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Invest in your “why”: Achieving your goals now instead of later

Jan. 11, 2022
Are you watching the minutes tick by until you retire? Mark Murphy, a financial advisor, suggests a new perspective so that you achieve your goals sooner.

Long ago, in a Roman village overlooking the Mediterranean, there lived two stonecutters. One toiled endlessly to pay his debts, taking whatever job came his way. He’d chosen his trade because his father had done the same, and his father before him. Each evening before leaving for home, the stonecutter chiseled a notch in a granite outcrop to count the days until he’d finally reach old age and finish cutting stone altogether.

The second stonecutter paid little attention to the end of his days as a craftsman. His sole focus centered on his work, the construction of a magnificent temple perched atop a cliff, towering above the turquoise waters below. He worked passionately, but not any harder than the first. He went home to rest his hands and feet at sundown, eat dinner with his family, and sleep soundly beside his wife. Every morning he eagerly awoke to begin anew, singing songs of joy on his way to work on the temple.

Do you see yourself in either stonecutter? Maybe throughout your career you’ve identified with both. One moment you’re optimistic about your practice and the people you’re helping, and the next moment you’re watching the minutes tick by until you can finally hang the “closed” sign and relax on your two or three days off without having to think about anyone’s teeth except your own.

Further reading:

As a financial coach, I encourage my clients to follow the lead of the second stonecutter, to focus on their shining temples. Those who do will come to understand that they aren’t only in the business of good oral health. If you’ve managed to build a thriving practice with a loyal clientele, then you’re actually in the people business. When you’re in the people business, you soon realize you have only one job: satisfaction. In other words, you must find satisfaction in your work, and in doing so, your patients will be satisfied with your service. Ultimately, this satisfaction creates a continuous loop of prosperity.

The secret sauce

Satisfaction—that’s the secret sauce. If you’re preoccupied with paying off your debts and focused squarely on the day you retire, you’re no longer focused on satisfaction, which means you’re no longer focused on the business of people. It’s okay. You are where you are. Better said: when you know where you are, you can shift your focus toward where you want to be.

Twenty years ago, my business coach, Dan Sullivan, taught me a powerful exercise I’ve since shared hundreds of times with my clients. Take a piece of paper lengthwise and draw a line down the middle. Then mark a line across the top to form a “T.” Label the left side the “want” column and the right side the “don’t want” column. Then fill the left side of the page with as many desires as you can come up with, especially wishes about your retirement. After you’ve filled in that column, switch to the right side and enumerate all the things you dislike about your current situation. If you don’t have many, that’s wonderful.

Once you’ve finished, what you’ll have in front of you is a rudimentary road map for your future investments, the proverbial blueprints to your shining temple overlooking the sea. In time, you’ll be able to eliminate items from your life that you’ve written on the right while introducing those you’ve envisioned on the left. It’s good to have a mix of both readily attainable goals and some lofty aims. You might not get your beach house this year, but maybe you’ll find a way to schedule an extra vacation or two as well as manage to delegate some responsibilities around the office that you don’t have time for or simply no longer enjoy. I cannot stress this enough: the best action you can take as an entrepreneur is to first invest in yourself.

While making money shouldn’t be your supreme focus, we can’t leave it out of the picture entirely. Finance is a huge and undeniable part of a functioning enterprise. Try driving a car on empty. You can’t. Your business is no different, which begs the question: What’s the best use of the profits you generate? Or any other large sums of money you fortuitously gain, for that matter?

A brokerage house might try to convince you to give it to them. Luring you with the possibility of generous returns, their money managers will want to invest your money into one of their vehicles, which clearly serves to benefit them. But is it of greatest benefit to you? I would disagree. While there are certainly worse places for your money, I want to remind you of your own blueprints—your “why.” Financial decisions can get tricky because multiple avenues exist based on your own unique vision.

Think forward

Your best solution lies in thinking forward. If you’ve ever played competitive chess, you understand the strategy of thinking eight moves ahead. It’s similar in bridge where the best players take stock of all 13 tricks, playing them out entirely in their mind before they lay down the first one. Sound complicated? When you do the “T” exercise as outlined above, you’ll be more than halfway there. You’ll have the workings of a road map in front of you, and the good news is that you won’t need to think 13 or even eight moves ahead. You’ll only need to train your focus toward what could be rather than what currently is.

So, what might you do with the reserves in your bank account? Based on your list, you could consider investing in new technology for your office, giving you a leg up on your competition. Perhaps you want your business to grow exponentially. If so, now is the time to start planning how to acquire, or merge with, a second practice. Maybe an item on your list has nothing to do with your profession, but rather your personal life.

As a financial advisor, I know that some of the most critical decisions you make for yourself revolve around your relationships. I encourage my married clients to invest as much energy and resources in their marriage as they do in their business. That’s balance, and it’s essential. I don’t care how successful your practice is, if your marriage and/or family life is failing, your business will eventually suffer right along with it. Don’t keep putting off that vacation you’ve promised your spouse and kids simply because work is hectic. You’re in charge. You’re the one with the road map. Most importantly, you’re in the people business, and those people include your loved ones. Cheat them, and you’ll inevitably cheat your business. The opposite is equally true: invest in a satisfying personal life, and your professional life is sure to deliver you equal amounts of satisfaction.

Some argue that it’s unrealistic to focus steadily on fulfilling aspirations, all the while ignoring your present reality. Our “now” is what naturally commands most of our attention. It’s hard to look away. However, if you’re always focused on what is, you’ll never experience what could be. Workdays have the potential to turn into so much more than repetitive notches toward retirement. Release thoughts of scarcity and begin contemplating the abundance that awaits you. Every dentist in America (their teams included) deserves to create the life they want now and keep it that way forever. Like the stonecutter’s temple, your “why” reigns supreme. Within it, you’ll discover your greatest satisfaction. 

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January 2022 print edition of Dental Economics.

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