The Japanese have a mythical saying that evil spirits travel in a straight path. Hence the zig-zag bridge, a charming and popular feature in Japanese gardens. An excellent example of this is at the Japanese Garden in world-renowned Gibbs Gardens in Northeast Georgia, where I first discovered it. You see, the evil spirits cannot follow the multi-directional path. And while the bridge may seem to meander meaninglessly, it does indeed get one from the beginning to the destination, albeit the stops and turns ¬in direction. Each zig or zag delivers the person on the pass to a different visual perspective. One minute looking here, another minute looking in a different direction, taking time to look at a new vista, a perspective that would not have been noticed had the person been looking straight ahead. Perhaps that is what the evil spirits want—that we filter out the lovely detours of life, the various perspectives that color various ways of thinking. Maybe “evil” is simply that straight and narrow path forward devoid of life’s luscious distractions.
The last time I was on the bridge, it occurred to me that it has, in many ways, reflected my path in life and my career as a woman in dentistry. While many folks know early on their path/career/life direction and stick to it, my path has criss-crossed through various passions, paradigms, plans, purposes and places. And while my various “distractions” at the time seemed like a different path altogether, in retrospect, my zigs and zags have all contributed to where I am today and where I want to go tomorrow—my destiny as a woman in dentistry. Here’s my story.
“Well,” said my mom, “if you were to become a dental hygienist, like Ruth, then you would make good money, and have a flexible schedule as you get married and have kids.”
Four years later, BS degree in hand, I landed my first dental hygiene job in Atlanta, Ga. I was very fortunate to work those first years for Dr. H. Lanier, who was that year the chairman of the prestigious Hinman Convention. I was so proud to be working for him and learned much from him. That first Hinman I attended exposed me to something that would change my life, an inspiring speaker named Naomi Rhode. Some of you will remember Naomi, who went on to become president of the National Speakers Association. A hygienist herself, she was so motivating that I “stalked” her afterword and bought her coffee so we could chat. She was gracious and generous with her suggestions about how I too, could aspire to become a speaker (and an inspiring one, at that!).
In those days, I spoke for free and also began to develop my writing skills, getting my first-ever article published in the American Dental Hygiene journal of that time. I remember driving one dark and stormy night in pelting rain to a college campus on the other side of town to speak to a group of dental hygiene students. My presentation was totally complimentary, and I received a sweet thank you note from the instructor. But I do remember driving home in the pouring rainy darkness, knowing I’d be up early the next morning and wondering if this was how other “women in dentistry” got their start.
While I enjoyed practicing dental hygiene, I loved learning the nuances of education, motivation and persuasion. Even so, my quest for something more creative led me from photography classes to Chinese Brush Painting to classes in writing to finally a class in Ikebana, the art of Japanese Floral Design. Bingo! I’d found my passion. I was intrigued by the austere beauty of this simple yet intricate art, which had nothing to do with commercial value and everything to do with connecting with nature and enhancing that relationship with the beauty of the simple elegance of the natural materials. I was hooked. This was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with Ikebana.
In my quest for more creativity in life, I joined a writing group and wrote as a freelancer, with minimal financial success, although I enjoyed honing my writing skills and being part of a local writers community. All this was while I was still practicing hygiene–with less and less enthusiasm. And while some of my writing ended up in dental journals, my quest for more creative outlets seemed to take me further and further away from dentistry. Eventually, it would take me to Hawaii.
My good friend, who had moved to Hawaii, seduced me with tropical flowers (how could I not love that?!) and the most magical trip. And off I went. Some told me that “love” was not a good reason to move to the other side of the world. It was a risk indeed. But I disagree. I think that love is one of the best reasons to move across the planet! As it turned out, my risk paid off, and our relationship is now going on 33 years. But a blossoming romance was not the only thing I enjoyed in Hawaii.
During that time, I explored the fascinating science, myths and culture of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano and wrote about it for travel magazines. We got to actually experience the exploding eruption the night it erupted after years of inactivity. Under a bright orange night sky, park rangers guided us to the crater edge to witness truly one of our planet’s most amazing and powerful events. And we got to watch, hear and smell it!
In Hawaii, I studied floral design at major five-star hotels, honing my own art. There was never a time that our home was not adorned with exquisite Hawaiian tropical flowers in interesting and unique designs. I also started a tropical flower mail-order company shipping these lovelies all the way to the mainland.
