Practical Tactics for Changing Your Life, One Small Step At A Time

We all loved reading about my friend, Ritu’s story about her decision to sell her practice and take a break from clinical dentistry for a little while.  It was great to hear from several of you who have also made your own changes and are inspiring others!  I’ve asked Ritu to write one more post.  In the first one, she shared her story to let you know why she chose to sell her practice.  Since she just wrote the amazing book, The Energy Shift: Increase Your Energy and Do More of What You Want Every Day, I asked her to share how she used some of the philosophy from her new book to create her path and show how she did it.  Here is what she had to say…

They say fortune favors the bold, yet few of us feel fortune is referring to us.

In fact, bold is seldom a go-to word or philosophy for living. Typically, it’s just ‘get through the day’. Put in your time, tackle the problems thrown at you, or live to try another day. Sure, there may be a few good moments along the way, and hey, there’s the weekend to look forward to. And vacation. Let’s not forget about vacation.

But what if that wasn’t enough? What if, under all that, there was a deeper desire to do more (or something else), something meaningful, fulfilling, and dare I say it, fun? What if there was more to this life than just surviving, like thriving?

These were the questions I was asking myself. I had been ignoring them for a while, but they kept rising to the surface.

The problem with ignoring such desires is that it lets you live in your comfort zone but they continue to simmer under the radar. Be they in your personal or professional life, it doesn’t matter. In response, we feed the illusion that this is the way things have to be, the only way they can be. This mindset gets us through the day but silently drains our enthusiasm, our need to expand, to thrive, to really live.

Till there comes a time when you take a step back.

Either it’s because you’re inspired, or more likely, when life has thrown you one too many curveballs, and you’re down on the floor, licking your wounds, feeling hopeless. You may not have all the answers, but you realize this is not a place you want to be.

When I was sick and tired of being tired all the time, I knew I needed to get in better physical shape.

When I wanted to run a marathon, I knew I’d have to put in the hours to train for it.

When I felt stuck in my business, I knew I had to find what wasn’t working, then do something about it.

When I wanted to write a book, I knew I’d have to make the time and put words on paper.

When you find yourself feeling stuck or unhappy, I suggest you take note; those moments can be your guide and your frustration can be your fuel.

But first, there’s this. Anytime we even consider making a big change, all the reasons not to do it threaten our intent: It’s too late. You’re too old. You can’t afford to. This is the way it’s always been, it’s what you know. They won’t let you (or like it). It’s too hard. These reasons sound smart, logical and oh so practical. Better not to rock the boat, and tell that other voice to pipe down.

Bold? Ha.

However, we have to remind ourselves that if we want things to be different, we have to be the ones to do it. And we don’t have to have it all figured out right this second. Or even tomorrow, because that’s too overwhelming. First comes the decision; it’s a message to ourselves that we are willing to begin. Maybe not ready – because let’s face it, we’re rarely ever completely ready – but willing to begin.

With that decision, things start to stir. A certain kind of energy awakens.

Then, admittedly, comes the hard part, the WORK. But not all at once. You take little steps every day, as best you can. You learn. You experiment. If (when) you fall, you get up. And if you don’t know exactly where you want to go, you take the next few steps, and the next few after those till you figure it out. Whatever you do, you don’t fall for the fallacy of overnight success, nor do you try to go full speed ahead and then burn out.

I also realized you have to get to a new level of honesty with yourself. Real honesty is not for the faint of heart, but it’s necessary. It helps us let that toxic relationship go, or revisit a childhood passion, and stop trying to keep up our insides with other people’s outsides. We waste so much energy on things that don’t serve us that we forget how liberating honesty feels. The masks that we put on, the stories we believe, each of these takes an emotional and mental toll. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve believed in some of my own stories for years, not realizing till much later that I’ve either outgrown them or that they can evolve and change as I do.

These words I’m writing are not mere thoughts taken form, but a product of lessons learned, of putting them into practice. Growth takes work, and I like my work to count. So I aimed to build habits rather than relying on my willpower, which has proven fickle all too often. Over time, things began to change, both personally and professionally, and I made progress. I got in better shape, I ran my marathon, I improved my business (then sold it) and I wrote my book, and then another. All I had to do was keep taking small steps, put in the work, and keep moving forward.

Little steps add up over time, and things begin to happen.

If you consider the alternative – boredom, dissatisfaction and staying stuck – then making any progress is being bold (heads up, Fortune). Once you realize that, you’ll find your enthusiasm rise up, and you’ll find the energy to shift forward.

Ritu Rao is a dentist and writer.  Whether running an ultramarathon or her own business, she condenses others’ wisdom and her own to spread her message: small steps are the key to personal change. She is also the author of The Light Shift: 21 Simple Ways to Make Your Days Interesting, Get Unstuck and Beat the Daily Grind. and just released The Energy Shift: Increase Your Energy and Do More of What You Want Every Day. Visit her website Riturao.com to find out more about her and how to shift your life. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and two children.

