The Least Understood Part of Dr. Pankey’s Cross
I’ve always thought that the least understood and least appreciated aspect of Dr. Pankey’s cross of life is the directive to “Know Yourself.” It seems more interesting and exciting to get into learning about your work and your patients. And applying that knowledge makes all the sense in the world. Many high achieving people are happy to dedicate themselves to a lifetime of learning about their work.
What about learning about ourselves? My experience is that it’s easier to believe we have “done that.” We take a psychological instrument and label ourselves as “Driver” or “Amiable.” Check! We survey our values and identify the top three. Check! We write a vision or mission statement. Check! How much more is there to learn?
I have come to understand that, over time, the self-discovery process of knowing yourself can be the most challenging and most rewarding aspect of your work. Knowing yourself is what makes you not only a better dentist, but a more effective leader, a more engaged family and community member, and a more fulfilled person. So, when I was asked to speak about that at the Pankey Institute’s Annual meeting I was both delighted and a bit intimidated. It is such a big topic!
“But, What about Self-Absorption?”
The idea of knowing yourself can have a connotation of self-absorption, a self-serving focus inward. This thought has arisen in our evening discussions at the Institute. We tend to think it is more appropriate to focus outward on our patients, our team, and our work. We want to facilitate their growth and their learning about how to become healthier. It can be difficult to see the value of that inner self-discovery focus. But Parker J. Palmer, whose writing has informed my work over many years wrote:
“. . . When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my unexamined life, and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well.”
That lens through which we see others is an essential part of who we are. What I have learned so far is that my lens includes filters of impatience, and judgment, and assumptions about what I think I know. I have my blind spots. But my lens also includes compassion, and love, and understanding.
After 40 Years, Even New Discoveries
After 40 years in service of others, I am still learning about myself. As I learn to know myself, I am better able to take a step back and look at my filters, not just through them. I’m learning to question and understand where they fit and where they do not. I find it very interesting how on my best days I can see both the filter and the lens. With intention, I practice questioning my assumptions and suspending my judgment. Sometimes I can even laugh at the stories I make up about people and situations! And often I can also see the gifts I bring; the perspective, the compassion. Those are the times when I can bring all of myself to my work.
I serve better and I am better for knowing myself.
Mary will be presenting on Know Yourself at the Pankey 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting this year on Key Biscayne, Fl September 13,14.