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a blog by Chris Barrow

On looking younger than your age - a guest post by Dr. Karl Walker-Finch

As you will know, I’ve been somewhat indisposed for the last couple of weeks after a cycling accident.

Following surgery, I’m on the mend - pace not race as always but I’ll be showing up more over the weeks ahead. My wonderful, wonderful clients decided that they missed The Coach Barrow Blog so much, that they would start writing it themselves. So - over the next few days, a few guest posts from active members of The Extreme Business 100 community, sharing their own thoughts, observations and experiences. My gratitude to the contributors and the hope that just one idea will make a positive difference to your day.

Karl is a dentist and practice owner of Smiles in Tandem in Huddersfield. Alongside his life inside and outside of dentistry, he’s writing a book titled In The Loupe - The Secrets to Finding a Passion in Dentistry. What follows is an excerpt from the book which is due to be published before the end of the year. Find out more and be the first to hear about the release here

Adversity takes many forms and I’m very aware that as a straight white male in the UK, I’ve been given a great number of opportunities and faced few fewer barriers in my life and career so far than many people reading this book. What I still have to this day though, is the face of a ten year old. I have always looked young and for years this upset me. Being told that I’ll be glad of it when I’m older never helped me build confidence in a patient who thinks I’m the work experience kid.

When I graduated I had just turned 23. In my foundation year I was bombarded daily with comments about my age or more accurately, my perceived age, which varied between nine and thirteen. I began feeling that my ineradicably immature mug, still devoid of facial hair, undermined all the countless hours of study I’d put in to getting where I was. My foundation trainer took great joy in recounting the time a patient asked him “does his mother know he’s out?” Or the countless times he had to reassure patients “yes, honestly, he is a real dentist”. There were many times a patient would come into my room and with a wry smile look over to the dental nurse as if to say “this is some kind of joke, right?”

I felt undermined and under-respected for my achievements. I constantly had to justify my presence, to reassure them that I was a real dentist, pointing to my deliberately prominently displayed BDS certificate out to prove my worth. This wasn’t helped by the foundation dentist that preceding me was a more mature student, nearly twice my age, though no more experienced or capable. I was festooned with frustration that he never had to deal with any of this, it was just assumed, because he looked older, that he was more capable and more qualified. I’ve always taken a lot of stick for looking young and now, in the adult world with three capital letters after my name it continued. I just don’t look like a dentist.

There are thousands of people who are scared of “the dentist”. Thousands of people who are haunted by images of an old bloke in a lab coat by the name of Dr Payne, stinking like a caustic cocktail of TCP and old socks, who used to take teeth out on children without anaesthetic while smoking in some sadistic tirade that plagued the community for decades until he retired (or so I’m told).

I don’t have to bear the cross of being associated with that guy. I’m nothing like him. Look at me. And so I told my patients this, I made this my USP. Every day, they’d come in and tell me their Kubrickian nightmares and I’d listen and reassure that this was going to be different. I’d tell them “I probably don’t look like any other dentist you’ve seen before” and with that, they’d know this was going to be different. Perhaps it was that I was willing to be patient and listen to and acknowledge their angst before I spoke, but every time I’d have the same reaction, the patient would relax and open up about how they really felt about their teeth.

"Responsibility is the ability to choose your response”

Stephen Covey

Learning to accept the things I can’t change has allowed me to see past a problem, to find a solution. There are many things in life that we can do nothing about, but what we can do, is choose what we’re going to do about it.

We can feel held back by our working environment, relationships or a lack of opportunity but looking for someone to blame won’t help us grow, we can only play the cards we’re dealt. By focussing our energies on the things we can control, we can begin to make meaningful change. A bad situation never gets better by ignoring it and if a good situation is allowed to pass us by, we may miss an opportunity to maximise its potential. For years I tried to ignore the fact that I looked young but it didn’t change anything, it was only by confronting it head on that I was able to take responsibility for my situation and choose a response that made my baby face work to my advantage.

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