In my last post I broached the oh-so-controversial topic of whether dentistry is like a cult or not, and luckily for me I didn’t even piss off any of those dentistry-loving dentists out there. I was happy to see that it prompted some really good discussions from some of my fab readers. I deliberately left my analogy open for interpretation because I was curious to see how you perceived that idea. Just in case you didn’t really know what I meant by it, here you go:
Stereotypically, it’s very hard to get out of a cult. It’s also very hard to get out of a career in dentistry. That’s it. I don’t think dentistry in itself is like a cult. As some of you pointed out, there are too many different philosophies and schools of thought for it to be like a cult. The analogy is in the fact that is hard to get out, plain and simple.
So why is it so hard to leave dentistry anyway?
Because we make it hard.
Here are 6 beliefs we create for ourselves that keep us stuck:
1) We learn no other skills in school. When we started out we were probably much more well-rounded in our life skill set, but after 4 years of eating, breathing, and sleeping dentistry, you get brainwashed into thinking it’s all you know. On the surface, our skills aren’t transferable. We can’t just pick up sales, or accounting, or even business management. Instead we are stuck believing we have no place to go. But how many people can be dentists? If you can do this, you can do more than you realize.
2) We have made such a huge financial and time investment in our education and careers, that we feel obligated to stay with it. No one wants to be a quitter. Especially after such a huge commitment. For me, I didn’t truly feel free to leave until I had paid off my student loans. After that point, I figured I was “even”, and I could move on without any baggage weighing me down. But I still worried about what others would think of my decision. What will it take for you to feel like you’ve shed the extra baggage or the obligations to stay? Is it paying off loans, your mortgage, or helping to get your kids through college?
3) Shame. What would our parents say? Our friends? Our children? (Our children would probably tell us to go for it! Sometimes we can learn a thing or two from them.) How about our patients or even our colleagues? No one will understand how we could walk away from something so wonderful. No one wants to look like a failure. I worried about what everyone else thought, and what a waste of time and energy that was. No one cares (okay, maybe your proud mother does.) I learned that when you walk with confidence, others will join you in your happiness. When you worry with fear and uncertainty, somehow people know it, and in their own way they worry for you too.
4) The lifestyle. In Confessions of a Recovering Tax Attorney, Amber mentioned the golden handcuffs that keep so many lawyers stuck in their jobs. I would bet that is the #1 reason it is so hard for many to leave dentistry too. We buy a house with a huge mortgage, lease the fancy car, and love our weekly sushi fix, not to mention a massage every week for our ailing backs. Now we’re pigeonholed, needing to support this lifestyle with an equally well-paying job. That certainly makes our list of options even more narrow. Amber has some great advice of how she was able to downsize. Also check out Lumi’s story on My White Coat is on Fire. What’s important to you and what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you really want?
5) Feeling gun-shy. There’s not much else we can do that will pay well without having to spend a lot more money again on even more education. I personally didn’t want to pay for another degree to find out I also didn’t like that career. I did it once, and I was not willing to make that mistake again. It was just easier to avoid the risk and stay where I was. Find out what you are good out without the big tuition. A career coach may be the right way to help you find out what you love. Many people succeed without big degrees, and some time with a career coach is a lot cheaper than more school. Who knows, you may find something worth going back to school for.
6) Man, I hate to say this one, but… some of us think we’re above everything else. We would hate to wait tables or work in retail. For some it is a snobby, elitist attitude, and for others they simply know they wouldn’t be satisfied doing those specific things. We also know what it’s like to be your own boss. We know what it’s like to feel special and respected in your job. Sometimes, we think it’s not worth giving those things up because those things do create a lot of job satisfaction. It just becomes another rationalization for why we should stay put. You set high goals for yourself in the first place. That’s how you became a dentist after all. Why not set some more? Or maybe set some small goals. Find a new hobby or two. Who knows where that will lead?
Realize that these 6 reasons don’t have to determine your outcome. They are only beliefs that we have created for ourselves. It might seem like dogma, but these perceptions are not absolute, unchangeable truths. It can be easier said than done, but why not work towards what you truly want in life? Change doesn’t have to be made all at once, but if you focus only on why you can’t change, you’ll never allow the new possibilities or opportunities to come into your life. It’s easy to blame outside circumstances for keeping us stuck, but really we, ourselves, are responsible.
When you are truly ready (or just desperate enough,) you will find out that these beliefs don’t mean anything at all, and… poof, they’ll disappear.