What does work-life balance mean to you? Could you achieve it if your career was threatened by something completely beyond your control? Our interview with Dr. Markus Watson explores how he has found balance throughout his life, even during especially challenging times like going to dental school while working full-time, and when receiving a life-changing diagnosis.
Markus candidly shares how he uncovered his interest in dentistry, what he discovered about himself through various jobs, and how he took on a health challenge that threatened everything he was and everything he built. His interview is loaded with wisdom and advice that’s helpful to anyone with ups and downs in their careers — so basically all of us!
Meet the Guest
Dr. Markus Watson, DDS, is a 1995 graduate of New York University’s School of Dentistry in Manhattan. He served a residency in general practice at the Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. In 1997, he began his practice in general dentistry on Manhattan’s upper east side. He worked part time in Brooklyn, NY for a nonprofit at the Brooklyn Plaza Family Health Center. In 2003, Dr. Watson relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area and started as an associate with Union Street Dental Care. In 2004, he founded South Beach Dental, a group practice in San Francisco’s mission bay area.
He has a great passion for giving to organizations which drive changes in our need to create a better, healthier and more livable environment. In 2014, Dr. Watson created an eco-friendly toothpaste called GoGreen, with a percentage of profits going to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
To learn more about Markus’ dental practice or to try his toothpaste, check out these links:
Beth Davies, host: Suppose you decide to pursue a profession like lawyer, accountant, doctor or dentist. Does this mean you'll have a predictable smooth career from the day you start practicing until the day you retire? Not necessarily. You still may experience curves, some planned and others unplanned, like our guest today.
Welcome to Career Curves where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are. I'm your host Beth Davies.
On this episode we're joined by Dr. Markus Watson who graduated from dental school in 1995. After beginning his career rather traditionally, he made some less traditional moves including working in a nonprofit health center, starting his own practice, and launching an all-natural, organic, fluoride-free toothpaste. Why he made the moves he made is quite an interesting story. I'm excited to be here with Markus and to have him tell us about his journey.
So, welcome Markus.
Dr. Markus Watson, guest: Thanks for having me.
Beth: I'd like to start by getting to know the younger you. So, tell me this. When you were a child and people asked you that question that children are asked all the time, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" did you answer "dentist" to that question?
Markus: Uh no, because growing up dentistry was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn't even think about dentistry until, I would say, in my mid-20s. So, growing up I played a lot with chemistry sets. I knew I was going to be a chemist or a scientist, things like that.
Beth: Were there other scientists in your family when you were growing up?
Markus: Absolutely not. It just came with my drive that I had towards the science. Also, when you're a child growing up, you really don't know what you want to be. You really don't know what you want to do. But then when you get like that response from adults or teachers. They give you the shake, the nod in their head, the "Oh great, you're going to be a scientist." So, I think that along the way helps to carve out what kids want to be. Is that an acceptable thing? You know, you start at an early age and you get that approval basically.
And so I think that's where the chemistry, scientists stemmed from.
Beth: Tell me about the messages that your parents were giving you when you were a child, about what you should be when you grew up.
Markus: Well, I was born in New Jersey and then we moved to New York, then we moved to Boston. So, we moved around a lot. My mom was basically one of those strong, "I'm going to do it my way. I'm going to create the world how I want to create it."
She had four kids, four different men, she was a single parent and she worked her tail off. She was a secretary at the New York Times. She was secretary for Newsday in the editorial. Then she managed a funeral home in Boston and then she ended up as a secretary in the editorial paper of the Boston Globe. So, she was work, work, work, work, work, and I got a lot of that from her and so did my brothers and sisters.
So, it was, "You're going to get up in the morning. I go to work. You guys go to school." I think we all were just geared towards getting good grades, making sure we were well behaved because you're managing yourself.
