Would you want to live in a community where there were no fire fighters or dentists?
Most of us want to be able to get to the dentist quickly if we have an emergency, and of course we want fire fighters to get to our homes even more quickly if our house is on fire. What strikes me as interesting about these two professions is that the main problems they addressed a hundred years ago – tooth decay and fires – have plummeted to historic lows today.
There was a time when tooth decay was prevalent in every city and town. But then came fluoride and prevention education, and now dentists see far less severe dental disease than they would have seen only a few decades ago.
Also, since humans began living in structures and coming up with ways to light the darkness, the word “fire” struck fear in the heart like no other. But then came new building materials, new building codes, and (again) prevention education, and now fire fighters fight fewer fires (say that five times fast) than ever before.
Both professions reinvented themselves to focus on prevention. Dentists didn’t chant “fluoride toothpaste will kill our business!”. Fire fighters didn’t lobby against fire-resistant shingles or Smokey The Bear commercials.
Assuming you are neither a dentist nor a fire fighter (or even a fire-fighting dentist for that matter) then its not likely that society will view your job as essential when the pain points that created your role in the first place begin to recede.
If there is a fluoride equivalent that will eliminate your employer’s pain, will you fight against it, or admit that a world without tooth decay is a better world (while finding the next pain point that you can solve)?
There is still plenty of terrible tooth decay in the developing world. And while there might not be many fires in your neighborhood, there unfortunately will be quite a few this summer in California. So a dentist who wants to be surrounded by dental emergencies only needs to go to another country, and a fire fighter who wants to fight life-threatening fires might find more action in the US Forest Service than in the local fire house.
Sometimes pain goes away entirely, and sometimes it simply moves. Either we need to move to where the pain goes, or we need to stay where we are and reinvent ourselves.