The events that lead to milestones

July 1, 2004
Milestones are markers in our everyday existence. They make us pause. Milestones cause us to stop and reflect on our past and our future.

by Anne Nugent Guignon

Milestones are markers in our everyday existence. They make us pause. Milestones cause us to stop and reflect on our past and our future.

In contrast, opportunities are plentiful. Opportunities come our way every day. It's the choices that we make regarding opportunities that can lead to the milestones in our lives. Some times they are good and result in positive changes in our lives. Other times they are not as intriguing, beneficial, or long lasting. But regardless of what type of opportunity presents itself, there comes a time when we must make a choice. These choices range from no action to positive or negative action. How we choose to use or not use opportunities can fashion the milestones in our lives.

Opportunities come in a variety of disguises. They can be professional, personal, legal, financial, or educational. Consider this list of 12 actions that could pave the way to a milestone in your life.

• Try a new product or procedure.
• Investigate doing something that you have always wanted to do.
• Park the autopilot at the office door.
• Make a commitment to develop and follow a budget for time or finances.
• Focus on helping patients have overall health, not just dental health.
• Reward yourself with some downtime or a new treat.
• Give a second thought to what you say before you express your feelings.
• Learn something new. It doesn't have to relate to your career.
• Really listen to another person.
• Meet new people and enjoy their company.
• Mend a fence or create a bridge with another person.
• Say thank you to your employer or co-workers.

Milestones are trickier. Typically, milestones are a result of how we treat opportunities in our lives. Some opportunities cause us to go backwards, others forward. But, generally, milestones are fashioned from creating your own opportunities or acting upon a series of serendipitous opportunities.

I love milestones. They generally signal accomplishments rather than accidents. Milestones can include finishing a college degree, becoming debt-free, leaving a toxic situation, accepting a life-altering challenge, getting married/divorced/having a child, or reaching a new level of inner calm or spirituality. We need to celebrate the positive milestones in our lives and learn from those that teach us bitter lessons.

My friend, Kay Granath, RDH, has had a lifetime of opportunities that she fashioned into milestones. She has devoted her entire career to dentistry — working in all aspects of the dental office, from assisting to office manager to dental hygiene. She is bright, curious, and always looking for a challenge in life. When she didn't get into law school the first time, she kept on trying. She seized the opportunity to go to school in Lansing, Mich., which put her more than a thousand miles away from her husband, a geologist in Houston.

During her time in Michigan, she continued to practice dental hygiene and also worked in the Michigan Attorney General's Medicaid fraud division. Kay loved the challenge and partnered with the other investigator, who was a dentist. She used her health-care knowledge to the maximum level. Appropriate records were seized from suspect offices and together they were able to interpret the dental records for the discovery phase of the investigation. The dentists who were convicted of Medicaid fraud had fraudulently billed the state of Michigan for millions of dollars, monies that should have gone toward dental services for a very needy portion of the population. Kay fine-tuned her goals. A career in health-care law became her purpose.

Graduation was thrilling, but the bar exam loomed ahead. It is a tough exam, an unnerving experience for most, even with countless hours of preparation. Kay thought she would pass the Texas bar the first time she took it. This didn't happen, and a subsequent Internet search revealed that two-thirds of the people who go to law school outside of Texas fail the bar exam the first time. The rate climbs even higher for those who choose to repeat the test.

Had Kay known that the pass rate for out-of-state students was so dismal, she would have reconsidered going to law school outside of Texas. But Kay was determined to retake the Texas exam. When she didn't pass the second time, she applied to take the bar in another state. She saw the new state exam as an opportunity, not a hurdle or obstacle. Kay continued her rigorous preparation while still practicing dental hygiene. The out-of-state exam was just as grueling as the previous ones. We all kept our fingers crossed. I'll never forget the day she called to say she had passed! It was exciting to see a friend and colleague achieve her goals despite setbacks that would have stopped most people.

Every one of us who knows Kay has seen her seize opportunity after opportunity during the past six years. We have learned much about perseverance and patience. When Kay ordered her business cards last week that read Attorney at Law, she finally realized that she had achieved another milestone in her life. The raised letters on her new professional card said it all. Kay now has her eye set on practicing health-care law and eventually becoming an administrative law judge. Are there more milestones in Kay's future? I do believe so.

Rita Berge, RDH, and I met at a dental meeting years ago. We formed a friendship immediately. You know that kind of relationship — when you meet someone whose thoughts and passions are on the same path as yours. Rita worked for a company that sold magnification loupes and ergonomic chairs. She helped me put my thoughts into organized, intelligible words that were later printed.

Rita is a hygienist who understands both business and the rigors of clinical practice. She made a job change a few years ago, and — even though the new position required a bachelor's degree — she applied, interviewed, and got the job. Her new employer offered tuition reimbursement, providing she maintained an above average GPA. Rita was never enamored with the academic experience; however, she enrolled in a degree completion program that she completed while holding down a full-time position in the corporate dental world. Rita graduated with high honors this spring — a milestone that she would never have thought was in the cards even five short years ago. She is now considering pursuing an advanced degree.

Even though Kay and Rita's stories are compelling, they are certainly not unique. We all have opportunities everyday in our lives that can send us forward down a myriad of pathways. Are you able to recognize opportunities when they cross your path, or are you so used to the status quo that you would rather not face the prospect of change? Are you open to opportunities that can better your life, and are you able to walk away from situations that appear attractive on the surface but will cause you to pay a higher price in the long run? Change is not always progress. Certain changes can have devastating effects. Only you can determine if a particular opportunity is right for you.

Speaking of opportunities and milestones, 10 years ago, I would never have envisioned being a columnist in RDH or a nationally recognized speaker. Apparently, my friends saw the potential. The only things that I could see were the opportunities that were coming into my life but my vision was a bit out-of-focus, so it was hard to see where I should put my energies.

Many years ago, I exited a bad relationship but didn't change my last name. While it bugged me to continue using a meaningless identification, I wasn't sure what to do. Finally, a perfect solution appeared. I legally changed my last name to reflect the reality of my purpose on this planet. I chose my grandmother's maiden name, Guignon. Changing my name gave me the opportunity to honor her, and it also gave me a new, exciting, positive persona. Walking out of the courthouse on that bright, shining day in May was a rebirth. The name was mine. I had picked it. It was a new beginning, a milestone.

Here's another milestone: this is the beginning of my fifth year writing the Comfort Zone column. Opportunities are out there. Recognize them, seize them, and make them work for you!

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is an international speaker, has published numerous articles, and authored several textbook chapters. Her popular programs include ergonomics, patient comfort, burnout, and advanced diagnostics and therapeutics. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, Anne is an ADHA member and has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas, since 1971. You can reach her at [email protected] or (713) 974-4540 and her web site is