Beth: It sounds like you guys really had a lot of respect for her and how hard she was working and, therefore, a "we have a duty to take care of ourselves and be responsible." Is that…
Markus: Yes. Basically she created little soldiers. So, for instance, she sent out a very clear message: "You're going to college. I don't know what for, but you're going to go and you're going to graduate." So, it was just normal. It was like everyone else is going to college. I'll be going to college, too.
Beth: What were you initially thinking you were going to major in in college and where did you go?
Markus: From high school on, I knew I was great in science, so when I was going to college, I knew I was going to go for biotechnology.
So, there were a few schools, Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Monmouth College, now Monmouth University in New Jersey, and then they had MIT. Well, did not apply to MIT. I wanted to get the hell out of Boston. I wanted to be on my own. So, I moved to New Jersey to go to Monmouth University because I had cousins there in New Jersey. I had an aunt in New Jersey. It was close to New York. I liked to hang out a lot growing up. It was the 80s. I wanted to dance all the time and…live.
So, anyway, I went to Monmouth College in New Jersey. That was one short year. Unsuccessful. I hated the university, hated the students. I hated the whole set up. It was a beautiful university. They filmed Annie there, but it was basically way out in the woods.
It was like an hour away from New York City. I get there and it was just a really horrible fit for me, especially when I found out most students don't even go to New York, which was an hour away. I'm like, "What do you mean we're not going to go to New York and hang out?" The legal drinking age was 17. I was like, "Oh, we can drink. We can go to New York. We can have fun."
So, I ended up moving back to Boston. I had a best buddy that went to Harvard, a friend that went to Boston University, and another friend that went to Berklee Performing Arts School in Boston. So, we all moved in together and I worked part-time.
I was big on not having debt because I knew I would have to pay that debt off myself. I learned that from Monmouth College when those student loans were coming in. So, I wanted to make sure I worked part-time, sometimes full-time. I took a class here, a class there, and that just went on. And I really enjoyed life. I traveled a lot at that time…
Beth: But at this point you really weren't a full-time student?
Markus: No, I went to Northeastern and I went to UMass Boston, and I would sort out what classes I needed to take to actually have my major met with the cheapest available classes that I could pay for. So, I wasn't really in a rush.
I was really just enjoying life. In the back of my mind, I knew I was going to go to graduate school. I knew I was going to be a biotechnologist. I knew I would work in a firm. So, that was the plan.
Beth: Were you using any of those jobs to experiment with the field that you were studying?
Markus: Yeah, so it's funny that you should bring that up because what happened for me, that turning point, that curve as you call it, was I worked in a biotech office and I also worked part-time as a dental assistant and I just hated that biotech job. I went in there every day. I knew I was good at it and I was just so frustrated with the lack of emotion that was in that office. It was lab set up. Everyone was sterile. No one spoke to each other. You're just doing experiment after experiment after experiment. It was basically a reality check on, "This is what you may do."
Beth: And so here you are saying, "I like some life in my life. I like some human interaction. I like some dynamic." It's what made Monmouth not the right place for you. And here you are in a lab that is also feeling devoid of life.
Markus: It was for me, it was devoid of everything I lived for, but who knew? I didn't know before I stepped into that work environment. Then on the other hand, I'm a part-time dental assistant and I'm loving it. I see that the interaction with people are happening. The staff is a community. I'm getting to see how you bridge business and science together. I'm seeing basically instant gratification. Person comes in, they need work done, it's done. Where biochemistry, you may never see the light of day of what you're working on. So, yeah, it was my wake up call.
Beth: How did you get that job at the dental office since it wasn't even something on your radar, a as a career? How did you fall into it?
Markus: So, during this – taking classes and not being a full-time student – I was working in whatever environment I could work in. I had rent to pay. I had plane tickets to buy. The bar was calling me. The dance hall was calling me. So, I was just sort of picking up any jobs that I could find to make sure that I, sustain my lifestyle, to make sure that I paid for those classes, and make sure that I got those grades that I needed to get to what I thought was towards graduate school.
