When Dreams Turn to Nightmares

My new dream job mostly turned out to be a big nightmare.  The possibilities of a new future were there, of course, along with all of the standard challenges you would expect from starting any new job.  Change is hard.  It’s scary.  It’s uncomfortable.  It makes you feel vulnerable and insecure.  To get by, I just continued living in the future instead of the present; thinking if I pushed through the hard times, it would eventually be right.  I was coming up on my 5th year in practice, and I was sure that at year 5 it would all become clear.  I would have solved all of the challenges and mysteries of practice by then.  Dentistry would become a little easier.

It never did.

 I was shocked to learn that things weren’t what they seemed at this new practice.  I must be a blockhead because I bought into all of the phony rhetoric I was being fed for far too long.  Even though I never quite felt at home, it took me 2 years to see what was really going on.  Eventually I developed a new appreciation for the well-oiled, yet dysfunctional, machine of an office that I had left.  I thought all dental offices were filled to the rim with patients willing to pay you for the dental work that they need. 

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

As with most challenges, a lot of good did come out of it though.  I realized what I wanted out of my career, discovered a true interest in what I was doing, and made a good friend along the way.  I also made an interesting shift.  I actually wanted patients to come see me.  I wanted to be busy, and I wanted to do dentistry.  We had the best equipment and used the best materials, so I felt good about what I was doing for patients.

But it was S-L-O-W.

There were days when I only had 1 patient in my schedule– quite a change from the 30-40 I was used to seeing.  Days when my only patient canceled, I would end up crying in the bathroom, unable to handle the thought of being stuck in the office another day for 8 hours with nothing to do and not a dime to show for it.  The bottom line was this office wasn’t ready for an associate.  There just wasn’t enough to go around.  And all dentist associates know that when there’s not enough to go around, it all goes to the boss.  They can tell you that’s not how it works, but if they do, they’re lying.

I went from wanting to NOT work because there was too much of it (you know, hoping for a cancellation or that the power would go out for the afternoon,) to wanting to actually do what I was trained to do.  This was a step in the right direction, at least.  When I left the first office, I often said, “you can’t pay me enough money to continue living like this.”  Be careful what you wish for because that’s exactly what I traded.  Those first few years I made a really good income, but the misery that came with it was not worth it to me.  Sadly, my income actually peaked my 3rd and 4th years in practice.  When I switched to my dream job, I started making 1/5 of my income.  (Was it too much to ask to reach a happy medium?)  I wasn’t driven by the prospect of making lots of money, and I also needed to feel fulfilled mentally and emotionally.  Now, both the money and the fulfillment were missing.  I was still waiting, living in denial, for that day to come.

So while the dream job turned out to be just as dysfunctional as the dysfunctional job, I knew I had to start searching again.  By this time I had enough experience and insight that I knew what I wanted though.  The great people at Hankey Pankey actually introduced me to my final practice.  I was certain this was now going to be my dream job.  If it wasn’t, then I was done.  No more.  If these people couldn’t help me become what I wanted to become, then I give up.  You know the final outcome.  I’ll get to that soon.

Image: Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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31 Responses to When Dreams Turn to Nightmares

  1. rich says:

    looking forward to the next chapter…

  2. magsx2 says:

    Hi,
    I couldn’t imagine anything worse than going to work and then just sitting around for 8 hours for nothing, it certainly would became depressing.

    • lolabees says:

      Hi Mags. It was really rough. I was stuck at the office. My boss wanted me to be there at all times just in case we had a patient walk in off the street. I think that happened one time ever in the few years I was there. So I couldn’t even go and do something productive with my time. AND he only paid me for work I did, so I was there for him for free. I was stupid ;)

  3. amitygardner@hotmail.com says:

    I”ve been following your blog for a while and have responded a couple of times….I’m assuming you left dentistry. what are you doing now?

    I just left private practice after 10 years and am full time faculty at a dental school and love it so much. so I can relate to every single word you say in every single post!

