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Ziv: Hey I’m Ziv Shalev and this is “On the Journey”. Every week “On the Journey” explores the intersections of wellness, spiritual inquiry, mental health, personal growth and purposeful living through the eyes of the people we interviewed.
The conversations explore what it means to be human, to live well, and how we interact with each other and our surroundings. To begin, Laura, I would love to hear a little about your spiritual background growing and how this evolved in your life to this day.
Laura: Thanks for having me Ziv. Yeah, so my name is Laura Brenner, I am a career coach for dentists. I used to be a dentist and I practiced dentistry for 10 years and it was very painful for me to talk about spiritual growth that will make you grow. Doing something that’s so involved that you don’t love will definitely make you grow. So you want to know about my spiritual background is that?
Ziv: Yeah, it’s funny that a dentist says that it was painful for her. Like, usually it’s the other way around.
Laura: That’s so true.
Ziv: Yeah, but of course, what brought [you] here? Like it sounds crazy from a dentist to a coach. How did that happen?
Laura: Yeah. So that’s a great question. So it was painful for me, I’ll start with that, because I felt like I was torturing people because people didn’t like to see me.
Ziv: Because that’s what you do.
Laura: Yeah. I have a lot of empathy. I feel very energetically, I think I can feel what a lot of other people are feeling. So when patients would come in to me and not want to get the bad news of a filling or a crown or having to lose a tooth or not wanting to get the shot, things like that. And I guess actually that’s probably more sympathy.
I felt really worried for them and it was hard for me to separate myself from their feelings. So it created a lot of stress for me and I did the career for 10 years, I practiced, and the whole time it was very painful. It was hard to feel like I was torturing people, it was how I felt. Even though it’s the kind of career where you can help so many people and the work you do every day is so impactful. I never felt like I was impacting people because I was always too stressed and too worried.
And ultimately I left. And what I’ve learned along the way is there’s this whole community of dentists, doctors, other health care professionals who really take on that burden and that stress. But we’re so enmeshed in these careers that we can’t see a way out. So it was a really, really brutal process of coming to terms with the fact that here I was getting into this career and thinking that it was going to be my forever, kind of like a marriage right?
And realizing that, wait, this isn’t working for me, I actually have to figure out who I am and what I want from my life and how I can go forward.
Not even ever having that experience growing up. You know, growing up, I never, most of us, a lot of us, we don’t get a chance to really figure out who we are and so I had to do that as an adult, trying to divorce my career. And so then I saw that there were other people feeling like me and that we need to build a community to help people do that.
Ziv: So that’s really inspiring to go through. I guess, complicated or challenging studies and then actually to start a career and then to stop it and divorce a career that’s, I think one of the most difficult things. It’s change. So how do you do it? How do you find the strength and the courage to do such big change?
Laura: Change is hard, right? It’s the one of the hardest things that we do and just the act itself is what keeps us stuck. But…I've grown to love change. Once you get through a big change like that, you almost, it's like you faced fear and you never go back. Click To Tweet
So I think a huge piece of that is community. That’s, for me, what what I try to build with the people I work with because if you’re constantly surrounded by the messages of, you can’t do this or know this won’t work, we talked about saying “yes and no” privately earlier and sometimes we get too many no’s, but if we’re constantly being beaten down by expectations and rules, rules that aren’t even real, if we’re constantly beaten down by that, we’re never going to get the courage to act.
And so I think it’s, sometimes, it’s hitting a rock bottom and really saying, I can’t live this way anymore, I have no choice, I have to change and if I don’t change, you know, the question I always, well actually, what drove me personally was kind of trying to inspire myself but maybe inspire myself through fear in a way.
So I used to picture myself, waking up like alarm going off in the morning at sixty five years old and sluggishly trying to get out of bed and just sitting on the edge of the bed like shoulders slumped, just head hanging low, feeling depressed that I had to get up and go to work another day in the dental office.
And so I used to think, I used to picture that and I would think, is this how I want to look back on my life? Is this what I want the story of my life to be? That I’ve made it to sixty five going into work every single day, doing something that makes me feel this way. And that was a big driver for me. I knew I couldn’t continue.
