The setting was a small, exclusive, and festive dinner. Having advance notice of the guest list, I asked to be seated next to a highly respected leader in the education community—a Jesuit with numerous responsibilities attached to leading one of the most prestigious private schools in the United States. During our conversation, I asked him what he would describe as the single most important ingredient for motivating a person.
“Motivating the person to do what?” he asked.
“Motivating the person to do anything,” I answered. Racing through my mind were images of the talents needed by the clergyman to motivate students, parents, teachers, donors, the archdiocese, and the media.
With interest, he asked, “What do you think is most important?”
“Wait,” I said, “I asked first!”
Think. How would you answer this question? Regularly, we are required to motivate patients, parents, employees, and family members. Most importantly, we motivate ourselves; without effective self-motivation, the rest simply can’t succeed. Think about the Jesuit—his world, his responsibilities, and his reply to my question.
“Well, in my opinion, in order to be effectively motivated, first, a person requires a clear vision of personal gain.”
“Really?” I was astonished.
“Do you disagree?” he happily asked.
“Not at all. I am in complete agreement. However, self-gain was not what I expected you to say.”
“I see. You expected my perception of motivation would hinge on the church and for the Glory of God.”
“Exactly,” I said flatly.
“No. In my opinion, in order to be motivated to act, any individual or group must clearly see what is in it for themselves.”
With quick enthusiasm, I asked, “For example, consider people who place themselves at substantial risk while living with and treating communities infected by virulent diseases.”
The reply: “Same fit, I think. These types of people feel so strongly about fulfilling their personal inner drives to help the sick that they are willing to risk their personal well-being. Ergo, they are doing this for themselves.” He went on to relate, “I have incredibly generous donors at the school who want to see their family names etched on monuments and cornerstones. On the other hand, there are the equally generous, truly anonymous donors. They specify wanting no public recognition at all. That’s what makes them feel right. Each type of person has, in fact, made the donation for his or her own reasons. They’ve done it for themselves.” After all, if a person isn’t pleased with himself or herself, then how will it be possible for anyone to be happy with that person?
Looking at your feet
Ask yourself this question: On any given day, how many patients not responding to orthodontic treatment will it take to upset you? The answer for all of us is the same number—just one. Jettison your imagination to this vision: your daughter calls from postgraduate school with the news that she scored 97% on the theoretical physics final examination. Do you respond, “Let me get this straight. You failed 3 questions? Disgraceful. Call back when you score 100%.”? Such a scenario is unthinkable. Yet, we do it to ourselves. Practically, we understand that a daily, hourly, perfect score is unfair and unrealistic. Emotionally, however, when confronted with a lack of orthodontic response or worse—a real “treatment problem”—statistical reality is of little consolation.
Many years ago, while engaged in intense athletic competition, I recall losing a match. It was a loss that should not have happened. Sitting on the bench, looking at my feet, the head coach stood and asked me a question, “Samson, what is your problem?”
“Really? That guy beat me. I blew it.” I was miserable.
“Right” was his abrupt reply. Bluntly, he asked, “Did you walk out there intending to lose?”
“Simple question. Did you intend to lose?”
“So, you didn’t wake up this morning intending to lose. You’ve trained hard, but today was not your day. It was the other guy’s day. You did, however, give it your best shot. Your best. Stand up. Quit looking at your feet.”
It’s good medicine, I think, to accept that under the circumstances the best that could be done is what was achieved. Far from an excuse for not raising the bar, this appears to be a tried and evidently true road sign to a peaceful life. In his Dictionnnaire Philosophie (ca 1764), Voltaire quoted an Italian proverb: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Need a more modern rhythm? “Keep rock’n in the free world.” Neil Young sang that on the album “Freedom” (1989).