    • lolabees says:

      I have totally switched careers and run a weight loss program in my husband’s office. I’ve found myself more interested in food and nutrition over the years, so it turned out to be a perfect fit, and the opportunity actually fell into my lap. I love it.

      It’s great to hear about others who have left private practice (or the entire field altogether) because they weren’t happy, and have found jobs they love. It was 10 years for me too! Congrats! I thought about teaching, and I think I would like it a lot. The school is across town, so it’s a bit of a deterrent, but maybe I will volunteer some day. We’ll see.

      Thanks for following! I love your comments!

  4. Nancy says:

    I have been following your blog for sometime now. It’s great to be reminded of the fun times in dental school in your previous blogs. It is also comforting to know that I am not the only one feeling this way with dentistry. I am hoping that if I stick around long enough I will be able to find that happy medium. Best to you and I applaud you to be strong enough to walk away from “misery”.

    • lolabees says:

      Thanks, Nancy! I appreciate your comments, and I’m so glad to have you along for the ride! I was hoping that would happen too, and it never did (obviously.) ;) Thanks for your encouragement. One of my best friends had a stroke a few days ago at the age of 37. It’s a horrific wake up call that we never know what will happen in life, and a reminder to me that I need to live the life that will bring me the most fulfillment– right now! It’s confirmation to me that living life in the present vs in the future is really the way to go. We never know what tomorrow brings. Anyway, hope I didn’t get too heavy on you :) Thank you — it was so hard to do, but now that I’ve done it, life is SO much easier.

      How long have you been in practice? Do you own your office or are you an associate?

      I hope you find your sweet spot. I know it’s possible for some. I think it was hopeless for me. What’s interesting is that a few days after I “retired,” I went to a dental function and met some other women dentists. When we started getting into the small talk of our lives and they asked about my practice, I told them I just quit! The amazing part is that it opened up some of the most real conversations I’ve had with other dentists in the last 10 years. I realized that many of us feel this way, but we are scared or ashamed to admit it. I know I was. It’s amazing how the truth will set you free!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You’re welcome to add more anytime!

      • Nancy says:

        I have been practicing for 11 years and running my own office for 10. It is hard for me to discuss my feelings about dentistry without feeling like a failure. Your blogs are very fun to read and relatable. Keep on blogging!

        • lolabees says:

          I completely understand the failure thing. If you’ve read my previous post about the guy from Spear, you’ll probably notice it’s people like that who give us the perception that we have to be a certain way to be successful. It’s really a bunch of bull because you’ve already succeeded, as have I. It’s interesting that many of the people I hear from in the same situation are women who have been at for about 10 years. Don’t know what it means, but interesting…
          Thanks for the kind words!!!! :D

  5. Dr. Horowitz says:

    I can definitely relate to your job experiences, since I have had them as well, but only lasted a couple of months in each situation before I moved on. Dentistry is stressful for sure, and not for everyone. I am really interested to hear what finally happens!

    • lolabees says:

      I think one of my biggest mistakes was staying in each job too long. I think you made a wise choice in getting out of the bad situations early. I know I’m making it all sound so dramatic, why wouldn’t you want to come back for more ;) Thanks for following the saga, and for stopping by with your great comments!

  6. I can relate to your feelings about dentisty. I finished dental school almost ten years ago. I went to residency for specialty, associated for a few years and bought a practice a few years ago. I hate just about every aspect of what I do. The pay is nice but I feel like I’m wasting my life every day. I’d like to go back to school and get involved in the food and tourism industry. Problem is I’m in so much debt now with student loans, practice loans, mortgage etc and I have a family to support. Friends tell me that alot of people don like their work and to just think of it as a job. I know I could have done so much more. Keep writing. I want to hear how you actually made the switch. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

    • lolabees says:

