What Would I Tell My Younger Self?

When I was asked to think about what I would tell my younger self to possibly do or change over my lifetime, I immediately went to all of the past presidents’ columns to make sure I wouldn’t say anything that wasn’t original. I only had to go back to last year and read Rick Taylor’s reflections and realize he had already said everything I wanted to say! So, I can keep this real short and give you the link to what Rick said…or I can really think deeply about what has affected me the most in the last five years in private practice.

The one thing I have realized over the past year is the need to maintain balance in your life. No, I am not talking about family, work, professional and spiritual balance, but rather BALANCE. I have spent the last year working on improving my physical balance in walking, standing and exercise. Indeed, in a scant five-year period, I lost much of the ability to stand without holding on or pushing on something, walk straight (not side-to-side) and simply step-up two steps at a time. My trainer had me walk the track and watched my gait and immediately informed me my right foot was not parallel with my left foot when I was walking. Lightbulb moment! That was because for 40 years I straddled an inclined patient chair and activated the rheostat with my right foot which had developed the muscle memory to automatically put my right foot in that 45-degree position, even when walking. (I know now when you see me walking you will all be seeing if I am parallel or off-set!)  I confess all of this to you because, I should have known better! I started out at the University of Iowa teaching ergonomics! Anyway, as my life matured with family and other demands on time, I gradually stopped working out like I had done the first 20 years of practice. I gradually worked patients in at lunch, left late and was too tired and hungry to go work out 95 percent of the time after a full day. (Hopefully this doesn’t sound familiar!)

In the last two years of practice, sciatica and balance issues developed with physical therapy visits and the realization I was no longer “bulletproof” like I thought I was when I started my journey in dentistry. The balance is back, still working on it though and working on the “foot thing”. So, my advice to a younger me would be, “Work out at least three hours a week or more and take better care to preserve your core, YOU deserve some personal time, so take it”.

On a completely different plane, there was some advice I think all the younger “MEs” should heed. Not only do you need to give yourself some personal time for physical activity and core maintenance, you need to invest first in yourself, financially, very early. I was late getting going into private practice, but started investing in our 401(k) as soon as I could, with pre-tax dollars as soon as I was eligible. I was talked into a few investments by “friends” that had great returns initially that turned out to be “high-risk” and lost half of it in the end. No, it wasn’t a Ponzi, but just a speculative investment that friends had “relatives into and looked good if they were doing it so why not me? …” Bingo, I lost. So later, I looked for more tried-and-true managers who were steady, but knew when to bail and when to buy. I was fortunate to not follow several trends in local investments, and 40 years later I had a reasonable retirement even with two very significant drops in the market over that time frame. Think Warren Buffett!

I have recently read a few articles with advice from highly successful people. I also found one article “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think-Here’s how to make the most of it” by Arthur C. Brooks, July 2019, in The Atlantic, that was particularly interesting and worthwhile. Rather than summarize the article, I will ask that you trust my recommendation because I saw a lot of myself in the text.

So, please read all of Dr. Taylor’s essay from last year, get back to the gym, find a trusted financial advisor and take care of yourself, first and foremost. You deserve it!