The Dentist Hall of Fame
What is it to have a great dental career? A Basketball Metaphor…
I love to use basketball metaphors when I am talking about dentistry. In professional basketball, just like in virtually all professional sports, the greatest and most impactful players of each era are inducted into the Hall of Fame. They are recognized as highly accomplished in their field – in this case the game of professional basketball. They are enshrined as a ‘Hall of Famer’.
The most prominent name that bubbles to the top of our minds when we think of a Hall of Famer is probably Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan averaged more points per game than any other player in history, won 6 NBA championships rings, 10 scoring titles, and was a highly athletic player who flew through the air with amazing dunks and exciting plays. He could be extrapolated as what a prototype successful basketball player is…or is he?
The Basketball Hall of Fame currently consists of over 400 different individuals and none of them are Michael Jordan. Though Jordan is probably the most famous basketball player of all-time (partially due to the Jordan shoes) – he is not universally ranked as the #1 most successful/best basketball player of all time. That namesake has also been bestowed upon players such as Kareem Abdul Jabar, a player who has both won more than Michael Jordan and scored more points than Michael Jordan.
But, unlike Jordan, old game highlights show that Jabar could barely get his feet off the ground when jumping. We want lanky, not very quick, not very fast, not very exciting and not very marketable. He was big, slow, methodical, precise, competitive, and a phenomenal leader. For his leadership skills – his nickname was ‘The Captain.’ Michael Jordan is partly infamous for punching his teammate Steve Kerr in the face for making a mistake on the court. In terms of style, Jabar could not be more of an antithesis to Michael Jordan.
There are many different ways to make the Hall of Fame. There are many different ways we can classify ourselves as successful and respectable in our profession. You do not need to be Michael Jordan to be a Hall of Famer flying through the air with dunks, you do not need to be Jabar standing 7-feet tall over your opponents. Another familiar name even to the non-NBA fan is Steph Curry. Curry is diminutively small on the basketball court and redefined the game of NBA basketball with his 3-point shooting abilities. He has never dunked a ball like Jordan and is puny compared to Jabar. Yet, he revolutionized the game of basketball and his name will go down as one of the best and most successful basketball players of all time. Again, he could not be more different than the other Hall of Fame NBA players we have discussed.
I could continue with examples like this, thus we soon realize that all 400+ basketball players in the Hall of Fame are highly unique. No singular player had an identical trajectory to their personal greatness. Yet all of them are individually unique. They leveraged what made them unique and used that uniqueness to shine.
What does all of this have to do with dentistry?
It does not take much time on social media or sharing a dinner with your dentist buddies to hear someone’s definition of what it means to be a successful dentist. You will hear things such as a successful dentist:
-Is FFS and doesn’t take PPOs
-Doesn’t work Fridays
-Takes lots of CE for beautiful cosmetic cases
-Can do lots of specialty work
-Grows their practice every year
-Produces millions of dollars per year
-Has under 50% overhead
-Has associates so they can ‘get out of the op’
-Owns their real estate
-Is loved by the community
-Gives back to the community
-Highly Ranked Faculty at a Dental School
-Director of a large dental organization
-Owner of multiple practices
-Only works 2 days per week so they can have more time for nurturing their family at home
None of these answers are wrong. But also none of them are right. Each dentist is a totally unique individual who can design what their prototype for success within dentistry will be. Each of us has unique traits, gifts, tendencies, enjoyments, and dislikes. The challenge is not to become a prototype of a successful dentist, but to identify your personal flags of success and grow into them. If 350-lb muscle monster Shaquille O’neal tried to make a career as a 3-point shooter (he only made one 3-point shot in his entire career), then he would be considered a failure – instead of a Hall of Fame success story. Suppose his NBA friends told him that any great NBA player had to work on his 3-point shooting skills? The NBA Legend has discussed this exact philosphy before in an interview. Listen here as Shaq reflects on the moment he could not cookie-cutter copy what made somone else great. He had to discover and double down on what made him great by taking advantage of his unique apptitudes.
What skills or areas of dentistry are ones that perhaps are you feeling pressured into developing versus doubling down on your true interests and passions within dentistry? Are you taking a Pankey or Kois class just because someone told you that you should? Are you stressing out as a private practice owner when your true calling is to manage a public health clinic for the greater good?
What are your natural apptitudes and areas of enjoyment as a dentist and as a person? What unique mixtures of personality traits, interests, experiences, and abilities do you have that can make you shine in a way that nobody else could?
Have you thought about this? Are you constantly improving in that direction? (Here is an article that describes a practical system for improvement)
How can this be applied to your career and/or life so that you can have a ‘Hall of Fame’ worthy career? A fulfilling career that is totally unique and could only have been lived by you?
Imagine your future when you are 80 years old looking back at your dental career. There is a plaque with a picture of your face on a Hall of Fame wall of dentists. Under your face there is a paragraph and list of accomplishments noting what you did with your dental career — what does it say?
-Dr. DeAngelo S. Webster