Maggie Augustyn, DDS, discusses how to rid the instinct to compare and to move forward in authentically living out your own true story.
Q: Why are we driven to compare?
A: The modern western culture seems to be driven by our own self-imposed and, dare I say, destructive comparison to others; it may have become an art form of sorts. Terms such as “keeping up with the Joneses” or “the grass is greener on the other side” spill out into daily conversation and are frequently associated with pop culture. As I, myself, have been preoccupied with just that for the last 2 decades, I have often wondered what the advantages are of paralleling ourselves with others. As it turns out, our own inclination toward comparison is actually driven by the desire to become a better version of ourselves, and as such, it is not meant to be a negative by any means. The idea behind comparison is to find inspiration in our role models and to aspire to evolve by emulating them. Unfortunately, however, self-comparison has unfolded into a negative feedback loop, which, rather than propelling us forward into greatness, has been knocking us down toward criticism and self-degradation.
Q: How does this apply to practicing dentists?
A: It applies to dentistry in that we ambitiously and continually drive toward performing textbook-like clinical dentistry. The unforgiving photographs we study in school set an impossibly high bar as a measure of success. Staring at these images, we fail to put into the equation the shortcomings of working with humans when holding ourselves to these impossible standards—yes, the patients who wiggle and dance in the chair from anxiety; those constrained by finances when accepting and following through with treatment; and those who breathe through their mouths, spit, bleed, and throw their tongues into spinning burs. To further that point, after we attend continuing education courses from the celebrity dentists and are mesmerized with applause-worthy case presentations, we return to our own offices, aimlessly attempting to re-create what we saw on the big screen without coming to the realization that the end result comes with its own backstory. I remember attending a course in aesthetics by a well-known prosthodontist who showed on the screen a single anterior tooth restoration perfectly matched against the adjacent and contralateral teeth. In a vulnerable moment, the prosthodontist admitted that it took 8 appointments and multiple lab remakes to create that perfect smile. That small nugget of information was probably the most important part of the 2-day course—and likely one of the most important lessons to keep in mind while practicing. It has since allowed me grace and latitude when I attempt to re-create perfection in a single-visit appointment.
Q: How do we rid dentistry of comparing?
A: The fallacy of comparing is that, at some point, we veer off our own paths and find ourselves paying attention to journeys of others. In constantly trying to reassure ourselves of our successes, we let our eyes wander to the periphery of our lives, carefully watching what others are doing. And as we do this, we lose a little of ourselves, then lose a lot, and later lose it all. We are within a hallucination of sorts that the lives of those around us are somehow worth more than our own. Their successes discredit our own. And the recurring fear and fortified belief that we aren’t good enough compared to others creates, dare I say, suffering. The antidote to that suffering is an unequivocal belief that we are, in fact, enough and that the meaning of life doesn’t lie within others but within ourselves. To end that suffering, we begin with a commitment to re-establish our own self-worth. This can start by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who are willing to be honest and vulnerable and who also honor disclosing hardships and struggles as opposed to just making Facebook posts filled with vacation photos. As we let go of the self-imposed expectations and illusions of who we think we ought to be, we begin to unapologetically and authentically live out our own stories.
Q: How do we live authentically?
A: The most true and reliable way to reduce self-comparison is to allow the power and spirit of our true selves to direct us forward. Authenticity trumps the need to match ourselves against what we see in the periphery of our lives, needlessly peeking into the homes of our neighbors. It is a newly discovered, distraction-less expression of one’s mission, purpose, and passion. It is a shift in priority and, more importantly, in perspective. It is the only way to author our own lives, a realization that one’s own story is the only one worth living out. It is a process that involves indulgence toward grace and forgiveness of self and one that needs daily intention and meditation. With this paradigm shift, we will co-create with like-minded souls not just a new life but also a new world worth living in. Living authentically, gently, and beautifully untangles life, allowing joy to follow and kindness to spill out.
Dr. Augustyn earned her DDS degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has completed the course sequence in the Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. Dr. Augustyn is a general dentist and writer in Elmhurst, Ill, and lives near Chicago with her husband and daughter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.