Ziv: So that’s really helpful and interesting because you mentioned things were painful and rock bottom and then you had to imagine really powerful imagery of something that you really don’t want to happen.
And for many people, when they do that, it gives them enough motivation to go and act but after a while, things get better, and then, my motivation might go down because things are not as bad as they were. I started my journey and after two steps I can stop and say, okay the pain is not that big so I just stop. How do you continue after things get better a bit?
Laura: So it’s that complacency, right? That where it’s like, well, and that does keep a lot of people stuck. And it’s like, I think, again I’m gonna go back to the community.Surround yourself with like-minded people, because what we end up doing in that situation [complacency] is we tolerate and we end up tolerating good enough. Click To Tweet
So if you can be around other people, like that excitement is contagious, and talking to other people who want to do great things or just feel better if you can, that’s contagious. And so, I think, really it’s just keeping yourself on track.
And well, I’ll just say it, getting a coach, having someone help you move through those complacency, and giving you accountability. If you’re really not feeling it up for yourself, that may just help give you that extra push.
Ziv: So community to surround yourself with people that will help you along the way and the coach that will be able to like show you the way, maybe, and to be there.
Laura: Support, we could call it right??
Ziv: Support, of course. So what kind of support you give? Now I want to start a change. It’s really difficult. I need to do like it’s a big move. How do you help me?
Laura: Right. Yeah. Great question. So to put it in the most simple terms is I help people make decisions because when it comes to this career or other careers that you’ve invested a lot of time, money, energy, and your whole identity in, making a simple decision is really difficult so I start with decisions.
A lot of times it’s, I don’t really know what I want, do I really? Is this me? this career feels wrong but is it me or is it the job? And so helping people really dig deep and look inside and figure out what are your answers.
And I think intuition is a huge part of it. So it always cracks me up because I’ve got people who they will literally say to me, doing dentistry is soul crushing. I feel like I’m dying inside but I don’t know what to do. I’m like, how is that confusing?
Ziv: I think that’s exactly that, that you had like the when you say, how is that confusing? Like, it’s OK. You’re right. It’s hmmm, how I didn’t see it a minute ago or because you reflected in a very straightforward way.
Laura: Right, yeah, well in that, I can relate so much to that because I experienced that. I spent seven years of my career and finally saying, I’m dying inside, you don’t understand, you don’t understand how hard this is, but I’m not gonna do anything about it.
So I know that that fear is real. What happens is if we really listen to our intuition, unfortunately, it makes life inconvenient because it’s inconvenient to have to face the truth that you spend all of this energy to get to where you are and you have to change it. It’s that intuition [that] is so powerful but we often ignore it and it’s how can I help you really see where is your inner wisdom and how can it guide you?
Ziv: So how do you show me my inner wisdom? How do we find it?
Laura: That is another great question. I’ve been searching for that for so long, I learned a lot. So when I started, I actually worked with a career coach, that was how I started my process of career change because I realized I was all talk and no action. And she described it as my, what did she call it, my higher self. So there’s a lot of different words we can use for it, right? And I had no idea that this even existed.
She had me do this exercise where I was supposed to literally stand in different spots on the floor and in each spot, that represented a different aspect of my personality. And so I had the perfectionist, I have the people pleaser, I had the four year old girl that was like, I just want to have fun. She showed me that these are just all sort of avatars that we have inside of us and that they were all the ones guiding my decisions and creating my thoughts and that it was chaos, it was chaos in my head.
So that was ,kind of, my first introduction to it to help me see that there’s this quietness that we always talk about, meditation and mindfulness and stuff like that. And there are ways we can practice to quiet all that noise, the noise of the four year old girl that just wants to throw a tantrum because I don’t want to go give a shot.
And, you know, the people pleaser that put so much pressure on myself because I want all my patients to be happy all the time. That’s going to prevent you from acting really in your best interest. So that was how it started and then over time, when I did my coaching certification, they used to say things like, just be aware of what happens and what your thoughts are and if you notice something that then comes to life and I tried that and it seemed like it didn’t really necessarily get me anywhere.
