30 years from now…

From the age of 16 until 20, I worked part-time at our family dentist, Dr. Dunn. My aunt Christine was his office manager and I was his assistant.

My responsibilities included cleaning the treatment rooms between patients, greeting patients, developing x-rays and recording the treatment on the patients’ files—all normal assistant duties.

Dr. Dunn was an interesting person. He had been a fighter pilot in World War II and had a charismatic, strong personality. To be honest, I was a little bit afraid of him. He would regale each patient with his story of the day, be it about his kids, his car or his golf score. I heard each of these stories up to 10 times a day as I would stand patiently and silently in the treatment room waiting for an instruction. While these were stories about his everyday life, somehow each of his stories had a moral and he would end almost every one with: “Tell me Miss Kronau, 30 years from now, what difference will this make?”

Every time he did this, I would stutter my reply as I was unsure of how to respond. Did he want me to say that I thought the issue was unimportant? That in 30 years we will have all long forgotten what this conversation was about? Remember, I’m 16. Dr. Dunn was in his fifties and pretty intimidating. I don’t remember my answers; I only remember that I felt flustered and very unsure of myself.

Why am I sharing this with you? And what does it have to do with being happy at work?

I realized many, many years after working for Dr. Dunn that his question taught me how to evaluate what is happening in the moment in context of how important it was to me. Will whatever it is really matter to me in 30 years? In five years? Next week? This question has helped me keep things in perspective when, in the heat of the moment, it seems like the issue in front of me is overwhelming. Now, when I find myself in such a situation, I can hear Dr. Dunn’s voice play in my head: “Miss Kronau, 30 years from now…” While I hated his comment when I was 16, today it takes a lot of pressure off of tense moments at work. This is always helpful.

It was an unexpected lesson for me and I am sure all of you have similar lessons from your early work experiences.

Dr. Dunn, more than 30 years later, I can honestly say that learning this from you made a significant difference to me.

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