stacked stones in foreground of sunset over beach

NOTE: I wrote this article back in February. Obviously, since that time, many things have changed. My first impulse was to pull it from the publication schedule. But after reading it over, I realized that the themes I address here are just as relevant today, if not more so. I offer it now in its original form, along with some new thoughts, in italics, to provide additional context for the times we are in.

I recently returned from a wonderfully restorative trip to Australia and Fiji. There was some business involved, but the trip was planned to celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday, and I was able to enjoy many days with nothing more pressing on my agenda than watching the ocean waves and thinking.

Imtiaz Manji standing on beachhouse deck overlooking ocean

I believe getaways like this are more vitally important than many people realize. We live in a hyper-connected, fast moving society where it is often easy to feel like you are just along for the ride. There are days when you feel invincible and energetic, days when you just get by in “cruise control” mode, and days that bring exceptional stress. It’s easy to get caught up in these cycles and be a reactive participant in your own life.

That’s why it’s important to break the cycle and take time away regularly—to remove yourself from the noise of everyday life and reconnect with your vision, re-examine your values, and think about what you want to do in the months ahead. It’s an exercise I try to do once a quarter, with at least one major vision-setting retreat once a year. [Right now, of course, we have a lot more time to reflect. I strongly suggest you use that time to focus on what you can do with what you’ve got, moving forward through this crisis and beyond.]

COVID-19 RESOURCES: Discover Spear Online webinars and other virtual resources for support during this challenging time. Spear is here to help you mitigate the financial impact to your practice and prepare your team to treat patients once operations return to normal.

As I get older, I find that my focus for these retreats has changed. I think less about material success, and more about achieving real growth in a holistic way. In fact, that is the subject of a book I’m planning to write, which I want to call “Fulfilthy Rich.” The premise is that being truly wealthy is about feeling rich with a sense of fulfilment.

So to get back to this particular trip, there are few things in particular that I reflected on that I wanted to share with you.

The first is the concept of the “inner voice.” That is the running commentary that runs through our brains all the time and can have a powerful impact on our state of being, for better or worse. Your inner voice can give you strength that lifts you up, or it can limit or even paralyze you. [This is a concept that has extra significance now, when you need to train your inner voice to silence doubts and to give you support and encouragement.]

This really hit home for me when I was about to go on a dive in Fiji. We were on the boat and moments from hitting the water when my inner voice started filling me with doubts. I hadn’t been diving for quite a while and felt out of practice. I had never dived in this part of the world and didn’t know what to expect. Should I really be doing this? I suddenly found myself seized with anxiety.

Luckily, we were led by an experienced divemaster who noticed my frame of mind and very calmly spoke with me and walked me through what was going to happen. The words he spoke and his sense of quiet confidence gave me the confidence I needed to trust him and to trust myself. It ended up being one of the best, most memorable dives I have ever been on.

That experience reminded me of just how much impact we can have on one another, using nothing more than our calming presence and a few well-chosen words. I have been lucky to have many people in my life who provide that influence when I need it, and I have been blessed to be able to provide my influence on others as well.

And that leads me to one more observation about words and the influence we bring to others. Specifically, I am thinking about the culture we create in our workplace, and how certain words are central to that culture. I have given this considerable thought, and after much reading and research, along with personal experience, I have come to believe that culture can be defined this way: “A collection of beliefs, upon which people build their behaviors. This has a compounding effect over time when lived daily.”

A large part of living that daily experience comes down to the words we use. So as part of my creative process, I thought about isolating three words that have special significance to me—these are what I call “growth words” that inspire me to continue to evolve as an individual and to remain passionate about being “fulfilthy rich.”

The first word is INNOVATE, which we obviously associate with creation and invention. But to me it is also about contextualizing how you want to live your life. I have always been committed to being an innovator, which is not necessarily about creating whole new inventions. Sometimes it’s about creating new ways to work within the systems we have. Uber, for example, did not invent cars, or GPS, or cell phones. But they did invent a transformative new transportation experience using those existing paradigms. We should always remember that great innovation often occurs within the context of what you are already doing. Personally, I have no plans to stop growing and evolving. In fact, I anticipate that these next couple of years will be one of my most exciting periods of innovation. [I still believe this to be true—not only for me, but for the nation. American ingenuity has always come through in times of crisis, and this challenge will be no different. We will emerge from these times stronger and wiser and with new tools and strategies to face the next challenge.]

The second word is MOTIVATE, and the insight I have had here is that any real motivation begins from within. As a leader, I have spent a good portion of my career aligning others around a vision and motivating them to the highest levels of performance. But I realize that the only really success I have achieved has come when I was truly motivated myself and was able to bring that authentic energy to the people around me. In other words, motivation isn’t something you give to your team; it’s something you share with them.

[I meditate to get myself centered every morning. In these times, I find it especially important to focus on programming my mind and my heart to be optimistic, to focus on possibilities, and to motivate the people around me to be their best. I remind myself that I was built for this—to be a leader in a time of crisis, and to focus myself so that I can come through for my family, my team, all our clients, and for dentistry.  I know that it’s only when I am in my best frame of mind that I can help others to optimize their mindsets.]

With those personalized definitions for those two words in mind, I then meditated on the word SIGNIFICANCE. That’s because I have made it my life’s work to have a real impact on the world around me. And achieving that kind of meaningful significance means being able to take what I do when I innovate, combine it with my ability to motivate, and thereby scale my efforts in those areas in a way that creates exciting change not just for me but for the people in my orbit.

[Coincidentally, my appreciation for the word significance has taken on new significance, as I think about the impact we at Spear can have for our clients during this urgent time. I continue to be amazed at how many heroes we have in this organization and how hard they are working to provide relevant, just-in-time content to our clients. And I am inspired by the urgent, smart, and creative response I am seeing from leaders throughout the dental community. We all need to be paying attention to the significance of what we are doing each day as we move through this crisis.]

I hope this gives you some inspiration for how you might focus your thoughts during your next retreat. Ask yourself: What principles do I need to reconnect with? What is my inner voice telling me? Do I need to change what it is saying? What are my “growth words” that will inspire me? What would make me feel fulfilthy rich?

Imtiaz Manji is co-founder and chairman of Spear Education. Discover more of his practice management and leadership lessons at


Commenter's Profile Image Carl S.
April 5th, 2020
Motivating and helpful in these trying times. The leaders will emerge in a favorable light Stay safe Carl
Commenter's Profile Image Shawn T.
April 5th, 2020
Your consistency in providing calming focus and insight in good times as well as challenging times is appreciated and comforting. Many thanks to you and the Spear family for the support as individuals and a community.
Commenter's Profile Image Marcia B.
April 8th, 2020
Imtiaz, thank you so much for your graceful words . In these challenging times, you and the rest of your colleagues at Spear have been an inspiration and calming influence as I communicate with my team and my patients. Keep it coming!