Beyond Practice Management: The road less traveled

2009 08 19 10 27 14 220 Don Deems 70

Perhaps no book in this generation has had a more profound impact on our intellectual and spiritual lives than The Road Less Traveled, written by M. Scott Peck.

Expressed in a way that is timeless in its message of understanding, The Road Less Traveled explores the nature of loving relationships and leads us toward peacefulness and fullness of life. It helps us learn how to distinguish dependency from love, how to become a more sensitive parent, and ultimately how to become one's own true self.

Recognizing that -- as in the famous opening line of his book -- "Life is difficult" and that the journey to spiritual growth is a long one, Dr. Peck never intimidates his readers, but rather guides them gently through the hard and often painful process of change toward a higher level of self-understanding.

What about us dentists?

The road we travel is a tough one, and life is more difficult for us than most anyone outside of what we do can possibly understand. It's no wonder that our profession struggles with defining itself, thinking that because times change, we must change. It's no wonder we dentists sometimes struggle with just getting through each day, how we are prone to look for something to relieve the constant strain of "being in the zone" to serve our patients. What happened to the intellectual and spiritual journey we must make as people and as dentists in order to find fulfillment, peace, and happiness?

As Dr. Peck notes, the journey is a long one, which doesn't make it any easier for us to navigate our lives and practices -- which have lives of their own. That journey is a long one for nearly all dentists, as we were trained as dentists and, thus, most of us will spend our entire adult life working as dentists with little opportunity or ability to "change jobs" without significant impact to our standard of living, our community, the people who work for us, the people we serve, and indirectly everyone who is connected to those people. We don't just impact our patients, our family, and our team -- that would be myopic in our thinking. Instead, the impact we have reaches into the thousands -- even tens of thousands -- for each of us. Keep that in mind.

Given the stress and strain of this awesome responsibility, what are our choices?

3 core values

Knowing that the road less traveled is nearly always more difficult, it is no wonder that having the strength and courage to take that difficult road ends up becoming something we never accomplish. There are often too many responsibilities, "grass fires," and a multitude of things that demand our quick attention. Therefore, many of us choose the more traveled route, where there is plenty of company and it doesn't require nearly the effort, energy, and introspection that the more difficult path requires. It doesn't mean we are weaker, "less than," or anything else; it's just a choice.

What if you are willing to take that road less traveled? Where would you start, and what would you do? Do you want what that journey will give you?

Understanding your personal values and being able to articulate these in a manner that is truly yours is a worthy place to begin. Continue to work with your initial list of values until you have identified your top three values; these values are the ones that will be the source of your decision-making process and will keep you on track for what is meaningful to you in your life and practice.

Get to know yourself in ways you have never done before. It's easy not to challenge ourselves and stick with those things we know most about. What about stepping out of your comfort zone and perhaps developing your ability to express your feelings and emotions? We cannot know and understand other people unless we first understand ourselves deeply. I'm not talking about that tape player running in your head each day, the one that is constantly giving you feedback, direction, doubt, fear, rationalization, and more. There are numerous ways to do this, such as personal growth retreats, working with a coach or therapist, even just deepening your existing relationships by taking a chance on connecting in a more profound way.

Develop a spiritual life -- and no, I'm not talking about showing up for church on Sunday mornings. Spirituality and religion are two different things -- related, but different.

Become a student of human nature by understanding why people do what they do and why they don't do what they should do, including your own actions. Seek out the knowledge and wisdom of people who are experts in this area, and learn to ask lots of questions, instead of knowing all the answers.

Develop the skills necessary to relate and communicate more deeply with people. This part of the journey is a powerful one, as connecting with people in a deeper, more engaging way will lead to you to some profound discoveries about yourself.

Read books that will challenge your way of thinking. (You can email me for a list of my favorite ones.) Staying in our comfort zone will keep us right where we are, and ultimately that space will be very small, as the world around us changes. Staying stuck in your ways and belief patterns will hold you back from not only experiencing life to its fullest, but also being able to connect with people -- including your patients -- in ways that will be most fulfilling to them and to you.

The road less traveled. Are you ready to take it today? If not, when?

Dr. Deems is a professional personal and business coach and a practicing dentist. Since 2006, he has been annually named to Dentistry Today's Top Leaders list and is the author of several books, the most recent titled The Dentist's Coach: Build a Vibrant Practice and the Life You Want. He can be reached at He speaks regularly on topics of this nature both nationally and internationally.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, product, or organization.

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