      Thanks, OWPFI! I love to hear from others who feel the same way– somehow it’s very comforting to me as I go through these transitions. As you probably know, I also hated just about every aspect of it too. I was trapped for several years because of the financial rewards and commitments I had made. My husband and I had bought a house based mostly on my income as he was starting his own business, so I was trapped by my mortgage. I don’t have kids, so that’s one thing that made it easier to walk from the financial rewards. However, as you saw from this post, as I started to find the type of practice I wanted to be in, the money certainly wasn’t flowing. So after a while, I didn’t have that piece of it keeping me there anymore. I guess that’s a plus! ;)

      While I had very supportive friends, some of that similar advice was there for me too. I tried that whole “it’s just a job” thing, and eventually it was just too much for me. My hatred for what I did was much stronger than not feeling like going to work because I’d rather be playing. I do think that’s very practical advice, but it doesn’t always work. I was too miserable, and I didn’t want to wake up one day at 60 wondering why I wasted my life being unhappy.

      I will get to how it all happened for me (I’m probably drawing the whole story out, but it seems to be the only way I can get it out.) I think it’s great that you have a direction of what you would love to do. That was the hardest part for me. Believe it or not, I think blogging was one of the things that allowed me to make the changes. Cool blog you have, by the way. I wouldn’t totally throw that dream away if I were you. I haven’t looked back once since I’ve left dentistry. It’s been the best decision i could have made!

      Thanks for the encouragement… I’ll definitely keep writing, but only if you keep reading (and hopefully sharing your thoughts too! ;)

  7. Donna Guerrero RDH BSW says:

    As a Dental Hygienist I got tired of working my fingers to the bone and dealing with DDS that over treated drove me crazy.or tried to cheat me out of pay or just not pay at all if I did a working interview..I had one dentist tell me I should use a cavitron on a three year old they need to just get used to it.. I thought Are you F-ing crazy!!1 I’m 50 years old and have a lot of experince in corporate world as I didnt use my degree for about 16 years..When dentist front desk found that out they feel threaten because I do have a lot of knowledge. i think gheesh I do not want your job people stop being insecure….I love working with pedo but learn I do not like working with whinning adults that might have who knows what in there mouth… (yes I could tell you stories ekk)…. I went to a great training called. discover-training.com. and found my passion. I was always taught you do what makes the most money. I love Hygiene especially the teaching part but I want to work for myself and teach people the whole picture about there teeth not just clean and send them on there way to have them come back looking the same. Here in the good ole boy state of texas that will never happen…I went back to school and now am graduating with my degree in Social Work and in a year will have my masters.
    i love social work. I hate that I will have loans and my income will not be where i will probably ever pay them off but I truly love what I do and the vast amounts of different jobs I can do is endless.
    Right now I am working with families that are victims of drunk driving crashes..Sad yes but i learn alot from them and they so appreicate anything I can do for them..I also like social work as I am appreicated for my age and wisdom and in hygiene I felt I as i wasnt young and skinney and cute to the DDS they boot you out for a perky one. Now I know all dentist are not this way.. but then the good ones nobody every leaves..so I know they do exsist though. I encourage you to live your dream because in the end of your life all you have is the experinces and love

    • lolabees says:

      I’ve had some similar experiences over the years- over treating, trying to make me do stuff I didn’t agree with, and have even one doc cheat me out of my pay. Or in other words, blatantly steal from me. That last one was the biggest shock of all, and I never thought that last one would ever happen. That said, most of my relationships with bosses have ended on good terms.

      It’s a shame in some ways that you can’t pursue hygiene that way you want to, but it’s also great that you have found a different passion. You are doing really wonderful things for these people, and they really need your help. It’s nice to be appreciated too. How strong you are to choose happiness over income. Many would not do that. You’re right– in the end, none of that money or things will matter.

      Thanks, Donna! I always appreciate you input, and I think you are an inspiration, exemplifying that it’s possible to have 2 great careers in one lifetime!