So, I ended up in that dental assistant job because the oral surgeon that pulled my teeth in Boston when I was like 17 or 18 years old, I ran into him on the street one day and he told me he was looking for his dental assistant, so, I went over there. And back in the eighties, you were trained in the office environment. There wasn't a school for dental assistants, there was barely a school for hygienists. Most of those jobs, you're trained by the dentist. So, I went in there and absolutely loved it.
Beth: So, what did you then do with this piece of information of "I've got these two jobs, one that is sucking the life out of me and one that's infusing me with energy." What did you do with that information?
Markus: Yeah, well, I'm a little bit manic, so I then decided in January or February, something like that, that I was going to go to dental school. And I didn't have an undergraduate degree. I was working part-time at different places and I said to myself, "Well, you know what? I'm going to apply to some dental schools, early admission. I'm sure I'll get rejected. But then that will create a pathway for me to figure out what I need to do in order to get into the schools that I want to get into."
And then I said, I just want to apply to New York City and Washington D.C. because I said, "I don't want to end up with that same Monmouth College experience." So, I said I'm gonna apply to cities where I've been, where I have friends, where I have relatives where I can enjoy life along with school. But, I was just basically setting myself up for the big turn down. Then they'll give me some feedback, they'll give me some direction. In two years I'll rush and get this degree and then go to dental school.
So, I applied to Columbia, I applied to NYU and I applied to Howard University in Washington DC. And then I had to take the DAT, which was totally bizarre for me. A dental admission test? What's on that? So, I took a Stanley Kaplan class and wanted to have everything done by the spring so that I could apply for September, so I could get my rejections in August.
Of course, I got my first letter from Howard University and they were like, "Oh, we want well-rounded students, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And I didn't even read the rest of the letter. I was like, okay, there's no direction. It's not telling me what I need to get into here. Trash.
About a week later, I got a letter from Columbia and they said, "We loved your letter. We looked at your GPA. We're putting you on the waitlist for September." Well, I was just happy as a pig in you-know-what. I was so thrilled. I was like, "I got waitlisted for Columbia University!" I was super excited and they set me up with an interview.
The very next morning I got a letter from NYU with an acceptance and I just was dumbfounded. And both schools asked for me to come and interview and they were like within a week apart. So, called my mother. She was in Barbados on vacation because I needed money and I wanted to give her the good news. She was just like, "Oh, I don't know. How much is it? Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. I have to Western Union it. I'm not near a bank."
So, I called my aunt in New Jersey and she met me in New York. She put me up in a hotel for two weeks. And I figured, you know, "Hey, I'm in New York for two weeks." Called up a bunch of friends. I was like, "I'm going to have the biggest party because I know they're going to reject me at Columbia. NYU, I'm going to see how that interview goes, but I'll be fresh and ready for that one."
And so I went to Columbia. It was very professional. Very nerve wracking. Round table. They said, "We'll let you know in two weeks." I was super happy I got the interview. They gave me an outline of what most students have when they come to the school – their GPAs, what classes they're looking for, which I had basically none cause I was just a biochem major, had all the sciences but none of the English, none of like the humanity classes that I needed. So, I figured it's a no go, but I know.
I went to NYU and, believe it or not, no interview process at all. I went in, they had a group of students there to show me the campus. We walked around the campus. I was ecstatic, went in and they said, "Look, we have only room for three exceptional students that we grant admission to without an undergraduate degree." My mouth dropped, not because I got in, but because he said "exceptional". I was like, "What?! If he only knew what I was doing last night, I wouldn't not be exceptional." So, I needed to basically sign on the dotted line and I did, and started in September.
Beth: Did you end up having to finish an undergraduate degree before starting?
Markus: I started immediately three weeks later. So, I have no undergraduate degree. Yeah.
Beth: Do you think that maybe you were underestimating yourself so that when somebody else is saying that you're "exceptional". Did you see that at all in yourself?
