Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What my dentist and Pauline Kael have in common...

I have the best dentist in New York City. During a recent visit to his office, I was reminded of some advice I heard several years ago from the former New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael.

First, some background about my dentist, Dr. Jonathan Ferencz. It's not your typical gross, underinvested medical practitioner office. His office is gleaming but sedate, has a view of the Empire State Building, a professional and friendly staff, and really good magazines. (No old issues of "Modern Maturity.") And his appointments always start on time. ALWAYS. I initially came to Dr. Ferencz for an implant, my final resting place after a long and painful journey that had featured a botched filling replacement, multiple failed root canals, a strange pus-filled bubble in my gums (don't ask) and a split molar that had to be removed by an oral surgeon. Oy! But these worries were forgotten when I was placed under his capable care. He charges significantly more than my previous dentists but it's more than worth it.

Why do I bring this up? Well, after this morning's appointment (gold inlay following a distal crown lengthening by the periodontist), I was reflecting on how, even though going to the dentist is kind of scary, it's not really scary when you have complete confidence that your dentist knows what he or she is doing. And of course, this is true generally--trust is worth a lot. It's really quite an amazing experience when someone takes his or her profession seriously enough to do their best, and make investments to deliver high-quality service.

Which brings me to Pauline Kael. Some years ago, when I was living in Calcutta, I happened to see a video interview with her. Someone asked her about the career of being a film critic, and she said something similar to the following:

"Ninety percent of the people in the world are just punching a clock at work, whether they're film critics or bricklayers. But the remaining ten percent do really amazing work and contribute something meaningful. So in thinking about your career, you ideally want to aspire to be part of the ten percent, rather than looking at the ninety."

I've followed this advice over the years. I've been in some careers that are prestigious, and other careers that are nontraditional if not bizarre, but in every case I've found her words to be true. Ignore what most people do. Instead, if it's something that works for you, aim to be your own best self. It doesn't matter if you are selling real estate or decoding DNA. Be part of the ten percent, not the ninety, and stop worrying what other people think.

Be like Dr. Ferencz!