It’s been 9 months since I stopped practicing clinical dentistry.
7 months since we moved to Japan.
4 months since I’ve gotten serious about building my business.
3 months since I launched my website and my first online course.
2 months since I began a 300-day long Heroic Coach certification training program.
And just about a month since I’ve truly felt settled in this new life.
I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve eaten more sushi than I could dream of, and I’ve never been more grateful for my husband and our puppy dog. It’s been a rollercoaster filled with change, adventure, beauty, growth, growing pains, self-doubt, uncertainty, frustration, and breakthroughs.
My expectation of what it would feel like to hit pause on dentistry to have the freedom to pursue my passions has been quite different from reality. I write this from the balcony of our ocean front apartment with my puppy napping at my feet, overlooking some of the most clear, blue water I’ve ever seen. I have never been more grateful in my life. Everyday I am grateful for the opportunity to live abroad on a tropical island with my loving husband, surrounded by beauty and the kindness of Japanese culture. We have abundant opportunities to make new friends, explore locally, and travel to mainland Japan. For the first time in my life, I have an expanse of time to focus on my passions, with no other obligations. Life is good and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. But I want to be honest about the challenges that come with this paradise. There is a lot that happens in major transitions like this that no one ever tells you about. I’m not sure if any amount of advice would have fully prepared me. But I’m here today to share my experiences. I’m going to talk about my struggle with self-worth, identity and income, and learning to break my addiction to achievement, busy-ness, and high stress hustle. Let’s dive in.
In early 2021, my husband and I received orders that we would be moving to Okinawa, Japan for his commitment in the US Navy as a prosthodontist. We were thrilled with an opportunity to live abroad, even though that meant I would be unable to practice dentistry. I began to see this as the perfect opportunity for me to focus on growing my own business to make wellness more accessible to healthcare professionals. I was feeling exhausted from working full time as a general dentist, while also trying to start a business. I was not practicing what I preached in terms of wellness, and moving to Japan was the perfect opportunity for me to slow down, embody my message, and invest the time necessary in successfully sharing my message.
I left my job as an associate general dentist in June 2021. For the next two months I visited with friends and family, hosted a retreat, and started working on my business. I created a business plan and started learning about all things entrepreneurship. I had a clear vision for building a meaningful, impactful, and profitable business in the time we were abroad.
For months leading up to the move, I felt a sense of anticipation, mixed with excitement and a touch of anxiety. My husband was done with residency. I was finally able to focus on my business. We would be living in Japan. We would be traveling the world! I thought that after years of working hard to get to this place, life was going to flow with ease. I thought moving and pausing clinical dentistry would be my escape from stress and anxiety.
After months of preparation, we finally moved in late August 2021. It was bumpy at first. There were a lot of things people don’t tell you. The struggles of military life, the stress of navigating a new country in a foreign language, and the frustrations of Japan’s strict COVID restrictions. Doing the most basic things like driving, grocery shopping, running small errands, etc. was overstimulating and exhausting! No one tells you what the aftermath of leaving a life with a full time job is like. This was the longest “break” I had been on from work and school, and my mind and body needed rest. It was like I had been running at full speed for a decade, and now I had chance to stop and catch my breath. I was utterly exhausted. The first few months passed in a blur. We rented an apartment off base, we bought cars, we made friends. When restrictions eased up, we explored the island, and we even travelled in mainland Japan several times.
After spending the first 3 months getting physically settled in our new home, I was ready to launch my business and I hit the ground running. I signed myself up for a rigorous business program to help me launch my course. For months, I spent 8+ hours a day grinding. I designed and launched my website. I developed a 10-week program called Wellness for Dentists; an on-demand, virtual program to help dentists develop their personal wellness toolbox, and to learn how to implement the wellness practices so they can stress less and enjoy life more. I learned the new language of online business: creating offers, lead magnets, sales funnels, email lists, social media marketing campaigns, copywriting, the works. I was back on the familiar grind that I’d learned to master over the years, and from the outside it looked like I was thriving. Internally, I felt that familiar sense of overwhelm, anxiety, and stress I’ve been working so hard to escape. At the end of each day, I always felt like I could have done more and done it better. I never felt like I was doing enough. No one ever talks about these parts of entrepreneurship— the steep learning curve, the wide range of skills you must master, the overwhelming sense of responsibility, the lack of guidance and accountability, the expanded timeline between action and results, and the extremely delayed sense of gratification that comes with all your efforts.
