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The 9 Turning Points of Mastery

May 1, 2013

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I received a complimentary DVD in the mail last week.  I don’t usually give these free discs much attention, but this time I slipped it into my MacBook and started to watch.

And man, was I surprised.

It was titled The Path of a Master, Nine Turning Points That Changed the Practice of Dentistry.  Don’t look for a link because it’s not available for distribution to the general public.  That’s a shame because rarely do we get to see the evolution of a master dentist with such great clarity.

Firstly, I want to thank Jeff Baggett and Bill Lockard, from the Pankey Institute, for putting this project together.  Both did a tremendous  job of telling a story that the dental community needs to hear.

Most people who watch the video may just see a story, but as someone who has practiced dentistry for close to forty years, and had my share of ups and downs, I was reminded of how we all are on the “hero’s journey” as described by mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Campbell used to quote the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.”  The DVD brought me to a point of reviewing my own life and career.  It reminded me of what my friend Chris Sager the retired Executive Director of the Pankey Institute told me about L.D. Pankey.

He told me that when the Institute fist opened in the early seventies, students would follow L.D. around attempting to “touch the hem of his garment.”  But he said that L.D. was as human as anyone of us…more so in fact.  We tend to deify our heroes.  I identified with Bill Lockard’s narrative because it emphasized how human L.D. was, and that the nine turning points could have happened to each and every one of us if we were aware and prepared.  There are distinct differences between a master and the rest of us, but little has to do with talent.  Sometimes it has to do with preparation, persistence and luck.

I am amazed that in my own life I spent so much time planning and goal setting when it was those few turning points that made all the differences.  I am not knocking planning and goal setting, but I am reminded of another quote from my favorite mythologist/philosopher, Joseph Campbell:

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Pankey’s first two turning points occurred long before he became a dentist.  His story actually started with the story of Daniel Halley-Smith who he met years later on a trip to Europe.  Smith graduated Northwestern University Dental School in 1899 (where G.V. Black was the first dean), two years before Pankey was born.  He practiced in Chicago with Dr. Frank Davis who later retired in Coral Gables, Florida, where Dr. Pankey practiced.  Those of us who understand quantum physics also understand that (more…)