Markus: I didn't and I still don't, but I felt as though this was just one of those opportunities, one of those chances where I got a slide. My grades were great, but I was at two universities. I just feel that it was just one of those just rare occasions. So, I just have never looked back, have always known that that was the right decision. And you know, here I am now.
Beth: So, you go to dental school and tell me about the experience of being in dental school.
Markus: Well, it was tough going from a place where I'm working full-time or part-time, I'm taking a few classes, it's an easy A, to just being under the gun of dental school. It was really tough. And, I didn't have money, so I needed to work full-time.
So, the competition was real and I was doing my best to stay at the top of the game. So, graduated in the 10% but I didn't graduate at the top of the 10%. But, it was really tough.
Beth: Top 10% is still really good! Did you doubt yourself at all during it?
Markus: I didn't doubt myself. It was just tough. I mean, I worked full-time at night.
Beth: What kind of jobs were you working?
Markus: I was a bartender. So, I worked full-time at night and then I went full-time to school in the day.
Beth: When did you study?
Markus: I studied right after class.
Markus: Yeah, and I compensated for that because I saw myself as, "My full-time job is school and working every night is my nightlife." So, I went in, music was playing, everyone was dancing, I was serving drinks, I had lots of friends. So, that's how I balanced it. I balanced it as if I'm going out every night and during the day I have to be really serious about school. And the good thing is, when you're behind the bar working and you have class all day, you're not drinking. You're like, "I can't have a drink. I'm going to be exhausted." So, you're still living in the moment of that fun factor and then you dive in.
The other thing is in that you meet all these great people from New York City. All the performing art students do the same thing. They're working at night, they're dancing all day. You get to meet all these amazing people from Broadway. So…
Beth: So, your life was much richer than just…
Markus: Than just the school.
Beth: Yeah. So, at some point, school's going to come to an end and I believe dentistry is one where you roll from school into a residency?
Markus: Yeah, yeah. Residency.
Beth: So, tell me about that transition into residency. How do you get a residency and how do you transition from being a bartender to being a resident?
Markus: Well, I would say that the bartending job paid a lot more than the residency job and I had no clue that that would happen.
So, I graduated, I applied to a match program in Washington, D.C. and one in Brooklyn.
Beth: What's a match program?
Markus: Every medical and dental student applies on a sheet for all of your top residencies. You usually apply for five and you send them out to the residency programs. Then a secret someone ranks you. So, that's the way the match works.
But everyone doesn't do a residency in dentistry; it's an option. A lot of people that would go for a postgrad degree in oral surgery or to be an orthodontist, would skip the match program because they would go straight into a postgrad degree. Or they would go and work for their uncle or their brother-in-law that was a dentist and they would do their training there. So, at that time, and still today, many dentists don't do residencies.
I, being goal-oriented, I was like, "Oh no, I'm doing a residency because that's the right thing to do and that's what the best students do." So, I got matched in a residency in Brooklyn, New York, which I was happy because I had a bunch of friends that lived in Brooklyn. I then moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn and, again, hated the residency program. It was fast-paced, which I did like, but the doctors and the nurses had such an ego. It was shocking.
Beth: Did it have you questioning even your decision about being a dentist?
Markus: Well, it definitely had me question whether or not I would stay in a hospital setting. I mean, you're dealing with emergencies, broken jaws, lacerations, facial injuries as a dentist in a residency program in a hospital. I felt as though many of the staff felt so above many of the patients. It really turned me off. And, that combined with another big facility. Sort of like the biotech job. It's a machine and it's going and could I manage that machine, which was, again, for me, tough.
Beth: And almost you're just a cog then in that machine?
Markus: Yeah, you're just caught up into procedural. Your job is to fix the broken job. Your job is not to figure out who broke the jaw? Is the person going back to a place where they'll have another broken jaw? So, it was a very big disconnect for me.
