Everything you want in life is within your reach IF you can just learn to get out of your own way. Have you ever looked into the mirror and said, “Wow, I really thought I would’ve accomplished more by now”? And do you ever lay your head on your pillow at night and get that feeling your window is closing and you’re running out of time? I do. I get those feelings of uncertainty, doubt and even fear.
What if I told you this was all an illusion?
I grew up in a small town known for its coal mining and farming. The mindset was “Work Hard to Achieve More.” I really loved this way of thinking because I knew from an early age that the harder I trained and harder I practiced my sports, the better I’d perform in the games. The harder I studied and prepared for my tests, the better I’d do on the exams. I was an only child, and both of my parents were in education. Schoolwork always came first, but sports were what I loved. My parents knew this. As the house rules went, I had to be doing well in school in order to continue with athletics, and that as long as I was playing a sport, I needed to be playing an instrument. They allowed me to try whatever sport or instrument that I wanted, but once I started, I had to finish. Quitting was not an option. They encouraged me to do my best but never pushed. I didn’t have an older sibling to compete with, so I would compete with myself by setting goal after goal and trying to achieve them. It was a goal to get a Division 1 football scholarship. It was a goal to get into dental school. It was a goal to start my own practice. I worked hard, and I achieved these things.
In the summer of 2018, though, something very unexpected happened. What happened was the “Kiki” challenge. This was a dance challenge to the popular song “In My Feelings” by Drake. I took the challenge, and the video went viral, amassing what is now over 90 million views. Now, I need to let you know that I am very thankful that the viral video happened. I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities from that one video, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet even more wonderful people. But what a lot of people don’t know is that I filmed that video by myself. The girls on my team had been trying for weeks to get me to do the dance challenge, but I just couldn’t bring myself to dance in front of them. So I waited until they went to lunch one day, I searched YouTube for how to do the dance, I set up my iPhone on the counter, and I joined the craze. They said it was great and posted it to our practice’s Facebook page. I just went back to seeing patients that afternoon like I normally would. The next day, though, the response was overwhelming. Before I knew it, I was doing interviews for local news and newspapers. Then, national outlets. Good Morning America, The View, Inside Edition. It even led to an appearance on the Steve Harvey Show. Honestly, I had a difficult time in the months following. I was being pulled in so many different directions, and I didn’t know how to handle it. After all, once football ended, I was working hard to be a great dentist. I was working hard to be a great businessman. It was never a goal to be known as the “Dancing Dentist.” It wasn’t even fun to dance anymore because now I had to. It became awkward doing everyday things like pumping my gas or going to Home Depot and hearing someone yell, “Hey, Kiki! I see you, man! Do the dance!” This never happens standing next to someone, either. It always happens from across the parking lot or 10 aisles away in the store. As you can probably imagine, this draws attention. I would smile and play along, but the attention and being recognized was uncomfortable. Growing up as an only child, you want to stand out, but you also want to fit in. When that’s a program you develop early on, it can be a tough thing to shake.
Leave it to my wife, Trish, to encourage me to embrace being uncomfortable. It was she who helped me to see that we could take the exposure and do something positive. Trish and I have been together for almost nineteen years, and we’ll celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this summer. Early on in our marriage, we went through something very difficult. We both lost a parent to cancer within 18 months of one another. If that wasn’t tough enough, it also happened during our move and the first year we lived in South Carolina. We were now living seven and nine hours away from our families. We saw the viral video as an opportunity to do something we always knew we wanted one day, but we had no idea it would be possible this soon. We started a foundation we named “Smile On Cancer.” With Smile On Cancer, it’s our hope to bring joy to the journey for those families supporting a loved one battling the disease.
With the foundation, I now had my purpose to continue. However, I was still very uncomfortable with all the attention. It wasn’t until I was invited to speak at a youth mentoring program that I began to realize what might be going on and what needed to change. Also speaking at this event was a man named Bill Cortright. He spoke on the importance of stress management throughout life that night. Something resonated with me, so I asked Bill to speak in private after the event. He could tell I was having a difficult time with this new identity. He wanted to know what was really bothering me and why I thought all of the attention was making me feel so uncomfortable. I really feel like this was a turning point for me. I began to realize that the version of me in that moment was good enough. BUT, if I wanted to continue to be the best version of myself in order to serve others, I needed to start working on myself.
As healthcare providers, we are often the last patient we think about. There have been numerous occasions when I’ve gone on CE trips and I’ve found myself in private conversation with older dentists who are later in their careers. The ones who are honest and candid enough to share will often say that a person can have a booming practice and all the money and toys they want, but nothing is more valuable than one’s health. This is something I think we all know deep down. Why is it then that we don’t take the time to work on ourselves? Why do we spend so much time thinking about the past or the future that we lose sight of the present and stop enjoying the moments? Why do we focus so hard on the destination rather than learning to enjoy the journey? The journey is the reward.
There are six principles I’ve tried to begin practicing daily to help me maintain focus and manage stress. These are principles I believe can help the many others who have these feelings and thoughts. You cannot separate the mind/body and body/mind connection. This is why it is so important to not only condition our bodies through diet and exercise but also condition our minds through things like journaling, visualization and meditation.
We read this publication because we’re healthcare providers with an entrepreneurial spirit. We have a growth mentality, which is what makes us unique. We also have more information at our fingertips than ever before. There’s so much we can learn and see on the internet and through social media. While this can help us research and connect faster than ever before, it also can hinder us if we fall into the habit of comparing ourselves to others and questioning where we are and the decisions we’ve made.
When I started dental school, I was the first in my family to do so. All I really knew was that it was going to require a lot of work, but when I graduated, I would be a dentist. I didn’t even know what specializing meant. I had no idea what the process was for buying or starting a practice or what something like that costs. I didn’t even know where to look for these answers or even the questions to ask. I have been asked numerous times why I was an associate for six years before starting my own practice. There are several reasons why, but a lot of it boils down to my feeling scared and uncertain. Paralysis by analysis. When I graduated from dental school, I knew I needed to work on my clinical skills. That was most important to me. Like so many others, I learned more in the six months following dental school than I did in dental school. That may not be completely true, but it feels like it because you’re learning and applying new skills daily. It was also equally important to develop communication skills during these years: communication not only with patients but with team members and colleagues. These are not always easy skills to learn. When I began to consider going out on my own, I then began to learn more about the process of acquiring or starting a practice and what might be involved with renovations, equipment and even new construction. I was seeing dollar amounts higher than I had ever seen on paper before. Taking out loans for this amount of money was not something that the majority of my family and friends had ever done. I’d never had those conversations. For the first time, I would be working for myself. I needed to have the confidence to go all in, betting on myself. The only thing holding me back was fear. Fear of failure. It was my family, though, my wife and mom, who encouraged me to just do it. Not a day goes by when I’m not thankful for the opportunities I have to care for my patients, provide opportunity for my team members, and serve my community.
If you’re a student nearing graduation or an associate at a practice who wants more, don’t let the fear of failure get in the way of your vision. This applies to any endeavor. Embrace the idea that things may not work out, knowing that these are just opportunities to learn and become better. The only way one can fail is to quit. Never feel alone. There are people all around who want to help you through your journey. You can learn to manage stress for good. You can rediscover your authentic self. You can learn that the journey is the reward and begin enjoying those moments that enrich your life. Through it all, I want you to learn to base your success on happiness and remember to “Just Keep Smiling.”