Unplug or Unhinge

When I started my practice in 2001, my cell phone was my main source of contact with my growing number of new patients. At that time, being a Millstone Township Dentist meant caring for mostly elderly and medically compromised patients meant constant contact with family members, physicians, and dentists. Add in the volume of calls I would receive (and make) just related to the business of running and growing a solo practice from scratch, i.e. marketing, government agencies, accountants, insurance companies, etc. it became apparent that on most days, I spent more time on the phone than I did caring for my patients or being with my family. I was quickly heading down the path of becoming “unhinged”.

One year, my wife and I decided to take a summer vacation with our two year old daughter to Puerto Rico. It became more and more apparent as the days grew closer to our departure that cell service would be very difficult, actually impossible, in the remote area where we would be staying for seven days. My head was full of thoughts of my fledgling practice crashing into the ground since I would not have constant contact with my work world. I spent many days prior to the trip alerting everyone I could think of that I would be unavailable for the next week. I assured them that while I would be away, I also had plans to come back. I tied up as many loose ends as I could and prepared to brace for the storm which would be my absence for a week. In my head, I thought my world would end if I was not in it for a week. In reality, this turned out not to be the case at all.

beach at Praslin island, Seychelles

For the first two days or so of our trip, I did suffer from withdrawals from my phone and TV news. The strange silence from a non-ringing cell phone was unsettling at first. I did initially stress about what was going on “back at the office” and wondered what major catastrophe or opportunity I may be missing without my life line to work. As days passed, I grew more and more detached from my world back home, and more and more engaged in what was in front of me and truly important. I discovered that even without my constant connection to my cell phone, the sun still rose and set. I came to enjoy the silence of morning, having a meal with my family and not having to check messages or answer a seemingly important call. I really looked forward to the uninterrupted time with my 2 year old daughter playing in the sand or going swimming. I began to look forward to sunsets and hearing the sound of waves crashing. By the end of the week, I had become so detached from my phone, that I started to think long and hard about what aspects of my life were good and which ones were great. Upon returning to New Jersey, my thoughts were confirmed. The world did not end with me gone for a week and my patients seemed to appreciate the fact that I had taken some time off. Over the next few weeks, I found myself more creative, more focused, and much quicker to put daily situations into proper perspective. A work/life balance had emerged. And, my practice nearly doubled in the following year.

Today, life is busier than ever. With two wonderful children, a great family, two wonderful practices, all kinds of activities related to the children’s growing up experience, plus all of my time either teaching or taking continuing education classes, I feel more than ever that getting “unplugged” is vitally important. For me, I have found that unplugging for at least a week a year is one of the greatest times. It allows me to detach from work, spend QUALITY time with my family, enjoy experiences more, and become morcreative.

As we see many of our patients discuss upcoming travel plans and vacation activities, I try to encourage all of them to consider getting “unplugged” for their time away. I often relay the above story of the benefits I’ve seen in “unplugging”. I encourage many to just enjoy being face to face with friends and family, logging off Facebook, and turning off the news. In the end, life is way too short to not spend some high quality time without connection to the outside world. Your children and grandchildren are only young once so enjoy the time with them before they are gone. Your last day on this earth could be today so make the most of it. And, you’ll rarely meet a person who at the end of life wishes they had spent more time at the office than enjoying time with family, friends, and life’s experiences. So do yourself a favor and make time to “unplug”.

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