Ask yourself these questions to rediscover your ‘why’

Starting something new is exciting. There’s a rush of adrenaline, motivation that makes you laser-focused on your goals, and the actions you take make you feel as if you are making great strides toward the finish line. The good news? These are some of the best feelings in the world, fostering productivity and adding meaning to your day. The bad news? This initial spark of excitement almost always extinguishes, and we are left to either give up or find some way to continue moving forward.

In these moments, you have to think about the reason you started in the first place. Knowing your “why” can help you persevere during these low periods. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to rediscover this:

  • What drew me to the dental field?
  • What challenges me in a good way?
  • What excites me about the dental profession?
  • What gets me through my bad days?
  • What allows me to recognize my good days?

In dental school, going into D1 year elicits pride. It is a time of celebration and recognition of previous accomplishments. Hard work and long hours brought you here, and you can finally put the anxiety and stress from the application cycle behind you. You’ve made it! Your dental career is finally starting.

This sense of pride, excitement and nervousness initially might motivate a first-year dental student, but sooner or later, the “honeymoon period” comes to an end. You may find yourself going through the motions, avoiding studying or perhaps questioning if you made the right career choice. Is the suffering going to pay off?

There is a reason you went to dental school, but it could get lost among the hundreds of hours in the pre-clinic, endless amounts of lab work or time spent perfecting your hand skills. For example, I am currently in my D2 year, and I was struggling with procrastination and keeping a positive mindset. With a difficult course load, terribly long days, upcoming Part I of boards and competencies — all with no break in sight — I felt stagnant and overwhelmed.

On top of that, as a requirement for one of our classes, we have to assist D3 and D4 students in the clinic. At first, this felt like a waste of time. I was reluctant. After all, there wasn’t enough time to get all of my own work and studying done. However, it was this experience that helped me reclaim my motivation.

The patient arrived for their occlusal wax rim try-in appointment and to pick the color, size and shape of their new denture teeth. This was just one out of a long series of appointments for this patient receiving a maxillary denture and an implant mandibular denture. While the D4 student collaborated with the clinic director, I talked with the patient, mostly apologizing that appointments at the school clinic took so long since we are required to have each step approved by a clinic instructor. He said he didn’t mind; he was just excited about being one step closer to a new smile.

We talked about how he wasn’t happy with the shape and color of his old denture, and he said to me, “I’m so grateful for the work you students are able to provide here.” In this moment, I rediscovered my why. I started dental school to form meaningful relationships with patients and deliver the best treatment I can to make them happy and confident.

While it’s easy to start something new, it is hard to see that same thing through to the end and inevitable that you are going to lose motivation along the way. There will be bad days that make you feel unwilling or unable to continue, but when those thoughts creep in, remind yourself of your why.

For me, this meant a break from working on plastic heads and teeth, and studying into the early hours of the morning. I needed patient interaction and to see the clinical benefits of providing dental treatment to real people. I needed to be reminded of what I am working toward. Seeing patients’ reactions and appreciation of treatment is moving, and it motivates me to work hard because I want to become the best provider I can be.

The path to “why” is different for everyone. Take your time when you need to rediscover this for yourself. There is no hurry because it is better to learn to rest, not to quit, when times get tough. So here’s to making the most of our time in dental school and to living more enjoyable and exciting days — days that remind us of our future in the dental profession.

~ Kristine Byrum, Ohio ’22

Kristine Byrum

Kristine Byrum is a current second-year dental student at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. Besides being an active member in her ASDA chapter, she is a Board member on SmileTrain's Young Leadership Circle, an organization dedicated to fundraising for children living with cleft lip and/or palate and cleft lip/palate research. She also enjoys hiking, traveling, calligraphy and continuously re-reading the Harry Potter series.

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1 Comment

  1. Jenn says:

    I loved this story! Definitely felt happy reading this!

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