By Molly Pereira, CDA Associate Executive Director
From the Spring 2021 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association
I think we can all agree that not everything we learn in school applies to real life or is ever needed again depending on where life takes you. I’m sure I could list countless examples as well, but the grade school lessons that I’ve never used again have left my memory bank (along with most of my essential passwords, but that’s another article).
I have a third grader and a fifth grader. I’m really good at third grade curriculum. I’m really good at fourth grade curriculum. But now that we’re in the second semester of fifth grade, things have taken a turn. I’m starting to find those school lessons that no longer apply to my “real” life are actually needed to check homework at night.
Things I’ve Googled in the last two months (based on my internet browsing history):
- How do you divide a decimal by a decimal without a calculator?
- What is a predicate?
- What is a prepositional phrase?
- What is the formula for the volume of a cylinder?
- Does a plant cell have mitochondria?
- How do you spell mitochondria?
The list above is longer than that but those are some recent highlights. In my defense (or justification), does a person really need to know everything? Why do we beat ourselves up if we struggle to learn or remember something that we think we should know?
In school I was great at math and science until senior year, when calculus and chemistry did me in. But that didn’t stop me from going to CU-Boulder with my goals focused on being a biology major. I quickly realized after a very painful semester that if high school chemistry wasn’t for me, college chemistry wasn’t going to be an ideal life choice either. Long story short, I got out of the sciences and got a degree in journalism.
My point is this: Why do we work so hard to be good at something that isn’t our strength? Sure, it’s because we want to achieve things and overcome obstacles, but it’s pretty miserable trying to pay attention to something we never liked in the first place. At the CDA, we’re always trying to think of CE topics that dentists “need.” But what we think dentists need vs. what dentists know they need vs. what dentists actually want to learn are two or three different things. What we find is that dentists might need to know more about financial planning, fraud controls and digital marketing, but they almost always gravitate to more clinical courses to feed their passion for learning more about what they like to learn.
I need to learn more about investing and retirement planning. I am well-aware of the fact that numbers aren’t my strength. I can learn about it, but it takes substantially more time for me to understand it than others who enjoy financial planning. And then, of course, there’s the memory part of it. I’m so uninterested in this topic that it’s in one ear, makes a couple laps around my brain, and then it’s out the other ear. So that’s what I need to learn, but what I want to learn or what I’m drawn to learn more about are things like personality traits, generational differences, reading an audience, body language and empathy leadership.
I went to a webinar a few days ago that talked about strengths and taking advantage of your talents that come naturally. It was good reminder of what we all need to hear to give ourselves a break. We can’t be good at everything; it’s not possible. And at this point I can hear your inner thoughts because I have them too: “I can do anything I set my mind to. I can do it all and I don’t need help. I’d rather do it myself than spend the time delegating or training someone else. If I’m going to be successful, I need to be able to do everything that makes this office/department/household run effectively.”
I hear you! I am a Type A perfectionist who overcommits to please others and believes that hard work is always rewarded with success and achievement. Sound familiar? I thought so—I know your personality type and I appreciate it. But hear me out on this new method of thought I’m trying to accept. Be great at what you’re good at. Accept what you’re not good at and rely on others to help you. If you can loosen the reigns of guilt on your “to do” list of weaknesses but place trust in others to help you, you will feel lighter. And then by focusing on your strengths and applying those strengths to your everyday goals, you’ll be happier because you’ll be more productive.
Consider these questions:
- Do you know what your skillset and personality strengths are? Are you kind, creative, innovative, enterprising, trusting, resilient, organized, generous, decisive, compassionate…? Think of the traits that you know you have hard wired.
- What are you truly good at? What are you doing when you feel like your best self?
- What comes naturally to you?
- What’s easy? What are you doing when the effort you’re putting in is fun but not exhausting?
The strengths you come up with don’t have to be office related. In fact, they should be human traits that you can apply to all areas of your life, including the office. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, here is an interesting quiz from the non-profit VIA Institute on Character that might show you what your true strengths are vs. what you were hoping they would be: viacharacter.org/survey/account/register (it will ask you to create an account, but the survey is free).
I took that online quiz today, and it named one of my top strengths as “humor,” which I wouldn’t have selected for myself. In fact, I thought my strengths were planning and perseverance, so “humor” was surprising. But rather than disregarding this as a crazy survey result, I looked into it more. Humor is defined by the Institute as: “Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.” As someone who enjoys a good “dad joke” but will never want a stage or spotlight (ever), I still wondered what humor meant as a strength. Enter my best friend, Google. Positive psychology, a field that examines what people do well, notes that humor is used to make people feel good, buffer stress and increase emotional wellbeing. Those who possess humor as a strength know how to make a dark situation a little lighter, understand how to help others manage stress and can bring people together.
So, when prefaced that way, humor does describe how I love to be. I’m not a human rainbow but I like to make people happy, find the good in a situation and help others when they’re overwhelmed. I do these things every day, but I didn’t realize it was a strength. For balance, I learned that my next greatest strengths were judgment, leadership, prudence and kindness.
I encourage you to take that quiz or ask loved ones what they think your strengths are. You might be surprised at the outcome. Once you have your short list of strengths, consider these questions:
- When did you last use that strength? What were you doing?
- How did it feel when you applied that strength?
- What was the impact when you used that strength?
- How can you apply your strength to your next task?
Knowing your strengths will build your confidence. Applying your strengths will make you more productive with less effort. And being great at what you’re good at will bring you greater happiness.
Also, I don’t know who needs to know this but: V = πr2h