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The Recovering Perfectionist
Episode 53815th February 2023 • The Best Practices Show • ACT Dental
00:00:00 00:32:23

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The Recovering Perfectionist

Episode #538 with Dr. Kelley Brummett

Dentists strive to be perfect. This eventually leads to stress, anxiety, and burnout. If you're feeling stuck in the cycle of chasing perfection, don't miss this episode! To help you unlearn the perfectionist mindset and transition to a growth mindset, Kirk Behrendt brings back Dr. Kelley Brummett from The Pankey Institute. She shares her struggle as a healing perfectionist and insight for focusing on progress and excellence. Overcome the pressure to be perfect! To learn how, listen to Episode 538 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

The Pankey Institute:

A Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry by Dr. L.D. Pankey and Dr. William J. Davis:

The Growth Mindset by Helen Glasgow and Joshua Moore:

Main Takeaways:

Strive for excellence, not perfection.

Be kind and nonjudgmental with yourself.

Don't let the idea of perfection consume you.

Focus on progress rather than on being perfect.  

Remember that your dentistry has an expiration date.


“That's what we tend to do to ourselves, [is] we say, ‘Oh, this dentistry is going to fail,’ or, ‘This dentistry did fail,’ or we criticize, or we judge, or whatever it is. And it’s like, no, everything has an expiration date, and it’s totally dependent on the variables that that patient hosts. And we get to play a part in our skills and understanding our patient from the health standpoint to even the temperament standpoint.” (6:37—7:09)

“All of my dentistry, as Dr. Lee Brady taught me, will fail. I might get lucky. There might be a case or two. But that's not really the goal. The goal of dentistry, in my mind, is to make people feel better, to make people healthier, to make people function better.” (7:31—7:51)

“The perfectionist quality . . . that came about from my years as a springboard diver because there was a perfectionist piece to competing at that level. I had a full-ride scholarship in college. You could get a 10, which is the highest score you can get. There's not a lot of satisfaction because once you do something well, you want to do it better. Once you do something good, you want to do it well. So, that tape that tells you how old I am, that ran through my brain and did affect me in very negative ways, sometimes. I found that creeping in. I found it creeping in in dental school. I found it creeping in even in daily practice. So, I think it’s a common challenge. I don't want to use the word problem, but it’s a common challenge that is not commonly talked about.” (7:58—9:11)

“When I'm looking at a lecture that has some amazing work, maybe even complex things that I'm thinking I might not even attempt, or maybe I don't feel like I have the skills to do that, the idea is to say, ‘Okay, what can I learn from that?’ Was it a skill? Was it a technique? Was it a material? Was it a communication piece with a patient of even being able to gain the trust of that patient to do the treatment? Because that's a lot of it, is that trust and skill. So, I think putting your learning hat on and being open and trying to sit in the space of nonjudgment of yourself while you look out.” (10:49—11:35)

“It’s somewhat addictive. There's a piece of the brain, the amygdala, where a lot of our addictions come from, our sensory, our emotions. You do a case, and it is beautiful. Regardless of how difficult it might have been, that's a little dopamine. And it’s like, ‘Okay, who else? What's next?’ And sometimes, you can lose sight because, again, it’s those principles, like striving for versus demanding.” (13:31—14:11)

“Your dental education, I'm going to expect, was excellent and equipped you with a lot of skills. But the whole idea is that in a finite amount of time, you're developing to become a practicing dentist. And from there, you get the chance to grow your skills. And those skills are now going to encompass maybe practice ownership, maybe being an associate within a practice, whether that's small or large. So, the idea is to say, as you're defining yourself in dental school, your skills and what you enjoy doing, what you didn't like doing, what you said you’d never pick up when you walked out of school, continue to refine that. So, find CE courses that seem to speak to you, that seem to give you energy.” (16:37—17:34)

“As Rich Green taught me, if you can dial in and answer for yourself one thing that gives you energy, or two things, and remember that and bring that forward, that can guide your CE for the rest of your life.” (17:36—17:51)

“Take what you have in your brain, put it into your hands, execute, make mistakes, grow from them, and realize that the mistakes aren't necessarily detrimental. They're just, ‘Ah, okay. The way I did that procedure, I can maybe improve on that next time.’” (19:46—20:04)

