So here we are early in 2015, and it is one of those times—of many—during the year that causes me to pause and reflect. It is the time when I look at my list of courses that I want to take and subjects that I want to learn more about, and I prioritize it so I can “make it happen.” And then I think about how lucky I am to look forward to learning more, to growing. Gordon Christensen, DDS, told me very early in my career that I should spend 10 percent of my time outside my envelope of comfort. If I spend less than that, I will stagnate and decline. If I do much more, I will make mistakes that could be very negative in their consequences. At 10 percent, I will continue to grow and enjoy this amazing profession that we all love so much.
Growing up in Toronto, the second youngest of 13 children, I shared a bedroom above the garage with three brothers. I remember looking out the window as a young boy watching my dad “work” on his car. It was many years later that I learned he was just checking the oil, the battery, the timing belts, etc., but I was fascinated and that started my love of the automobile, an avocation I still enjoy today. But an automotive career was not to be as auto mechanics was something that did not come naturally to me.
My mother was the third youngest of eight children, the oldest being the famous musician Percy Faith. Musical talent was in our blood, our genes, and I enjoyed some success in classical music as a pianist and in jazz as a clarinetist and saxophonist (alto and soprano). Even though I had talent, it was hard work and it did not come naturally enough for me to consider being a musician as a career either.
Science—particularly biological sciences—did come naturally to me, and the childhood wish that I would be a doctor when I grew up was something that I could achieve, and that is what I pursued. With my father dying suddenly at the start of my university undergraduate education, I struggled as to how to help support my mother and go to school. My marks suffered and I did not gain entry to medical school in my first years, and I finished my bachelor of science with no acceptance beyond that.
So I considered my alternatives and, being on the dean’s list in my final year, I was offered an opportunity to complete a research degree with a lucrative scholarship—so off to do my master’s I went. The academic world is so different; it was fascinating, but the work was really hard. I learned that I love to read about research, love to talk about and teach about research, but I hated doing it.
As I neared the completion of my graduate degree, I returned my focus on my chosen path to medicine. But what if I did not get in? Hedging my bets, I also applied for a career in dentistry and as a teacher. After six years of not getting into any program, I was now accepted into all three and was faced with an enviable decision to make.
It is now the early 1980s and the first season of “St. Elsewhere” had just been completed. In the final episode of that season, Canadian comedian Howie Mandel, who played one of the interns, said to his fellow graduates, “You know, we just spent a year of our lives and all we did was eat, sleep, and work.” And that was the revelation I was looking for. I never wanted a year of my life to go by like that. Life is too short and too precious.
I chose dentistry—and, boy, am I ever grateful. I love what I get to do for a career. It’s hard work, but it keeps me charged, it keeps me going, and it continues to be rewarding. I get to set my hours, within reason. I get to take vacations when I want to. I get to continue to learn. I get to be my own boss. I get to interact with an amazing team of staff who work with and for me. I get to work with my patients to enhance their health and change their lives. I get to earn a comfortable living. It’s hard to find anything that could possibly be better. Different perhaps, but better? Not for me.
Recently, while reflecting on things, I came across a project started by a photographer in Australia, called the “365 Grateful Project.” I hope to post, on as many days as possible, on my practice’s Facebook page (with ties to Twitter) a statement of what I am grateful for, with the hashtag #365grateful.
So, I sit here typing this blog, feeling grateful. This is going to be a great year, and I hope you also will start a project of gratitude. If you do, let me know, so I can follow you as well.
Back to the grind—which, today, does not feel like one.
Larry Stanleigh, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD