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June 30th, 2021

Episode 130 – Living Authentically as a Dentist with Dr. Maggie Augustyn

“I began understanding that patient relationships are key, and that me being me is key. And that changed everything, but I had to be me to connect with my patients.” 
-Dr. Maggie Augustyn

We all have ideas of what a dentist should be – knowledgeable, intelligent, in control.  But with the pressure of societal norms tying our identities to our careers, we’re more likely to suffer the crippling effects of burnout and imposter syndrome when we don’t live our authentic selves. 

Today Dr. Maggie Augustyn, a general dentist from Illinois, joins me to shine a light on living your authentic self in dentistry, including:

  • Balancing the drive to be better with our authentic selves
  • How to use authenticity to control and enjoy your life
  • Waking up every day knowing your purpose and your “why”

Dr. Maggie Augustyn

Dr. Maggie W. Augustyn is a practicing general dentist and writer. She completed her formal dental education earning a doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to that, she was awarded two Bachelor’s degrees (UIC and Benedictine University) and a prestigious University Scholar achievement from Benedicine University. She furthered her education and completed the course sequence at the renowned Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. She is an author having been published in Dentistry Today, Dental Economics and many more. She has been voted “America’s Best Dentist” and “America’s Top Dentists” based on superior training, experience, continuing education and commitment to excellence. Dr. Augustyn has recently been inducted into Female Founder Collective which is a network of businesses led by women, supporting women. Its’ mission is to enable and empower female owned and led businesses to positively impact our communities, both socially and economically. Dr. Maggie’s hobbies include volunteerism, art projects of any kind, and non-fiction reading/writing. “My favorite thing to do is to just be a mom, in a team with my husband. My mantra is Life Is Good. Not all the time and … sometimes you might have to look for it, but most of the time, Life Is Good.” She resides in Lombard with her husband Scott and daughter Ally.


REGAN: Welcome to Everyday Practices Podcast. I am your host, Reagan Robertson, my faithful co host Dr. Chad Johnson is out today doing a triathlon so he is cheering us on from afar while he’s doing who knows what breast strokes bike strokes I have no idea. Today we are shining a light in the darkness with my guest Dr. Maggie Augustyn. She is a general practicing dentist out of Elmhurst, Illinois. I have known her for a little over a year now. And she is you guys are in for a treat. I don’t know what else to say. She lives authentically, truly herself. And it’s great to have you on the show today. Welcome Dr. Maggie.

MAGGIE: Thank you. Thank you very much. I hope I hope I can live up to all this hype about me but let’s see how we do.

REGAN: Well, I was recently sent an article from our producer Kashmere Fitch and it’s in Dentistry Today you authored it, it is called Living authentically in the field of dentistry. Authenticity is something that I know I focused on and Victoria Peterson, our CEO of productive dentist Academy has focused on it’s easier said than done to live authentically, Maggie, how would you describe living authentically? What does that mean to you?

MAGGIE: Authenticity is everything. It is the backbone of life, not just dentistry, but life. And it seeps into everything that we do because we are plastic without it. Because people can tell when we’re trying to force them into something that we ourselves aren’t comfortable with. Because it doesn’t work unless we’re authentic. Life doesn’t work, work doesn’t work. And we’re more likely to suffer from burnout and feeling like an imposter. If we are not authentically ourselves for me. Diving into authenticity and incorporating it into my life felt very new. It’s something that I didn’t know very much about. And for me it just sprouted up like a fad or about our buzzword except it isn’t. It isn’t a buzzword and it isn’t a fad. It’s a way of life.

Several years ago, I knew something wasn’t right. I knew I wasn’t happy. Things weren’t clicking. But I didn’t know why. A little bit of background into my story. In 2018, I was diagnosed with cancer. And awakening from that shock from the diagnosis from the fear from how it affected my family. I woke up in a world that didn’t make sense. I wasn’t happy. And I know the diagnosis had a lot to do with it. But I was just done. I was done with waking up and not having a good enough reason to wake up. And finally, after everything my family had been through, I was brave enough to do something about that. Now you don’t need cancer to tell you that you’re unhappy.

I think you know when something is off. And so here I am telling you that what I did something about it when I began living authentically when I began realizing that authenticity and being myself is ultimately what is going to drive me and allow me to wake up happy the next day. I it’s it’s a long road to go from being unhappy to living authentically. It’s a lot of work and you may need help along the way you may need support along the way. But it’s very much worth it. We look up to certain people in our lives. Whether they’re dentists or you yourself and artists we look up to those people and their lives.