“Involve your team. As I said earlier, this isn't a common problem, this perfectionist conversation, that a lot of people are willing to talk about. But it’s something that our team needs us to talk about with them.” (20:04—20:22)

“I find part of a perfectionist’s healing process is that I can procrastinate. And that procrastination can be my lack of trust or faith in myself or in something and, ‘I'll get to it. I'll get to it. I'll get to it.’ That is a sign for me that, ‘Okay. Step back, Kelley. What's going on? What am I trying to avoid?’ And that's not true for everybody, but that can be somewhere that it shows up.” (21:24—21:57)

“The procrastination piece, sometimes, gets revealed by being busy . . . The [busier] that I am, the less I feel like I can focus, and be present, and execute, and learn. Because every time I'm doing a restoration or having a conversation with a patient, there's something I can always walk out of that room and learn from. And that's the gift of what we have of being able to grow.” (21:58—22:46)

“I have spent many years in therapy. That is something that has been beneficial to me, to be able to talk out the things that you feel. I'm a big believer in [the idea that] your emotions are there, but it’s your thinking that drives your behavior, and your behavior drives your results. And when I'm willing to go there, I can oftentimes find more peace and not have that striving pop up. So, the idea is, I used to say I'm a recovering perfectionist. Because the reality is, I was. And I am, still. However, to recover means to return to. So, oftentimes, when I realize I might be stepping off the path, I don't want to return to my beginning. And that's the beauty, is we’re not going back to where we started. We’re going back to where we recognize that maybe our resilience has dipped. And that is now called a healing perfectionist’s path, because I am healing. Every day, I'm healing.” (23:09—24:25)

“It’s remembering that it can be admirable for young dentists striving. The idea is, strive. Don't get stuck in the trap, that gap of having information, and maybe you do execute, and things don't always go. But that's the beauty of what we get to do.” (24:26—24:50)

“It’s that thinking, the more you say it, the more you think it, the more you believe it, the more it'll keep coming about. Because, honestly, I hope to goodness that I am making progress because I don't want to be practicing like I was when I graduated from dental school. That's what took me down to The Pankey Institute, was sitting there saying, ‘I hated dental school, but I gained a good education. Now, what? Do I just keep practicing like this? What does that look like?’ And that's what progress is. And so, the encouragement is, find the people that allow you to be who you are while you're discovering who you are. That's one. And then, two, get around education that allows you to grow, not put you in a box that if you don't do step one to step ten the way that they told you to do it, then you're wrong.” (25:31—26:33)

“Allow yourself to get in there and learn and struggle, because it’s that step into the panic zone when they say real learning is actually happening, not when you're sitting there just soaking up some words.” (27:20—27:37)

“You're not alone. We are all walking through this world together. We’re all connected in some way. And my hope is you hear [that] you're right where you need to be. You're in the driver’s seat to decide where you want to go.” (28:08—28:26)

“Try not to let the fear of unknowns and uncomfortable things consume you.” (28:39—28:48)


0:00 Introduction.

1:36 Dr. Brummett’s background.

3:55 Why this is important in dentistry.

9:52 Be nonjudgmental with yourself.

11:38 Strive for excellence, not perfection.

14:15 Being a dentist is like being an athlete.

16:12 CE advice for dentists.

20:24 Perpetual misery caused by striving.

22:49 The healing perfectionist.

24:52 Trading perfection for progress.

27:40 Last thoughts.

28:52 More about The Pankey Institute.

Dr. Kelley Brummett Bio:

Dr. Kelley D. Brummett was born and raised in Missouri. She attended the University of Kansas on a full-ride scholarship in springboard diving and received honors for being the Big Eight Diving Champion on the 1-meter springboard in 1988 and 1992. Dr. Brummett received her Bachelor of Arts in communication at the University of Kansas and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in nursing. After practicing nursing, Dr. Brummett went on to earn a degree in dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia. She has continued her education at The Pankey Institute to further her love of learning and her pursuit to provide quality individual care. Dr. Brummett is a clinical instructor at Georgia Regents University and is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

Dr. Brummett and her husband, Darin, have two children, Sarah and Sam. They have made Newnan their home for the past nine years. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and playing with her dogs. Dr. Brummett is an active member of the ADA, GDA, AGDA, and an alumnus of The Pankey Institute.