A Voice in the Arena: Be the Lion You Are by Dr. Chad Foster

A Voice in the Arena: Be the Lion You Are  

by Chad Foster, DDS, MS, editorial director

Orthodontists are amazing people. I’ll own the narcissism in that statement, but we really are! I think orthodontists are in an elite group, even relative to the many other proud professions and trades composed of high achievers.

We’ve jumped through a seemingly never-ending parade of hoops—each higher than the next—to get the credentials needed to do what we do. Along the way, by necessity, we have finely tuned our ability to set our minds on a goal, suck it up, sacrifice, and do what it takes to compete and win in the individual sport of academic climbing.

Unless you had an “in” via an easier route, your path to chasing your dreams in this career had no other options. I talk with other orthodontists who still have recurring dreams in which they failed a test, forgot to sign up for a class or had to retake their boards. So, what do we expect to happen when we graduate and enter our professional lives? Maybe our hard-wired compulsion to drive and compete transitions right into a ready opportunity.

Or maybe you end up in a different scenario. When I came out of residency in 2010, I was lucky to get a corporate gig during the economic recession. I was practicing orthodontics and for the first time, money was coming in instead of just going out. It wasn’t a perfect situation, but the water was warm and I got comfortable.

A dwindling sense of autonomy ... and pride

In my experience with corporate dentistry (not to generalize), I was creatively limited in many ways, including but not limited to clinical control, team leadership, practice direction, and customer service. For someone who was accustomed to paddling hard and steering his own ship, it didn’t take long to start to feel like a hamster on a wheel in a small cage. Oh, how I yearned to get out and do real hamster stuff!

However, the strange thing is, the further time drifted me away from those uncomfortable days of scratching and clawing to advance along the academic climb, the further I felt from that past version of myself who was able to create opportunities, rather than rely on others to hand them to me.

I stayed in corporate dentistry for six long years as I battled paralysis by analysis when different opportunities would come along. Finally, I accepted an opportunity—not so much because it was greatly different from a few that had come before it (it wasn’t) but rather because the thought of staying on the hamster wheel any longer became more uncomfortable than the worst-case scenario of what could happen if I jumped off.

Invigorated by the challenge of the unknown

After the jump—and now the new owner of a large practice loan—I was suddenly thrust back into an old familiar world where I had to embrace discomfort and push and strive through the anxiety of new challenges. It was not the warm water that I had become accustomed to in my corporate jobs.

The first year was kind of a blur in the same way that many of my stressful school years were. But I wasn’t on the wheel. I was doing real hamster stuff! Some was fun, some was scary, and some was terribly tedious. It wasn’t all wins; there were plenty of failures as well. (There are still many.) But after a year or so, I started to get my legs under me, and I found I had the lungs for the long run.

With acknowledgement given to the endless and mundane to-do list of a practice owner, I can honestly say that the creative freedom that I’ve now had for the past few years has opened my love for orthodontics in a way I didn’t know was possible.

Take stock of where you are—and adjust as needed

That’s not to say that if you are at a corporate job, you should leave it. I have friends who experience professional fulfillment and work-life balance in such situations. Also, not every corporate dental job is the same, and kudos to the doctors who own and manage the ones that do it right!

I just hope that you don’t forget the grueling path you endured to ascend to where you are. I hope you remember the version of yourself that wasn’t intimidated by the prospect of a new and foreign challenge.

Do not be a lion that sees a sheep in the mirror. If your keeper strokes your mane and says, “You get to do the clinical orthodontics and we can take care of everything else” ... well, I’m not telling you to bite their hand off. But please respect yourself enough to at least think about it. Or maybe … just do it. 

Share your thoughts on this column online!

We encourage readers to share their experiences and opinions about this column. To get started, leave a comment under this column. These online message boards are open to (and viewable by) only licensed orthodontists who’ve been verified as members of the Orthotown community! Or email Dr. Chad Foster at chad@farranmedia.com.
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