That created a lot of stress, so I needed to balance that out. And the way I balance everything out is always more work. So, I had a friend, Stanley Harris, that graduated three years earlier than me from NYU. He had a beautiful office in Brooklyn Heights – tree-lined street, top of the line. So, he said, "Hey, you know what? When you're not working, come over here and I'll train you how to deal with private practice because the residency never shows you how to deal with emotion, with stress and all of these things that are coming from the patient, not your own, but what your patients bring to you each day."
He's completely anal retentive and a neat freak. I fit right in. I loved it. I was just like, "It's so organized and clean."
And so the rest of my residency, that year and a half, was a breeze because I balanced it out by going there three times a week.
Beth: Was it an option to leave the residency completely and get your training with him, like the people who would go to a family practice, or did you have to stick with the residency?
Markus: No, I could have left at any time, but that was just not my way of thinking. Still, even to this day, I feel like if I start a program or I start something, I should at least finish it because oftentimes you find that you do pick up all of this knowledge. I mean at the private practice, I would have never learned how to repair a broken jaw because you break your jaw, you go to the hospital, you get into a car accident, you end up at the hospital, you definitely never go into a private practice. So, I would definitely not have left.
Beth: I'm so impressed by so much of what you just shared, everything from the idea that "I'm going to stick it out because I'm still going to learn something" and also the piece of "there are other ways for me to manage that stress, like create a counter balancing force" as opposed to managing the stress by say quitting.
Beth: So, the residency finally comes to an end. You're enjoying the private practice. What did you do? What was your next move?
Markus: So, my next move was Stanley Harris helped me set up a private practice of my own.
Beth: How do you find patients as a new dentist out on your own?
Markus: Well, that was really, really, really tough, but I knew so many of the performing artists from working in the bar scene…
Beth: Get out!
Markus: I worked with this modeling agency, Wilhelmina Modeling Agency. They started to send me a bunch of patients and act students, like the NYU students that were in the performing arts. So, they would send me a lot of patients to do small things. They would pay me in cash. However, it was not enough money to pay my student loans from NYU.
So, what I did was, there was a program and the program is like a loan repayment program. For every two years you work in an underserved area or a health center that needs you, we will give you two years of your student loans back. What I did was I looked at the listing of the underserved areas and they were all in Brooklyn, in my neighborhood.
So, I was like, "What? Okay, so this is something, it's two train stops away." So, I applied for that, worked there, and worked part-time at my private practice from about 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM at night.
I thought I would stay two years, but I actually loved the health center. I ended up staying six years even though the loan repayments stopped after two years. It's just like, so many of those health centers really needed dentists. So, I stopped one health center, I would go two blocks down and then I would jumble it because my practice was growing. So, I needed to less work in the health center, but I still worked in those health centers for four more years. I just loved it.
Beth: Was that work you were doing for free?
Markus: Nope, nope. They give you a great pay, a great salary. Even when you do loan repayment, you still get a salary and the state then pays your student loans off. It was a wonderful opportunity and it was a humbling experience, which taught me to be more compassionate. And, you see your work is really needed. You feel gratification, instant gratification.
Beth: Which is what you'd been looking for from the time that you were mismatched in the bio lab back as I as an undergrad.
Beth: So, why didn't you stay in that nonprofit sector?
Markus: The thing is when my private practice started growing – and I am a little bit of a manic neat freak – so when my private practice started growing in Manhattan, it was very easy to just organize everything to get the best results you need. In dentistry, it's not an exact science, so even if you do your best, you end up doing re-doing things or it doesn't turn out right. But, you have so much more control in a private practice setting than in a health center and you make so much more money.
I figured if I went to private practice and stuck with private practice, I could do so much better in terms of donations, in terms of fundraising, in terms of giving away more money resources to things that I believed in as opposed to trying to give more service. There's so many people coming out of dental school that also could use that job, that would step themselves up that ladder. So, I needed to figure out how I was going to be more effective and give more of myself and do more due diligence in life.
Beth: Oh, I love that. I love that.
Another question for you about when you were doing both the private practice and working at the clinic. Knowing how important your social life is for you, how were you achieving work-life balance while you were doing those two jobs?