  8. bigredtooth says:

    Lolabee….. I dont know if this blog makes me feel better or worse… I qualified 7 years ago – Dental school was an absolute hell. Community service (we have to do 1 year of community service working for the government in South Africa) was slave labour for peanuts. And then I got my first job and it was good for the first 3 years but then got bad… The dreams of opening my own practice haunted my every thought. And I finally took the big step 3 months ago.. Thank goodness I am busy but this dreary career leaves me empty inside. I am constantly plagued by thoughts of career alternatives and plotting how Im going to “get out”. So I am reading this blog in awe! Hopefully I will have my own amazing blog to write in a few years… (:

    • lolabees says:

      I’m so glad to have your comments, and I especially love to hear how it is on the other side of the world! Ha! I hope it mostly makes you feel better or inspired, or something like that. ;) Reading this comment actually gave me goosebumps because I know how all that feels. It’s really horrible to feel so empty about your career, especially when you’ve put so much into it. I really do hope you find a way to either like it or get out, and I will look forward to reading your amazing blog when you do it :D

      Others have written in saying the same things you are saying. For me, I never owned a practice, so it was relatively easy to walk away. However, people are sharing their stories and progress of change here, and they are actually selling practices they’ve only owned for only a few years! They haven’t made these huge changes as a direct result of this blog, but I think it’s been nice for people to have a community and a place to go to share their rare experiences in this cult-like field.

      Thanks for following. I’ve mentioned before that it’s also really therapeutic for me to have these interactions with others experiencing the same feelings. The support helps me to confirm that I have absolutely done the best thing I could have done for myself in leaving this field. Good luck– you can do it! (Okay, that just sounds corny now!)

  9. mj monaghan says:

    Darn it! Every time I come to see you here, I think, “Shoot, I’ve got to get orthodontics, and some dental work!” It’s a good reminder.

    I’ve been told for 40 years that I need braces – since I was 13! My current dentist said, “If you want to be able to chew in your 60’s and 70’s you need to get braces.” My teeth are WAY too close together, and I have lost several due to cracking because of the overcrowding.

    Okay, I ramble on. Very interesting post, as usual, my friend.

    • lolabees says:

      MJ- thanks for the input. I never really know if this topic will be interesting for you non-dental-geeks. At least if nothing else, it can be a reminder (or a thorn in your side) to take care of your chompers!

  10. Natalie says:

    As you know I’ve been following your blog for a couple months now. I’ve noticed a really weird trend. Lots of people replying to you here are dentists that either got to the 10 year mark in dentistry and left the profession, or are at the 10 year mark and are contemplating leaving it. I’m going to my 10 year reunion in 2 weeks and I’m very curious to find out if I’m the only one out of my class just itching to get the hell out? I’m looking forward to my reunion to see my old friends since I do not live in the state I went to school in and most of my classmates stayed in the area.

    I am still working on selling my practice, trying to pay down as much practice debt as possible so I can be free and clear when a sale finally goes through. I am looking forward to having some freedom again, owning a practice to me has been like being in a prison. No matter what, I am ALWAYS tied to it, even if I’m on vacation I have to think about it, check in, make sure my staff have things to do so they can get their hours in so I don’t have to pay unemployment, make sure I have emergency coverage, and on and on and on. Owning a practice is the pits. In many ways it was the worst decision I ever made. But I am still glad I made the choice to do it so I will never wonder “what if”.

    Keep writing, I am loving your stories!

    • lolabees says:

      Thanks, Natalie! I’ve noticed the same thing. Maybe it’s because it’s long enough for people to really feel like they’ve given it a fair chance? I don’t know, but you’re right. Some people write in asking how I’ve done it, and they don’t know how they can do it as a practice owner. I often use you as an example (in general terms, not by name) of someone who is managing to get out even though you are elbow-deep in commitments. There is always a way.. I love to see that you are making it happen! And now you’ll never have to wonder what it…

  11. Donna Guerrero says:

    Natalie I until your frustration .. My family gives me grief as I went back ti school and working towards my masters in social work. I’m poor as dirt but I love what I do .. I think social workers should get paid more as what I do as a social workers effects the world more than scraping some who knows what out of someone’s mouth lol

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