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  • Writer's pictureKarl Walker-Finch

The school of buttons

Last week saw my daughter go back to school after the summer holidays. I watched with great pride as she dressed herself into her uniform again, taking a full minute to do each button on her polo shirt. She’s grown so much and is learning how to be more independent and yet there is still an infinite number of things that she’ll learn on her path to adulthood and getting a bit quicker at doing her buttons is one very small step.

Buttoning up my own shirt takes less than a minute to do all of them (what a boast!) yet once upon a time, I would have been fumbling for an eternity, like my daughter, to do just one.

Every new skill is difficult, it takes repetition and persistence to get better. Once you’ve got it honed it’s easy to forget the frustrations we faced as we didn’t immediately improve. The despondent times when we feel we’ll never be able to do it as well as that other person. That other person has undoubtedly practiced more than us.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.“


My daughter isn’t still going to be fumbling for a minute on every button in five years time because she’s going to do it, at least once, every single day. She’ll have her days where she’ll get frustrated and want my help, but the more she does it herself, the quicker she’ll get better.

Speaking to a young implant dentist recently I learned how she has technically placed quite a few dental implants, enough so that she should start feeling confident enough to start placing some simple ones independently. The problem is that every time things start to get a bit difficult, she gets her mentor to take over so now, despite having been present at many implant placements, she’s not built up the confidence in her own abilities to do it herself.

Whether it’s doing a button, placing an implant or making the perfect plum and chia seed jam (check out Kate’s Kitchen, seriously, the most insanely tasty jam ever (I know, I know, I’m a dentist I shouldn’t be advocating jam, there’s no added sugar though)).

You get better not by reading about it, not by watching someone else do it, but by doing it, day in, day out.

You have to learn about it first, and it helps massively if you can watch someone do it, but when the foundations are built, the only thing that’s going to build the house is repeatedly laying down brick upon brick.

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