I could not be more excited about today’s guest blog post! I recently met a fellow dentist-turned-blogger who is now living the dream. He shared some thoughts and encouragement on The Pros and Cons of Dentistry, and I was so intrigued by his story, that I had to have him write his own post. So I welcome Rick, my guest blogger, who has given me another reason to smile today. Check out his story about how he left dentistry and where it took him. I know you’ll find it inspiring!
I was very pleased to happen upon Lolabees’s website a few weeks ago. The topic of this blog is something very personal to me, as I know it is to any other dentist who reads it. Indeed, I had sort of forgotten just how personal it was until I started scrolling through her pages and reading her articles, as well as the readers’ comments. All the unpleasant memories—and the physical symptoms that accompany them—came rushing back. Like many of you, I continued to practice long after I had realized that it wasn’t for me and the resultant effects touched every aspect of my life.
I don’t know what I can contribute that Lolabees hasn’t already covered, but I suppose I can recount an edited version of my own story in the hope of inspiring even one more person who is just a little too fearful and not quite miserable enough to make the leap.
I graduated in 1991 and I was in the game for over seventeen years. My school debt was “only” 50K, and I was able to pay it off in 7 years. Meanwhile, I bought a small home when prices were very low, lived modestly, and saved my money—so I guess in the back of my mind I was always looking for a way out. But “life” happens and we put our dreams aside, right?
Like many others have said, I kept waiting for it to get better thinking that the next milestone would get me past the feelings of regret and desperation. “If can just get better/faster with my root canals/crowns, I’ll be more relaxed.” “If I can just pay off my school loans, the pressure will ease up.” “When I cut back to four days a week, it won’t be so bad.” Etcetera. I slowly began to realize that it was never going to get better…until I retired one day, which seemed so far off.
Fifteen years passed in a blink, and then in 2006 a large national dental corporation (I won’t mention the name, but they’re a good company) offered to buy our practice. The timing was just right, because a year later the economic crisis would have probably changed the deal and we wouldn’t have gotten the same price. But the contract required that I stay on as an employee of theirs for two years, which I did, semi-reluctantly. However, once I circled that date on the calendar, I immediately felt better.
Finally in September of 2008 my commitment was satisfied, so I walked away the very next day—or ran away as fast as I could, was more like it. I took off for about six months….traveled to Europe for three months, and then came back to Florida and rented a small condo on the beach where I read books and drank Mojitos every day for another three months. Believe it or not, even that gets boring after a while…AND there was still the slightest doubt that maybe I should keep practicing. After all, I had invested a large portion of my life on my dental career, right? Fear is a tough opponent that dies hard.
So I got a part-time job working for another dentist two days a week. Nice office, decent pay. I thought that the six months away from the job would give me some clarity. And it did. After being back just a couple of weeks, I knew that I wasn’t going to last. I stuck it out for a few months, but my heart was never in it. I finally found the courage to say “Enough!” once and for all.
I really loved my time in Europe, especially Italy, so I went back again. The simplified version from this point is that I arrived in Rome, met a girl, got a job teaching English, and decided that’s what I wanted to do. These days I maintain a blog, write articles for other websites, scratch out an occasional eBook, and now my wife and I have started a small tour company in Sicily. Do I make the same money as before? Not even close; not even 1/4. But while my “standard of living” is now lower, I would argue that my quality of life is much MUCH higher. In theory, I work more hours now than I did as a dentist. However, as the saying goes, “Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.”
So the big question is…do I regret it? Regret being a dentist? Not really. I never liked the job, but I worked with some great people and made a good living. Do I regret quitting? No, not for even one second. In fact, I wish I would have done it ten years sooner—but it brought me to where I am now and gave me the means to chase my true dreams, so I guess it worked out as a means to an end. But when I was practicing, I remember that not a single day went by when I didn’t ask myself, “How can I get out? And when?”
If that’s where you’re at, then I would suggest that you do it sooner rather than later. It’s scary, I know, because dentistry offers stability and financial security. But it isn’t worth your soul, in my opinion. Don’t let fear control your life. There are many other ways to make a living, believe me. Yes, it will take some new groundwork, which requires a bit of time. And you might not be driving the same car or taking expensive vacations, but you’ll be happier knowing that you’re not a slave to a career that you were never suited for.
Rick Zullo is an American writer, teacher, and relentless Italophile. He was born in Chicago, raised in Florida, but always dreamt of Italy. After a 17-year career in dentistry, he left the United States to live in Rome where he met his wife. He is now writing a series of eBooks, as well as a blog (rickzullo.com) which strives to decipher Italian culture for the English-speaking world. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.