I’ve always been an introvert, the shy girl. I would stand in the back of the room and go unnoticed. The thought of walking into a crowded room where I know no one still makes me terrified.
That has all improved for me, but first, let me tell you why.
In 1997, I was 12 years old and in the seventh grade. We lived in a Chicago suburb. The “in thing” and my style consisted of oversized JNCO jeans, Joe Boxer underwear with the waistband showing, a fitted crop-top shirt donned with at least three choker necklaces, and high-top Converse shoes. I was one of the cool kids and fit in.
It was devastating when we moved clear across the state to a small rural community. The town consisted of 3,000 people, and only 250 students total in the entire combined high school and middle school.
My mom took me clothes shopping for my first day at my new school. Looking back, I know my mom was just trying to protect me. She was trying to help me fit in. On my first day at my new small school, I’m dressed in a button-up plaid shirt tucked into tight jeans with white Keds.
While I was walking to the bus stop, I stepped in a nice, fresh pile of dog poop on the sidewalk. And, not just on the bottom of the shoe that I could rapidly scrape off as the bus was pulling up. Nope. The poop was clear up the side of my new, unwanted white Keds!
To say the least, I did not fit in. I was the new girl at a small school where everyone knows everyone. I stood out like a sore thumb, and now a stinky one. I’m not blaming my outfit for stepping in the dog poop. But maybe I would have been more comfortable if I was rocking my own personal style and not trying to just fit in.
Hit to My Ego
During my senior year of high school, my grades weren’t the greatest. I was taking a dual credit college English class. My professor told me I was terrible at English and shamed me for my lack of writing skills. That same year, I was told by my guidance counselor that I would never make it as a dental hygienist because my grades weren’t good enough. (My mother was, and still is, a dental hygienist, and I had always dreamed of being a dental hygienist just like her. I even dressed as one for Halloween when I was eight years old.) Being told I’d never make it crushed me! That’s all I had ever wanted to be.
Considering being told that I’d never make it into dental hygiene school, I decided to take a course for certified nursing assistant (CNA). During clinical rotations at a nursing home, I went around brushing the residents’ teeth and even removing partials and dentures to clean them as well. The residents were happy to have someone care for their oral health, something that is lacking in the nursing home setting. And, I felt the pull back to dental hygiene.
Obviously, I made it as a dental hygienist. I had to study hard in dental hygiene school. But it was something I enjoyed, so the good grades came much easier. As for my guidance counselor and English teacher, I’m not sure whether, if I ever saw them again, I would flip them the bird or if I would say “thank you” for lighting a fire within me to be better.
Getting Too Comfortable
In 2017, after 11 years in clinical dental hygiene, I was at an office where I felt burned out. I had let myself slink back down, fit in, and get too comfortable. I invested in myself and went on a continuing education cruise. I learned about many other avenues that the dental world has to offer, and I met some amazing mentors.
In 2018, I decided to invest my time and went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree online. There I was encouraged to continue writing. I also learned about manifesto writing from a life coach. Manifesto writing gets out your true ideals and dreams. On my manifesto for 2020, I had that I wanted to write articles (this is my second article) and that I wanted to work at a booth at a dental convention. I did not know how or when that would be possible.
Feeling like I needed to do more, I recently signed up as a Hylife Oral Care Specialist. Hylife is a service provided by dental hygienists to dependent elders, and it was started by Angie Stone. As an oral care specialist, you go into long-term care facilities and give oral care to the elders by brushing their teeth, much like I did in the CNA classes years ago. Since COVID-19, we have suspended all treatment. I’m hoping to get my first client when all this clears up.
I’m also proud that I worked with a vendor during the Chicago Midwinter. As an introvert, working in a booth and talking to people all day was mentally and physically exhausting. The experience pushed me outside of my comfort zone. As a bonus, I got to hug Angie Stone, and I got to meet the Kara Vavrosky! I was totally starstruck!
As a dental hygienist, there are not too many moments where we’ll literally step in poop. What we can do is be true to ourselves. Don’t try to just fit in. Break the mold, be bold. Yes, I am human. At times, I want to go back to my wounded child, trying to fit in. Just fitting in gets you nowhere. Getting outside of your comfort zone is where you find your strength and true passion.
To the new graduates looking for a job, be your true authentic self, and the right job or office will come along. Seasoned clinicians, if you’re feeling burned out, there is more than just clinical. Find your passion and purpose. Make a splash, live a little.
I don’t know what our future holds after COVID-19 is over. I do know the dental community will overcome this. Hopefully, there will be better PPE and protocols put in place. Let’s remember to use our voice and stand up for our rights. Don’t just fit in.