I thought about driving the Bic pen into Barry’s neck to avenge the murder. I wanted to crawl into a spider hole like the one they found Saddam Hussein in, but first I had to kill Barry. Not now though. It’d be too obvious. Instead, I just waged war silently in every fiber of my being. Burning. Seething. All while nodding affirmatively with firing masseters and a forced grin.
This was my final to-do until I left on vacation for a week. Barry and I were reviewing a colleague’s presentation deck on denture and partial impression techniques to ensure it was ready for prime time. We were the only two in the room when Barry commented about his disdain for gratuitous animations and unnecessary transitions. Seconding his statement, I chimed in, “Yeah, this would be appropriate if he was teaching kindergarteners how to brush their teeth.”
Without skipping a single beat and with the dry affect of a practiced stoic, Barry said, “Your sarcasm is unbecoming. It would be useful if he included a couple more images showing the alveolar ridge.”
Already, the lid atop the pot of water known as my head was starting to clank. Consciously suppressing my fury while carrying my bruised ego, I asked, “Did you just say, ‘your sarcasm is unbecoming?”
“Yes, I did. You use sarcasm excessively. It’s very ugly. I know you, but it can lead others to feel attacked and not trust you.” Barry said this dryly and directly. There was no sneer. There were no clenched fists or fluctuation in his tone. He paused, meeting my stare for what seemed like three minutes but was probably more like three seconds. Then he returned to the slide deck and resumed his methodical review of the presentation’s narrative and how it would land with seminar attendees.
As I sat there nodding and occasionally mmm-hmm-ing, I was self-immolating. On fire with aaaaall the sarcastic retorts, quotes about the positive attributes of sarcasm, insults about his long eyebrows, the blaze of glory that I’d go out in when I quit. Burning. Seething.
About twenty minutes later, the meeting concluded with Barry asking about my upcoming vacation. I gritted out words through a forced smile and clenched teeth while he opined about this museum and that one. A few minutes later he was gone, and alone in the conference room, I returned to my plotting.
Time to switch locations. I left the office and went home to pack for vacation. I spent the first couple days of the trip fixated on revenge. How dare he? He uses sarcasm all the time! I don’t have to take this!
I was in another world, oblivious to the postcard sights and sounds around me. Then, everything changed.
What if Barry was right?
No, he couldn’t be. That’s just the creeping deception of self-doubt. I’m getting cold feet about quitting. But the more I reflected honestly, I began to see the violence of my sarcasm played out like the final scenes of A Clockwork Orange. I left one colleague in tears with a remark about diabetics playing softball. Two relatives avoided me like MRSA because of my snark. Too often, I had to apologize for unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings.
Barry WAS right.
He murdered my ego. Looking back, I could have quit. I could have adopted girl boss or bro aphorisms like “if anyone tells you that you aren’t good enough, they’re just haters” nonsense. That’s denial. Sure, not everyone’s criticism should be weighed equally. If the stars of My 600 lb Life told me that my heel strike wasn’t conducive to a speedier turnover during a marathon, I wouldn’t lend that feedback the same credence I would if the statement was offered up by world record-holder, Kelvin Kiptum. Ray Dalio refers to this as believability.
That vacation is when the real work began. Right-sizing my ego. Heightened awareness about how my words or tone might impact others. Barry’s perfectly placed jab left a scar that has stayed with me. I’m not perfect. My ego is resurrected daily like some zombie with quick barbs that leave a trail of tears. That’s why I journal, and pray, and run, and reflect, and seek feedback. I still have to apologize from time to time, and I’m still known to hurt a feeling or two, but I’m learning and growing.
I mentioned this episode to Barry a couple years ago. He didn’t remember it. We just never know what type of impact we can have on someone.
If you want other selfy-helpy personal growth insights for dentists, check out a copy my new bestselling book Transform Dental Sleep available on Amazon. It’s actually on sale now for under $20.
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