Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Doing Less So We Can Do More

Phil worked hard at his career for more than 40 years. He started fresh out of school, worked his way up from the bottom to a middle management-type position, and was content. He worked hard, had his usual two weeks of holidays per year, and supported his family. His income was enough to ensure everyone was comfortable, but elaborate spending on things such as taking vacations far from home were not part of his equation. His plan was to wait until he retired to travel with his wife.

Well, you know that saying about the best-laid plans? Phil worked in construction. It was hard work, long hours, along with who knows what kind of environment exposure, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and inadequate sleep. By the time he retired, Phil was not well enough to travel.

In my 28 years as a dentist, I have seen this story play out time and again, in different scenarios with the same result. And because so much of my career has been all about relationships, these people are not just patients — they have become friends, and I have become their trusted health care adviser. They all see me more regularly and frequently than they see their other doctors. Some have grabbed me by the hands and said, “Don’t wait to retire to live some of your dreams.” So passionate they are to ensure others don’t follow their path and make the same mistakes.

These incidences have resonated strongly with me. My wife and I don’t travel without our children. We regularly date each other instead, but we don’t wait to travel. We love to travel, and we take our daughters with us everywhere we go. Sure, it’s not cheap to do, and I will be well into my 70s before I can retire, because I am great at spending money but am not great at saving it, creating a personal budget, and sticking to it. However, I am happy and satisfied that my life path has been the right thing for me at this time.

Time is our biggest commodity. So often we spend too much time skimming through things —patient charts, quick hygiene recall exams, courses (trying to pick out the little useful bits while we also scan our phones or tablets for things happening outside) — that often we miss what is happening right in front of us.

We need to do less so that we can do more. The paradox of increasing the value of our time is to find a way to do less.

Find a way to immerse yourself in the moment. We need to look after ourselves now so we can enjoy those moments in the future, too. We need to save for tomorrow but live for today. If you dream about travelling, find a way to do it now. If you dream about painting, writing a great novel, climbing a mountain, or camping in the mountains, find a way to do it. Give up what you don’t need so you can have what you want. The Buddhist philosophy of a true balance in all things has some great wisdom, although I don’t think I want to give up all my earthly comforts to achieve that balance.

So as long as I am healthy, I am on the Freedom 55 program. I plan to keep working until my children are 55.

We in dentistry have a unique opportunity to learn the life lessons our patients are willing to teach us, if we only stop, sit, and listen to them.

Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD


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