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Dr. Stephen Pachuta's message from the dean, October 2023

Dear fellow alumni and friends of the School of Dentistry,

In reflecting on past “e-news” updates, it is noted that I make the comment “it is a busy time” on multiple occasions — graduation, summer transition, new class starts, holidays, boards, etc. As I chat with faculty, staff and students around the school, I’ll often ask: “How is it going?” Most will respond with some form of the comment “I am really busy.” In full transparency, when I get the same question, I find myself providing the same response. So, is “busy” a positive or a negative? As with most things in life — it depends.

Dr. Stephen Pachuta

A feeling of being busy can make us feel valued and important. Some positives may include an increased feeling of contributing to the organization and accomplishment of the task at hand. Many would also agree that being busy in clinical practice is a positive. Negatives center on a feeling of being overwhelmed, physically exhausted, a loss of control, or mental and emotional fatigue.

In a recent read, “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday, he takes a philosophical approach to why slowing down is critical to moving forward. He focuses on three key points — stillness of mind, stillness of spirit and stillness of body. Stillness of mind examines reducing the number of “inputs” we are taking in on a daily basis; social media (oppressive and overwhelming in my opinion), television and radio, as well as personal interactions in our work and family groups. Stillness of mind is about being in the present and appreciating what is going on around you in the moment. Something as simple as turning off external inputs — like email and texts, and yes, even television — while at home and on nights and weekends allows us to better focus on the here and now with us and our family. This simple act allows us to slow down, take pause and just think.

Stillness of spirit is about living your core values and appreciating what you have already achieved. This is in direct contrast to the culture of always wanting more, bigger and better. This is not to say that goal-setting and personal and professional achievements are not important; however, one must be grateful for the things that we currently have before (and while) taking the next step. He also notes that choosing love over anger is good for the spirit. This is especially important since anger tends to be a much quicker response emotion than love.

Stillness of body centers on burnout. Burnout is very real and can take a heavy toll on each of us if not recognized and addressed. I have personally been there on multiple occasions throughout my career. I also found that burnout, with a lot of personal reflection, can be successfully managed. Exercise, proper nutrition, sleep and self-reflection (meditation, yoga) are all equally important. We must find time to relax and establish that delicate balance and harmony between self, family and work.

“Stillness is the Key” asks us to pause, take a step back and evaluate what we are doing with our lives, and in particular who we are as people. As we progress through life, we generally mature in our personal and professional development. Stillness of mind, stillness of spirit and stillness of body should be a part of our growth and development. In an excerpt from “Stillness is the Key,” former U.S. Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, is quoted, “If I was to sum up the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the Information Age, it’s lack of reflection. Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting. We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision-making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.”

As leaders in our professions of dentistry and academics, it is important that we find that stillness to reflect and refocus. Prospective decision-making rather than reactive decision-making is central to successful strategic leadership … as well as the key to managing your “busy.”

Lead well and thank you for all you do for our School and especially for our students.

Warmest regards,

Stephen Pachuta