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The 5 Definitions of Success in Dentistry?

When a couple has their first child, rather than tell anyone that they hope it’s a boy or a girl, normally the answer that comes up is, “it doesn’t matter as long as he/she is healthy.” As children get older, when the same couple is asked the question, “what would you like to see your child become when she grows up, the inclination is to simply answer, “it doesn’t matter as long as she is happy.” What about as adults? Is it good enough to just be happy? What makes us happy? Is happiness actually attainable, anyway? I hope so, otherwise, I’m not planning to stick around much longer!

Is happiness part or all of the equation of success? How each individual defines success goes far beyond dentistry or any particular occupation. It is a product of who we are, our upbringing, how we are wired, our personalities and our hopes and dreams.
Many times, we have hopes, dreams and goals for our children as well. We should at least have the same standard set for ourselves as we do for the next generation. Somewhere along this road of life, many people assume that happiness is reserved for the “other guy”, but not necessarily something that they will experience fully. Let’s explore why a dentist is (or is not) happy in life and practice.

There are 5 areas that are mainly associated with happiness in business and in life. Many dentists that I work with are extremely happy in one realm of their practice, but don’t fully enjoy other areas of the business of dentistry.

1. Doing What You Love – When speaking with dentists, an overwhelming majority simply tell me, “I just want to be the dentist, ONLY the dentist”. Many believe that they would be happiest if the only area of their practice they had to master was the clinical aspect. Unless you have an exclusively sedation practice, might I recommend that you also pay close attention to patient communication skills, as this can only make life better for you and your practice. While it seems as if ONLY being the dentist is a dream, there are many options available today that provide this scenario. You could be an associate and work for a practice that provides the opportunity to simply perform clinical dentistry. If you are already a practice owner, you could sell the practice and work for the individual or company that buys your practice. The more practical answer would be to hone your business skills and find or train the right people in your practice that can be effective support and advocates for you, the doctor and your patients.

2. Money – This seems obvious, but studies have shown that at a certain income level, around $75,000 per year, there is a peak in happiness levels. While this might seem low for a dentist, at this level, most families can meet their basic needs with some nice extras as well. What’s the old saying, “money can’t buy happiness, but it helps!” Money may not buy happiness, but it can provide for certain fail-safe mechanisms in times of need that can lead to security. I honestly can’t say that money is a bad thing, and, if used for good, it a really great thing. I have a friend that says “the best way to help the poor is to NOT be one of them”, and frankly, I have to agree!

3. Security – We all know that money leads to a sense of security that in troubled times, we would have less negative feelings if we felt secure. Everyone remembers the negative feelings we had on 9/11/2001 – we lost our sense of security. I honestly can’t imagine living in a country where we did not feel as secure as we do on a daily basis here.

4. Freedom – My Veterinarian Dad has always been a saver, rather than a spender. He was able to comfortably retire at 50 and although he did not choose this option for many reasons, he felt the freedom to do so at any time. He has always said that it was a LOT more fun to go to work given this freedom, when he did it as a choice, not because he absolutely needed to provide a living.

5. Charitable Contributions – I know many dentists that are more passionate about mission dentistry than private practice. Amazing people that it seems like we should all aspire to become more like them, right? Yes and no – if this is not your passion, don’t feel as if you should become like other mission-minded dentists. However, I was raised to believe that we are happier when we are giving back and extremely grateful for the success that we are able to share with others that are needy. Start small, commit to donating a couple of days a year with local or state organizations. There are 3 that we have chosen in our area, Donated Dental Services, local Smile Squad mobile clinic and our state Mission of Mercy. If this is fun and rewarding for you, consider a trip or moving on to a next step.