Why Your Dentist is as Cool as a Coach Bag

Today’s GAL is a guest blog from the very talented Matt Chabe

 When I was a kid, I hated going to the dentist. Every time my mother would get me in the car for another dental cleaning, I would cringe. I always hoped she would miss the turn into the parking lot and just give up. She never did. That guy, he was my nemesis.

 The dentist. He gets no love.

 Today, I’m the proud dad of two great, intelligent, funny, and sometimes cranky girls. And so this morning, as I woke them up late (per the routine) for their bi-annual dental checkup, I expected grumbling. I was surprised when it didn’t come. They were actually excited.

Ph-what? As a marketer with the curiosity of a five-year-old, that got me thinking. I grew up in the early 80s. My parents encouraged me to brush my teeth and to be more-or-less healthy. But I didn’t understand WHY I had to take care of my teeth until I was an adult. I don’t think my friends did, either. We hated the dentist. Everyone hated that guy.

Today, I try to teach my daughters the value of doing something unpleasant now, to get something better tomorrow. They know that if they visit the dentist today, they’re going to have good dental hygiene (and fewer dentist visits) later. It’s hopefully the same reason they do their homework when they come home, and why they learn to swim (even though it’s hard).

We don’t often think about having different “selves,” but we do. We usually just think of  “our self” – the person we see in the mirror. But we do, in fact, have different “selves.” The self-concept is pretty complex, but basically:

 -We have our “Actual Self”: the realistic appraisal of ourselves. It’s the person that all our friends see, and that our families are really proud of (or are worrying about).

 -Then we have our “Ideal Self”: the idea in our heads of whom we’d “like” to be, and that we strive towards.

These concepts are in each of our heads. The “Actual Self” is what makes us aware that we’re a little goofy or that we don’t sing as we’d like. And the “Ideal Self” is what makes us try to be better parents, buy a really rocking Coach handbag like our idols, or visit the dentist with a smile (even though sometimes it’s no fun).

I’ll tell you a secret (that you probably already know): when marketers do their thing, they want to talk to your “Ideal Self” and fulfill your ideals. On the positive side, marketing this way makes you more aware of products or services that will help you lead a healthier life, a more fulfilling life, or a more awesome life. On the other side, there are many products out there that do the exact opposite, but still make us feel somehow like we’re getting there. As consenting consumers, we’re all free to make whatever purchases we like, for whatever reasons we like. I’m not here to condemn or condone any of these things.

The point is, we can use our understanding of our “Ideal Self” in our everyday lives. We’re all subject to forces around us that shape our “Ideal Selves.” There are a lot of messages crying out for our attention all at once. Unfortunately, we live in a society in which we are sometimes “too something” or “not something enough.” It can be overwhelming.

Sometimes, it’s important to step back and say, “What is truly important?”

If you want a new job because you want more money – is the money going to make you happier?

If you want a new partner – is the new partner going to make you happier?

If you want great teeth because great teeth are going to get you a new partner – see the question above.

Or do you want great teeth because you take pride in being a healthier, happier, smilier “you?”

Oftentimes, our “Ideal Self” is healthy. It’s what makes us “grin and bear it”, give up a little of our fun time, and hope that something more awesome happens as a result. And sometimes, it can be unhealthy, like when we feel like we will never match up to our ideals — or worse, someone else’s ideals. Sometimes, we can damage ourselves if our “Ideal Selves” get too distant from our “Actual Selves.”

It’s times like these, when no amount of dentistry will help, that we can step back and think about what is truly important. I’ve always wanted a Dodge Viper. It’s a very cool, absurdly fast, ridiculously expensive vehicle. But I’d rather spend my time and resources camping with my girls, or visiting the dentist, or watching the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains. These things speak to my Ideal Self a lot more than a fast car.

Besides, there’s always a mid-life crisis to look forward to.

Matt Chabe is the owner of Chapter Two Marketing & PR, a Bangor-based company that helps organizations grow by better understanding and communicating with their customers. He recently graduated UMaine with a major in marketing and a minor in psychology. He is a seven-year veteran of the U.S. Navy.

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About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.