Dental assisting

I got a crown yesterday. A filling had cracked and it was time to fix it. A couple weeks before I had the bad part done (with incredible amounts of novocaine). This appointment was merely for putting the $700 piece of metal in my mouth.

I walked in and sat down. The dental assistant said, “You have an iPod, don’t you?”

I do. She knows because it is my own pain reliever. I discovered that if I play David Crowder as loud as possible through the ear buds, I can’t hear the drill.

I told her that I did. She asked about charging it. She said that she had gotten the new iPod Skip. (She meant Shuffle). She tried to charge it at home but it kept flashing red. She brought it in to the office but wasn’t sure it was working. I asked where it was. We went to the front desk. She told me she had called tech support who said she needed to stop it before unplugging it. We stopped it. We unplugged it. I asked her about directions. It hadn’t come with any that she remembered. She hadn’t downloaded iTunes. I told her to start there when she got home.

We went back to the chair. I sat down and the dentist came and put the crown on. And I laughed at the fact that I was dental assisting.

I didn’t help much, I’m sure. I can figure out how to do things in the moment. I have an iPod mini (thank you again, Michael). I can run it, I can load songs, I’m listening to Yo Yo Ma right now. However, I don’t have the manual memorized and I have never used the new Shuffle. I can’t tell you how to do the installation nearly as well as I can show you. I can’t tell you all the steps nearly as well as I can help you think through the questions.

And that is the answer, for me, to yesterday’s question. I quoted Patrick Lencioni who has a character in a business fable ask “What is the one thing I do that really matters to the firm”. His character actually identified four things that he had to do as the CEO of a consulting firm: hiring an effective team; providing organization clarity; communicating that clarity; putting in place human systems to continue the process.

The point of the exercise is to identify what you are made to do, equipped to do, gifted to do, shaped to do. Having discovered that one or four things, the challenge is to learn how can you strip away the rest of the activities to focus on that thing. Because if you do that one thing well, even if you don’t get to other activities, you are invaluable to the firm.

For me, that one thing is helping people understand. I am a translator, not of languages, but of ideas. I can find metaphors that can illustrate. I can find threads of meaning. I can create pictures. I do it here all the time.

The danger for me is that I also like to do as part of that helping. I can get caught up in producing the video, in fixing the technology, in sorting through the details.

Here’s why that’s a danger: if I can help someone else understand, then they can do the fixing and I can help someone else understand something else.

I offer that understanding of me only to help you understand the point of the post yesterday.

What are you built to bring to the table, better than anyone else at your table?

Don’t get falsely modest. You know that you are better at gracious truth-telling. You know that you are capable of handling chaos that would drive others over the edge. You know that you can handle details. You can create powerful word pictures. You can synthesize ideas. You can encourage. You can love unlovable people. You can write in 5 words of poetry what other people spend essays to accomplish dimly.

And you are likely the only person with that one thing at your table. There are other poets, but not in your house. There are other synthesizers, but not in your firm. There are other detail people, but they are in other departments or churches or universes.

So what is the one thing or the three things?

And what is it that you get caught in, that keeps you from that one thing or those four things?

And what would it do for your firm or family or friends if you put your energy into doing your one thing or four things as well as you possibly can?

I wish I could have helped the dental assistant more. But I think I helped her understand.

I hope I helped you.

So, let’s try again. What’s are your one or two or four things?


This marks my 575th post. When I started blogging, I read that someone said you couldn’t talk about staying power as a blogger until you had 500 posts. By now, that number is probably higher. Ah well.

I’m just grateful you come by. And have contributed to the more than 1000 comments.

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13 responses to “Dental assisting

  1. Brownies. That’s what I usually bring.

    Oh, is that not what you meant?

    I’ll be back then.

    I’m marinating.

  2. At risk of being trite, bringing brownies could be an expression of that one or 5 things.

    Not in a facebook poll:

    people who bring brownies are…
    people who bring chips are …
    people who bring KFC are …

    but in a “I know that people need comfort. I care about comforting. That’s why I always bring…”

    That’s why I sometimes take change to hospital crises. People will need to eat something and they forget. So some people hold hands. Some people sing. Some people bring flowers. I give people bread. Both kinds. I hope.

  3. i have one !

    Harold and I spent an hour in bed together

    i held
    giggled with
    goo-gooed with
    my son

    Bringing joy, comfort, love to my child.
    that matters very much.

  4. exactly.
    no one else can.
    and it matters forever.

  5. “And what is it that you get caught in, that keeps you from that one thing or those four things?” The probing of this question probably has even more value for me than the original one, Jon–thanks for including it.

    (And, as one who tells the dentist–in friendly (mostly) jest (mostly), of course–that I would rather give birth than visit his chair, your accompanying pic makes me shiver!)

  6. Ah, but Jon, you ARE a power-blogger. And you DO have staying power.

    Anyone who brings their camera to the dentist to get a shot for their blog is very truly a real serious blogger.

  7. oh amy. if only you knew what my imagination does to me when walking into the dentist’s office…

    and paul, is it serious, or it is obsessed?

    good to see you both.

  8. Now that’s a hardcore pic. : )

  9. Congratulations on 575 posts, and over 1000 comments!

  10. Becky. I look at the % and realize how little conversation that seems to reflect. I mean, that’s an average of less than 2 comments per post. If I’m supposed to follow up on each one (which I don’t) that would be worse.

    But I also know that in the early days, I wrote for me not conversation. And even now, I invite thought more than response. Which is fine.

    But I’m working to invite conversation, interaction, teaching me, too.

    So thanks.

  11. I’m back.

    Aside from brownies (meals, etc.)- in the joking “I have no idea what I bring” sense and in the starve a fever, feed a grief sense, one of the things I bring is a highly inappropriate sense of humor.

    Which many in my family get, which Rob has come to rely on, and which his family can now tolerate. My friends fall somewhere on the spectrum.

    An example is this: at my father’s funeral we had a “who is going to say the dumbest thing?” contest. Not to be mean, but just to bring some humor in. (My neighbor won when he congratulated me in the receiving line.Because my father was dead.)

    And Rob and I are co-presidents of the Dead Dad’s club.

    And humor is a good thing to bring for a lot of reasons. And I’ve learned to curb it depending upon my surroundings, also a gift 🙂

    And Jon, yes, every post invites thought. This one, like many, kept me thinking and brought me back.

    Thanks (again).

  12. oh meg. I’m sitting here laughing about your neighbor. I must be tired.


    1. what you bring is perspective. It is invaluable. and lacking.

    2. it manifests itself in a particular situation as seemingly inappropriate, but only seemingly because

    3. for those who are going through what you have been brought through, are able to comfort others with the comfort you have known.

    perspective. a way of looking that bring understanding.

    yep. that’s you.

  13. Jon-

    Too kind.
    And quite funny, the runner up comment was in response to my “thanks for coming”

    He replied “thanks for having me.”

    Again: having him at my dead father’s funeral. NOT my wedding. Or my birthday. Or a Tuesday night supper club.

    Grief makes people feel awkward and say either nothing or the wrong thing. And I’ve never been hurt or offended by either, although I am often impressed by people’s willingness to try.

    And thanks. Yeah, ok. Perspective.