I was in uncharted territory, without any external timeline or external validation. I struggled with the identity shift from independent dentist to dependent entrepreneur. In our society today, one’s personal identity is definitely primarily by career and the resulting monetary success. No one really talks about what it’s like to end (or in my case, take a break from) a career and the income that came with it. Despite the fact that I had always been careful to define myself and my success by my values, experiences, well-being, happiness, health, etc… I still felt as through I had lost a part of my identity and my independence. There were many emotions that came along with this, and for me the strongest were guilt and shame. I felt shame that I wasn’t able to generate income, even with all of my available free time. I felt like an imposter building a business without any business experience. I felt guilty that I was building a wellness business while still struggling with my own well-being. I felt guilty spending my time resting or exploring and not working. I felt that if I didn’t have anything to show for my work, I was being lazy. I felt like I had trapped myself in a cycle of creating something that was not aligned with my values and future self vision. I felt guilty that I missed practicing dentistry. And then I felt shame for feeling guilty! I was overwhelmed and stuck in a shame spiral. Brené Brown teaches us to overcome shame by talking to ourselves like we talk to someone we love, reaching out to someone we trust, and telling our story. Shame cannot survive empathy. It was time for me to revisit my own tools.
So I decided to pause my business projects and instead of teaching the work, I needed to do the work. I felt like I’d been here before. I’d already done this work. I’d already read the books, attended the conferences and retreats, journaled and self-reflected, worked with the coaches, and learned from the experts. I had already explored my triggers and healed my wounds. This is the stuff I wanted to teach others about! So then why was I still struggling with the same stress and anxiety I felt as a dental student and as a dentist? How had I fallen back into the same old patterns of working hard for achievement and attaching my worth and identity to my career?
I’d spent over a decade in high stress environments that rewarded the hustle. I’d learned to survive in this type of environment and it became my baseline. My nervous system was programed to crave the frantic, busy energy that came with doing too much. I thought that if I could just escape the environment, I could escape the stress and anxiety. I had convinced myself that my problems would be solved by an external change (like moving to Japan and taking a break from dentistry). But alas my major breakthrough came with these words by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Wherever you go, there you are.” No matter where I go, my problems will follow. Internal transformation must happen before I can expect external circumstance to change my life.
I was stuck in my pattern of hustle and addicted to achievement. I had to really dig deep and understand why I felt this need to be productive and busy all the time. I knew I had to break up with the idea that the my worth is determined by my work. I have spent my life busy. Always reaching for more. Always thinking about the future. Always saying yes. And time seemed to always seemed to speed by; I was always rushing, usually late, and I never felt like there was enough time. There was always something more for me to do and I never felt like I was doing enough. As dentists, we’ve been conditioned that success is defined by production and that if we just work hard and stay busy, then we will be successful and worthy. Busy-ness and the resulting anxiety had become my conditioned baseline. When we are below baseline, we find ways to return to it; this is homeostasis. This is precisely what I had done, I had created ways to stay busy and anxious because, for a long time, that was what I was all that I had known. There is comfort in the familiar.
It was time for me to break these patterns and transform… again. I’ve been lucky enough to have had other transformational experiences in my life. They always tend to be immersive and filled with learning wisdom, solitude, self-reflection, and clarity; yoga teacher training, work exchanges on organic farms (WWOOF), personal development conferences, travel experiences, yoga retreats, and most recently a homestay with a Buddhist monk. I’ve been on this path for a long time. And like I said, I was really frustrated that in spite of all of these transformational experiences, I still needed to do the work. But here I am doing the work, yet again and I am realizing how much of life is cyclical. I feel like I am on this inward spiral, into the most authentic, best version of myself. Along this spiral is a clear, direct window into the center. As I move through each revolution on this spiral, I pass through this window of clarity. In these experiences of true clarity, I have a sweet taste of the center. These cyclical moments of clarity are the transformational experiences I mentioned above. Life is the process of cycling through the spiral. With each revolution, we get closer to our Truth, the best and most authentic version of our Higher Self. As time passes, each revolution is shorter and we move faster towards the center. The cyclical nature of life means that while windows of clarity are guaranteed, so are stumbles and frustrations and painful lessons. We will all experience times of clarity and struggle, and it might feel repetitive or familiar. But we grow wiser with each turn, and we start to have more fun on the journey.
