Do We Have Control of Our Success or is it Success That has Control Over Our Lives?

Written by: Maggie Augustyn, DDS, FAAIP, FICOI


It is not a passing fad or a temporary phase; it is a movement: the emergence, acceptance, and integration of consultants, coaches, and business advisors into the dental profession. The invitation stands because we have taken on too much; the expectations we place on ourselves surpass what a single person can realistically achieve. The invitation remains valid because, despite the time and effort we invest in our careers and practices, we often struggle to find our true selves and define our own success. Defining success is an incredibly important endeavor for everyone to undertake.


However, unlike physical exercise, it takes longer than a 20-minute Peloton ride. It cannot be haphazardly squeezed into our lives. I have personally experienced this journey both on a personal and professional level as an owner and provider at Happy Tooth. I am here to convey that it requires not just time, but also meditation, research, and, above all, courage. Courage to remain true to oneself. Courage to fearlessly explore what truly ignites our souls. Hence, seeking assistance to remain accountable in this process is more vital today than ever before.

A Lifelong Addiction… to Numbers

Oh, the beauty of numbers: our ability to see and interpret them, to track and compare. Oh, numbers: how seamlessly they translate into Chase apps, Citibank websites, or Charles Schwab portals. They guide us towards the years we must work to retire, to travel, to pay for our children’s education. Numbers connect us to what we have and what we owe; they contrast who we are with each other. Numbers, scores, and ranks got us into school.

Numbers and units of crowns and bridges granted us degrees. Numbers, savings, and loans enabled us to purchase homes, cars, and practices. Numbers and money can improve or worsen everything. Unfortunately, numbers, in all forms and even in our weight, height, and age, define and dictate our success. The program that has been running in our minds since our academic career began, our addiction to numbers and their comparison, is not easy to overcome. It is a tremendous challenge for most of us. Letting go of our dependence on sums and figures and paying attention to our own lives requires practice, mindfulness, and, above all, a desire for freedom from it.

The amount of money we spend or don’t spend at Nordstrom, Target, Goodwill, or Neiman’s does not determine our sense of success. Perhaps the moment when we hand over the credit card for a significant purchase holds some value, maybe it even brings a fleeting sense of elation. However, we know deep down that such feelings are temporary and unsustainable. Because numbers, money, anything that can be counted and chosen to be counted, do not and will never translate into a lasting feeling of success. Choosing to immerse ourselves in sums and statistics, prioritizing dollars and decimals over actions and experiences, will leave us feeling unfulfilled. Now, please understand that as a practice owner and provider, I recognize the importance of numbers. Running a successful business requires paying attention to overhead and being cost-conscious.

Comparing and contrasting numbers is a crucial aspect of business acumen. Numbers in practice management software, QuickBooks, and sometimes on tax returns correlate with the overall profitability of our businesses. However, I must caution you that numbers should not be connected to, nor should they define, your self-worth or success.

It’s the Other Way Around

I can reluctantly accept that our self-worth is derived from our personal definition of success. Consequently, I acknowledge that success can indeed shape our identity. Each of us was brought into this world, regardless of our beliefs, with unique circumstances and individual struggles. Just as you have never experienced a day in my shoes, the same applies to me trying to follow in your footsteps. Our struggles and past experiences have honored us by fostering resilience and growth. They have also allowed us to determine what brings us joy, peace, and a sense of flow—essentially, our own version of success.

Is it possible that we could have become who we are without our troubles and baggage? Or is it conceivable that these challenges have forged the resilience within us, propelling us to where we stand today? Has the absence of success fueled our drive to pursue it? If you are willing to take a step back, squint your eyes, and genuinely contemplate what success means to you, you will arrive at the same conclusion I did: none of it revolves around numbers. It is our addiction and habitual practice of quantifying, which began in our teenage years, that continues to link our self-worth and success to numbers.

There is a misleading notion that if we can count, we will have some control over our success. For instance, one can count the number of new patients entering the office each month, the proposed and accepted treatment plans, and months later, the attrition of those patients from our practice. All these numbers translate into dollars and cents in both our business and personal accounts. To a certain extent, we do possess control over how many of those patients choose to walk through our doors. This control relies on our internal and external marketing, team training, and the extent to which we are willing to invest in search engine optimization or Google ads.

In this example, we can control what we count. Now, let’s consider the opposite perspective. Let’s contemplate the flaws and circumstances surrounding this theory. Is it possible, even probable or imaginable, that it is the dollars and cents, the quantifiable aspects, which actually exert control over our lives? Consider if it is success defined by decimals that commands our concept of prosperity.

Freedom from Numbers: It’s Within Your Reach

Discovering how to capitalize on our self-worth and find happiness is not limited to hiring coaches and consultants, although they can expedite the search. Answers on how to feel successful and live with a sense of purpose can be found in books, podcasts, discussions, and through journaling.

Regardless of the chosen method of self-discovery, success can perhaps be visualized as moments of joy, not just in terms of dollars and cents. It should be the times we experience flow and uncontrollable laughter.

Success can be seen as a state of being, a higher sense of existence. Choose to define success based on the patients you’ve helped, the growth of your team, the support you provide for your family, the knowledge you’ve acquired, and the service you’ve rendered.

Define success as waking up energized and encouraged, living in alignment with your passions. Define it as finding peace and allowing your mind to wander freely, discovering beauty and joy in every smile. As dentists, as providers, we have a unique opportunity to define success without brackets, overheads, and percentages. It’s all about how you choose to shape your story. I have experienced both ends of the spectrum: cursing my circumstances and begging the universe for release, and realizing that my growth has been built upon my shortcomings.

Today, I would willingly traverse the fires of my past to attain the peace I now possess within me. I no longer need numbers or money in the same way I once imagined them to play a role twenty-five years ago. Please don’t mistake me for a selfless, poverty-vowing monk. I fall into the same traps as all of us do. I too enjoy labels, and I treat myself accordingly. The difference is that at the end of the day, the contents of my closet or the balance behind the password on my banking site hold no greater value than my ability to sit here and write from the depths of my soul.

As I face whatever future I am fortunate enough to encounter, I pray to keep the following in mind:

525600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laugh. – Seasons of Love, Rent


Dr. Maggie Augustyn is a practicing general dentist, the owner of Happy Tooth, a faculty member at Productive Dentist Academy, an author, and an inspirational speaker. She obtained her Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Augustyn is passionate about reading, researching, writing, and speaking on topics that encompass the human experience, including our struggles, pain, and moments of vitality. Her personal mission is to inspire individuals to embark on a journey toward a more authentic self-actualization. She has a notable presence in the media and is a frequent contributor to Dental Entrepreneur Woman.

Dr. Augustyn takes great pride in her role as a contributing author to Dentistry Today, where she publishes a column titled “Mindful Moments.” She has also been featured on various podcasts and is a sought-after national speaker, emphasizing the significance of authenticity and self-discovery.