Markus: Well, New York City, everyone works excessively and they party hard, so it was very easy. Unlike California, things began at 1:00 AM. You can go out and not have a drink and dance all night. It was sort of like a gym workout. So, it was a very easy work life balance.
Beth: So, you're making the decision to double down on your private practice which was in New York. We're sitting together in San Francisco and I know you have a practice out here. Why did you decide to not stay with your practice in New York? What caused you to leave that and come to San Francisco?
Markus: I would first say it was weather and second weather and third weather. So, I was totally over the New York City harsh winters. I had, at that point, a place Miami and so I was balancing between, "Am I going to move to Miami? Am I going to move to San Francisco? Where is my next step?"
I knew in terms of dentistry, you can't wait until my age now, in the mid-50s, to relocate. So, I knew at that time I was like, "I love my brownstone in Brooklyn. I love my friends, but do I want to be 70 here?" And the answer was no.
And then I met a partner and he lived in San Francisco, so, that was an easy sway to say, okay, that's another green light to go to San Francisco. So, I packed it up, sold my practice to a friend of mine and sold my brownstone, and bought a place in San Francisco. Moved out here.
Beth: Were you nervous about setting up a practice here? What was your plan and how did you stay confident while making that kind of a move?
Markus: Oh, well, I'm never quite confident. I'm pretty humble and I get all worked up and nervous, but I'm extremely organized so even though the move was quick, it was well thought out. My whole life has been spent moving. I went to basically eight or nine different schools growing up. Change is welcome. It doesn't create that much stress for me.
Beth: And what was your plan then professionally once you got out to San Francisco?
Markus: Open up a private practice.
Beth: Has it been smooth sailing since then?
Markus: Nothing has been smooth sailing, but I would say that my experience in San Francisco has been the best in my entire life. Even the ups and downs of life.
When I moved here, I was just gung ho. I was geared towards making things happen. A little after that, I started to have this little doubt about whether I should go into solo practice by myself or whether I should go into group practice. I knew I wanted to deal with a group practice. I knew I wanted a community, that tribe.
10 years later, in 2013, I was just sidelined, side-swiped, like T-boned, because that's when I started to have tremors in my leg. Started off with going to work and coming from the gym and my leg is just shaking all day. And then I was like, "Oh my God, maybe I injured a muscle. Maybe I didn't have enough potassium. Maybe I didn't drink enough water."
Slowly but surely the tremor started in my shoulder and then started coming down to my arm and it was… it was disheartening. It was shocking. So I was like, "What the hell is going on?"
Beth: Knowing too that steadiness of your hands is essential to the work that you're doing. Did you feel that this was something that you had to keep secret? Were you telling others? How are you managing this thing happening to your body that has such great implications for the work you're doing?
Markus: Well, initially, I thought I had a muscle injury because it wasn't painful. It was just the shaking on my left side. So, I was like, "Oh, well, it's just an injury." And I'm ambidextrous so I would then work with my right hand and I would rest my left hand as I worked, which was working for me.
And then I said, et me go to my doctor and figure out what's going on because I was starting to freak out when my left hand started to shake on my left arm. And my doctor told me, "Oh, you have familial tremors." I was like, "What? What the hell is that?"
Beth: "Familial tremors"?
Markus: Yes, like a family tree tremor.
So, I said, "What? No. He doesn't know what he's talking about. I must have some kind of back injury."
Shortly after that, I started to get tremors in my right shoulder. So then, not knowing what it was, I had then went to work, spoke with my office manager, spoke with the other doctors and I was like, "I don't think I'm going to be able to see patients" because I had this back injury, because that's what I really thought it was. I was like, "I got some kind of back injury, maybe I'll need back surgery."
So, I went to Stanford and then ended up going to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and the diagnosis was like a pendulum. You have pre-Parkinson's. You have a slipped disc. You have… It was just all over the map. Even one doctor was like, "Well, it's psychological stress and because you're doing all of these things, you're creating this ball of stress and the stress is basically tearing down your myelin sheaths, your nerve fibers, so you're shaking."
