An Unexpected Journey Beyond Fear

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this dental woman faced her fears and became a public speaker

Face Fear to Become the Real You

Facing fear, making a change, or doing something despite the internal anxiety you experience is when you become the real you. I believe that strength and inner confidence are the rewards of pushing through those fears that hold us all back. I have fears, just as everyone does. No one wants to make a mistake, do something imperfectly, look stupid, or let others down.

As women, we’ll chastise and worry on that mistake all day long. If we manage to fall asleep, we wake up at night and chew on it some more. What’s helped me, and may help you, is to be willing to make the mistake and then throw your arms in the air and say, “How fascinating!” It makes me laugh and get past the “beating myself up” stage. I’ve been doing this my entire life and have been able to do some amazing things.

My Journey Started Young

Growing up in a large family, in the little town of Ketchikan, Alaska, I never figured I’d go to college or be a professional. After high school, a dentist in town offered to train me on the job. By that point, as a 17-year-old, I’d already been a house cleaner, worked in salmon canneries, waitressed, and was a short order cook. When offered the dental assistant position, I thought, “I could try that!”

For 6 years, I assisted. I also worked at the front desk and loved it. But I was getting bored. Talking with my Mom, I said, “I’d like to be a dentist.” She said, wisely, “If you want to do it, you should do it this year, or you may never do it!” As a result of my journey, I’ve had the privilege to be in active practice for nearly 20 years.

Interspersed with clinical dentistry, I’ve also been a:

• Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy
• President for the Washington State Dental Association
• Affiliate faculty at the U.W. School of Dentistry
• Volunteer Zoo dentist for 12 years
• Consultant and speaker in dentistry for 11 years

My Biggest Fear?

One huge fear I faced was the fear of public speaking: it’s right up there with death, dying, and dental treatment! I was in the chair to be the first female president, in 114 years, for my local dental society, but I was not a speaker. I grew up quite shy and pushed myself for years to step out of my shell. You wouldn’t know it now, but it’d be much easier to be home in my sweats, working in the garden. Anyway, with public speaking, I’d pace nervously, turn intensely red, plus throw up and have diarrhea the night before. Nice!

To face the fear, I joined Toastmasters International because I didn’t want to disgrace my gender. They taught me some helpful skills, including how to give different types of speeches. It was a low cost way of becoming a high-class presenter.

And you know what? It also made me a better dentist! I learned to listen more, to pause when speaking, to have good eye contact, and to communicate confidence with my body language. In short, I became more engaging. Case acceptance went up and, due to solid communication skills, great staff, and sound business systems, I’ve had great relationships with my patients.

If you have someone on your dental team that would like to be a better presenter of dentistry, Toastmasters is a great investment. It’s low cost and can be found in most communities.

Keep at It!

After Toastmasters, I trained with Dale Carnegie: High Impact Presentations. The presentations are reviewed on video and then critiqued for effectiveness. Their personal speaking coaches are invaluable. Now I’ve spoken to large audiences, even facing 1,200 people in Montreal, Canada.

While I present valuable content, every 7-9 minutes I break it up with something funny—a story, a photo, a video—that correlates with my content. I watch people’s eyes. We’ve only got a 7-10 minute attention span, so I pay attention to wandering eyes. Most importantly, I now have fun with my audiences. It took a lot of pain, embarrassment, agony, and angst to reach this point of having fun.

Just Be You

The greatest accomplishments usually require the most of us yet are the most meaningful. Currently, I’m writing 2 books. One is on leadership; the other is on verbal skills. It’s been so hard, because, of course, I want it perfect. What you write, say, and do, though, doesn’t have to be perfect. It needs to be you, and it doesn’t matter what your critics say. Does it feel right to you?

Sure, we’ll always battle with fear, but my message to you and to myself is this: Push yourself. What’s the next big thing you’d personally like to accomplish? It’s just like going to dental school—take one day at a time and keep plugging. You’ll do it, and it’ll feel great!

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