The choice of overcoming mediocrity

Aug. 21, 2014
We make choices each day that sustain us in reaching our goals or keep us stuck. If you are feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or complacent, then perhaps it is time to look at new choices.

Common-sense wisdom for stepping over the ruts in a career path

By Linda Meeuwenberg, RDH, MA, MA, FADIA

"You are not stuck where you are unless you decide to be." -- Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, author of motivational books

Mediocre is defined as "… of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate." Synonyms include "undistinguished, commonplace, pedestrian, everyday; run-of-the-mill."

We make choices each day that sustain us in reaching our goals or keep us stuck. If you are feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or complacent, then perhaps it is time to look at new choices. How do we become mediocre when we were brimming with enthusiasm for our profession at the graduation and pinning ceremonies? Remember the feeling of excitement to be finished with school and licensing exams? You were ready to change the world by improving the oral health of the public as recited at most pinning ceremonies.


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Do you still retain that passion? If not, you have a choice to change. No one else can make the changes, and it is no one else's fault that you have become or are becoming mediocre. Personal responsibility and internal motivation are required to make the changes. You are in charge of your destiny.

"Although people generally enter their organizations fired up, over time most work environments reduce that inner fire from a flame to a flicker." -- Michael Lee Stallard, author of "Fired Up or Burned Out"

As we transition throughout our careers from novices to seasoned professionals (experts), our needs change in regard to our career development. It is with experience and continuing education that we hone our craft or "sharpen the saw," as Stephen Covey discusses in "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." Perhaps one of the reasons we do not grow into the "expert" level of practice is that we have not continued learning, or we have stopped applying newly acquired information.

When one understands the learning curve from novice to expert, it makes sense that we can become complacent. While the novice learner has to concentrate on each task (such as keeping the shank parallel to the long axis of the tooth), the expert learner is "consciously competent" and does not need to think about the procedure. Instead, you are probably thinking about what you need to do after leaving work (get dry cleaning, pick up children, make dinner, etc.) while you initiate your scaling stroke. When was the last time you thought about where to place your fingers for a modified pen grasp? The expert learner no longer thinks about these tasks.

One challenge in our profession is keeping abreast of the changes in products and techniques, as well as the changing paradigms in disease assessment and management. I always enjoy the intellectual stimulation and interaction of my colleagues at professional conferences or continuing education courses. I have learned over the course of acquiring four degrees and completing numerous continuing education courses that I am an information seeker. I embrace trying new delivery systems or products whether in my teaching, volunteer projects, or with patients in a clinical setting. I am a change agent in addition to an information seeker. I like shaking things up, and it comes natural to me. Information keeps my passion strong for my profession.

When was the last time you attended a continuing education course for acquiring new knowledge to bring you to the next level in your career? Or, did you take the course because your employer required it and signed you up? Or was it because you needed to get the credits for licensure renewal? I can readily ascertain in my courses those who are engaged and those who are distracted. I accept their behavior, as it is their choice and they have to deal with the consequences. I hear comments such as, "I would love to practice that technique, but my dentist won't let me bring new ideas to the practice."

Stop letting someone else control your choices. Personally, I could never practice where my ideas are not respected. It is my choice, and I have left employment to find a new place where my talents are appreciated and I can continue to grow.

The interaction with colleagues about new knowledge is as valuable as the lecture presentation. As hygienists, we are often working alone in our treatment rooms having little interaction with the rest of our team, and often little interaction with hygienists outside the practice. When do we get to ask questions about our treatment protocol or management of our challenging patients? Isolation has been cited as a cause of losing enthusiasm.

As humans, we require interaction with others. As professionals, it is essential to keep abreast of changes and learn how others in our field manage their practices.

"Volunteers are paid in six figures. S-M-I-L-E-S." -- Gayla LeMaire

When was the last time you stepped into the community to volunteer your expertise? Your professional organization can offer many opportunities. October is National Dental Hygiene Month, and can be used as a promotion to speak with seniors, children in schools, radio interviews, or TV appearances to promote oral-health issues to the public. I have never been turned down when inquiring about making a presentation to promote our profession during this month.

The media is always seeking experts to interview for special occasions or topics. Since moving to Florida, I have been working with senior groups residing in assisted-living facilities. They have so many questions about oral health and how it is linked to their wellness. The positive feedback I receive and the hugs at the end of the program are very heartwarming! They always leave with samples of oral-care products too. It gives me personal gratification and keeps the flame alive for what I believe is my purpose in life. It will recharge your flame as you return to the office with a renewed passion, too.

"The number-one reason people leave their jobs is because they do not feel appreciated." -- Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, authors of "How Full Is Your Bucket?"

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead, author of "Coming of Age in Samoa"

Are you a member of your professional organization? As a member of the American Dental Hygienists' Association, Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, and the International Federation of Dental Hygienists, I am afforded constant opportunities for interaction with my colleagues.

