Observe. The Formula for Success.

Observe. The Formula for Success.

One of my favorite cartoonists wrote in the introduction to his first book, “I’ll never forget the first time I ever laughed out loud at a cartoon. The year was 1989. I was casually wandering past a stationery display in a department store when a batch of greeting cards caught my eye. I picked one up, looked at the drawing, read the caption and then it happened. I laughed.

Not just a chuckle. I’m talking about a proper belly laugh. By the time I’d looked at the entire range my cheeks were aching. I didn’t know anything about the person behind the cartoons. All I knew was that each card had a logo on the back with the words, ‘The Far Side by Gary Larson.’

From that moment on, I was hooked. I became a cartoon junkie. At first I devoured every Gary Larson cartoon I could find. Then I moved on to the work of other great cartoonists like Charles Addams, B Kliban and many more. I developed a genuine love for cartoons as a comedic art form but it never occurred to me all those years ago that I would one day make the transition from reading them to creating them. That’s why I find this collection a little surreal. Not the content… just the mere fact that it exists. I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to come up with enough material to fill a book and make my own humble contribution to the world of cartooning.”

There are similar stories and examples of successful people in all walks of life. From Warren Buffett as an investor to Aretha Franklin as a brilliant singer and artist, Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld in comedy, Judd Apatow and Nora Ephron in screenwriting and directing or Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep in acting, Michael Jordan in basketball, Toni Morrison and Stephen King as writers, Ruth Bader Ginsburg in law, fighting for gender equality and women’s rights and the list goes on and on.

All of the success stories throughout history have been and continue to be keen observers of everything around them. They are expert at putting in the required study and practice to be great. And, they follow a predictable formula:

1) Observation – that was (funny / productive / successful / interesting / challenging/ inspiring / meaningful / rewarding) and I really enjoyed that. I should do that.

2) I’m going to seriously study everyone who is great at this.

3) I’m going to practice over and over again. I will devote my life to it.

4) Success.

Sustainable success never works in any other sequence. You can’t skip the serious study. You have to put in the work and practice. Over and over again. You have to devote your life to it. You can’t decide one day you’ll be happy and love what you do after you’ve become rich and successful. It doesn’t work that way.

So, I find it both interesting and disquieting that so many dentists and orthodontists are rushing to sell their practices or “take chips off the table” by selling a controlling interest in their practices to private equity firms and DSOs at the time of this writing. While there is always a good reason to sell at the right time, most new members and students I teach are not selling at the right time. They are simply frustrated and don’t want to put in the work. They haven’t devoted their life to being successful in private practice. And, if you don’t have an inspiring plan and/or resist the formula for success, someone else who is willing to do all the hard work will come in and set an agenda for you, taking your future earnings with them.

Listen. I get it. Private practice is hard. It’s not been made any easier in the last twelve months with pandemic restrictions, lock downs, economic uncertainty, employee turnover, social distancing and the growing burden of regulations and operating costs. However, I’m here to challenge and encourage you when the going gets tough, instead of trying to escape the discomfort, observe it. Instead of retreating when the bullets start flying and the future looks bleak, pop your head up and look around at everything and everyone around you. How does it feel? What can you learn?

Write this down: if you aren’t happy before you sell your practice, don’t expect the sale to magically make you happy.

Observe and ask: are the doctors retreating from private practice really enjoying their work and contribution to society? Are they seriously studying everyone who is great at what they do? Are the committed to the work? Do they actually love putting in the practice; whistling on the way to a hard day’s work? Have they devoted their lives to something meaningful and inspiring or are they trying to make a quick buck?

Now consider: how many of the success stories I listed above would have sold a controlling interest in their success and their future early into their careers?

I realize the advice I give on this topic is not comfortable. It is not popular. And, that’s exactly why you should thoughtfully consider these things before making a tremendously-important decision like selling your practice too soon. Put in the work. Stay the course. Don’t sell a minute too soon and you’ll wake up one day like the now-famous cartoonist and be astonished at the “body of work” and contribution you’ve made, not to mention the significant net worth you’ve amassed.

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Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.