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Not Perfect

Authenticity trumps perfection

March 4, 2021
Still striving to be perfect? You have to let that go. It's unrealistic, and patients will feel more comfortable with you if you're simply yourself, flaws and all.

Maggie W. Augustyn, DDS

The role of perfectionism in dentistry is profound. It goes back to working toward high scores in our dental school prerequisites. It follows us, as we relentlessly wear out the corners of Dental Decks studying for boards. Perfectionism eventually ingrains itself as we try to replicate textbook preps first on the typodont, and later in the unforgiving oral environment of the tongue, saliva, and blood. In the eight years it took us to become dentists, and well beyond that, the idea that we must produce perfection is embedded in our brains. As we pursue the impossible, we steer further and further away from being our authentic selves.

Perfection does not exist and striving for it is close to being life’s punching bag—you’re distraught by every little mistake and you never win. Dental school and dentistry have taught us to hold ourselves hostage to perfect clinical outcomes. We have never been taught the fallacy of what the textbook engages us to pursue. Furthermore, in all of our years of education, no one taught us about, among many other things, the hurdles created by material breakdown or patients’ financial struggles. That’s yet another step holding us back from attaining perfection. After all, how can we follow through with our evidence-based, perfect treatment plans with no patients? How can we promise a decade’s worth of wear on restorations with the unfortunate nature of material failure, however uncommon?

As a slave to this relentless thinking, have you ever sat down to ask—when has dentistry ever been perfect? Do we really need to strive toward perfection when we’ve seen through years of practice that it’s not attainable. That’s the fallacy, a myth of sorts. Ask yourself, is there a perfect patient or a perfect team member? So, why a perfect doctor?

As we age, we are unaware of the fact that perfectionism stands in the way of our own self-acceptance. How can we find our own self-approval if we feel we have failed on multiple levels? Are those true failures or just the result of maladjusted expectations?

What’s the cure?

Authenticity is a cure for perfectionism. Perfectionism hinders our ability to see what truly stands in front of us. Though people think it is, perfectionism is not a positive attribute, it isn’t a strength, and it isn’t a compliment. It is a struggle and a hinderance, preventing us from living out who we truly are. So, what are the steps we need to take to move away from any degree of perfectionism that we unfairly hold ourselves up against, and toward authenticity?

The first step is in recognizing that a big part of perfection is our need to feel relevant to our patients and team members. More importantly, we crave approval. If we’re perfect, we will be liked by our patients and they will leave us positive reviews. If we are perfect in our treatment plan proposals, it will lead to patients signing on the dotted line. If we are the perfect bosses, our team members will stick around, and this will reduce turnover.

The fallacy here is that we think we can be all things to all people. This is the 21st century struggle, a first world struggle, dare I say. But if it isn’t possible to be liked by everyone then why not just be yourself? Don’t act on what the world, your patients, and team members expect you to be. It’s exhausting. Instead, be you, unapologetically. The you that, yes, struggles and stresses. Lean into the hurdles, the conflicts. Move away from proving and pleasing. Live out the truth of your story.

Living authentically means you are enough. You no longer betray yourself into living out the expectations set out by someone else. You are no longer robbed of the freedom to live your best life, regardless of other people’s opinions. You are worthy of living out your story, the only story that matters, and for that you ought to be granted recognition and acknowledgement. Yes, you matter.

Letting go of being perfect and growing into who you actually are is a difficult process that takes a lot of energy and commitment as well as consistency and courage. It is brave to show the world your imperfections and human nature. Change and growth are uncomfortable, and the lack of comfort is a sign that you are moving toward a higher degree of self-actualization and self-authentication.

Authenticity is also an awakening to the purpose within your life. It is when you seek this truth that you find a road toward achieving your destiny. It opens up your eyes to the gifts and talents you are excited to share with the world, as opposed to others’ perceived expectations in what you ought to be sharing. Authenticity narrows and focuses your convictions, doctrine, and principals. Following through on what you say and do becomes easier. Being true to who you are forgoes any degree of your perfection. It grows your honesty, humility, and peace and it draws a map, which if followed is a step-by-step guide to happiness.

Maggie W. Augustyn, DDS, is a practicing general dentist who earned her DDS from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She furthered her education at the Dawson Academy's continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. She’s a published author and was voted America's Best Dentist and America's Top Dentists based on superior training, experience, continuing education, and commitment to excellence. She was recently given the Rising Star Award from Benedictine University presented to an alumnus who’s made considerable strides in their career and demonstrated dedication to philanthropic endeavors. She's also a moderator of Dental Nachos. Dr. Augustyn was recently inducted into Female Founder Collective, a network of businesses led by women.