A Different Way to Look At Serving Others
By: Laura Brenner, DDS
We always hear how the key to true happiness is being of service to others. In fact, we’ve heard it so much that it must be true. But what do you do if you don’t feel like it? What do you do if you feel pulled in so many directions in your life that you don’t have one more ounce of energy to give?
Admitting that is a tough pill to swallow, especially when many of us chose dentistry for the sole purpose of helping others. Although I entered the field to help people, the stress of the day-to-day work left me drained. After a while, I stopped wanting to help anyone. That was hard to admit, and I kept it a secret for a long time. I even felt ashamed to admit it in the privacy of those closest to me.
I’m here to tell you, it’s okay to feel that way. Even if you feel that way right now, it doesn’t define you, and it doesn’t mean you will always feel that way.
In my case, I created this problem on my own. I didn’t draw emotional boundaries for myself. If my patients felt angry, scared, or impatient, I either took on their feelings, or I felt guilty that they felt that way. I thought that in order to help patients, I needed to be their savior; I needed to fix their problems and make sure everything went perfectly for them. I would often sacrifice my best interests in order for them to have a great experience. When things went wrong, I often blamed myself, even if no one was to blame.
This behavior was not and is not sustainable. We can’t really be of service and give to others when it harms us or when we have nothing left to give.
I’ve since learned that there is a different way to look at serving others. In my old definition, it meant that I had to fix them and their problems. Instead of allowing the patient to be reasonably responsible for him or herself, I carried the burden for all of their problems. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders– all because I took the responsibility and the blame whenever things were less than perfect. Imagine the pressure that put on me.
Now I know there is another way. My new definition of serving others allows me to have trust in the other person. I can trust that they are capable of creating their life exactly how they choose. They don’t need me to make everything perfect for them. I can shed the pressure to be perfect (which would doom me to failure anyway, of course,) and it allows me to free myself up to really help them. It helps me stay realistic about what is humanly possible for me and what I should expect of myself.
That is freedom. And it’s not all. In addition to keeping our own buckets full in order to help others, there is one other vital piece: Passion.
What really matters to you? Why do you do what you do? What are you passionate about? I recently spoke with a pediatric dentist who noticed she started feeling burnt out in practice because she started getting away from the very things that she loved about dentistry. She got so caught up in the minutiae, the day-to-day challenges, that she forgot why she was there. Once she reconnected with the things that truly motivated and inspired her, connecting with her patients and creating great future adult patients, she could willingly and successfully be of service again. Her entire outlook on her practice was revived.
Luckily for me, I have found the thing that I’m passionate about too. If I can find a way to go from resenting helping others to having it be the reason I pop out of bed every day, then I know you can too.
If you’re feeling the way I felt, if you’re feeling like you don’t have anything left to give, then have hope. That’s normal, and we can change. We can learn to experience serving others as a gift instead of a burden. We can fill our buckets, so we have enough to give. We can reconnect with the reason we show up every day and the passion that brought us into dentistry in the first place.
After graduating from Baylor College of Dentistry in 2001, Dr. Laura Brenner moved to Denver to establish her dental roots. She worked in private practice for 10 years until she left clinical dentistry behind for good. As the author of the Lolabees blog and 10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too, she began connecting with other dentists from around the world who wanted more from their careers. This work inspired her to become a Certified Professional Coach who is passionate about helping dentists find joy in their careers again. She can be found at LolabeesCareerCoaching.com.
The Metro Denver Dental Society is a not-for-profit component society of the American Dental Association and the Colorado Dental Association.