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Overcoming challenges: Is it your smarts, or is it something else?

Nov. 21, 2022
Everyone has been in situations where they feel out of their depth and unprepared. It's how you manage those feelings that counts.

Have you ever been put in a situation where you felt completely stupid, out of your depth, and unprepared? I am hoping you never have, but if you ever were made to feel that way, how did you react and what did you do?

Do you think you have what it takes to overcome the stumbling blocks in front of you? (I know you can do it because you made it through dental school. To get into dental school, you had to get through organic chemistry—and if you can do that, you can do anything.)

When I was young, in about third grade, my mother was in graduate school getting her master’s in education. They all had to learn how to administer IQ tests. They had to find testing subjects, and my mom volunteered me. I was excited to do this because I’d been told repeatedly “You are a smart little boy.” I could read before I went to school and was considered a gifted student. I was answering questions left and right, and then it happened: “I am going to give you some numbers, and you need to repeat them back to me backwards.” The numbers came out, and there I sat unable to repeat back four numbers. I could not do it.

The test-giver asked me to relax and try again. I could not do it. And I started to cry. I had never failed at anything before that I could remember, and I felt humiliated. How could I not be able to repeat back some numbers backwards? That ended the test, and my mother was waiting outside. The situation was explained to her, and she was speechless. I also think she was shocked. “You were just having a bad day, and next time you will do better,” she said. “You will get another chance because I signed you up for another test.” I did not know what to say and just started crying. Why would I be put in another situation of being humiliated?

But here is the challenge: do we give up, give in, or figure out a way to win?

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Figure out a way

How do you react when you are put to the test and fail? Maybe you have never failed at anything, and if that’s the case, feel free to stop reading. But I know that’s not true for anyone. We all fail at times, and the question is how do you react? We are all put to tests, just about every day.

The day of the IQ challenge came, and I was ready. “I am going to give you some numbers and I want you to repeat them back to me backwards,” the man said. Well, I had figured out a way to do this by visualizing them on the table in front of me, and I could do up to 12 numbers. The guy was shocked and said, “I have never seen anyone do that before.” I was not someone who was going to fail because I had the chance to figure out a way.

What challenges have you faced in your educational career? Have you ever had someone say “You are just not smart enough”? It happened to me another time, and this time, it was at a dental school interview. (Yes, at a dental school interview!) What could I say other than: “Why would you say that?” The reply: “You have just OK grades, DAT scores that were average except perfect scores on visual images. You are just not smart enough, and the only reason you got this interview is because of your visual scores. We also think that you could have cheated.”

I was shocked, surprised, and speechless. I just said, “Bring it on,” and a test appeared. The interview went forward, and I asked if he wanted me to explain as I went along. He was shocked as I explained the thought process. You see, I have little auditory memory but an almost photographic visual one. When I told the story about the IQ test, I explained that I had created a visual image to be able to repeat the numbers backwards. I had to figure out a way to win.

I did not get into dental school that go-around; I was put on the waiting list. But there had to be a way in because as I have said before, I have wanted to be a dentist since I was five years old. I am smart enough, and more important, I have the “special skill” to be a great dentist—visual imaging that most people don’t have. So I went to the dean’s office and asked for a meeting, where I asked what I needed to do to get in. I was told that I needed to get a master’s and that I “certainly could not do that in one year.”

Challenge accepted

I made an appointment with a dean at a local university and told him I needed a master’s in a year and that I didn’t have GREs. He gave me a funny look and asked why, and I was very clear that my goal was to attend dental school. “You are an honest young man; I waive the GREs and you are going to be doing the impossible,” he said. I earned my master’s in biology in one year and started dental school that fall. The challenge was laid down, and I met it.

What challenges have been laid down that you have had to face—and did you come up with a way to meet them? There are so many ways to do this and people to help. It is not the consultant you use or the courses you take but implementation of the knowledge. How can you best use the information to win?

Private practice presents us with crazy situations every day. Whenever I face difficult obstacles, I remember being told I was just not smart enough. It is not about how smart you are—it’s the effort you are willing to put in. Because I know you are all smart enough.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the November 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

About the Author

Jeffrey C. Hoos, DMD

Jeffrey C. Hoos, DMD, a 1978 graduate of the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, started his private practice as a one-operatory walk-up and grew it to a four-doctor practice with 25 staff members. He lectures on innovative techniques that balance the art, science, and business of dentistry. He is one of the first general dentists to be Brånemark certified for implant placement, and his office has become a teaching center for restorative and implant dentistry. Contact him at [email protected].

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