And then actually in 2018, August of 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m pretty open about it. So I had to go through a really, it was stage three, I went through a really grueling journey. At one point along the way I found out I had to have all of my lymph nodes removed from my left axilla, my armpit area, and I was crushed. I just couldn’t deal, I mean, I don’t know about you, I’m not a fan of removing necessary body parts here.
Ziv: Yeah, it’s so weird, how come? Most of us really wait for such occasions
Laura: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, I was crushed and to make a long story really short, I was connected with, I kind of rekindled an old friendship, with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in twenty five years. And a huge coincidence that he had invented a surgery that was specifically designed to help people like me who needed to have all the lymph nodes out because the big concern is a disease called lymphedema, and it can create a lot of pain and swelling all through the arm. And so there’s a pretty, once you remove all your lymph nodes, you have a pretty good chance of getting lymphedema.
And I was terrified of that because health, fitness, and wellness are really important values in mind. So he came into my life coincidentally, and he had invented this surgery that would help reduce the risk of lymphoedema moving forward and I was the perfect candidate for it. And what I noticed in this process was, as I was investigating this, I had to do a lot. I mean, I had to fly to a different state. I had to battle with insurance to get them to cover it. There were a lot of barriers.
And as I was investigating this, whenever the option of getting the surgery was a reality, I felt powerful and I felt like, Okay I have an option, I can do this, this is going to work. Any time that was taken away from me, so for example, the surgeon locally said, oh that surgery is not really proven yet, it might not work or I don’t think insurance will cover it. I was a puddle on the floor and after a few days of researching, going back and forth between feeling really powerful and then feeling like I had no choices and I couldn’t stop crying in fetal position.
I had this “Aha!” moment where I was like, oh, my gosh, this is your intuition. This is it, it’s telling you exactly what you need to know. So now I’ve just simplified it for myself, it’s my feelings. It’s your feelings, right?If your career is making you feel like it's crushing your soul. I'd say that's a pretty strong emotion that you need to pay attention to. And so it's getting out of that thinking and into what we're feeling. Click To Tweet
And I also starting to notice, for me noticing, well maybe, this reacquainting, this reacquaintance, like getting to know this old friend again. Wow, maybe it wasn’t just a coincidence. I need to pay attention to the things that I’m seeing happen around me.
Ziv: Definitely. Laura, wow! What an amazing answer. I’m so happy that they asked you this question. A lot of the like. Amazing. Amazing.
And so last question because our interviews is almost done. So my last question for you is, you’re 65, you wake up in the morning, what do you see? What they do you have?
Laura: You know, no one has asked me that question and I have not asked myself that question, and I love that you just ask that. Sixty five waking up, oh my gosh. Looking back on my life and feeling like I’m so lucky and just feeling gratitude to have been able to really listen to myself and make the choices because life is short.
We don’t need to suffer our way through it to make it valuable. We can, so I always wanted to have fun, we can have fun. I get to have fun now.So I see myself looking back on my life and saying I really took charge and it took a lot of work and it wasn't convenient but it was worth it. Click To Tweet
Ziv: Laura, thank you so much. You’re so inspiring and strong and can resonate with love. So I really want to thank you for this interview.
Laura: Thank you so much for having me Ziv. It’s been a really fun experience getting to meet you and talk to you.
Ziv: Same here. Thank you. Thanks a lot.
Who are you?
For a decade Dr. Laura Brenner was considered, by her peers and her patients, to be a successful and talented dentist. But her husband, her dog, and her reflection in the mirror knew the truth about how she really felt. She was so unhappy in her “successful” career that after 10 years, she had to walk away for good. After her blog post “10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too” went viral, she began connecting with other dentists from around the world who also wanted more happiness in their careers.
In 2011 she created a space on her Lolabees blog where dentists could connect and have real conversations about life in dentistry. In 2017 she became a Certified Professional Coach and opened Lolabees Career Coaching to help other dentists plan their own career development or career change.
DISCOVER MORE ABOUT LAURA ON HER WEBSITE