Let me start out by saying that I hate going to the dentist. I know this exposes my bias, but honestly, who can truly look at themselves in the mirror and think: “Hey, you know what? I really like getting my teeth cleaned with instruments that still taste like the dishwasher.”
But more compelling than people who like to go to the dentists are people who want to be dentists. Dentistry is no smiling matter, pun absolutely intended. It requires extensive schooling and hard work. But what is the payoff? Getting to root around in people’s mouths for no other enjoyment than the sick pleasure of asking patients pointed questions with their mouths wide open knowing full well they cannot possibly answer?
Of course, money and stability is an easy argument. It’s undeniable that dentists are both doctors and almost always in commission. But it seems to me that the career of dentistry is a promise of mediocrity within the workplace. Though dentists receive monetary benefits that can then act as a launch pad for personal well-being and excitement on the weekends, what about the other five days of the week? Do dentists agree to a listless existence five days a week just to say TGIF at its close? And if so, why have we, as a society, separated our passions from our profession and accepted the dentist mentality?
I am using the art of dentistry specifically as an example for a phenomenon of people pursuing a career they are indifferent, or even opposed to, for the sake of the security that comes from mediocrity. Surely, there are many dentists who have changed their communities with their work. They’re not mediocre and some awake every morning chanting “Yes! Now is the time to brush and floss!” After all, my feelings toward dentistry might be another’s toward journalism. But my point still stands: is fulfillment dependent on the idea of a dream job or the mindset that goes with it?
As I’m half finished with my college education, I think about my future career fulfillment a lot. I have dreams of becoming a big shot writer. I want to live life as a combination of Carrie Bradshaw, without the annoying theme song, and Ernest Hemingway, without the suicide, of course.
Barry Schwartz, a social theory and social action professor at Swarthmore College, found that a monotonous job can be meaningful, on the TED Radio Hour podcast this Tuesday entitled “The Meaning Of Work.” Schwartz discovered that monotonous jobs give workers extreme satisfaction if they feel valued within the scope of their position. Schwartz basically proved that you can be Samantha Jones and a night-shift security guard at the same time.
So what does this have to do with the dentist mentality? If fulfillment can be found in any job, shouldn’t we all just close up shop now and accept the first position that comes our way, not struggling in our careers and thriving on the basis of settling?
I honestly don’t know. But I know that fulfillment means achieving goals. I don’t mean to say that I will proceed with a ruthless CEO mentality, but I aspire to combine compassion with vision in order to create a career that I’m not only excited for but impassioned with. This is an unstable path to follow, but I’d rather go on a safari through the wilderness then stroll down a picket-fenced lane any day. After all, if a dentist follows her dream, does she become the tooth fairy?