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Who Am I Without My Practice: Overcoming the Fear of the Unknown

We all face life changing decisions during our careers, particularly in transition periods.  Those of us who have dedicated a lifetime to pursuing a profession and honing our craft, often become enmeshed in our own vocation.  Our self-worth, and indeed our identity as a person, becomes fused with our profession.  We can’t even begin to picture ourselves doing anything else.  In fact, when we contemplate life after being a dentist… causes us a great deal of emotional turmoil and even fear.  After all, who am I without my practice?

I remember waking up in a cold sweat thinking about selling my practice, after 25 years of practicing dentistry.  How could I change from a constant stream of secure income to rely solely on an income stream that was not predictable? A gentleman I know expressed this fear well in describing his first parachute jump when he was 18 years old.

“I recall the first time that I ever jumped out of an airplane.  There I was standing on a platform hanging outside of an airplane 1,200 feet above the ground.  I remember the sound of the engines, the blast of the air in my face, and I could feel the sweat running down my back.  It was as if every nerve ending in my body was firing at the same time.  I was hyper-aware.  As I watched the ground rush by below me, I knew I was going to have to take a leap of faith and throw my body into the air, trusting the parachute to save my life.  Then suddenly the light went green, the jump master yelled,“GO”, and with my heart pounding in my chest, I had a fraction of a second to make a decision that would impact the rest of my life.  I took the leap and I have never looked back!”

This gentleman had a very successful career in the military.  He went through this same ordeal after dedicating a lifetime in service as a military officer.  The career that began when he was just 18 years old defined him as a person.  As he contemplated moving on to the next phase of his life, he could not see himself doing anything else.  In hindsight, there were great personal and professional rewards waiting around the corner.

Similarly, I made a leap of faith when I sold my dental practice and went into consulting and brokering dental practice sales.  I knew how to practice dentistry and could always return to wet fingered dentistry, if life as a consultant did not work out.  Initially, I contemplated working as a dentist part-time while exploring my new career path, but I discovered that I was not able to do both and had to let go of practicing my profession in order to be a successful dental broker.  I went from a highly respected dentist into a job that was seen by our profession as a necessary evil that we endure in order to sell the practice.

I knew I could improve the dental practice sale model by valuing the contribution each practitioner specifically brought to his patients and staff.  Not all dental practices are the same.  Each individual dentist brings a unique contribution to his/her practice that needs to be valued by the purchaser of their practice.  This individual focus has resulted in many successful dental practice sales.

The fear of change had blinded me to a very fundamental reality…..I was not my job.

In reality, what makes us successful is not the job, but the values, skills and passions in each of us that we bring to everything we do in life.  It is who we are and how we put ourselves into the work that makes us successful, not the other way around.  Once I truly realized this, my eyes were opened, and a vast array of opportunities opened up for me.

Sometimes we are unaware of how fear plays a role in our lives, but we cannot let fear decide our future.  We call it being in a rut and we may think no one else can do what I do, or my staff won’t be able to continue on without me.  These are all different manifestations of our own fear.  The reality is that everyone will be fine after you have moved on to the next phase of your life.  There are definitely things that you can do to make the transition from private practice into retirement easier.

The question, at this point, becomes not is it time to make a change, but how can I muster the courage to make the change beneficial to everyone involved.  As we age and near retirement, the thing that we lack the most ….is time.  Our real challenge is to structure our remaining years so that they are both meaningful and rewarding.

Bill Adams, DDS, FAGD

Did you like this article? Check out our other dental industry blog posts such as presenting your dental practice to potential buyers and things to know before selling your dental practice.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please call us at 678-482-7305 or email at

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