“When is the last time you did something for the first time?”
The gravity of his words sunk into my heart and soul, as I prepared for the experience of a lifetime. I still remember the moment I was asked that simple question. I was kneeling at the starting line, about to embark on a new challenge known as World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). An obstacle course race that pushes competitors to complete as many laps of a five-mile, 22-obstacle course within 24 hours, WTM is both a physical and mental test to all that are brave enough to embark on the journey.
While I completed a Tough Mudder before (12 miles, 25 obstacles), this new challenge was way outside of my comfort zone. To give you some background, I was never a runner. I was never an endurance athlete. Sure, I played sports in high school, but that doesn’t count for much, 8 years after the fact.
As I sat there waiting in anticipation, I continued to listen to the Mudder Motivator Sean Corvelle, every word bringing us closer to the start and every line more profound than the last. As he brought us up to our feet, he finished by screaming into the microphone, “Nobody is better than your best, but your best will make you better, and that’s gonna make us all better.” With that final hoorah, we were off.
As I reflect on that moment, I am reminded that WTM is much more than a race. Built on the foundation of teamwork and camaraderie, WTM pushes competitors to find our very best. It exemplifies a way of life. This determination and desire to be our very best doesn’t stop when we get to the finish line. It permeates into every aspect of our lives. But finding your very best is no easy task. It forces us to push beyond our comfort zone and into the realm of the unknown. Through the discomfort and uncertainty, we shift our perception of possibility.
The problem with the safe option is it prevents us from reaching our true potential, and it all starts with our mindset.
Too often, we are bound by what we think we can do, a false perception of our potential. Our mind controls us into staying with the safe option, the easy option. Our fear outweighs our desire to grow. But what are we afraid of? From what I’ve seen, our fear is derived from failure. We are afraid to fail. Instead, we fall into a trap, dictated by thinking that the safe option will prevent us from failing or showing weakness. The problem with the safe option is it prevents us from reaching our true potential, and it all starts with our mindset. For most of my life, that was me.
During my time at UCLA, I quickly became involved in the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). I enjoyed the work I was doing and believed in ASDA’s purpose. When I was asked about potential leadership positions, I pushed back. I was always hesitant to take on leadership roles because of my extreme fear of public speaking. I would rather work in the background and quietly contribute to the greater cause. I had to make a decision, would I let myself succumb to safe or break out of my comfort zone? After some encouragement from those around me, I began to see the potential in my leadership path. I wouldn’t let my fear of public speaking hold me back from reaching my true potential. I owed it to myself to try.
So, I decided to run for ASDA President. It was a decision fueled by my desire to give back to the dental students I met from across the nation that I respected and admired. It was a chance for me to make a difference. Sure, I could contribute from the sidelines, but I wouldn’t be tapping into my true potential. While it was way outside of my comfort zone, it pushed me to be a better version of me. I began to improve my public speaking and began to develop new skill sets. It was only once I said yes to new opportunities that doors began to open. My ability to lead others and work to solve problems helped me grow just as much as I may have been helping others. It was a new me, living in a new life, surrounded by others who wanted to create a better future for dentistry. Instead of following blindly, I accepted responsibility to lead courageously.
This type of courage is something that we earn in the space outside of our comfort zone. As dental students, we are all worried about the future, but it is our courage to lead that separates us from one another. With stacks of loans, piled on top of the endless exams, we tell ourselves that we don’t have the resources to worry about anything besides school. But the truth is, we cannot afford to waste this time given to us. We will all graduate from dental school and earn our dental license. We will enter the workforce with clinical skills, often devoid of any training how to lead. With so much uncertainty surrounding our profession, health care, and the economy, we should be looking within ourselves for solutions, solutions that only leaders can provide. That is why we need to be leaders within our communities and leaders of the future. ASDA has brought me through a leadership journey unlike any other. While I have invested a lot of time into this experience, I can honestly say I have been given so much more in return.
I wasn’t going to let my mind limit me.
I used to be okay with people telling me what I couldn’t do. I used to be content with what my mind told me I couldn’t do. My mind told me I couldn’t be a public speaker. My mind told me I would never become ASDA President. My mind told me I could never run 100 miles at World’s Toughest Mudder. Yet, all of these things happened. I wasn’t going to let my mind limit me. I was going to give it my best and leave everything out there, even if that means failing at times.
Just like my race, we all find ourselves at the starting line of our dental careers. We all have the decision to make, the safe option or the growth option. We can remain stagnant or tap into our true potential. The choice is yours. I ask you to take a chance on yourself to be the very best version of yourself. Whether that means through ASDA or any other aspect of your life, take a chance on you.
So “When is the last time you did something for the first time?” The time is now to step outside of your comfort zone, to be the best version of yourself. The decision is up to you, but I want you to always remember that “Nobody is better than your best, but your best will make you better, and that’s gonna make us all better.”
Dr. Kris Mendoza, UCLA ’15