Do you ponder the true meaning of what you do as a dental practice owner? I am always pursuing new approaches to leadership and discovering new ideas on that theme. I take leadership in business seriously because I have seen the effects of both positive and negative leadership styles on teams, service and business performance. There is no denying that positive, healthy, inclusive and supportive leadership styles lead to greater cohesion, productivity, loyalty and longevity within companies. So, I am always on the lookout for new ideas and explorations on the theme of servant leadership.  

That search has brought me here to tell you about this wonderful little book, The Paradox of Personal Meaning by Dr. Kent M. Keith. Dr. Keith is considered an expert on servant leadership and its role and application in business and entrepreneurialism. He’s written several books on the topic of servant-leadership and edited a new release of The Servant as Leader known as The Contemporary Servant as Leader by Robert K. Greenleaf, the essential essay for anyone interested in servant-leadership.  

Dr. Keith’s book is a thought-provoking exploration of the human quest for personal meaning in an increasingly complex world. The book challenges conventional wisdom and offers fresh perspectives on this timeless and existential topic. Dr. Keith wrote the Paradox of Personal Meaning in 1968 and its idea, lessons and examples have endured for more than 50 years. Dr. Keith asks the reader to examine what she or he truly values and to weigh that against the ephemeral promises of the superficial trademarks of success: fame, money and power. What do you truly value? Is it important enough to keep doing it in the face of adversity anyway?  

The Search for Personal Meaning – Can You Apply This in Your Dental Practice?  

Dr. Keith begins by examining the age-old question of whether life has inherent meaning or if it’s our responsibility to create it. He explores various philosophical and psychological theories on the subject and takes readers on an intellectual journey through several perspectives on the concept of meaning. The book dives into the works of renowned thinkers such as Viktor Frankl, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, who have all grappled with the question of whether life has intrinsic meaning or if it’s a blank canvas awaiting our strokes of purpose. 

 One compelling argument the author presents is that personal meaning is a dynamic and evolving construct. It suggests that the search for meaning isn’t a one-time revelation but an ongoing process that adapts to the changing circumstances and stages of our lives. This viewpoint challenges the notion of a fixed, predetermined purpose and encourages readers to engage actively in crafting their own meaning. I love this idea so much. I’m not the same person I was when I bought my first dental practice and my worldview has changed immensely over time, so why wouldn’t my sense of meaning and what brings me fulfillment also change?  

The Role of Suffering and Adversity, yes, even as a Dental Practice Entrepreneur 

A significant part of the book delves into the idea that personal meaning often emerges from suffering and adversity. The author argues that our most profound growth can occur during life’s most challenging moments. 

There is a seemingly paradoxical relationship between suffering and personal meaning. The author argues that, counterintuitively, some of our most profound moments of personal growth and self-discovery often arise from the crucible of suffering and adversity. It’s a hard thing to admit, isn’t it? Some of our most valuable life moments come from our deepest wounds. And it is these wounds that, many times, give people their greatest purpose in life.  

The book highlights how confronting life’s hardships can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself and a heightened sense of purpose. Dr. Keith suggests that it is precisely in these moments of struggle that individuals have the opportunity to tap into reservoirs of inner strength and resilience.  

One of my most grim experiences was during the first 3 months of opening my very first practice. My office manager decided my leadership style and the team I was building had no place for her and she walked out. I was left with an insurance billing system I had no clue how to operate or even figure out.

After six months of nights and weekends poring over the books and figuring out how the system worked, I went to my cousin who helped me build the software I needed to systematize and digitize our billing system. I also made the decision to never hire another person who didn’t share my values. I was building a practice and a team based on the values I hold dear to this day: communication, transparency, dedication, teamwork, trust, etc. I needed to surround myself with colleagues who shared my vision and values.  

That was an expensive, heartbreaking and adverse experience that has never been repeated in my life. I took that lesson and made it a cornerstone of my learning and my life and that is reflected today in my partner, my team and the people we work with at Optimize Practice Services. I’m forever grateful for that adversity early on.  

Connection and Relationships at the Office 

The book emphasizes the importance of meaningful connections with others as a source of personal meaning. It discusses how our relationships and interactions contribute to our sense of purpose and underscores the significance of meaningful connections with others in the quest for personal meaning. It delves into the idea that our relationships and interactions with family, friends, and society at large play a pivotal role in shaping our sense of purpose. 

The exchange of ideas, emotions, and shared experiences contribute greatly to a richer and more meaningful life. It invites readers to reflect on the impact of their relationships and how they can nurture and foster connections that align with their values and aspirations.  

And this isn’t limited to homelife. We can and must do this in our work and our entrepreneurial endeavors. Afterall, many times, especially when we are building our practices, we are spending more time at work with colleagues and patients than we do at home with family and friends. Having strong social ties (even at work) has been shown to increase health and longevity. So, why not utilize that valuable time to enhance your ability to live a longer, healthier life?  

Authenticity and Self-Discovery as a Dental Practice Entrepreneur  

Throughout the book, the concept of authenticity is central. It encourages readers to engage in self-reflection and self-discovery to uncover their true passions and values and, ultimately, their personal meaning. 

The author provides practical exercises and prompts to assist readers in this journey of self-discovery. These exercises encourage individuals to explore their core beliefs, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and envision a life that aligns with their authentic selves.  

Believe it or not, I encourage my teams to pursue these lines of self-discovery as well. We use tools like Gallup’s CliftonStrengths and others to discover how best to work in teams and enhance each other’s strengths. These kinds of pursuits are personally enlightening but they also create greater team cohesion, unity and trust. I urge you to take some time to discover your full potential with these types of tools and enhancements even within your own dental practice and amongst your teams.  

Dr. Keith has a knack for making complex philosophical ideas accessible to a broad audience. The book’s writing style is engaging and thought-provoking, making it an enjoyable read. One of the ways he makes it simple to achieve a sense of meaning in your life is to live by commandments that express your sense of commitment to finding this meaning. He calls them ‘anyway’ commandments. You can find his examples here.

I’ve created some of my own because I have found these commandments to be a sense of inspiration, passion and creativity for me. Here are a few I’ve created:

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What are some ideas you have? These statements are wonderful tools to use in your every day life as well as your business.

I also appreciate the book’s inclusivity in drawing from various philosophical traditions. These various perspectives enrich the reader’s understanding of personal meaning and provide a well-rounded view that acknowledges the diversity of thought on this profound pursuit. 

The book also offers practical exercises and prompts that encourage readers to apply the concepts to their own lives, fostering personal growth. These actionable steps empower readers to move beyond mere contemplation and actively apply the book’s concepts to their own lives. From journaling exercises to guided self-assessments, these tools can be instrumental in fostering personal growth and transformation. 

As you consider delving into this thought-provoking work, remember that the quest for life’s meaning is a deeply personal and individualized journey. “The Paradox of Personal Meaning” offers a roadmap and a wealth of perspectives to aid you on your path, but ultimately, it is your experiences and insights that will shape your unique understanding of personal meaning. And it’s incredibly gratifying to have your own experiences and carve the meaning out of them for yourself.

That pursuit has been my lifelong journey through every achievement and every seeming failure, I’ve chosen to dive deep to understand the fuller impact every event has had on my life. I wish you the same fulfillment, joy and meaning a purposeful life brings to those who choose to walk it.