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TAO The Book Installment 4 (Willie and me)

March 23, 2010

Filed under: TAO - The Book,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Barry @ 9:49 AM

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The Great "Say Hey Kid"


CHAPTER ONE: Process- The Key to Success

“All happy families resemble each other, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind
 are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.”
–– Ben Franklin

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.”
⎯ Albert Einstein

I grew up in New York City during the fifties. Baseball was my passion, and back in those days, you were either a fan of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, or Duke Snyder, depending on where you lived. I lived in the Bronx, just a few miles from Yankee Stadium, but I gravitated toward Willie Mays as my hero. When I grew up I wanted as much to be just like Willie as kids today want to be like Lebron James or Alex Rodriguez.  I knew I would never be a great baseball player like Willie, but I envied how he made a living doing what he loved. Even at age eight, I knew that living the dream was a rare occurrence, and I sensed that making a life was more important than making a living.

Like Willie, I wanted to do what I loved.
Family members and neighbors all seemed to hate their work. Life seemed to be drudgery.  As a kid, I watched adults go off to jobs they hated and spend their lives doing work for no reward except a paycheck. At the time, I didn’t realize that others recognized the problem.  These days the problem has become a major goal for most people…finding work they love.
In 1914, Dr. Richard Cabot, a professor of Medicine and social ethics from Harvard University, published What Men Live By, a book inspired by the teachings of Aristotle and used by Dr. L.D. Pankey as the basis of his life philosophy.  Cabot wrote about a young camper who carried a boat into the woods. The work of carrying the boat started out being joyous, but ended being a burden. Cabot was well aware of the difficulty men encounter when trying to intermingle their work with play.
Cabot wrote, “At its best and for a few, work becomes play, at least for the blessed, jewel like moments. By the larger number, it is seen not as a joy but a tolerable burden, borne for the sake of the children’s education, the butter on the daily bread, the hope of promotion. Finally, for the submerged fraction of humanity, who are forced to labor without choice and almost from childhood, life seems drudgery, borne simply because they cannot stop without still greater misery. They are committed to it, as to a prison, and they cannot get out.”
In the ninety years since that was written, not much has changed. Most of us long for work that we can call “play.” To succeed would put us in a very elite group of people who have achieved happiness.  For so many in America today there is a constant struggle to find meaning in the work they do, and to find a balance between work and life.  Look at most great business’ today.  Look at our most respected entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs of Apple, Howard Shultz of Starbucks and Fred Smith of FedEx.  All of these men have the hearts of children at play, just having fun.
In my own search for happiness, I chose work that I felt would create a life of bliss. I became a dentist. My childhood was filled with many dental traumas and victories so I felt that dentistry was a virtuous profession that would earn me a good living and serve a worthwhile purpose for humanity.
On the day of my graduation from The University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, June 4, 1973, something very serendipitous occurred. I was standing in the cavernous lobby of the school when Dr. Morton Amsterdam walked in with my childhood hero. It was Willie in the flesh. I followed them into the newly opened Meyers Clinic for perio graduate students. At that moment there were only about five of us,  but that number swelled as the word got out. Willie was seated into a dental chair with what seemed to be a hundred gaping onlookers. I never saw a man sweat as much as Willie did in that moment.
I remember being flooded with thoughts. Not only was I standing in close proximity to a celebrity, but he was also my childhood hero. I  even chose the number 24 he wore on his uniform as my lifelong lucky number (many friends had chosen the number “7” for Mickey Mantle). I certainly realized that Willie was as mortal as anyone else as he sat in that very humanizing dental chair. The dental chair is the great equalizer. I was certain that the fear that Willie felt at that moment rivaled any feeling he might have had when he faced a Sandy Koufax with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the game on the line. The periodontal abscess was nothing to smile about for this baseball legend.
I also felt some pride at that moment to be part of a profession that could help people. I vicariously felt I was Dr. Amsterdam at that moment. I imagined meeting Willie sometime in the future and telling him about that day “we” fixed him up. I also remember thinking how a man of substantial means could have a mouth in such poor health, and in such a poor state of repair. Willie’s abscess was the result of poor hygiene and a very ill fitting, unsightly upper partial denture.
That night I remember listening to the Phillies–Mets game, and I felt privileged in knowing why Mays was out of the lineup that night. Sometime later, after graduating, I remember picking up a copy of the now defunct magazine, Sport, and seeing Willie on the cover. He was smiling his new smile. I felt proud that I was entering a great profession that did such wonderful things for people.  That was 1973, long before the reality television shows made “extreme makeovers” so popular.   That’s what I wanted to do with my career; help people at that level. To be a positive force in people’s lives.  How ironic for me to have been that close to Mays at the crossroads of both of our careers.
Willie Mays retired from baseball in a 1973.  In an emotional farewell ceremony at Shea Stadium in New York, Willie bid goodbye to the game he loved so much.  I felt sad for him, but certainly happy about the adventure I was about to embark upon in my new career.  I felt lucky that I would have the opportunity to practice dentistry for many years, and not have to be forced into retirement because of age or injury.  I imagined all of the successful cases that I too could be so proud of in my future.
The years following that encounter did not turn out as expected. Like the young dentist at the workshop I mentioned in the Introduction, I knew that something was missing, but I was too focused on earning a living, just surviving. During those early years I made a decent living but I wasn’t creating a life that was very satisfying. It seemed as if I was always on a treadmill. I was constantly trying to produce more and more dentistry.  Production seemed to dominate my every working hour.  Like so many dentists, I was focused on the product of my work…money.  Every seminar that I took emphasized how to make more money – but that came with a price – more stress. I was hardly living the life I thought I would have… like Willie’s.

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