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25 thoughts on “Practical Tactics for Changing Your Life, One Small Step At A Time

  1. Love your post. It’s very helpful to read how you break down the process into little steps “we don’t have to have it all figured out right this second. Or even tomorrow, because that’s too overwhelming. First comes the decision; it’s a message to ourselves that we are willing to begin.” I feel terribly overwhelmed by the sheer thought of leaving my job that I can’t seem to think straight. But as you say, the very idea of wanting to leave might be a way to begin…

    1. Absolutely. You have to make the decision first, and then you have to keep pushing in that direction… even if it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. That was what worked for me. Even when I didn’t think I was getting anywhere, the small things I was doing really did pave the way for change. Good luck with your job change! You can do it!

  2. Great post. I’ve gone back and forth between practicing, consulting, and even considered going back to school. But man, do those choices get harder the older we get. My biggest stumbling block has been the “guilt” of leaving clinical. So, I found myself going back, part time as an associate (that has not been fun), floundering, than quitting after a few months. I now realize that chasing the “ideal” practice opportunity is not the real issue, it’s the practice of dentistry that I dislike. I’ve decided, for the fifth or sixth time, to hang it up for good. What will I do? Only time and reflection will tell.

      1. I did, and still do, part time consulting for MetLife. Not very lucrative for a dentist but the added disability income makes it worth it. I stopped practicing those half dozen times for two reasons: one, the income as an associate still didn’t = consulting + disability income. Two, an associate gets treated, oftentimes, like shit. I was excited about this latest foray back in a family practice until the dip shit owner started to critique everything I did. I think if you’re an owner, at least you make more and have equity as an associate, as you know, you only make 30-35% and work like a dog, not to mention the lack of autonomy. At 45, I’m not sure I would ever own an office again. I don’t totally dislike clinical, but when I put it all together, I’d be stupid to go back in. But about every six months or so, I start missing it somewhat…..then, reality hits me again, as it did with this latest owner I worked for. I lasted all of one month. LOL

    1. Your brief summary mirrors mine… thank you for commenting as it makes the realization much less daunting knowing others have tried and been ultimately dissatisfied with the consistent pursuit of some ultimate associateship that , at least for me, is just not materializing,

  3. I love this girl. Wait, did I say that out loud?
    I’m not overstating things when I say that it’s thrilling to see people who are able to step off of life’s treadmill and start really going somewhere and having fun doing it. I think that most folks read an article like this and instantly begin to make excuses about why she’s clearly different, better, wealthier, etc, and that’s why she was able to step out but not them. But notice where she said, “You take little steps every day, as best you can”. Little steps can be taken even if you’re broke, even if you’re working with twenty dollars in your account, even if you’r not an expert, even if you’re battling depression. She’s not suggesting that everything falls into place tomorrow, but that “growth takes work”, it takes time, it requires building new skills.
    Hell, I just loved this post. Keep it up.

    1. Dink, yes you did say that out loud? What’s going on? Yes, Lolabees just attracts those kind of people! 😉 You nailed it– anyone can do the small things. There’s another way to look at it, and I’m stealing this philosophy, but the small things are easy to do and easy not to do. Whether you’re willing to do them or not is really what separates the successes from the failures. Always great to hear from you and get your insightful input. I hope you’ve been well!!

  4. I went into dentistry because everyone around me seemed to think it would be a great career for me. I wanted financial stability and I knew there would never be a shortage of rotten teeth to fix. What I never took into account was what I actually wanted for myself. I was so eager to prove myself to my parents, friends, and acquaintances without looking within myself and listening to what my inner voice was trying to tell me. After completing my degree (I didn’t want to be a quitter) and working within the field for 3 years, I had to move on. That was 6 years ago. During the last 6 years, I have worked a little each day on building my skills in photography and design while also having two kids. I have recently started my stock photography business and I am continuing my art studies online. I am very proud of myself for making this happen. It was a long, difficult journey but I got through it. No one else can do this for you and it will not be easy.

    Listen to your inner voice. Don’t just “suck it up”. You have one life and only you can define who you are.

    1. Sherry, I think so many of us went into this field so we could please everyone around us. I know I did. I applied to dental school and then deferred a year to travel. The one stipulation that I agreed to follow (for my mother, of course,) was that I would travel 1 year only and then go on to dental school after that year. I listened to all of the pressures and expectations around me– not my inner voice. You should be proud. Very few people have the courage to do what a lot of us here have done. Congrats to you!! Congrats on your business, and I wish you an abundance of success. Do you have a website with your photos? I’d love to see it! Agree… you have one life– don’t waste it. Big smiles here. Thank you.