Lives look amazing. And we want to be like them, we want to emulate them. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s wonderful. Because it drives us, right. But the thing about emulating other people is that if we start to do what they did to get where they are, if we start to walk their road, if we start to walk their journey, we lose, because it’s not our road. And it isn’t our journey. And so for years and years and years, the saddest part is that it took me what 17 years of being in practice and 40, some years of being a human being to figure this out. But I tried to take the same road that some of these people did, and I ended up in all the wrong places.

REGAN:  So let’s so let’s talk about that how authenticity showed up for you in the dental practice. Because if I can see how societal norms can start to place these suits, I call it suits, you’re wearing a suit. Are you brave enough to really be yourself. And there’s a lot of fear wrapped in really being yourself. When we are tied to identities, you are a doctor, that is your identity. So in everyone’s mind, a doctor, a dentist, you know that that gives you a picture of what they are supposed to look like. So I can see how the trap in any career would be I have to be like the top person in that field that I admire. They’re the top person I identify with that, therefore I’m taking these steps. So how did it show up for you, Maggie in dentistry, where you said to yourself, I’m not living authentically.

MAGGIE:  Everything felt heavy talking, I didn’t enjoy talking to patients, I didn’t enjoy being around patients. I didn’t enjoy dentistry because I kept because I had this idea of what a dentist should be. Okay, a dentist should be knowledgeable, intelligent. But compassion somehow for me back then didn’t play a role into it. Kindness didn’t play a role. I was there to serve as my patients. And I wanted my patients to follow through with my recommendations. But the way that I thought they were going to do that is if I presented everything scientifically, okay, and succinctly and ideally. And I and I took out the human element out of it, because I was looking up to all of these people that were so successful, and they were intelligent, and they, they spoke really well.

And they did visit these incredible treatment plan presentation. And so when I tried to emulate that, in my practice, it didn’t work. People could tell that it didn’t flow, right. It wasn’t me. And so I started many months ago, probably 18 months ago, I started working with a life coach who made me realize that I have superpowers. So it’s like, so I’m an introvert. But I live in a life pretending to be an extrovert. I have people telling me you are totally not an introvert. You’re an extrovert. No, no, no, no, no, I think I know what I am. I’m an introvert, right?

But I lived in this world trying to pretend to be an extrovert because I thought extroverts got attention. They were successful. And that’s what I needed to be. And by working with someone, I realized that being an introvert is actually a superpower because I’m an empath. I can read people’s emotions I can. And so I started utilizing the things that were my superpowers and not their superpowers, to drive, how to drive the kind of provider I needed to be for my patients. And everything changed.

REGAN: It took some time. So how did this How did this change? So how did your communication with patients and team change to honor your superpower?

MAGGIE: I slowed down. I look, I began this there’s a turning point. Okay. So there was a patient that came into, I was so burned out. I was tired of seeing patients, I only wanted to spend three minutes with them. I wanted to point out what fillings they needed. And I wanted to get out of dodge. Okay. And then there was a lady that came in. And she reminded me of my grandmother. And my grandmother had passed around that same time. And actually, I saw it and I had tears in my eye I actually cried, but that family because I told them as if you just look like my grandmother and I’m having a hard time and I began humanizing my patients that that lady was the first patient I did that with all of a sudden, I imagine that every patient was my grandmother. And how would I want my grandmother to be treated?

Would I want somebody to zoom in and out and say hey, you need to crowns and filling? No. And so that was the beginning of it. And then I started listening to a lot of podcasts and did you know the foundation’s course and began really working on myself. And out of nowhere, I began understanding that patient relationships are key. And me being who I am an empath, I was able to connect to my patient on a different level. And that connection changed everything. But I had to be me to connect with them. And I needed to want to connect with them. And that was a process. And I’m so sad to say that it took 17 years of being in practice to come to this realization.

But once that happened, there was some work involved. It’s exhausting at the beginning to change from spending two minutes with a patient to spending the I like to spend like 15 minutes talking. I realize that that’s a little bit too long. But I get to know my patients, I laugh with them. I talk with them about mayonnaise. I mean, we talk about the silliest things, and I get to know them and connecting on that level. Not only makes them trust me more, but I enjoy it. I it’s like seeing friends not seeing patients. I don’t work. I just live. Does that make sense?

