What are the biggest challenges for dentists right now in terms of their own happiness?
Dr. MacCarthy answered, “I think it’s the external validation. I think it’s that we’re so focused on needing our patient’s approval, needing our community’s approval, our colleagues’ approval, chasing that next thing on always looking for our bank account to be assuring us of the value of our value or the amount of stuff we have is a representation of how well we’re doing or our worth. And I think that the biggest challenge in our profession is debunking the myth that success lives outside of you.”
“Because the truth is that success is an inside job. It’s the internal validation that will support you to find success, and, you know, I always used to think that success would bring me happiness. It turns out happiness actually is the precursor to greater success.”
Dr. MacCarthy believes that dentistry is such a rewarding profession. There’s so much possibility and so much abundance for us here. It’s such a great place to be, but it does take just taking a moment to recognize what matters to us individually.
New Definition of Success
Is it success to have the practice or the house or the family or the dog that you dreamed of? According to Dr. MacCarthy, that’s totally actually flipped.
“Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting. I still have the same family. I still love orthodontics. Even in my second practice which I built from scratch, we still took payments the same way the orthodontics itself was complete.”
“My husband is the same incredible man. The only thing that changed was me.”
“Everything changed when I changed the way I saw the world and the way I saw myself because I’d been living so much in anticipation of other people’s expectations of me and what other people thought of me. as my sense of validation and really that self worth needed to come from within.”
Dentists are Problem Solvers
Regarding dentist’s being problem solvers, Dr. MacCarthy says, “That’s what we do so well. That’s what we’re trained to do. We’re trying to find the problem and fix it. And that doesn’t work so well in happiness because it makes you focus on all the problems, which is exactly what you’re talking about. And then we expand that problem to represent something bigger in our lives and we minimize all the beauty and especially self-validation, so we don’t tend to celebrate ourselves.”
“Dentists often give everything they have to their patients or their team or their practice but don’t give themselves the respect or admiration that we deserve. We need to give that to ourselves.”
“It’s actually an uncomfortable practice at first when you start celebrating yourself. I didn’t even go to my college graduation.” Said Dr. MacCarthy. “That’s very common for us, is that we tend to serve constantly and support everyone else in our world and forget the responsibility. I call it our radical personal responsibility to serve ourselves.”
Dentists are often people pleasers too. Tarryn and I agreed that before we can take care of others, we have to take care of ourselves. “Because if you’re constantly just trying to help others and please everyone else, that’s how I ended up going through a major burnout situation. I was just putting too much pressure on myself to try to please everyone else. You only get one body and one mind. You have to take care of these pieces of equipment, and you only get one life.”
Dentists need to do a better job of this. Dentists hold it all together all day long for our patients and our team, and then we go home and hold it all together all day, all night long for our families, but there’s a component of processing emotions.
Dr. MacCarthy says, “There’s also a component of stillness that’s very important and maybe you’re finding that in your sensei limitations of just stillness of nothingness, you know in Italy, they call this the art of doing nothing and wouldn’t be interested and it’s so interesting that Italians tend to live longer than Americans, but there’s a component of just finding stillness, which is a practice of regulating your nervous system. So I would think that in your journaling, there’s a processing happening which is important to regulate your nervous system, but it still feels very active. To me, it still feels like you’re actually doing something”
When our Kids are our Greatest Teachers
Dr. MacCarthy was sharing a story about how her son noticed her struggling to use the chip on her credit card and ended up just swiping it like the traditional way. And he said to her “Mom, you know, I noticed that older people don’t like to learn new things”. She thought about it and agreed that in dentistry and in success in general, we get very comfortable with something, and then we don’t like to veer new and be a beginner again. We don’t like to try something different and be outside our comfort zone. And the older we get the more successful we get, we lose that skill of being new to something and being vulnerable and a new skill or a new perspective.
And yeah, sometimes it takes the mouths of babies to make us aware of that.
About the Author
Dr. Eric Block DMD, CAGS, FICOI, FICD, FAADS
Dr. Eric Block is a full-time practicing dentist in Acton, Massachusetts, husband, and father of two kids. He is known as The Stress-Free Dentist and hosts the Stress-Free Dentist Podcast.