Lessons from my Zen Dentist

I’ve been seeing my dentist, Dr. Robert Ho, for about ten years now. He’s in my neighborhood, he teaches at UCSF, and he takes great care of my teeth. I might be the only person in the world who looks forward to seeing his dentist. He is a craftsman, and for that reason alone, I value him. He also tells engaging stories and dispenses warm, timely wisdom every time I see him. I’ve taken to calling him my Zen dentist.

At today’s session, he told me that he was feeling stressed about a recognition he had recently received from his peers that would require him to give a five-minute speech in front of 500 people. In classic fashion, he wanted to express his gratitude while also deflecting attention. As he skillfully cleaned my teeth, he asked me if he could share what he was thinking of saying and get my feedback. My mouth was full of dental implements, but I did my best to nod enthusiastically.

He proceeded to tell two stories about past patients that almost brought me to tears. I doubt I have much of a dental following, but I’m going to refrain from retelling his stories here so as not to inadvertently steal his thunder. I’ll just share his punchline:

My mentor always used to say that if you take care of people, you’ll always have food on your table. That’s what this business is about: Taking care of people.

I’m feeling great appreciation right now for all the people in my life who take care of me (including Dr. Ho). Reflecting on how I can do more of that in my own work and life.

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