Don’t Lose Your Purpose in the Race for Results

Bruce V. Freeman, DDS, DOrtho, MSc

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I think we’ve lost the plot.

Yoga philosophy teaches us that we all have a role in life, a dharma. I was lucky enough to be trained as a yoga teacher and introduced to the philosophy of the practice by a wonderful and wise teacher and author, Hali Schwartz.

In her book One Without a Second, Schwartz writes, “every being on earth has a dharma to fulfill that cannot be avoided; dharma cannot be put off, because dharma is, what is. When one accepts this, then life can truly be lived.” She goes on to explain that “competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.”

We may look at our colleagues and think they have it all figured out. Their life is so amazing. (Thanks again, Instagram.) The results they provide for their patients are beyond belief.

Yes, it is great to admire others. But what exactly do we find so admirable? Is it the commitment and passion they bring to every aspect of their craft, or just the fruits of their labor? Is our role in life simply to produce results?

Schwartz reminds us that we must act with patience and awareness and ensure we “choose only those actions which do no harm to yourself or others.” Do no harm. We in healthcare are taught this from our first day in our professional training, but it also applies to how we treat ourselves. Yet here we are tormenting ourselves with our focus on that perfect result, the image of which is engraved in our minds.

The result is what matters, we are sternly taught. Yet Schwartz again summons the teachings of the great philosophers when she warns that “the ego-driven attachment to the result of action becomes the seed that plants your bondage.” That sounds ominous, now, doesn’t it?

This does not mean we accept subpar work or throw up our hands and say “well, that’ll do.” That is not what this is about. The issue is that we become so laser-focused on the result that we miss what is necessary to get said result. Our perfectionist tendencies bubble to the surface. We lose sight of our purpose, and ourselves, along the way. Our work and mental wellness suffer as a result. 

Wisdom from the Ancients

In the Bhagavad Gita, the first complete yoga scripture, Arjun, one of the intrepid heroes of the tale, is told, “The ignorant work for their own profit. The wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves. Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion.” The great philosophers must have come from a trip to the dentist when they wrote this.

When it comes to the results, Schwartz writes they “actually, truthfully, scientifically” do not belong to us. All we can do is our best work, mindfully, with compassion, care, and awareness, and “the result will be what it is, come what may.”

Here comes the really hard part to wrap our Type-A heads around. We have nothing to do with the results. Wait, what? While we, here in the present, can do our best, the results belong to the future. If we just focus on nothing but the results, well, we have lost the plot.

How can we learn, grow, and be better when all of our energy is tied up in focusing on the endpoint rather than the steps that led us there? The mind-body disconnection is real as we get so lost in our own heads that we are no longer even aware of our actions. Have you ever driven to work to suddenly realize you have arrived with no recollection of how you got there?

In his book Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, Dr. David R. Hawkins writes, “In all of us, the prideful feeling, ‘I have the answers,’ blocks our growth and development.” Our preoccupation with how others view us and our work creates a vulnerability to the opinions of others and leaves us susceptible, he writes, to one of the basic laws of consciousness: “Defensiveness invites attack.” Ouch.

Self-esteem, he writes, can only arise when we “relinquish pride.” We do it to ourselves, don’t we? We show our work to colleagues by the tens of thousands when we eagerly post online, looking for validation and, yes, adulation, forgetting that harsh criticisms will flow just as quickly, each barb cutting just a little bit deeper into our psyche, eroding our confidence.

Our pride insidiously insinuates itself into our work as we obsess about what “they” will say, causing levels of stress and anxiety to slowly build, like a rollercoaster lumbering toward its peak, leaving us screaming in fear on the other side, as we unstoppably speed toward frustration and self-doubt.

It is, of course, important to evaluate what we do and to seek advice from experienced mentors so that we can do better. But first we must ask ourselves if we did our job with awareness, skill, empathy, and compassion. We can stare at that final photo or x-ray and obsess, lose sleep, question our abilities and career choice, and create more and more anxiety. Or we can take a step back and breathe, asking ourselves how it all happened.

It is the journey to produce the result, and a positive experience for the patient, that warrants our attention. The final two-dimensional picture of our work does not reveal whether the living and breathing patient felt heard and supported and was treated with respect.

The effort and study that went into ensuring that at every point, in that present moment, when the steps to yield the final masterpiece were undertaken, should be done so with the care and consideration that the patient deserved.

We must always remember that there is a patient attached to the result of our efforts. If we want to serve them, and ourselves, we need to let go of our ego-driven focus on the result. We need to liberate ourselves from the bondage to the result and break the procedure down into its components.

With awareness and objectivity, we can then reflect and assess to understand where we can improve, without allowing pride to paralyze us with anxiety and stress, thinking that, well, if the final result is not ideal, we are hopeless.

Hawkins reminds us that self-awareness, a “healthy pride,” of our true value, intent, and purpose, our dharma, is characterized by a “lack of defensiveness” and a feeling of freedom that allows us to provide the best care possible.

Dr. Freeman is the Director of Patient Experience for dentalcorp, helping dentists across Canada achieve clinical success that results in the best experience for their patients. He is an honors graduate of University of Toronto (U of T). He completed the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program at the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester and returned to U of T to complete his Diploma in Orthodontics and his Master’s of Science degree in the field of temporomandibular disorders and orofacial pain. He is also co-director of the Facial Pain Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital and lectures internationally on clinical orthodontics, facial pain, patient experience, and virtual surgical planning. Bruce is a certified yoga instructor with additional training in breathing techniques, meditation, and trauma informed movement. He directs the Wellness Program for Hospital Dental Residents at Mt. Sinai Hospital, emphasizing how self-care leads to the best patient care. He can be reached at bruce@drbvf.com

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