Level Up! by Dr. Glenn Krieger

Level Up!

Planning and achieving self-improvement, one step up at a time

by Dr. Glenn Krieger

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most orthodontists got to where they are because of their ability to achieve. Making it from high school through college, dental school and specialty training takes effort, determination and organizational skills. Most of our peers performed well in structured programs such as residency and exit with proficiency in orthodontics.

Then it’s on to some sort of clinical practice for most, and this is where the structure typically ends. For many of us, it’s the first time we get to entirely choose how we will live our lives—where we want to live, the people we want to be around, the education we want to pursue and so much more.

For most, it’s an amazing life, with rewarding work and great income. So, where do we go from here? How do we make our lives better and better? Where are the areas in our lives we struggle, and how do we make them better? How do we find “balance”?

Tipping the scales
I’m not embarrassed to say that balance is an issue for me. I sometimes feel as if I’ve bitten off too much or there isn’t enough of me to go around. How do I help develop goals for the coming year and research new ways for the office to become more efficient, all while taking care of the needs of my family, let alone picking up a guitar (I’m terrible and trying to learn) or spending time with friends? Balance?! Sometimes I just want to survive.

Sure, I could back off and do less, but it’s not in my nature. I see problems and want to fix them. I want to help make the world a better place for those around me, and I try to do it the best I can. I have become much better at delegating and saying that one word that’s hard to utter: “no.” But I want to invest in becoming a better orthodontist, a better leader, a better father and husband, a better friend and a better person. It’s not easy and I struggle with it.

I remember before enrolling in orthodontic residency, I had the opportunity to pick the brain of one of my mentors, the late Dr. Vince Kokich Sr. Sitting in his university office, I listened as he dispensed many words of wisdom about the profession I was about to join. When I asked him for that one piece of advice that mattered more than anything, his answer was: “Stay balanced. Like a paper airplane that has too much weight on the front, back or either wing, it’s easy for life to get out of balance. Just like that unbalanced airplane which will not be able to function properly, the same is true for you if you get out of balance.”

Shifting priorities
Those were great words, but it’s easier said than done. After all, with kids and a spouse, a team that requires development, patients who need me, courses I need to attend for clinical and administrative growth, my physical well-being including diet and exercise, my spiritual/religious growth, hobbies, friends and much, much more, how am I to stay “balanced”? I feel like every time one part of my life is going well, a problem pops up somewhere else.

I don’t think a perfect balance is achievable, let alone sustainable, if we’re trying to grow daily. We can be happy and enjoy life every day if we embrace the challenges that come our way. But how do we manage growth and stay as balanced as possible?

Human nature wants to lead us out of balance and that’s OK at times. Training for an upcoming triathlon? Your life is going to get out of balance for a bit. Starting up a new practice or having a baby? You’d better invest a disproportionate amount of time on those things. But aside from the “larger” events in our lives, most orthodontists I know want to live their best lives.

L.D. Pankey, one of the most influential leaders in dentistry during the 20th century, always talked about the “cross of life,” in which balance between love, play, worship and work were essential for a fulfilled life. Get out of balance … well, you know what happens. So how do we effectively achieve as much balance as possible?

Step 1: Identify your current baseline
I was chatting with one of my coaches the other day, and as we started discussing balance as a part of growth, he offered me an exercise I’ll share with you. It’s called “+1” (plus one).

Start by rating yourself from 1 to 10—1 is lowest and 10 is highest—in the following categories of your life as you feel you should relative to what you deem “ideal.” It’s entirely up to you, but be honest with yourself. The categories are: faith (belief in a higher power or yourself), family, friends, health, emotions, career, education, escape, finances and life passions.

Write down a score between 1 and 10 for each of these places in your life. There’s no right or wrong: This is your life, your dream and your ability to make it better and more balanced. It’s all going to be relative to what you see as your “10” for each category. Don’t overthink it and just put down the number that feels right. This is subjective and there’s no way to be exact.

Now look at the answers you put down. If you put “10” for all of them, kudos, but you may want to look a little deeper at your answers. If you’re like me, you’ll almost instantly see the places where you could use a little help.

For instance, my highest score was a 9, for “escape” (I’m really good at turning off when necessary), but I gave myself only a 2 when it came to “friends.” Why so low? I have a ton of friends, but they’re scattered all over the country and I don’t get to see them or spend quality time with them. It’s a tough spot in my life and the 2 reflects how much more I’d like to see and spend time with them.

Step 2: Pick one way to improve your score
Now that you’ve given yourself a number in each of the 10 categories, write down one thing you could do better to raise yourself just one point in each category. I’m not asking you what you need to do to go from a 2 to a 10—what would it take for you to go from a 2 to a 3?

For instance, using my “friends” category above, I wrote, “Try to connect weekly with friends I don’t get to see regularly.” That’s it. It doesn’t need to be, “Fly to New York and see friends” or, “Organize a get-together in wine country.” Sure, those are great things, but are you really looking to just jump into that, and is it readily achievable? I reached out to my two closest childhood friends and we scheduled a video call for an hour where we could catch up. Nothing huge or tough to achieve—just a Zoom call, which incidentally refreshed my soul.

The goal is to list one thing you can do in the coming weeks that will give you a “+1” increase in the score in each category. This is not the time to try to climb mountains—just take baby steps to start—and there’s no need to try to plus-one every category at once. Pick one every day and focus on that one. Raise yourself up a little bit, and you can do more than one in a day if you want to.

For instance, one of my actions is to simply stop working on the computer, walk downstairs and give my kids a hug from time to time. It sounds so simple, but when I’m deep in thought or process and I hear my teenagers downstairs, it would be easy to just keep working. But mindfulness gets me to stop, get up, find them, give them a hug and tell them how much I love them and how proud of them I am. That doesn’t make me father of the year, but it balances me in the same way I pause while trying to make one conscious good food choice per day.

Is perfect balance achievable? I don’t know, but what I can tell you is that taking continuous, well-thought-out and scheduled baby steps in my life helps me feel as if every day is helping me get closer to achieving my best self in a healthy way. I hope it works for you too.

Author Bio
Dr. Glenn Krieger Dr. Glenn Krieger graduated from dental school in 1992 and moved to Seattle in 1996, where he established a solo boutique practice. After 20 years as a restorative and cosmetic dentist, Krieger returned to residency to become an orthodontist. A diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics, he maintains a private orthodontic practice in Lewisville, Texas.

Krieger has presented to thousands of dentists in North America, has been published in textbooks and dental periodicals, and has been named a “Top Clinician in Continuing Education” nine times. He also is the administrator of Orthopreneurs, a group dedicated to helping orthodontists run their practices with an entrepreneurial bent, and is a member of Orthotown’s editorial advisory board.

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