Then I had one doctor who says, "You know, other than the shaking, I don't see anything. I think you're just faking a disability claim."
I mean, it was all over the map, literally. And so, I was getting medicine for pre-Parkinson's and taking that every day. It was just like a really horrible experience.
Obviously I couldn't see patients. I'm not at work. Most days the other doctors are holding it together. Patients are asking, "Where's Dr. Watson? Where's Dr. Watson?" They're all like, "Oh, he's out with this injury" or all kinds of things, because am I going to come back to work? And, if I come back to work and I have Parkinson's, no one will see me no matter what medications I take. If I have familial tremors, no one's going to see me. If it's a psychosis, definitely they're not going to see me. So, it was just this gray, horrible curve ball.
Beth: Was this also, in addition to giving you the tremors and therefore feeling like your body was under attack, did your identity also then feel under attack in the sense of "I'm a dentist"?
Markus: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, it was not just my identity. I don't have an undergraduate degree. I have nothing to fall back on. I have never really, until dentistry, had a permanent direction or position or job. I can't be a CEO. I can't lecture. I don't have anything else to fall back on. So it was not just my identity that was ruined, it was the whole practice. At that time I was like, "How can I sell the practice? How can I get rid of people that I know their families? I'm helping support a network of people." So, it was just very depressing.
Beth: How did you work through this?
Markus: Well, after spending about a month at the Mayo Clinic, they strip me of all medication. Oh, let me step back a little bit…
Before this, I decided that I was going to go on this gigantic health kick, which was absolutely the wrong thing to do. I stripped alcohol away, no caffeine. I didn't have carbs. I was going to get acupuncture. I was trying to do all this holistic stuff. But when I got to the Mayo Clinic, I realized when I talked to the physicians, that made everything worse because now I'm taking all the wrong meds. I'm starving myself. I'm doing all these wrong things and so my body is just freaking out. So, the tremors got worse.
But anyway, after about a month at the Mayo Clinic, stripped away everything, my physician there told me, "You have familial tremors and all you have to do is take these heart beta blockers, these heart medication, and a few other medications that are going to bring down your heart rate, and you will be able to manage all of this."
Beth: How many years had gone by? I think you said it was 2013 that you first started to experience the tremors in your legs. Where are we?
Beth: So two years you've been…
Markus: Two years I didn't see any patients, almost three. Not just not seeing patients, but I was in this gray gloom of "what the hell is going on?" And when I got that again first and last diagnosis, I was happy as hell. I actually went right back to my physician. I basically made up with him. I was like, "I'm so sorry. Years ago you told me it was familial tremors and I did all of this stuff. Just denial. Just denial that it can't happen to me."
So, yeah, I was two years, almost three years later that I started to pull myself together and then work out with my manager and other dentists at my office, my new role in helping manage and balance the office.
Beth: This is interesting to me. 2015, you're starting to hear it's these familial tremors, you can get them under control, which almost makes it sound like you could go back to practicing, but you actually decided to focus on managing the firm. Tell me about that decision.
Markus: Yeah, so this is… this is a… this is a little embarrassing, but what happened was during the time that I was out of work and not micromanaging everyone, the office did better. The numbers went down a little because my contributing dental work wasn't there, but the entire office as a whole became much better, much more round, much more cohesive. So, it was a learning lesson for me that things can go well. Step back. Listen. Be quiet. Be compassionate. Learn a little something.
Beth: And so is that what you're doing now, managing the practice? Are you also seeing patients now?
Markus: No, I don't see patients. Once you get a diagnosis of pre-Parkinson's, tremors, my license immediately is on ice.
Beth: And there's nothing you can do to…?
Markus: I am in such a good space with managing and things like that, and just being healthy and stress free that I don't feel like I should do that.
Beth: You're happy, you're happy.
