Living in Daytight Compartments

One of my favorite books is a book by Dale Carnegie called “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. In the very first chapter Mr. Carnegie introduces a simple but very powerful concept. He tells the story of Sir William Osler who was addressing the students at Yale University, and describing the secret to his success:

“What, then, was the secret of his success? He stated that it was owing to what he called living in “day-tight compartments.” What did he mean by that? A few months before he spoke at Yale, Sir William Osler had crossed the Atlantic on a great ocean liner where the captain, standing on the bridge, could press a button and—presto!—there was a clanging of machinery and various parts of the ship were immediately shut off from one another—shut off into watertight compartments.

“Now each one of you,” Dr. Osler said to those Yale students, “is a much more marvellous organization than the great liner, and bound on a longer voyage. What I urge is that you so learn to control the machinery as to live with ‘day-tight compartments’ as the most certain way to ensure safety on the voyage. Get on the bridge, and see that at least the great bulkheads are in working order. Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past—the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future—the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe—safe for today! … Shut off the past! Let the dead past bury its dead…. Shut out the yesterdays which have lighted fools the way to dusty death…. The load of tomorrow, added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter. Shut off the future as tightly as the past…. The future is today…. There is no tomorrow.

The day of man’s salvation is now. Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future…. Shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life of ‘day-tight compartments.’ ”

Mr. Carnegie went on to say:

“Did Dr. Osler mean to say that we should not make any effort to prepare for tomorrow? No. Not at all. But he did go on in that address to say that the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.” (Excerpt From: Dale Carnegie. “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” iBooks.) 

I have found that it is very challenging in dentistry to live in the present. We do so many challenging procedures every day and some times they don’t go perfectly. It’s hard to not think and worry about all the things we wish would have gone differently at the office. Likewise we have so much to do tomorrow. So many patients with treatment that will challenge our skills and abilities. It’s hard to not think about that upcoming case and not worry about all the steps that we have to get right and what if they go wrong.

I am finding more and more that as I really make the effort to let yesterday go–I can’t go back and change it in any way–and let the things of tomorrow take care of themselves, my stress level is a little less. I sleep just a little better. I can focus better on the task at hand and the quality of my care is a little higher.

Dentistry is a challenging and often stressful work. Master the concept of living in day tight compartments and you will enjoy a happier and more fulfilling career.

–Marcus Neff DDS

Dr’s. Neff, Stevens, and Waldron are co-authors of the book “So You Want to be a Dentist?: What you Must Know to Succeed in Dentistry”.  The book can be purchased at, the iBookstore,, and many other digital retailers.

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