A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of returning to Cleveland, Ohio, where I lived a few years back. (I like to forget the four years of dental school horror that paralleled those fun years in the snowbelt.) I was actually nearby for an orthodontics continuing education course and used the opportunity to recharge the batteries. And to no one’s surprise who knows me, I got some serious self-reflection and personal/professional growth opportunities out of it. Because that’s what I do.
After sneaking into the dental school to check out my old digs — and finding 20-plus students setting denture teeth on a Sunday afternoon (ah, yes, the horror; thank you, removable lab techs everywhere for your service to this profession!) — I pulled a last-minute self surprise and got a courtside ticket to see my beloved, World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. I think that perma-grin on my face was the same one I had when I came down Christmas morning as a 5-year-old to find my first bicycle under the tree.
I got there 90 minutes before tipoff — just me and the security staff. And LeBron James. Yeah, that’s right. Playing three to four games a week and practicing daily with the team (not to mention his family, brand and entrepreneurial outlets) just wasn’t enough. He was out there sweating. Moving. Learning. Adjusting. Perfecting his craft. The guy who is one of highest performing individuals in any profession, period, was using what time he had before busting his butt for four quarters to work on a specific shot sequence. One after another, after another. Like clockwork. Once I picked my jaw off the floor at the size, skill and impressiveness of it all, I realized a couple things:
- James appears to be not OK with status quo. To him, there is no plateau, period. Sure, he was gifted with the genetics and innate strength and ability of a superhuman. But to see the focus and energy he put into a 45-minute shooting session was unreal. Most of his teammates came out close to game time, an hour later, and spent their time goofing off, playing “horse” with the ball boy or tossing underhanded heaves from half court. James was wearing headphones, grinding. It reminded me of the days in the office when we do much the same. I know I’m not OK with status quo. I hope and assume that many in my profession feel the same as well. Learn. Adjust. Perfect your craft. That’s partly what we took an oath on all those years ago as denture-setting dental students. Critique yourself, your work and your presentation skills. Your leadership methods. Spend your career doing it. Don’t ever stop. Hit the plateau, and set your sights on a brand new one. You, your team and your patients will be better for it.
- James is still human. After the grind session, he was ready and willing to high-five every little kid whom he neared. Smiles. Fist bumps. He gets it. It’s all about connection in life, in everything, with everyone, even in dentistry — even more so in dentistry. Patients don’t come into my office asking to see my diploma or transcript from dental school. They don’t care which associations I’m a diplomate of. They want to know I’m going to take good care of them, to provide them with honest, affordable dentistry to the best of my ability, all while showing them respect not unlike being a part of my family. That’s it. It’s time we all see that. No more treatment planning by scaring someone into your professional superiority or speaking in a foreign language, basically, spitting out every bit of dental encyclopedia filler we know. Sit down face-to-face with your patients and learn about them as the people in your chair. Ask them open-ended questions: “Do you have family in town?”; “What do you do for a living?”; “What do you enjoy doing in your free time?”; “What truly matters to you in life?” Treat the person, not the disease. You, your team and your patients will be better for it.
There are no plateaus, period. So keep grinding. And enjoy the process along the way.
Donald Murry III, DMD