4/14 Rite of Passage

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I was a dentist for over forty years. I entered dental school as a naive fresher in 1966. Now, 47 years later, the time has come to let go of dentistry and make a fresh start. In many ways, I am still naive and because of this the lead up to the fresh start has been a real challenge.

You may not be interested in dentistry but you may be interested in what it is taking to bring a long career to a halt and to start afresh. If you sail, you may appreciate this way of looking at it. The analogy is an easy one – the language straightforward.

Most sailors will tell you that being at sea is the simplest, safest and best part of sailing, just as the daily running of a dental practice was the best part of it for me. At sea there are problems to face and solutions to be found – sometimes the weather is stormy, sometimes there is a problem with gear, sometimes the crew demands extra attention, but it’s all part of what you are good at – keeping the boat sailing and improving as you do so. This was what running my practice was like – over the years I grew more competent, the team became more skilled and worked more successfully together, we got to know our patients better. Working together, we developed a common language and we enjoyed it more and more.

And then came the time when it was sensible to stop and start afresh.

Continuing the nautical analogy: Starting afresh is similar to making a foreign landfall. You read the pilot books, look at the charts, listen to those who have been before you. You think you know what to expect but getting there suddenly becomes complicated – the language is different. This is your first time. You haven’t spoken this language in earnest before. In some ways, you are reduced to being a child again – able to communicate simple desires in simple phrases but unable to manage the more sophisticated interaction your position as skipper demands. It will take time to learn.

To overcome this lack of skill, you take on board a pilot to guide you through – someone who knows about the place you are headed and the languages they speak there but can only know your boat as one of many. In effect, you take the boat you built with your own hands and which carried you through calms and storms, the boat you know inside and out, and put it into someone else’s hands. In terms of a business or an organisation or, in my case, a dental practice, however careful you are in organising it, however aware you are of the processes involved, however skilled the ‘pilot/s’, this inevitably disrupts the routines and alters the relationships you have developed over the years.

Was it worth it. Not yet but it will be. At the moment it is so-so. I don’t have any further responsibility for the practice, but I still care very much what is happening there.

Yes of course I can let go, I am letting go as I write, “taking command of the boat again ready to sail in a new direction” – but there is still a part of me . . .

What I am describing is a rite of passage not a tale of woe. Many people have an easier transition, still others have a more difficult one and many more are not in a position to experience it at all. I am not describing a generic event just sharing in my naive way a major waypoint in my life and a change which resulted in my ceasing to write over the past year and, more importantly, kept me away from the boat.


Naive: Lacking worldly experience and understanding, simple and guileless; unsuspecting or credulous.

Paradoxically, in being simple and guileless, unsuspecting and credulous and in making mistakes, worldly experience and understanding develop. It comes with a warning: be(a)ware, this process can hurt.


Although it can be read as a single post, the above is part of a series that illustrates one of the author’s current interests, taken from a locker full of interests, at a major waypoint in his life. The series sets out as a comment on retirement before focusing around language. He wonders whether he himself has the language to cope as he steps out into the wider world popularly known as ‘retirement’ – an irreversible step into a world that he has previously only glimpsed out of the corner of his eye, a world in which he thinks the word ‘retirement’ to be a misnomer. He has used the medium of the blog to paint the picture. The irony is that, whereas writing about it does allow him to reflect, sitting alone at a computer actually distances him from the face-to-face interaction he is describing.

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One thought on “4/14 Rite of Passage

  1. I know exactly where you are coming from. I am near the end of a 33 year career in a specialty area of marketing research. It is a very technical area and scares most people, but it has been a good ride for me. I have had many accomplishments and it has been satisfying. However, at some point, it is time to try something new – we call it retirement, but it is not to be relegated to a chair on the porch with a 6-pack of beer. It is freedom to grow in a new direction and it is time for self-exploration. Good luck in YOUR journey! I love your sailing analogy – it perfectly illustrates the point.

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