Regardless of how you define success, that definition has to include an economic reality.

“To me, it's not about money – it's all about family and raising my kids the right way.” Maybe that's how you define success, and there is no denying that family fulfillment can be the ultimate measure of a life well-lived. But that commitment to family comes with an economic reality, too: the reality of supporting your family day to day, the reality of giving your kids access to the experiences that can shape them as adults, the reality of providing college educations and a financial safety net in case of critical situations. The fact is, if you are truly committed to providing the best opportunities for your family, there is no escaping the economic component.

There's another version I hear from dentists sometimes: “To me, it's not about the money – it's about the quality of care I deliver to patients.” Again, this is a noble sentiment, but the reality is that money matters. If you can't deliver care in a profitable way, you won't be able to afford the upgrades in technology and education that allow you keep on top of the profession, and ultimately you'll be out of business and not providing care to anyone. And think of it this way: if you were a patient, which dentist would you trust more to give you an objective diagnosis – the one who is struggling to make his financial commitments, or the one who has achieved a measure of economic success so that he has no pressing financial concerns?

Most things you do in life have an economic factor. There are things you do that support your economics (like driving case acceptance) and things you do that depend on support from your economics (like being able to reinvest in your clinical environment). You can never fully separate money from the success equation, and in my opinion you shouldn't try. To me, real success means doing well while doing good, because the better you do economically, the more choices you have to support all things – inside and outside the practice – that are meaningful to you.