REGAN: Absolutely. It makes sense. I’m wondering, as I’m hearing you say that because we obviously have wildly different careers, even though we’re both in dentistry, and we’re about the same age, we’ve just tipped 40. And I really am wondering, is this part of the natural process of life? Is this a version of a midlife crisis? Meaning, you know, in life, something’s always driving our narrative.

When we’re children. It’s our parents who drive our narrative, our teachers in school drive our narrative, we always have something we are working towards. And then when we graduate, we’re supposed to I mean, at least in America, the thought is you’re going to get married, and you’re probably going to have kids. But once that’s done, your story is open. And for the first time in our lives as adults, we no longer have someone driving our narrative.

MAGGIE: I think the best thing about being 40 is that we become fearless, or more fearless than we did before. And changing the narrative of your life, changing your story, changing the fact that you’re in a rut, changing the fact that you are coming to work on happy, we become more brave and courageous, to make those changes past 40. Because we become less concerned about what people think about us, we become less fearful of look, even if you’re unhappy, at least you know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Change is difficult. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. So I think the beauty about being 40 is that we finally have the confidence to move forward. Because you know what, if it doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the life that we had that was very predictable.

REGAN:  That’s so well said. What were some of the baby I’m assuming let’s back up. I’m assuming Maggie that you didn’t just snap your fingers and say, oh, okay, now I’m living authentically in myself. That was the old me This is the new me. What were some of the baby steps or baby discoveries you made along the way? And and what are some of the symptoms also that someone may be living in? authentically, I noticed how you said, you know, somebody was you woke up just not quite feeling yourself not excited to go into the office. So when you realize that, what were some of the things that you did to turn it around?

MAGGIE: Investing into it. So first of all, you kind of sit down and you allow the idea that you wake up on happy, you stop ignoring it. You wake up to it, you feel it. You allow yourself to feel it. And that feeling perhaps can entice you to make a change. Let’s hope that it does, okay. And there were several things that kind of came together for me. The pandemic had something to do with it because I was able to sit down as many of us did and was able to think, and I and I stumbled upon this course with PDA.

It was of course before foundations. And it was a it was it was a lot of CS It was fairly inexpensive, and it was at a good time for me. And so I said, Okay, let’s take it, let’s move, let’s move forward with it. So that was, that course allowed me to spend time. You know, on myself, I also met a lot of PDA coaches, and I met a lot of dentists, we were all kind of in the same boat, and we learned from one another. And there was an accountability in moving forward, wherever we were stuck. And some of that had to do with business. And some of that had to do with the way of life. So that was one of the things that I did. And about almost a year after my cancer surgery, I started working with a life coach. And it’s an interesting story, I only called her because I was trying to be nice to a friend that recommended her. And I’m like, there’s no way I don’t need a life coach, I have my life together. And within an hour of speaking with her, there was a different kind of energy, and it’s the energy that I needed.

And so slowly working with her. What happened is, I think what we don’t don’t realize is we’re not we need right, we’re all planners. And so I didn’t know what I wanted until I sat down writing it down, until I sat down to write it down. And once you sit down to write things down, and that was also with the foundation, of course, we made this business plan, right, the to your business plan, you really don’t have a roadmap, where are you going? And here’s the interesting thing that I just read in a book, when people do not have markers in the desert, and they think they’re going in a straight line, they’re actually going in circles. Is that true? Yes. I wish I could quote the study, find it but and they said that the circles can be as small as 66 feet in diameter, and you think you’re walking in a straight line.

So if you don’t make markers, if you don’t make a plan, you you are stuck in that circle. If you don’t hold yourself accountable for the changes that you want to make, you’re going to go in circles, and you’re never going to get out of that rut. So writing things down holding yourself accountable, finding the support in someone else. it for me, it was PDA For me it was a life coach, I invested money into myself to get out of this. And guess what it was noticed. And the greatest thing of it is that I wake up every day joyful. Here’s the thing, you know why people don’t want to get out of bed, I listen to this in another book, because you don’t have a why.