This is the best I could do with creating a visual representation of the spiral!! I call this The Evolution of Me:
Over the last few months, I’ve done an immense amount of self-reflection. Every day I work on shifting my inner voice, and meeting my inner gremlins with kindness and grace. I share my triumphs and challenges with my trust-squad. I work to reconnect with my body, my emotions, and reprogram the nervous system that connects the two through consistent wellness practices like yoga, meditation, and breathwork. I have optimized how I eat, move, and sleep so that I have the energy to show up as my best self. I’ve drastically cut down my screentime, replacing it with books, puzzles, and learning the ukulele. And instead of hiding my shame, I tell my story and share what I’ve learned.
As for my big, grand business plan, I’ve had to rewrite it several times. The overall vision has not changed, but the path to get there looks a little different. Instead of rushing to launch something that isn’t in alignment with my values, I am throwing out the timeline and simply following the joy. In the coming months, you can expect more long-form reflections like this, mini-courses and masterclasses on different wellness tools, travel blogs, and anything else that brings me joy! Enrollment for the 10-Week Wellness for Dentists course is currently closed as a small group of beta testers (myself included!) go through the program, join the waitlist here to find out when doors reopen. In the meantime, I will be sharing more about my personal journey and what has worked for me as I explore my own well-being.
While I still have big aspirations for my business, I’ve started to see this special time abroad as the gap year I never got. This is my chance to just BE instead of DO. I get to spend time getting to know myself, remembering what lights me up, trying new things, making mistakes, and dropping all of the expectations I have for myself. I’m leaning into the idea of doing less and the cyclic nature of time. I am starting to trust that there will always be enough time and there is no need to rush. I am honoring the white space in my day, resisting the urge to stay busy, and only filling my time with the things that fill me up. I believe that I am worthy just as I am, and that I don’t need to hustle to prove anything. I am embodying my own message of wellness. I am going all in on learning about myself and my purpose. I am committed to creating authentically and taking aligned action. As I’ve spent more time getting to know myself, this is what I’m learning:
- I am a curious person with a love for learning and a strong appreciation for beauty, nature, and good food.
- I am drawn to learning about how to close the gap between who I am today, and who I am capable of being.
- I love learning about all things personal development, optimization, and peak performance.
- I love embodying the practices I learn and sharing these lessons with others.
- I love to connect with inspiring communities and like minded individuals.
As I said at the beginning, this process has been a rollercoaster filled with change, adventure, beauty, growth, growing pains, self-doubt, uncertainty, frustration, and breakthroughs. We’ve talked about self-worth, identity and income, and learning to break my addiction to achievement, busy-ness, and high stress hustle. My expectation of what it would feel like to hit pause on dentistry to have the freedom to pursue my passions has been quite different from reality, but it’s also led me to a much deeper level within myself. The greatest gift has been understanding that “wherever you go, there you are." I’ve learned that results I expected from an external change can’t happen until there is internal transformation. So things really haven’t gone as planned, but that’s the beautiful part. This image sums it up perfectly!
I am extremely grateful for this time to explore myself, the opportunity to learn, and the support of my loved ones. Each day on this island is a gift and I plan to fully embrace it. Thank you for taking the time to read about my experiences as I journey through this transformative adventure. Stay tuned for more!
I want to acknowledge the coaches and mentors who have helped me through this part of my journey:
- Brené Brown for her work on shame, vulnerability, and courage | https://brenebrown.com/
- Brian Johnson and the entire Heroic Coach team for their work in optimization | https://www.heroic.us/optimize/
- Dr. Jessica Metcalfe for her 1:1 coaching and her work on dismantling impostor phenomenon, perfectionism and burnout | https://www.drjessicametcalfe.com/
- Dr. Laura Brenner for her 1:1 coaching and her work on identity, career contentment, and burnout | https://www.lolabeescareercoaching.com/