Know Yourself

April 10, 2019 Mary Osborne RDH

The Least Understood Part of Dr. Pankey’s Cross

I’ve always thought that the least understood and least appreciated aspect of Dr. Pankey’s cross of life is the directive to “Know Yourself.” It seems more interesting and exciting to get into learning about your work and your patients. And applying that knowledge makes all the sense in the world. Many high achieving people are happy to dedicate themselves to a lifetime of learning about their work.

What about learning about ourselves? My experience is that it’s easier to believe we have “done that.” We take a psychological instrument and label ourselves as “Driver” or “Amiable.” Check! We survey our values and identify the top three. Check! We write a vision or mission statement. Check! How much more is there to learn?

I have come to understand that, over time, the self-discovery process of knowing yourself can be the most challenging and most rewarding aspect of your work. Knowing yourself is what makes you not only a better dentist, but a more effective leader, a more engaged family and community member, and a more fulfilled person. So, when I was asked to speak about that at the Pankey Institute’s Annual meeting I was both delighted and a bit intimidated. It is such a big topic!

“But, What about Self-Absorption?”

The idea of knowing yourself can have a connotation of self-absorption, a self-serving focus inward. This thought has arisen in our evening discussions at the Institute. We tend to think it is more appropriate to focus outward on our patients, our team, and our work. We want to facilitate their growth and their learning about how to become healthier. It can be difficult to see the value of that inner self-discovery focus. But Parker J. Palmer, whose writing has informed my work over many years wrote:

“. . . When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my unexamined life, and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well.”

That lens through which we see others is an essential part of who we are. What I have learned so far is that my lens includes filters of impatience, and judgment, and assumptions about what I think I know. I have my blind spots. But my lens also includes compassion, and love, and understanding.

After 40 Years, Even New Discoveries

After 40 years in service of others, I am still learning about myself. As I learn to know myself, I am better able to take a step back and look at my filters, not just through them. I’m learning to question and understand where they fit and where they do not. I find it very interesting how on my best days I can see both the filter and the lens. With intention, I practice questioning my assumptions and suspending my judgment. Sometimes I can even laugh at the stories I make up about people and situations! And often I can also see the gifts I bring; the perspective, the compassion. Those are the times when I can bring all of myself to my work.

I serve better and I am better for knowing myself.


Mary will be presenting on Know Yourself at the Pankey 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting this year on Key Biscayne, Fl September 13,14.

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About Author

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

5 thoughts on “Know Yourself

  1. Well Said Mary!
    I am remembering a comment by Carl Rogers that from a behavioral point of view, we can only know anyone else to the depth that we know ourselves. I have always thought of it as a continual “unfolding of ourselves to ourselves and others – the process of developing is continual throughout our lives, with new and going awarenesses.

  2. Wonderful article Mary!!
    I am incrementally learning that as I view all the Pankey crosses as synergistic to each other, oI could insert the word “Love” for “Know” as part of the journey in the “Know Yourself” arm of the Cross of Dentistry” and challenge my thinking even more. In fact, “Love” could add something to every arm of that cross replacing/alongside of “Know” with “Love”…Love yourself, Love your work, Love your patients and Love the opportunity to Apply that Love in service to others. I seems tough to love the other parts of the Cross of Dentistry without first knowing we are loved by our Creator just as we are, not as we should be.
    Thank you for writing/saying what we all need to hear and embrace!!

    1. The love yourself part is so important, Jay. Learning to look at our blind spots through a lens of compassion and love makes the learning fun!

  3. Lovely words about this subject Mary!!
    It’s so easy to interpret the “know yourself” as mostly knowing what “procedures” one can do. What product you have on the shelf for your patients? It truly is so much more. It’s a beautiful thing to see beyond the technical parts of dentistry and finally appreciate the behavioral dimensions. And then take the time to dive deeper into our self. And from all the amazing people I’ve met at the institute, it seems that this is where we can start unveiling the optimal version of ourselves.

    As my dear friend Jason P said of a beautiful presentation by Michelle L…. “I feel like you wrote this just for me. “ I feel the same about this article. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Your comments about the amazing people you’ve met at Pankey struck chord for me, Natalee. I just had a conversation with a young dentist I’ve been encouraging to go to Pankey. He told me stories of two dentists he has met who are associated with Pankey and who have been so generous in their support of him. He said it seems like everyone he meets from Pankey is like that! It’s hard to put a finger on why those qualities show up so often, but I believe that the opportunity and willingness to take that “deep dive” into knowing yourself is one of the reasons.

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