The Butterfly Who Dreamt of Being a Dentist

Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly. Suddenly he woke up, yet he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. 

I woke up some time ago and didn’t know if I was a dentist dreaming of being a butterfly, or vice versa.

As part of my awakening back to a butterfly state, in which I feel most comfortable, I decided that I shouldn’t try to attend dental conferences for the lectures.

Dentists go to conferences out of two key reasons. First, it may be an excuse for a vacation one can write off his taxes, and secondly, a conference is a perfect opportunity to display your new dental toys, new car, new bling and maybe even new wife.

These conferences are all alike. Buy a few hundred implants or a new and expensive gadget, and the vendor will fly you (and your old or new wife) to a “ski conference” or a “city-break conference”. There we shall meet the all-stars of dentistry, presenting tools and methods tailored for Russian oligarch patients (and thus completely useless for your average cheapskate HMO Joe).

One of the evenings will be dedicated to a gala event, where a string quartet will perform, consisting of four minimally-dressed girls with electric violins, mediocrily playing Vanessa Mae riffs on their fiddles. I think there’s a factory somewhere in the Ukraine, where these quartets are cloned, bubble-wrapped and shipped all over Europe.

Having said that, on a conference day I still dress up and get there. What for? “The medium is the message,” said Marshall McLuhan, and I cannot agree more.

These days, one doesn’t come to a university, a course, a seminar, or a conference merely to learn – networking is the main reason to show up.

The questions of “Where?” and “With whom?” became much more significant than the “What?”. The conference, seminar or lecture are all about creating new opportunities.

And thus, I have so far justified my presence at these conferences and gala dinners with kitschy electric string quartets by the chance to encounter new business opportunities – and indeed, they show up, usually presented by a sweaty guy in a too-slim-for-his-belly “Ralph Lauren” shirt. I nod politely, exchange business cards, and will most probably not take the offer in the foreseeable future.

I wouldn’t say that I enjoy these gatherings and the brag of my former colleagues… So why, then, do I still attend? Have I, too, started to behave like one of these sweaty “machers”, despite my tailored Shanghai suits? In the end, am I a dentist or a butterfly?

I decided that I am a butterfly that dreamt of being a dentist. The decision made me lose some income, some hair, and a few months of sleep, but it was worth it and I’m not coming back.

I have, however, not given up completely on gathering some new business at conferences – and thus, in my next post, I will present my views on how to make a conference – any conference – good and valuable to its attendees without employing Ukrainian Vanessa May copycats…

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