Years ago a friend of mine, Stacey, talked to me about a dilemma any graduate-level student will be familiar with. Her lifelong academic and career pursuit was to be an attorney. She began applying to law schools around the country and was given multiple acceptance offers, but now she had to decide between them. Each school would get her a law degree but each had different qualities, perks, programs, rankings, and about a dozen other differences.
Soon, the opportunities became overwhelming. She was finally at that point she worked for but now she had to decide where to go. Not only that, but she had to look right into the eyes of the student loan monster that, for attorneys as well as dentists, looks a bit like the Monty Python Black Beast. The excitement of being an attorney in three years was starting to get jumbled with the weight of the decision she was making. Her whirlwind of emotions was starting to get in the way of picking the school she was most excited about; she didn’t even know whether she was excited for any of them.
I would bet that many of you feel the same way, or have in the past. You made it through dental school and passed those boards. You put in your time as an employee or associate. Now you’re ready to own a practice. But once you start looking, maybe the numbers and the responsibilities are racking up and you’re starting to feel just as overwhelmed as Stacey. Breathe easy, because I’ll give you the exact same advice I gave her.
1. Weigh the pros and cons
Before you get to the unquantifiable stuff in your decision-making, take a beat and look at this logically. Of course logic isn’t the only thing that goes into a decision, but it can hone your focus a little more and give you some reassurance that you’re not just making an emotional decision.
Just looking at a sheet of paper with two columns can give some much-needed clarity, and in a very simple way. If the “pro” side is noticeably larger than the “con” side then you know your excitement is justified and you’re not just getting swept up in the moment.
I go into more detail on this — and every other aspect of purchasing a practice — in my online course. I recently dropped the price for the whole course (
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2. Discern between excitement and anxiety
Excitement and anxiety are two different emotions that feel very similar. Just think back to a first date. You probably thought, “This person is a total fox!” (excitement) but also “What if we have nothing to talk about?” (anxiety). Very different thoughts but very similar physical sensations: heart racing, sweaty palms, difficulty focusing.
I like to recommend this after you make your list because then you can tell if your racing heart is because you are finally presented with the opportunity you’ve worked a decade or more for or if your inner Jiminy Cricket is telling you to keep moving forward.
3. Think of the future
Stacey is a textbook overthinker, which means she is also pretty indecisive. She once told me that when she can’t choose between two restaurants for dinner, she tells her husband to pick. Not because she necessarily wants to go where he wants, but because it helps her realize where she actually wants to go. If he chooses Cheesecake Factory over PF Chang’s, she will instantly know if she actually wanted one or the other because then the option was taken away from her. I reminded her of this and asked her the same thing I’m asking you, “What if (blank) wasn’t an option”?
Think about how you would feel if the broker or seller called you and said, “Hey, we accepted another offer.” Would you feel relieved or bummed out? Also try imagining how you would feel the moment after you said “yes” or “no”. Often, that raw feeling is enough to tell you what you really want.
4. Listen to your gut
Once you’ve sorted through the emotional confusion of it all, what do you feel? Push that anxiety aside and get to the root of it. Are you nauseated thinking about this office because it just feels wrong or are you elated because it feels right? You may not have a concrete reason for either, however, it is possible to feel content whether it’s a positive or negative emotion. Go with your gut, more often than not, your gut will lead you in the right direction.
I’m not a huge fan of making decisions based purely on “gut” or emotion. But if you’ve internalized some basic information about purchasing a practice, then that will end up informing your gut feelings, and they become really handy. So how do you internalize that basic info? I’m so glad you asked! (Shameless plugs incoming!) I’ve got a podcast, an online course, and even a pair of books that will give you all the info you need to make a good decision.
Ultimately, Darth Vader had it right: search your feelings. You’ll know if you truly want to pursue an opportunity if you can just sift through your emotions, use some logical reasoning and listen to your gut.