The Deserve Meter

by Michael Abernathy

What are you really willing to do to change your circumstances? Not just give lip service to, but what are you really willing to commit to? I was in a long discussion with a friend and an on again, off again consulting client today and I wanted to quickly write this down while it was fresh on my mind. Allow me to set up this conversation.

The doctor is in his mid-forties, owns two practices where most of the time spent, and dentistry produced, comes from his main office – a second smaller office is only utilized one day a week. He is an average clinician, above average producer, has become a doormat for some of his staff, spends a lot of time with his family and church, has a plan for debt reduction and savings, and will cash out at age 60 with about $4,000,000+.

So far, everything sounds good. Right? The problem is, he is and always has been a “settler.” He settles for whatever happens, does average dentistry, but not really at the top of his game and this causes him stress because he knows what he doesn’t do well. He is overcommitted in every aspect of his life and deals with putting out fires every day. He is addicted to spreadsheets and lists. The fire starters are his kids, staff, patients, parents, church commitments, gift giving, and on and on. You get the idea: “I should be content, but feel like I am just coasting through life, getting by, but not really striving. I should be happy and thankful with what I have but I am not really happy with myself.”

He wants me to “coach” his practice to a higher level of performance and profit, but I don’t want to, because in the past, he rarely followed through with what he says he wants to do. This really frustrates me, and I don’t want to do things that make me feel bad. So, no. I don’t want to help him until he is willing to help himself. I am wondering what he is really willing to do. Now, here we are, at his house, and I’m tasked with the unenviable goal of fixing his practice, all the while knowing that this won’t fix the problem: his life. You see, burnout, stress, and avoidance occur when you become the tail rather than the dog. Where what you do, defines who you are. That being able to say no to a request would be unthinkable. So we find the young doctor juggling dozens of tasks, dropping balls, and at best, doing a less than average job at any of them. Here is the answer:


Yep, I told him to erase (delete) all of his spreadsheets (he is pretty anal about using spreadsheets to remind himself that he continues to fall short, all the while adding more cells to the spreadsheet), and to-do lists and realize that the world will not come to an end. Imagine what you would do if you had a heart attack and had to take six months off from work. What would you do with all the things you are not getting done already? How would those things look to you after six months of not doing them? You would realize that not doing them didn’t bring the world to a screeching halt, and you would probably realize that the reason you did them was to polish your own self-image while allowing what you do and other people’s opinions to define your self-worth.

❝… people always seem to ask how so-and-so died, when the important question is the “dash” between the born on date and the date of death. That simple “dash” represents your life.❞

His homework for the next week was to write down every commitment he has made and everything he has on his to-do list and we are going to go through it and do away with all of it for the next six months. We are going to find out exactly why he is self-sabotaging his life and his practice and start all over.

Update: Just three days since we had spoken, and he is heading out of town to go skiing with his family. Just got an email with his new list (spreadsheet of course) and guess what: Little or no change. Kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic: Not really going to matter. I guess he really doesn’t want to find out what is really life affirming versus what is really just busy work. He is just a human “doing,” not a human “being.” Once again, he has set his “self-deserve meter” to a point that sabotages the important things in life.

The take away: I know how difficult real change can be. It is the Tombstone Test. Everyone has a "born on date" and a "use before date." This is reflected on your tombstone: Born on – Died on. It’s interesting that people always seem to ask how so-and-so died, when the important question is the “dash” between the born on date and the date of death. That simple “dash” represents your life. The most important question people could ask is: How did he live? Not how did he die.

So take a moment and consider all of the things you do and understand that at any time, and that might be right now, you can and probably should take 6 months off and hit the redo button on your life. This is how you Summit (in more ways than you think). Oh, I will go to round two with my young doctor next week. I will let you know what he thinks and, more importantly, what he does.

Mike Abernathy, DDS is founder of Summit Practice Solutions. You can reach him at 972-523-4660 or at abernathy2004@yahoo.com.

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