Working in the dental industry for over five decades (OMG!) has been an action-packed journey of twists and turns that defines who I am at heart: an entrepreneur.
As I look back through my unique and dynamic career in dentistry, my big purpose, my why, was always to make an impact on the lives of others in a positive and unique way – that is my core value and steady compass. Without it, I would feel aimless, as I did many years ago.
When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me $1,800.00 and well wishes for a good life. Suddenly, there I was, facing adulthood with no clue how to navigate a first step, let alone the path forward.
I was the first and only person in my family to attend college. My first ‘college try’, however, was a bust. Not knowing how to manage money on my own, I blew through the $1,800.00. I was lost, afraid, and unsure of my place in the world – until an extended family member who was an orthodontist suggested that I go to dental assisting school, get a job, and pay for college with my earnings.
Bingo! Finally, I had a path!
I was accepted into the dental assisting program at the local technical college. For the first time in my life, I was doing something I was intuitively good at and being acknowledged for my aptitude and performance. I graduated first in my class and got a great job with the dentist who ran the school.
Achievement and ambition is a funny thing for a natural-born entrepreneur. Once you accomplish a goal, a kind of crazy restlessness re-emerges that you can’t shake until you move on to that next big thing.
As a dental assistant, I learned how to think strategically, practice patience, and understand my role on a team. I also found out that my energized forward-thinking ideas and passion for improvement would not always be well received, and that being encouraged to ‘just do your job’ felt not only uncomfortable but, well, wrong.
The obvious next move for dental auxiliaries, especially during the 1970s, was — you guessed it — dental hygiene, which promised more money, autonomy, and professional stature. Determined to realize my dream of being a college graduate, I elected to go big and find a university that would allow me to earn a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene.
I had the good fortune of graduating from a 4-year dental hygiene program in Washington State that was seen as very progressive at the time. From delivering anesthesia to carving amalgam and composite, the expanded duties gave me a feeling of freedom and a level of strategic thinking that were very well suited to my natural abilities. Making a difference in people’s health and lives brought me the tremendous sense of accomplishment and significance that I craved on the professional stage.
What Next, Hidden Entrepreneur?
Upon moving to California in the early 80’s, I took the boards and found my professional life shrunken down to 60-minute appointments of mechanical scale-and-pick. What was wrong with me that I could not accept being in this box of routine and limited expectations? I had committed a huge amount of time and energy to dentistry, why so restless and anxious?
I really thought that my only way to the top was to enter dental school. But the Universe and two ruptured discs in my neck had different plans. It took 19 years at the chair to finally have enough pain, guts, restlessness, and moxie to find my way out.
During the 1980s, women with a dental clinical background were not thought of as sales or business leaders. We were overlooked for people (yes, generally men) with experience that clinically it appeared I did not have. But I knew differently. The fire driving me to that next place was so hot that nothing could stop me from moving on and up.
I took a job as a clinical trainer with a startup company that was looking to improve the TENS technology and reduce the need for local anesthesia. With my anesthesia experience and clinical knowledge, I was a perfect fit. What an adventure it was, working for a startup. I wore many different hats, worked 24/7, bled passion, and was exposed to all aspects of business, entrepreneurship, and sales. Aah, yes … selling! I had found a home.
This was the start of a dental sales, business, and leadership experience that was more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. My work encompassed all levels and sectors of the industry, from manufacturing and distribution to several startups. From carrying the bag, to operations, sales and marketing in a start-up, to sales training at the corporate level, to driving a distribution branch from $12 to $52 million – I have been there and done that!
Along the way, my skills, talents, and leadership abilities grew, and every door that closed pointed to new and exciting chapters in business expertise, team building, sales development, and leadership.
At every level, entrepreneurship was the driving force behind my ‘What’s next?’. I owned the experience and made the most of it for myself, my teams, my clients, and my company. My accomplishments where many and I am proud to have earned the right to have worked with so many outstanding individuals and companies.
Big Shift…Who Knew?
Being aged out of an industry that you love is never easy. It has long-lasting effects, negative and positive. It took me to a yet another crossroads and the next chapter of my life. I had a choice to make: Walk away disgruntled and sad, never to darken dentistry’s door again, or, find a way through the pain, give back in the most constructive way possible, lost but undaunted, I knew in my gut to just push on – as Maxwell Goldsmith stated, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
I left dentistry after 38 years. I was driven to find new outlets for my talents and wanted to meet and work with women outside the industry to learn and understand where my next path would take me. Along the way, I met and worked with so many women and women-owned businesses that were thriving outside of the healthcare space. Seeing things from outside of dentistry was exhilarating, there was so much to learn and so many ways to grow, stretch, and use my talents, I was dizzy with energy and motivation.
Born from these experiences was a dental corporate consulting business, as well as a cyber security start up for the dental industry that I started and licensed out to a large distributor. The consulting business morphed into an individual transitions advisory for women in dentistry and other sectors. Sticky Think Advisory is alive and well. Supporting women in sales and leadership roles in today’s competitive business environment is what drives me and keeps me striving for their success as if it were my own. That’s my jam!
Opportunity, fun and still loving dentistry!
Never one to disappoint, the Universe recently delivered another growth path. A branding consultant and I were asked to join a last-minute call with a mutual client. This unexpected meeting was the start of my most exciting venture yet.
My partner and fast bestie, Jen K. Ward, is a veteran branding and image specialist with experience in large-business advertising, branding, and digital transformation. We observed and test marketed a concept that many women in sectors such as healthcare, education, and government who wanted to bust out and become entrepreneurs had no real easy affordable support system to accomplish and reach their goals. These women struggle because they have no basic business-building skills to help them launch a business. In short order, The Women’s Launch Table was born and is making a splash in the small-business community, helping women achieve their dreams of owning and thriving in their own business.
Our passion is helping women who are overlooked by large consulting groups, networking groups, and business associations simply because they do not have an existing revenue stream and/or thriving client base.
Here’s to Us!
More than ever before, women are finding their voice, space, and tribe to succeed in and contribute great things to the exciting world of dentistry and beyond. My commitment to helping them along this fulfilling path is my greatest love, passion and joy.
What’s next? One never knows.