Now there is another part to this story that I want to be sure we touch on, which is that somewhere along the way you developed a side hustle with your own toothpaste company. Tell me how that came about and how you got into that.
Markus: Ever since I lived in New York and I worked at those health centers, I always try to create every year one or two things that I donate to time or money or something like that. So, in San Francisco HIV AIDS, homeless issues, those are the heavy issues that have dominated San Francisco.
This was actually right around the time that I was initially diagnosed. I was also thinking about how to create something positive that I could work on to take my mind away from what was happening. My alter ego is always work more instead of work less. So, I figured, "Hey, if I do this toothpaste thing and it takes off even marginally, then I can use some of the profits from that to donate." And so I worked with a company in Utah and they helped me formulate the ingredients that I wanted for the toothpaste. So, I tweaked it and…
Beth: I love that this is bringing back in your chemistry background, right?
Markus: Exactly. Brought it right back again. My default, what I fell back on was the chemistry.
Beth: Couple more questions for you. I call this the lightning round. A few questions I like to ask everybody…
Markus: Uh huh.
Beth: What would you say is the smartest career move that you made, whether on purpose or by accident?
Markus: Buying real estate. Buying real estate by far has been the smartest move I've ever made financially. As a student in New York, I bought real estate. I was a student in Boston, I bought a little apartment. Came out here. It's helped to create this amazing building block of wealth that then gives you the opportunity to do more. So, financially.
Emotionally, I think the Mayo Clinic experience was something that redirected my entire life. It re-directed all things that stress me, which don't stress me, it re-directed all thoughts of compassion, it re-directed all thoughts of family care and taking care of friends. And it was an amazing experience. I don't know if I can say that linked up to the Mayo, but it was an amazing experience
Beth: And that was really the time that you went there to find out what was wrong with you physically, but you took away from it this infusion on who you want it to be as a person in your life.
Beth: That's powerful.
Markus: Yeah, it helped me forgive everyone.
Beth: If you could have one do-over, what would it be and why?
Markus: I hate to go back here, but not to sell the real estate that I sold. If you get some real estate and you're not retiring, if you can hold on to it, you should. I owned a place in Manhattan and a place in Miami that would have been off the charts right now. I could have sold that and done like philanthropy work or something like that, so I don't know. That's what I would say.
Beth: If you could give one piece of career advice to your younger self, what would you go back in time and tell Markus?
Markus: Don't be so damn manic. Had I been a little less crazy earlier in life, I think I would have been able to tie in a little more compassion. I was just always on such go, go, go, go, go. So, I would say pull myself back and think about the people that are around you to give a little bit more or to listen a little bit more.
Beth: And so how do you define success?
Markus: I wrote this, this success yhing years ago. I was in Connecticut and a friend of mine said, "How does everyone define success?" And she says, "I don't want anyone to to say it, I want you to think about it. We're going to have dinner and tomorrow when we get up, I want to just have you write it in the card. I'm not going to read it. No one will see it."
And so I wrote down...
Beth: And what year was this?
Markus: '95, '96. So, I wrote this and I said, "Freedom to allow yourself setbacks, failures, no's, and to be able to find happiness with the lows." When I wrote that I was thinking about graduating from school and what my position would be and how many no's or whatever I would get from these residency programs and, and just how I was going to spin it so that I wouldn't be completely washed out.
That's what I wrote down and I still feel like it works for me.
Beth: I'm happy to hear it works for you. But what's also interesting is how wise it was for what you were going to be experiencing in your life. We all have our ups and downs, highs and lows. So, maybe we all would experience that, but as you read that I thought, "You wrote that in 1995 and it fits exactly to the story that you just shared with us."
Thank you for sharing your story.
Markus: Thank you for having me.
Beth: A quick epilogue… If you’re interested in learning about Markus’ dental practice or trying his toothpaste, there are links on our website, careercurves.com. While there, you can find a full transcript of this episode, past episodes, and resources to help you in your career
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