!) because you have to figure it out yourself.

Mid-life crisis or mid-practice crisis, some of us have been through it. Some of us are in it. Some of us think it will never happen to us (to you young guns, imagine doing your 30,000th filling) and that is great, but know that it might happen.

My last bit of advice is this - make practicing fun. Make life fun. (Am I sounding like Tony Robbins or what?) I am not saying quit practicing dentistry or leave your wife. No, I am saying remember why you fell in love with it and do that (maybe it involves a trip to the adult toy store).

Have a great Wednesday. See you on Friday.


Anonymous said...

Wow, reading your blog is often like having a conversation with myself!
I am right there, much like yourself. Successful, but not TOO successful that I can afford the really fancy cars, houses or holidays, but I am sure I have a better living than 95% of the population.
But I do find, 15 years into practice, that often trudge into work instead of skip.
Maybe it is the sameness, the repetition, the feeling that you are often not making the difference that you thought you would, or that your best work is often overlooked by a patient who only cares about cost (or not paying their copayment) and not your quality. Or maybe you are really honest in your work, but that one patient who you have probably bent over backwards and forwards for far beyond what your staff thinks you should have done questions your integrity. These are the things that make me not enjoy dentistry and sometimes wish I was doing something else.
But then I see a patient who is just ecstatic about the changes in their mouth after we are done, or I see a child after successful orthodontics and they have a gorgeous smile and I know their confidence is sky high and I feel like what we do really, really matters. Its not the money - their are far easier ways to make money than to have blood and spit on your face, but in the end we all hopefully got into this profession to be healers.
Thanks for your blog - again.


Anonymous said...

I've been married over 20 years and I think that every marriage reaches a point where a trip (or 2 or 3) to the adult toy store is definitely in order!

Keep on writing. Great blog as always.

Suzan said...

Blood and spit on your face...very funny! You touch on something very much in my consciousness; getting in to this profession as a healing art. Ugliness is being treated as a disease; the commoditization of a healing art and for some it doesn't sit well. I've been hearing from dentists all over the world...feeling what seems apparent in this blog.

I risk sounding commercial or preaching to the choir. However, living by the motto; I am responsible for the purity of my motive and the integrity of my actions; here goes.

Dr. Martin Seligman from Penn State has put science behind postive psychology and points to, in essence, relational practice as a significant component of happiness. As you say Ken, making a meaningful difference is a huge part of happiness; keeps you going and engaged. Dr. Seligman has the research to prove it. I'm all for optimism but there's more science to the art of happiness and from my experience profound joy in practice isn't an act nor a problem of attitude.

To transition from the blues and boredom, to be happy I believe is to truly practice relationally. The behavioural skills to authentically help people change, (desire health over remedial care),to have profound relationships, to truly make a meaningful difference relies on skill...not just good ole boy intuition. I'm talking about understanding that replaces teaching and selling. It's counterintuitive.

Interestingly, the word verification showing is swamp. If dentists invested a miniscule proportion of what they spend on the clinical science and/or technology on truly understanding behavior, they would feel less in the swamp and keep the alligators from licking at their heels.

Your writing is testimonial John to the fact that people are drawn to where they feel understood; behavior 101. Practice really doesn't have to be a daily grind.

Don't let the alligators get ya! You do a great service John by offering your colleagues hope and understanding. I applaud you!

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments, Suzan. I will look up some of Dr. Seligman's ideas. I don't mean to sound down on our profession - after 15 years I can count many, many more successes in my job than failures; but sometimes you wish your work had greater reach and that the differences you make are not just limited to a tooth (or teeth) at a time.
Its not that I don't do the kind of dentistry I want - I am part of a group family practice and we pretty much do everything, from OS to implants to ortho in house. Our practice, by any definition, would be considered successful. But as I said earlier its not about the money. Its about the profession itself.
I find the most rewarding patients are not necessarily the financially lucrative ones but the ones that make me proud to be a dentist because I have done something to cure a part of what ills them.
Money of course is important, but if your spirit fades then money won't make you happy either.
Thanks again for the thoughts and sounding board John.

DMDrep said...

Wow, I am so glad I came across your blog. I am reading this thinking this is me! I am e Dental Supply guy that goes around to offices, and have had a great life and career (25 years already at 43).
I have been asking myself a lot lately is that all there is? What have I done to make this world a better place? I wish I transformed peoples lives the way a dentist does - creating a beautiful smile and helping people feel better about themselves. But alas, I am just a guy who mostly comes around and tells a few jokes and hopes for someone to order their bread and milk from me....
I started writing like yourself and have been able to develop a following of several thousand people - and it now feels like maybe I do offer a little more than just a few sundry items....maybe I have made a little difference in this world....like the way you have for me today...

Thanks for your blog and talking as openly and honestly as you do. Keep making people smile, it's a wonderful gift!


gatordmd said...


It is my pleasure.
I think you will like some of my past blogs too....I did talk about transforming people's lives through creating beautiful smiles. But you have a lot of reading to do.

Oh and about those several thousand followers of yours...why don't you tell them about The Daily Grind?
And I would love to read your blog but I couldn't find it.
Can you help me with that?

Thanks for your kind words,

DMDrep said...

I do have a lot of reading to do! I will post a link through my facebook, Twitter and blog - just reading a lot more the last few days. We are so similar in so many ways - I can really appreciate what you have to say.

My blog is at www.dmdrep.com - you can subscribe with an rss feed, or even via email. Most of my friends are linked through Twitter @dmdrep or through Facebook/warrenbobinski or on my facebook/dmdrep fan club. Facebook has a huge networked dental community where I have met a lot of talented dental friends like yourself.

Thanks again for sharing your successes in Life and Dentistry. It's my motto, and I really do appreciate it.

Warren Bobinski
Success in dentistry and Life...

Tija said...

Well Ok, I can see the marriage thing ;0) But the truth is, after 29 years in this business, I seem to love it more every day! I can't get enough CE's, I love to learn. I'm a junkie when it comes to product knowledge. When the new Komet burs come in, my face lights up! My boss tells me I'm the biggest tooth nerd he's ever met. I work 5 days a week in a growing practice, I teach one day week, I write articles and have begun speaking also. I am so blessed with a career that I dearly love. As for the marriage, I'll stop at the adult toy store on the way home ;0)


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