On New year’s Eve my 18-year-old nephew Sunny came over and we talked about his options this summer. The conventional three came up: find a job, go to university or take a year out. We agreed that each seemed harder than they would have been when I was his age, given the state of the world, but that he may as well still choose the best of a bad bunch. At least he had the advantage of being under no illusions.
When I was his age, although I had every option available to me, I didn’t think rationally. Sunny is more mature than I was but, even so, I wanted to push him further. I promised him there isn’t a “good” choice but if he makes peace with one of the bad choices and operates within that to make his own pathway to freedom, he will do well.
I use the same approach with my clients, namely, if there isn’t a good answer for you, at least analyse your options honestly, make a decision and stick to it. When I was in Sunny’s position I did neither. My idea of university was an amalgam of the film Dead Poets Society and the novel The Secret History, and perhaps that was one of the reasons I dropped out. That and my commitment to behaving more like John Belushi in Animal House. If it was unlikely I was going to find myself transported into the intoxicatingly intellectual world of cliquey classics students I saw in The Secret History, it will be impossible for Sunny in a time of Covid because lectures and seminars will be on Zoom.
Whatever you desire, and no matter how clever your answers are to that desire, you can’t change the facts as they lay. The limits you face may be small or large, but choice and movement is always possible. I’ve written here about trade-offs rather than solutions, being a fact of life. I believe it’s no exaggeration to say that every one of us must choose our prison. As business owners we must shackle ourselves to one or other limiting scenario in order to create order, value and profit.
Believing in solutions rather than trade-offs, as I see it, is a dangerous form of self-defeating thinking. It’s understandable: who wouldn’t want to entertain the notion of a warm and hazy utopian future, light on detail, in which you have grown your dental practice successfully and your operations are magically spot on, so that everything is purring along and you have “made it”, or you have landed a deal that’s set you up for life.
For instance, a dentist says they want to buy their boss’s practice but actually, when the chips are down, they are not prepared to pay (even though they can afford it) and, actually, they are OK about staying on with him anyway. Plus, they don’t want to face him on the open market as a competitor. The whole thing is an exercise in fantasy.
Fantasies hold you back because they waste time and mean you miss opportunities. They feel good but are a self-limiting addiction that you need to be ruthless with. Several associates come to us every week saying they are looking to buy a practice because they want freedom, autonomy, to be their own boss, and we have this conversation with them. They don’t yet understand that they are going to be buying a new prison in which they’re beholden to their bank, to their landlord and, more than they could ever imagine, to their team and their customers.
This may sound like a doom and gloom message, but it’s really not. It should be the most freeing idea you can get your head around. Yes there will be constraints to whatever prison you choose but there’s a ton of freedom in there for you to shape your own pathway. Start by embracing it.
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