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Lessons from a healer

May 27, 2020
Using your own life as the greatest teacher. Listening to others. Finding balance. These are all lessons we need more than ever now.

We are living in a complicated time, navigating our way through the landscape of an emerging disease that has impacted the way we operate in our lives and in our profession. Information is evolving and changing frequently, and it is not always clear-cut. There are different philosophies on how to best proceed and different opinions on what is right and valid. There are uncertainties, along with financial and personal stressors, for both employers and employees.

Balancing the challenges and stress with positivity, communication, healing, and inspiration is more important than ever. With that being said, I want to share a personal story about my father-in-law, Richard Whiteley. He passed away unexpectedly in early April. He was the perfect blend of intelligence, compassion, reflection, humor, sage advice, and healing. When I described him to a friend and mentor after his passing, she said, “Your life has been graced with the goodness of a true man of spirit. What a loss to the world at this complicated time.” She also suggested that I write about it, because what I and so many others learned from him can serve as a navigational guide at a difficult time such as this.

After serving in the US Navy, he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, started a successful consulting company, spoke globally, and wrote several books. He spent many years studying shamanism (a spiritual practice that encourages improved quality of life) and finding creative ways to integrate energy and healing into the corporate world. He used these methods to heal and restore spirit not only to individuals, but entire organizations. He was a man of service to others, and we are currently in a world that can benefit from his light. It got me thinking that a way to honor his memory and his work is to share some lessons I learned from him that might be helpful to others given our current situation.

Your own life is your greatest teacher

He taught me that, as individuals, we have the power to choose the lens we use when faced with challenges such as this. We have the power to reframe our perspective to use this difficult time as an opportunity for reflection, growth, and finding ways to protect our own mental peace. Some may find it as an opportunity to help pave a new path for our profession going forward, seeing the changes as a springboard to elevate and promote dentistry as a fully integrated health-care discipline. Others may see the changes as an opportunity to advocate for the standards we use to keep ourselves and our patients safe. Then there are those who may take these challenges as fuel to ignite the creation of a new blueprint for their life that is more aligned with their individual sense of purpose and what brings them most peace.

Questions I’ve learned to ask myself regularly when faced with obstacles or disappointments are:

  • How can I reframe the challenge to see it as an opportunity?
  • Where can I best add value and help in a situation?
  • What is this experience teaching me and how do I want to move forward?

His sudden passing also reminded me that every moment is a gift and we owe it to ourselves to make the most of the time we have here. When he passed, it provided comfort to those left behind knowing that he truly lived his best life. He did all he set out to do and did so with intention, purpose, and enjoyment. Waiting for tomorrow may not be an option, so make the most of today.


One of the things I admired most was Richard’s ability to remain balanced. He was a brilliant and accomplished businessman, yet he always took the time to seek the simple things that brought him joy, such as writing poetry, sketching, and sending handwritten letters to people who touched his life. He lived with true interconnectedness. He balanced seriousness with humor and compassion, and a competitive spirit with kindness and lifting others up. Despite what may have been going on in his life, he was fully present and truly interested in others.

Information about COVID-19 and its impact on dentistry is all around us. It is important for us to be informed, knowledgeable, and advocate for what we believe in. It is equally important to stay balanced and to not allow ourselves to become so bogged down and overwhelmed to the point it is all-consuming and unhealthy. Balance the intake of all this new information with taking the same level of time and energy for other areas of your life that you enjoy. Take stock and appreciate what and who is around you.


Closely related to balance, there is something incredible to be gained when we truly learn to listen, even when our knee-jerk reaction might be to interrupt with a differing point of view.

Richard would ask questions and fully listen to the answers. He would reflect on what was said before responding. He was intuitive, wise, and had a knack for listening, understanding, guiding, and healing versus pushing.

Our current situation is coming with what I would describe as information overload. We are inundated by news, professional associations, journals, social media, internet searches, continuing education, conversations with colleagues, and the list goes on. Changing information and conflicting perspectives can result in conversations that can become heated and unproductive. It is important to remember there is always something to be learned and gained when there is respectful, open, two-way dialogue. It can be particularly difficult to do at times like these when emotions can run high, but that’s when listening with an open mind is most important. Being able to come together as a profession and having a willingness to hear others out even when we don’t always agree is what is going to bring us together and propel us forward.

Say yes more often

These are words he used often, and it profoundly impacted the trajectory of my life and career. I realized that prior to his influence, I tended to shy away from the unknown. I would tend to make decisions thinking about what could go wrong instead of what could go right. I thought perfectionism was a good thing, but realized I used it as a crutch to keep me from getting things done that scared me. I would let fear and uncertainty drive my decision making and would opt for the road that appeared more straightforward and predictable. The time we are in is anything but straightforward and predictable.

When I changed my thinking and approached situations looking more at the potential positive outcomes that can come from conquering a challenge, I took calculated risks and said yes to more opportunities that lined up with the outcomes that I wanted. It’s not about saying yes to everything. It is about knowing what matters to you and saying yes to more of that, even when that takes courage, and even when you don’t know if it will work out. Removing self-limiting beliefs and saying yes to those opportunities will bring you closer to what you want. Similarly, confidently and respectfully say no to situations that don’t suit you. He was a firm believer in setting your intentions and being clear about what you want. As we navigate through this shift, now is a perfect time to seek clarity and forge a path that resonates with you, alongside a tribe that shares your values and lifts you up.

These are merely just a few of many ways he helped to light a path for others in the world around him. He was also a person who truly believed that if you looked for good, 99% of the time you would find it. Energy and mindset can play a large role in outcomes, and we have the power to choose our mindset and the energy we bring to situations. I recently listened to a podcast where he was guest speaker. His parting words were, “Be clear with your intentions, be peaceful, and be nice to yourself” . . . and I think he would smile at me with his twinkling eyes as I take the liberty to add, “and be kind to others.” Now more than ever, those are words we can all benefit from.

Julie Whiteley, BS, RDH, is certified in human resources. She holds degrees in business administration and dental hygiene and has worked extensively in both fields. She is on the faculty of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University in Boston. Julie bridges her knowledge and experience from business, clinical hygiene, and teaching to deliver information and programs that enhance dental practices. Contact her at [email protected].

About the Author

Julie Whiteley, BS, RDH

Julie Whiteley, BS, RDH, is certified in human resources. She holds degrees in business administration and dental hygiene and has worked extensively in both fields. She is on the faculty of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University in Boston. Julie bridges her knowledge and experience from business, clinical hygiene, and teaching to deliver information and programs that enhance dental practices. Contact her at [email protected].