Paradise did not last forever. For personal reasons, we moved back to the mainland, got married and re-settled back in Atlanta. Here I started a commercial floral design company for special events and provided spectacular florals designs for corporate clients, social weddings, hotels and restaurants. I was happy with my floral career, which was growing, but challenged with growing pains and no one to mentor me. Simultaneously, I occasionally provided hygiene services on a temporary basis. I noticed that dentistry was beginning to show some exciting changes–one of them being more women in dentistry.
“Well,” she declared, “YOU should become a dental consultant.” SHE was an inspiring speaker I’d heard, and like Naomi, I cornered her and bribed her with lunch to pick her brain.
“You’re crazy,” I replied. “I’ll never be a consultant.”
I became a dental consultant, and she became my mentor. Dental consulting led to columns and articles and courses, a participation in the creation and development of a new hygiene consulting program, the dismantling of that program, new directions and opportunities, all the while writing and speaking.
One such opportunity was the invitation to become the Director of Dental Hygiene for a large (150+offices) DSO. Really? Me? I was used to working with the “crème-de-la-crème” solo dental practices in the country. And now to work for a “doc-in-the-box” group? But times they were a-changing, and it seemed like a great opportunity to use my skills to improve the quality of dental care and patient care in the DSO industry that was destined to grow in our country. So for five years I created programs, clinical and business protocols and systems, created my amazing team, and watched our success bloom. Having the ability to supervise and oversee hundreds is a bit like having your own personal laboratory. I could quickly determine what worked and what didn’t, giving me almost instant results, which enabled quick course corrections. I was accumulating a body of knowledge that would prove successful, repeatedly and predictably.
When that stint ended, I resumed speaking and consulting full time, but now armed with much more experience from high-end solo practices to DSO experience. Taking advice from my good friend/mentor, Paul Homoly, who told me to “package your wisdom,” I wrote my first book, something I’d been procrastinating for years. I wrote Selling Dentistry… because of the many dentists who had asked me over the years to teach their teams to “sell dentistry” while not calling it “sell”. I realized that the very words “sell dentistry” were so distasteful to many in the dental industry that it prevented them from their ultimate goals of getting their patients to agree much needed treatment. I knew from experience that so many healthcare professionals had good intentions, had clinical knowledge and thought they were delivering good patient education, but never got the final desired result—the patient saying YES. I added a tagline to my title that further described my mission to sell dentistry ethically, elegantly and effectively. Hence, my book, Selling Dentistry ~ Ethically, Elegantly, Effectively, also became my signature speech, presentation, workshop … for a while.
As I was developing my dental, speaking and coaching career, I was also pursuing my passion of Ichiyo, Ikebana. Ikebana, the art of Japanese Floral Design, the word literally meaning “living flowers”, and Ichiyo being my chosen school–a contemporary perspective that embraces the symbolism of nature into the human design element. I progressed through my various levels of classes to the Master Level, attended weekend design retreats and participated in local and national exhibitions. The more I studied nature through my practice of Ikebana, as I was simultaneously building a speaking and consulting career, the more I began to notice so many metaphors based on nature and the lessons we can learn from nature. The nature-loving architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.” The more I studied nature closely, the more I noticed parallels and parables—lessons in everyday life. As my musings formalized, Room To Bloom was born, a newsletter of my observations of nature and its reflections on so many other areas of life, including dentistry.
One such observation was how we are so like the growth process of nature. The miraculous power and potential of seeds and single cells that have the potential to grow into everything from a flower to a redwood tree to a human being. We all have this powerful potential to grow our own greatness. I’ve learned how right Frank is. The more I study nature, the more I see the implications that really show me how a thing is done best–how to best grow my own greatness and to help grow the greatness in others. Hence, Growing Your Greatness was birthed.
Growing Your Greatness is my BLOOM process. It is maximizing personal potential through the art of living in harmony with nature. Growing Your Greatness is my way of helping others reach their personal power and potential in a way that totally reflects my passion for nature as the ultimate teacher. Growing Your Greatness helps me as a consultant, writer and speaker to see the very best in others, to help them to identify their potential and to step into their greatness. Growing Your Greatness is my system for success and my opportunity to watch myself and others bloom. While the number of women in dentistry is growing, so is their greatness—their special attributes and contributions to the industry.
I love where my zig-zaggingpath has taken me. I’ve loved every twist and turn, and I suspect there will be more. Right now, I’m enjoying growing my own greatness, growing your greatness, my place as a woman in dentistry, and the journey along the zig-zag path.