In addition, as a business owner, I belong to several organizations that help me network with other entrepreneurs, such as the local chamber of commerce. I belong to two of them in my county and was a long-time member of my local Rotary Club when living in Michigan.

When I moved to Florida, I did not know anyone except my realtor. I became active in my county dental hygiene component and took the appointment of vice president. I joined the League of Women Voters, Women's Property Network, and the Women's Executive Council of Orlando in the last three years. All of these organizations offer me great networking opportunities, interesting speakers, growth via the new knowledge. As a bonus, I have acquired a number of new friends.

Journal articles, conferences, and local continuing education courses present weekly, monthly, and annual opportunities to interact with colleagues. The journal articles help to expand my knowledge with new products and learn from others about special topics such as ergonomics to increase my career longevity. The associations keep me current with any legislative issues that can impact my profession. Getting involved with your professional association allows you to develop leadership skills separate from your practice setting, and leadership skills are often transferred into your practice setting. I have watched with awe as former students who were shy in school become leaders at the local, state, and national levels due to their participation with their professional organizations.

What better way to do that than by immersing yourself in a project that helps others? The Tao Te Ching states: "The sage never tries to store things up. The more he does for others, the more he has. The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance."

It's easy to get started. Look around and apply your interests and skills to something you believe in and feel passionate about. Your children's teachers would likely welcome you into the classroom during Children's National Health Month, and your child will love it. With over half of the U.S. population lacking access to oral care, there are thousands of people needing our help.

"Spend time with those that make you happy, not those you have to impress." --Carol CC Miller, founder of "Positive Focus"

"… we frequently neglect the surest and quickest route to self-respect, behaving in a way that makes you respect yourself." -- Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, authors of "The Power of Nice"

"One kernel is felt in a hogshead; one drop of water helps to swell the ocean; a spark of fire helps to give light to the world. None are too small, too feeble, too poor to be of service. Think of this and act." -- Hannah More, 19th century English religious writer

As a profession dominated by women, we can build upon unique skills and attributes of our gender. Why not capitalize on these attributes to overcome the complacency that can creep into our lives? I was struck by the newly acquired consciousness about women gained from listening to a book on CD -- "The Power of Women" by Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. I was so inspired that I purchased the book. Her book has three sections: The Unique Strengths of Women, Discover and Develop Your Strengths, and Unleashing Your Power. The author asserts that psychologists are changing the notion of the old-fashioned understanding of intelligence. She cites research by Sternberg and colleagues who studied successful people in other cultures who don't score high on American intelligence tests. The research team documented the resourceful strategies they have developed to thrive in their natural environment. Think about these findings:

  • Women are able to see many ways to use existing resources to accomplish their goals. They recognize that there is not just one way to do things, and they embrace novel approaches to problem-solving.
  • Women stay focused on getting a job done rather than being obsessed with getting their way. This keeps their minds open to the opinions and ideas of others.
  • Women know when to ask for help and aren't afraid to do so. They capitalize on the combined strengths of everyone around them.
  • Women remain optimistic and persistent even when things look bleak. They keep looking for solutions when others give up and implement these solutions with confidence and hope.

How can you apply these tenets of the new intelligence to your career and personal life? I was enlightened when I read this and could see many times in my life where they rang true to my approach in dealing with issues in my private and professional lives.

These tenets can assist us as we undergo transitions during our careers. Often, we are dealt a hand we didn't expect: divorce, death, single parenting, bankruptcy, or a disabled child, to name a few. Many of you have tapped into this feminine wisdom without being conscious of it to resolve your situation, using the resources at hand and problem solving in a unique manner. Often these disruptions in our lives can be all-consuming and drain our energy toward our career development. When faced with my personal challenges, I found that involvement in my career was a refreshing "vacation," and I could return to solve the challenges of my life with a new and different perspective.

The other alternative is to let the challenge suck the life out of you, and your professional life suffers. I have seen this happen, and it is draining on the entire organization (office). I am certain many of you can think of a coworker who fits this description. They wallow in their misery and share it with the office and patients. A female comedian said something profound a long time ago. "Do not complain. Fifty percent of the people listening do not care, and the other 50% are happy that it is happening to you."

Think about that quote the next time you want to share your negativity. Instead, replace with gratitude that you have such a wonderful career, an employer that writes your paycheck, and patients that seek your advice to improve their oral and general health. They come to you for care. You make a difference in their lives -- never lose sight of how significant your contributions are!

Continue building your knowledge base, get involved with your professional association, find a place that allows you to volunteer your expertise, use your feminine attributes, and surround yourself with what and who makes you happy. It's a choice. RDH

Linda Meeuwenberg, RDH, MA, MA, FADIA, is an internationally recognized speaker and best-selling author. As founder of Professional Development Association, Inc., she has presented hundreds of empowerment seminars and CE courses. She published a short story, "Violets in the Windows," and an essay, "Where Have All the Women Gone" as part of her reinvention. Visit her website ( to learn more about her and the books/articles she has written. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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