How do you feel about yourself as a dentist? What about your quality of work, your skills in general, and how much value you bring to your office?
If you are unsure of yourself and feel inferior or inadequate at what you do for a living, trust me you’re not alone.
If you don’t work in an area like sales, for example, where you have tangible numbers as a testament to your performance, you may not get immediate (if any) feedback at work. Your end-of-the-day production report is quantitative, but for many, it’s not enough.
The real world is often a stark contrast to the education system that most of us have gone through, where letter grades or numbers were assigned to completed tasks, almost immediately.
I’ll give you an example.
One of my clients, let’s call her Sarah, used to be an unhappy, unfulfilled, and frequently burnt-out dentist. At work, she often felt inadequate, like she wasn’t good enough.
Patients were sometimes fearful, anxious, and demanding. They didn’t always thank her when she contorted her body into painful positions to get procedures done.
To top it off, she never knew if the work she did would hold up for as long as it was “supposed” to . It can often take a few years to know if the dental treatment done withstands the test of time.
So, if the dental work done takes years to follow-up and patients don’t always verbally express their appreciation, how was Sarah supposed to know if she was actually a skilled and competent dentist? Where was the evidence for it?
The answer is simple. She just had to decide that she was and then look for the evidence (because it’s there, I promise).
The Danger of Relying on External Validation Alone
Only choosing to believe that you are a competent, skilled, and valuable dentist based on the feedback of others is a dangerous game to play.
Why? You ask.
Because it only takes one bad review, one disgruntled patient, or one snarky comment from a staff member or owner to shake your belief in yourself and your capabilities.
This means that how you feel about yourself will always be at the mercy of things outside of you. Things you can’t always control.
This is an incredibly unstable way to live in the world. It’s exhausting and you often end up bending backward to please everyone because their opinions and comments carry so much weight.
The truth is, even the dentists out there with a high number of negative reviews will still have patients who are fiercely loyal, who think this dentist is the absolute best, and who they send referrals to.
We can even consider a non-dental-related example. Take your favorite book, clothing store, or restaurant. If you search for reviews online or ask around for other people’s opinions, you’ll hear a gamut of responses. Some positive, some neutral, some negative.
So if your favorite book has 100 positive, 50 negative, and 20 neutral reviews and 4/10 of your friends and family members dislike it, what’s the final verdict on the book? Well-written masterpiece or literary junk?
Who knows? There isn’t a universal truth out there to confirm this. The same concept applies to you as a dentist.
As I was explaining to my client Sarah, there is no committee out there who decides whether she is a good, competent dentist.
This is why your thoughts about yourself professionally, who you are, and what your capabilities are, should be given the most weight.
Forget should, they must be given the most weight! Because they are going to be what anchors you when the going gets tough or when s*** hits the fan.
When your opinion of yourself and your thoughts about the kind of dentist you are are solid, any external validation you receive is just an added bonus. A cherry on top, if you will.
Is This Delusional?
And by delusional, I mean contradicting reality.
Well, what should the positive: negative feedback ratio be for someone is a great, competent dentist? There isn’t going to be one that every dentist will agree upon collectively.
And what breadth of knowledge and skill does one need to have in order to be considered competent?
Maybe you are competent in certain areas and inexperienced in others.
What number of re-dos are allowed for a competent dentist, say per 20 procedures done? If your answer is 0, you have some work to do regarding perfectionism, my friend.
Are you starting to catch my drift?
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Your beliefs about yourself are not based on some universal truth out there. They are just the thoughts you have practiced over an extended period of time, often dating back to your early years.
Often, when you start to expose these said beliefs and really challenge/question them, you’ll come to realize that many of them are not based on facts and often don’t make much sense.
Are You Waiting to Get More Experience?
Having more experience is incredibly valuable.
But how many years will suffice in order for you to believe in yourself and your abilities as a dentist?
Does experience correlate with the number of years worked?
What if you are in the earlier half of your career?
Like my client, will you go to work every day struggling with feelings of inadequacy until you’re halfway to retirement?
That is THE unofficial recipe to becoming an unhappy, stuck, burnt-out, and unfulfilled dentist.
Now, I have a truth bomb for you- you can feel fully confident as a dentist regardless of the experience or the number of years worked. The number doesn’t matter.
This is because self-confidence is a feeling and our feelings are created by our thoughts.
This is why if there are two people at a job, the person with more experience won’t always be more confident.
It reminds me of a dental hygenist I worked with this past year. He was so self-assured and confident, I thought he had been in the field for years. Imagine my surprise when I found out he was a new grad.
I’ve also worked with a dental hygienist with over 10 years of experience, who still needed to check little details with a colleague and who are often questioned her clinical decisions.
The number of years and experience are not the number one determining factor in your confidence. Your thoughts and beliefs are.
Your Brain Seeks Out Evidence to Support Your Beliefs
This is called confirmation bias. It’s where you seek out information that supports existing beliefs and downplay or ignore anything else that may suggest the contrary.
This is because the brain likes to be efficient at what it does.
The world is complex and your brain can’t take it all in, so your thoughts direct your brain and tell it what to focus on.
if you believe that you are incompetent at what you do and feel inferior, any minor setback at work is going to be all that you focus on.
You’ll often ignore anything else that you did well that day.
This is why it can often feel like everything is going wrong after a failure or clinical setback. Your brain is hyperfocused on everything that is going wrong and on all the ways you are falling short of expectations.
Realistically, even if you make mistakes and fail during a workday, there are also things that you are doing well or dare I say, excelling at.
Knowing the brain’s tendency to do this, you can use it to your advantage when believing new things.
You have to intentionally search for the evidence, no matter how small, because your brain on autopilot mode won’t do this.
Your Thoughts Affect How You Show Up
The thoughts you have cause your feelings.
The way you feel then drives you to take action (or not). Think of your feelings as the type of gas you put into a car to make it go.
You can put the standard, premium, or even diesel which can damage your car’s engine.
Ask yourself this: How do you show up at your job when you feel incompetent and inferior?
How do you show up physically (i.e., your posture, your clothes, how you present yourself)?
How do you interact with your colleagues and clients/patients?
How do you perform your job?
Trust me, it won’t be positive. Negative thoughts and negative feelings do not drive positive actions and they create unhappy dentists who hate dentistry.
Why Coaching is the Secret Sauce
It all starts with uncovering your existing beliefs and challenging them by pulling apart the threads that hold them together.
This is what I help you do (among other things).
This is what causal coaching is, getting to the root of the problem rather than treating the symptoms.
If you struggle with lacking confidence and feelings of inferiority at work, book a complimentary 40-minute consult call with me to find out what life coaching can do for here.
Life is too short to survive your workdays (and let’s be honest, these issues tend to trickle down into your personal life as well).