  5. I am new to this site, but have found it due to various online searches including “leaving the dental profession” I have previously tried to leave, but various factors prevented. I have been qualified for 6 years and still don’t particularly like it or want to do it! It has affected both my physical and mental health. I am now pregnant and have decided I can’t go on being miserable and set an example to my child in years to come with how much I hate my job! It is such a relief to read that I am not the only one! I didn’t want to do this as a job, but school and mother pressure seemed to lead to it. I have found that all the fears I read about apply, but mainly: What would I do? Can I afford it? I am very interested to hear what you all do now. From reading your words I can see how “light” you are now you’re not trapped in this stressful and critical profession. I work in the UK and we are often under the spotlight by the public and our “evil” registration body… Of course no one cares or sympathises with all these “rich, greedy dentists”
    Lolabees it was your article a colleague sent me a few years back, 10 Reasons Why Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too, that really made me realise just how much I don’t like this job and all the nonsense that goes with it.
    I am really really hoping over the next 2-3 years I can move away from this misery and be one of you happy and lighter people!! I am so over teeth, the public and the stress!!! 🙂

    1. Glad you found us here, Shepherd Lady! I can definitely confirm how much “lighter” I feel. I also can confirm that I had all the same fears and questions you have… as we all do. Start the process now… start to discover what you like to do, even if it’s not the final destination. One door will open the next one, and who knows which door will be the one to set you free! Keep in touch and let us know how you are doing and if you make any progress, and let me know if I can help you.

  6. I just read your post. I am currently feeling the same pain. UGHHHHHH. I read this blog when I really hate working for bad owners.

    1. We all feel each other’s pain. 😉 Are you a dentist working for bad owners, or are you another dental professional? I had a few bad bosses that definitely didn’t help my challenges in dentistry.

      1. Hi, I am a dentist working as an associate. I have no desire to open up my own practice, knowing that it would eat up all my time. I wanted to gain some experiences as an associate and get some mentorship in the process. I came to the realization that not a lot of dentists are willing to teach or learn. Most of the ones I have worked for are stuck thinking about the bottom line. Their staff become very sour and eventually it started eating me up. Anyways…I want 2017 to be my year to break free…I just don’t know how to approach it and what opportunities are out there. It definitely takes one step at a time…but it does come very slowly.

        1. Hi, I’m with you on this. My situation was rather complicated. I had an illness that forced me to get disability benefits after ten years of private practice; that in conjunction with a dental consulting job at an insurance company made the switch easier. But I was restless. The job is a mindless, cubicle computer job and if you’re anything like me, we didn’t go to dental school to have a 9-5 corporate job. So, recently, I went back to try to associate par time after a five year hiatus from clinical to see what I was missing. As dreary and boring as the insurance job is, working for other dentists has been a nightmare. Now, several years ago prior to my illness, I did open my own office. It was very stressful but at least I called my own shots. If I didn’t feel like doing molar endo (a nightmare), I referred. Having gone back to being an employee, I didn’t enjoy such freedoms. My last job lasted all of two days when the owner took me to task for not treating a tooth that didn’t need treatment. It was more important he could afford his Porsche Panamera payment. I left reminded how much I dislike what has become of our profession. It is no longer trusted and corporate has destroyed any hope. There are not many teaching jobs, either. So I have thought about getting out of this altogether; yes, I’ll need to get a different degree, perhaps something in health care but probably unlikely. I’ve become disillusioned. I’m writing this to tell you that a short break may help you put it in perspective. There are no easy answers because we have been trained to do just one thing, and that’s treat peoples’ oral health. Outside of that, it will take some risk and creativity. But it can be done. Hang in there

        2. I never wanted to own either. I really didn’t want the added stress and responsibility. For me, it was the right fit, but I can see how others are a lot happier when they get to call the shots. I will admit though, that unlike Cat III’s most recent experience, I did have a lot of autonomy in those jobs– even if they weren’t ideal for so many reasons. I guess there were other negatives, that not being one of them. I also think the staff is harder to work with when you’re an associate. At the end of the day, many of them know who signs their paycheck, and that does affect their behavior. Stay tuned… I might be able to help you through your journey…

  7. Category III, soooooo true . Over treatment, pushing unethical ideology on associates to increase bottom lines making the unknowing public the victims.. refusal to go along with it and being taken to task as you say.
    I feel like the profession is headjnb in a catestrophic direction and the crash course is inevitable in the shadow of corporate interests.
    I feel admiration for those of you that have posted here. Wish I was as brave

    1. Sadly, when I went to dental school, I was under the impression that it was like medicine–if a patient needed treatment , you just did it, without quotas or corporate pressure (although it’s happening in medicine, too). Trouble for me is, I didn’t think dentistry was so elective. That, the recent economic downturn for which we have not yet covered, rising student debt etc, guarantees over treatment. When the average loan is $300k, cost of ownership $400k+, and average associate salaries $120k or so (insurance compensation hasn’t increased keeping wages stagnant) how can we survive on sealants? The average patient’s income is also fixed so our recommendations are often compromised by lack of funds. Troubled waters ahead.

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