Two years ago, I wrote an article called “Learning to Love What you Hate” about feeling burned out of dentistry and the strategies I took to overcome it. A lot has happened since then, and I wanted to update you on how I have been faring. In that specific article, I wrote about how I came to love doing dentistry and encouraged other dentists to find passion in their work. Well, experience and time showed me it isn’t that simple.
When I found biomimetic dentistry in 2020, I was excited to go to work to practice my craft. For the first time, dentistry was predictable. I knew what I was doing at a scientific level, and being able to apply my knowledge and see successful results were so rewarding. This high lasted over a year, but as with all highs, it did not last forever. Suddenly, I woke up and did not want to go to work. This realization was a severe blow to me as I had pride in myself for beating burnout and finding a way to be happy in this profession for the long haul.
As with any problem we may face, I turned to google to try and figure things out. In my search for job satisfaction, I discovered Herzberg’s Motivation Two-Factor Theory, which helped me realize that the feelings of job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are non-related, and increasing one does not influence a change in the other.
Herzberg found through his studies that certain motivation factors will improve job satisfaction. A decrease in these factors does not lead to dissatisfaction but no job satisfaction. The other factors are called hygiene factors, including external things such as pay, your boss, and coworkers. These factors do not improve job satisfaction, but they will create job dissatisfaction if they are missing.
This theory shows us that the feelings of happiness toward a job are very complex and on a spectrum. You could be content with certain aspects of the job but also unhappy at the same time. I found I could ignore poor hygiene factors in my work if my motivating factors were all great. Still, as these factors slip, the poor hygiene factors would make themselves very apparent, and my overall unhappiness with the job would exponentially increase.
So then I tried to figure out how do I improve my motivating factors. Do I need to take more continuing education (CE) to continue my personal growth and strive for more performance and achievement? I tried this approach, and in 2021 I took a record amount of CE courses. This strategy worked for the short term, but it did not last in the end, as only improving one motivating factor was not enough to improve my overall job satisfaction. I also struggled to apply what I learned in high-level CEs in my corporate office and felt stuck in my clinical growth. During this time, I started working fewer clinical hours at my office as I took on a new role as a mentor for the Alleman Center of Biomimetic Dentistry. As I began to mentor students, I found this work was very fulfilling and improved every one of my motivating factors. There was so much improvement that it started to affect my work in my dental practice.
I started to lose motivation for my tasks in my office as I continued to feel more fulfillment with my work of content creation and mentoring other dentists. For the first time, I felt like I was naturally good at something and making a difference in someone’s life. So, I decided to let go of what doesn’t bring me purpose and pursue what does. In July of 2022, I sold the equity in my dental practice, stopped being a practice owner, and became a part-time associate. It was a big decision and a risk, but I knew it was the right one as I found living a meaningless life with no purpose is not worth living.
I ended my 2020 article by writing about hope and looking forward to the future. I end this article with the same sentiments and a few more lessons learned: excitement for my career move, a little caution, knowing life won’t always be roses and sunshine, and hope to find career satisfaction.
I am taking these lessons as I move into this next career stage.
- Waking up early and not wanting to go to work is my first sign of burnout.
- Life is cyclic and not linear. There will be fluctuations and times when we are high and low. Learning how to get through the low parts of life is what’s most important.
- For me, the most important part of a job is knowing I am making a difference and constantly improving, moving forward, and having personal growth. Having recognition for my work helps motivate me when I am in a down state.
- I can ignore poor hygiene factors if my motivating factors are strong. Still, the unicorn we should all be chasing for a healthy relationship with our careers is when we have high motivating and hygiene factors.
- Take time for yourself. Only through self-awareness can we understand our stressors and how they affect our actions.