That’s why it’s so hard to get out of bed. My alarm goes off at six o’clock in the morning, and I can’t wait. You’re driven, you have a I have a purpose, I found my why I found my superpower. Not every day is like that I’m not gonna lie, and I’m still plagued by my disease I get that’s never gonna go away. That’s going to be a constant. But on the good days, I am up at six o’clock I am running and I can’t wait to get to my computer to write or to go for a walk or to go for a bike or I am up and I am ready to go. Because I know why. Wow. Wow. And I’m not someone else anymore. I’m not trying to be this other successful dentists who put his images on the big screen. That’s that’s not who I am. I’m not gonna do all on force. That’s not me. That’s not what I need. That’s not what I want. But it could be what you want.

REGAN: And you can be successful with what you want. I think that’s one of the biggest secrets out there. You do not have to have every service mix on the planet You do not have to and think about

MAGGIE:  It isn’t successful. Just another word for being in flow and happy. Does success have to be defined by money? Or are materialistic things? Or is it just a way of life? Isn’t that success?

REGAN:   You just put a philosophical KPI down what’s your key performance indicator

MAGGIE: No, but that’s so true. And I work on it all the time. One of my last meetings with with with my my life coaches, I need to refocus because over the last six months, I have lost that I have began over focusing on money and material goods and I need to reprogram myself back to being in flow for the right reasons. Because money maybe is going to wake you up in the morning maybe but I don’t think it will. It’s not going to make you jump out of bed.

REGAN: You know one of those kind of, I don’t know paradigms. Shifting moments for me was a few years ago, I took my children down to Mexico for a month and a half and we stayed in a small village. barely any English speaking people were there. But if you were, and during that time I took a look around me, I have never seen so many happy people happy faces, helpful faces. Just It was a transformative experience. And it really made me stop and say these people don’t materialistically have a lot, but they are completely full up banked I mean, on their happiness.

And success really is a very intimate and personal discussion for yourself. I mean, what is it waking up happy every morning filled with joy, not necessarily circumstantial happiness, but that life sustaining joy, and what that does for your mental health, your physical health, how you show up with others, Maggie as a self-proclaimed introvert, which, by the way, I’ve taken the Myers Briggs and several others and I come across as introverted as well, even though I’m a podcast host and have no problem speaking from the front of the stage. What is driving you to be this vulnerable, you know, in the articles that I’ve read, you are truly honest about many of your struggles, what’s driving you to be vulnerable, and put yourself out there and share this with everybody.

MAGGIE:  Um, it’s, it’s the day I came back to school in college, but I’ll tell you another story. And I call this my Snickers story. So I don’t know how many people know I was actually born and raised in Poland, okay, under the iron curtain, and we had nothing. I mean, there’s, there’s nothing in the stores, right. And so my dad who is a scientist, a capital relationships with people in the West, so there was a German man that was collaborating with my dad that had visited him in the research facility that my dad worked in, and he brought my sister and I Western candy, okay, and it was a Snickers bar in the Milky Way, which I’d never even seen in my life before. So my sister got the Milky Way, and I got the Snickers bar. My sister ate the Milky Way immediately. And I kept my Snickers bar until it molded. Because it was a reminder for me, that someone I didn’t know cared about me, and thought about me.

And it, I must have been eight years old. And that’s story. I call it the snicker story. And I say it every now and again to people, that story drives me. Because if you’re out there and you’re struggling, allow me to be the person that’s going to give you this Snickers bar, allow me to be the person that you don’t know that’s out there in the universe that loves you. And so that’s the second thing that drives me is is not just being really vulnerable. And look, I have people telling me you’re making a mistake by using the word suicidality to describe yourself. And even as I say that, I have heart palpitations because I am afraid of what people are going to think about me. Yes, okay.

I’m 40. I’m supposed to be fearless. But I’m still afraid. There could be patients out there that could listen to this. And I don’t know what they’re going to think about me. But the bottom line is this. I am not the only one. And I’m not going to be quiet about it. Because the louder I am, the more the less alone You’re going to feel. You know, and this is my Snickers bar to you. This is me telling you I am out there thinking about you. And you’re not alone. And so that, that’s what that that’s what’s made me open up. This is my authenticity. This is who I am. This is who I’ve been since second grade. Why am I supposed to hide it?

REGAN:  That’s the most beautiful thing. I yesterday, I read. I don’t know how we were going to pull Britney Spears into this conversation. I didn’t think we were going to,

MAGGIE:  But I love Britney Spears. Well, is he here in Vegas one day? Oh my gosh.

