Beyond Happydale

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Beyond Happydale

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Those of you who know Charley Varipapa, know that he has a larger-than-life personality, combined with this ability to laugh at life, himself, and then to get you to laugh at yourself. And all the while, Charley is usually sneaking in a funny story which is totally self-revealing – as he creates a little learning moment -tied up in a belly laugh.

And if you were to ask Charley where he learned how to do that, he would tell you, “I am just channeling Phyllis, my Italian mother.”

I met Charley for the first time at the Pankey Institute in the late 90’s. His stories and mindset had the whole class laughing and functioning cohesively within just a few hours.

But there was a lot more going on than just Charley’s joking around. When I pulled him to the side during a wine-facilitated evening learning session, I found out more. It turned out that Charley was dead serious about changing his very, very successful practice.

Charley told me that he had grown tired of Happydale, and was now ready to move on. “Happydale? I asked, What the hell is Happydale?”

Charley told me that Happydale was when Mrs, Fellocotti (one of the many metaphorical people Charley would invent to drive home a point) brings a homemade cake to the office because you had been so “nice” to her.

“Yes”, I said, “but what is wrong with that? And how is it related to Happydale?”

“Well”, Charley said, “just because you are being nice and making a lot of money, doesn’t mean that your patients are getting any more healthy or making good decisions. Mrs. Fellocotti still has that crappy partial denture, and was happy that I had agreed to repair her failing crown with an amalgam patch.”

“Oh”, I said, “I think I am beginning to understand. Being nice has nothing to do with effective leadership.”

“Yep”, Charley said, “Sometimes people have to learn about what they don’t want to hear, because it is in their best interest. And Happydale is a place where that doesn’t happen often enough. That is why I am here – to try and learn how to help people make better decisions.”

That conversation launched my friendship with Charley- now over 20 years old. We went on to form the BBSC about a year later with Johnson Hagood. And Charley went on to sell his practice in Southern Maryland and start a new one from scratch in Old Town Alexandria, VA.

His new office was in an attractive mid-1800’s federal style row house right in the center of the revitalized downtown. This time, he chose to have only two treatment rooms – one for himself, and one for his part-time hygienist. And walking in the door of this new office created a feeling of impeccable style and class- like entering of a very sophisticated but unpretentious person’s home- all of it personally designed by Charley.

It was him.

He was it.

But they would come to see him, not just it.

And they would come to laugh with him and to learn more about themselves through stories and experience. Eventually, and often times immediately, they would ask him to help them out.

So, he did.

As result, Charley discovered that he was a lot happier practicing dentistry in this new way, and that his patients were a lot happier about what his dentistry could do for them.

And he still gets the homemade baked goods, hugs, and much more- but Mrs. Fellocotti is nowhere to be found.

(Office tours and great stories are available by appointment only)

Paul A. Henny, DDS

Thought Experiments LLC, ©2018


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