“This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.”
Earlier this year, we joined Kobe Bryant in bidding farewell to a successful twenty-year professional basketball career with the Los Angeles Lakers. His retirement letter (written as a poem and published by the Players’ Tribune), aptly titled “Dear Basketball,” brought us back to his humble beginnings, shed light on his difficult choice to retire and highlighted his incredible legacy.
Kobe’s journey to retirement holds important lessons for all of us. As future dental professionals, there will come a time when we also have to make the difficult choice to retire. Using Kobe’s journey as an example, here are some key factors that will help direct us to a successful and happy departure from our day jobs.
Finances. As a well-paid professional athlete, Kobe could choose when he wanted to retire without worry, but for many of us, retirement is often delayed due to financial concerns or a desire to maximize pension policies. In fact, a 2010 study published in the Population Research and Policy Review investigating how the retirement life course has changed over time found a “substantial expansion of the working years” relative to earlier estimates. Essentially, each subsequent generation has been retiring later than their predecessors. Kobe’s salary is well above the average dentist, but undoubtedly he managed his assets with a financial professional. Planning early with the help of a financial advisor and making smart financial decisions throughout your career can put you on the right track towards financial solvency when you are finally ready to put down your handpiece.
Physical health. A key factor in Kobe’s choice to retire included repetitive injuries as his body struggled to keep up with the physical demands of professional basketball. Likewise, aging dentists often face a similar dilemma. A 2012 study in the Dental Research Journal investigated the frequency of musculoskeletal complaints among dentists and found that 62% reported at least one, 35% reported at least two, 15% reported at least three, and 6% reported four musculoskeletal complaints within a year. Ultimately, we are prone to injuries that could affect our ability to continue practicing. Staying in excellent physical health requires early, regular maintenance through exercise and prevention by practicing dentistry with proper ergonomics. Whether you take regular yoga classes, weightlift, or focus on daily stretches, every little effort you make now to take care of your body goes towards strengthening your physical stamina for a long and healthy career.
Emotional preparation. When Kobe initially considered his decision to retire, he reached out to Michael Jordan, the basketball player he looked up to as a child, for advice. Similarly, reaching out to your colleagues and professional mentors to learn from their personal experiences can provide new perspectives that will help you determine whether or not retirement is right for you at this particular point in your career. They can also offer advice on how to best transition out of a practice, whether that means selling or transferring ownership. After spending decades in a profession you know and love, feeling mentally and emotionally ready to retire is one of the more important considerations.
Post-retirement involvement. Kobe found his passion for basketball early on as a child; a passion that continued through a long and fruitful career in the NBA. However, since his retirement, he has chosen to redirect his energy towards Kobe Inc., a company focused on building the brands of other companies in the sports industry. Likewise, it is important to remember that hanging up the white coat does not always mean you will be leaving dentistry for good. Even in retirement, there are plenty of opportunities to stay involved, whether that means teaching at a local dental school, volunteering your services at community clinics or mentoring the next generation of pre-dental students. Always remember the moments that sparked your initial interest in this profession and let that fire guide you, even after you have wrapped up your time as practicing clinician.
Retirement may seem far away now, but we have to start preparing today to ensure we retire successfully. Everyone wants to retire someday, but how we get there is what sets us apart. Kobe finished his final game with an impressive 60-point performance and a win for his team. We can only hope to finish our careers with a similar storybook ending on our own terms. Pull on your gloves, adjust your loupes and enjoy the journey as it unfolds.
~ Binh Dang, WesternU ’18, District 11 communications chair