REGAN:  Well, I read her her testimony. So she’s fighting for her conservatorship and she wants to have control of her life and her finances again. And it was the most heart wrenching outpouring. And in it, she says, I have I apologize for lying to the public and saying I’m happy. I’m not happy. I tried to make myself happy. I tried to tell myself, if I told everyone I was happy, I would become happy. I’m embarrassed. People aren’t going to believe me.

They’re going to say your Britney Spears you have everything. are you whining. And I felt like she’s really living her truth. And it does take bravery to live your truth and to really truly say this is where I’m vulnerable. And that’s why I call this shining a light in the darkness today, Maggie, that’s exactly what you’re doing for others. Thank you, you know

MAGGIE:  It’s so Heavy to pretend to be someone you’re not. And when you shed that weight, it was on a call with Val and Christine, from PDA. And they said, Maggie, it sounds like you’re carrying a bucket of rocks on your back, it’s been a really stressful time. And so when you when you let go of the pretending when you open up the way Britney Spears did when you finally admit, I am not happy when you sit down. So part of the issue with the noise in our head and the electronics is because we don’t want to be alone with our thoughts, because we’re afraid of what we’re gonna find out, it hurts. And I’m the same way I can’t, it’s very hard for me to stay quiet. But when you shed That way, when you stop pretending when you are free to be to be, it feels like flying. It’s like you’re being led out of prison, like you can live like you can breathe. You know, you, you feel lighter, you’re faster.

You’re more focused, I and I could just go on and on and on. But it’s hard work. It’s like, I don’t necessarily like going to the gym. But once you shed that the that weight, it’s like going to the gym, because keeping that mindset, it’s like exercising. It doesn’t just happen like that. And you keep going, you got to revisit it. And sometimes it doesn’t feel good to go through that process.

REGAN:  Wow, this has been a powerful conversation. Dr. Maggie, thank you for spending time with us. I have other questions I was going to ask and I think you really covered it. Well, you’ve paved a path, I know our listeners are going to get a lot from this. So I guess I’ll I’ll end it just in case I’ve missed something. Is there one piece of advice you could give to a doctor right now that may be listening to this and saying, that’s me, I’m not happy right now. And I don’t know where to start.

MAGGIE: There is a way. And if you are unhappy, you don’t belong there. You don’t deserve that. There is a way to feel joy, there’s a way to feel in flow. And there’s help. And there’s people that you can look up to. And if you are there, that’s me two years ago. And I was you. And I am shocked, shocked that it only took 18 months for me to come out of that cocoon. It cost me a little bit of money. But it was so worth it. I mean, imagine wanting to get out of bed in the morning and looking forward to going to work. It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like life. You know. And the other thing that that that I want to say is, we didn’t really touch on this.

But I think it’s important to talk about this comparison that we have. And part of my journey had to do with going to lectures and seeing on the big screen these incredible cosmetic cases or reconstruction cases. And I would come to work. And I would compare myself to that. And it didn’t always look the way that it did on the screen. And comparing is very destructive. Because what we’re doing is we are comparing somebody else’s best day to our worst day. Okay? And imagine this space in between. I mean, if we compare their best day to our best day, they space is a lot smaller. But here we are torturing ourselves looking at something that took I don’t know how long to accomplish, how much experience how much expertise how much hard work at one point in one of these lectures.

The dentist said guess how many trials this credit single tooth restoration took 11 but here we are looking at that picture thinking oh my gosh, this guy did it in one day and it looks perfect. And mine doesn’t. And so there’s a reason why we compare and that’s to be you know, encouraged and move forward and look up to someone but comparing can bring us down And another question is, why don’t we compare down? Why don’t we compare to the people that are below us? I don’t have an answer to that. I have no idea. We all we always seem to compare up and that can be very destructive. And so I’m making the realization that that is their story and you don’t know its background can help you refocus and remain in the moment and say, okay, that took 11 times to get that right.

REGAN:  Maggie, thank you for keeping us grounded, putting us in the present moment, and giving our listeners some exceptional gems today. It’s been a wonderful span of time with you. And I look forward to seeing you hopefully in person, maybe this fall at some sea, who knows but cheers and thank you very much. I wish the best for you. Please continue living your authentic life and being vulnerable with others. It is definitely helping more than you know.

MAGGIE: Thank you. It’s been an honor to share my story. And and thank you very much for having me.

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