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Six Pieces of Wisdom to My Younger Self

I was asked this month to write about what advice I would give to my younger self. Barring the ability to phone my “just started residency” self back in 1986 to advise investing in Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, I would say that my advice would be to listen more, talk less.

I was fortunate enough to have excellent endodontic mentors, both in training and in practice, who gave me excellent advice over the years. I wish that I had paid more attention and heeded the advice given more closely.

Wanting to give current residents at the University of Washington the same opportunities to heed or dismiss advice, I am fond of the following words of wisdom:

  1. Study hard and read to remember.
  2. Be adventurous but try not to work beyond your abilities. You will get yourself into enough tough spots as it is.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You will find that you are probably not as smart, clever, good-looking or financially secure as you think.
  4. You are never too old to learn something new, but you learn that the bigger the leap, the harder the landing.
  5. There is more to be gained through cooperation than conflict but know when to stand up to intimidation.
  6. Position yourself well for changes in the marketplace. Materials, instruments, practice models and insurance plans are continually changing – make sure that you can take advantage of opportunities created but remember that new is not always better.

Another piece of advice is to recognize the importance of membership in improving public perception.  Few organizations have the brand recognition and respect of the ADA. Back in the late 1950s, Crest toothpaste completed studies (perhaps not well done by today’s standards) that gained the first ADA Seal of Approval in 1960. This cemented the ADA brand as representing trust and quality for millions of consumers over the following 58-plus years. Hundreds of thousands of dentists have benefited by displaying the ADA logo in their offices. The ADA’s advocacy efforts on fluoridation are important, too — in fact, just today the ADA reported on a study finding that fluoride-free toothpaste does not prevent cavities.

By that same token, your membership in the AAE is another significant point of pride. If you’re already involved, get more involved; and stay involved throughout the course of your career. You’ll find that your AAE family will help you to heed the advice highlighted above and you’ll create lifelong friendships and bonds in the process.

Lastly, practice patience. Try to enjoy the journey, rather than always focusing on reaching that next goal. You’ll get there, so in the meantime — enjoy the ride.