I have certain fundamental beliefs about life. One
is that we are all alike at some level, and although the stories of our individual lives – our biographies – differ, our biology is the same. We share basic needs and wants. At various stages of our lives we must fulfill those needs. Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow described this evolution with his famous Hierarchy of Needs. At its base are the physiological needs like food and shelter. At its top is what Maslow believed to be our ultimate goal, which is to fulfill our true selves.
Maslow wrote, “A musician must make music, and an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization… It refers to man’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely to the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially: to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
I was teaching a workshop on the “Art of Examination” not long ago when I mentioned to the group that earning a good living in dentistry is not all that difficult to achieve, but what they really want, to find meaning in their work and to become the best they can become or, self-actualized, is difficult. I told them this is the spiritual reward that Dr. L.D. Pankey referred to at the center of his Cross of Dentistry. During the break, a young dentist approached me to say that, although he believed everything I had said about obtaining the spiritual reward, he was having a great deal of difficulty making ends meet. He couldn’t envision the pursuit of such self-actualization in his personal circumstances. To him, at that time, it wasn’t the real world.
I couldn’t help but remember back in my own career when the survival issues were of primary importance. Yet, somehow I did survive those days and pursued a career that would provide me with the tools to self-actualize. I have confidence that this young dentist also can reach that seemingly distant place called “spiritual reward” if he stays the course. I believe that, although our needs change from person to person and even within ourselves as our lives change, we want to be the best we can be. We all want to fulfill our greatest potential, and this young dentist will probably reach a point when he wants more than his next paycheck.
We all face the same paradox. We need to reconcile the dilemma of desire and duty. The desire to live the great life that we entered this profession to find, and the duty to become the very best doctor for our patients. For many of us this is no easy task. I promise you one thing, that I will try to keep it real. I want all dentists to have the ability to become their very best and to live the lives they love.
I must warn you at the start that this is not a book of quick fixes. In order to make changes in your life and practice, you must commit to winning. The rewarding practice, which I tend to think of in the more current lingo as the “Winning Practice,” is led by someone who understands that success is driven by deep emotions – our beliefs, our values, and our awareness of our capabilities and self worth. . How many of us have seen dentists who appear successful yet they do everything wrong? I can assure you that their success is an illusion. Long-term success is dependent on a commitment to winning, strong character, and high personal ethics.