“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – C.S. Lewis
As I reflect on my childhood now as an adult, I realize that my upbringing was quite a bit different than most people experience. Sadly, my mother fought a debilitating psychological condition which we now understand was obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This completely altered her life and, as her children, it completely changed my life and my sister’s as well.
If my mother believed something was contaminated, it would have to be washed excessively or thrown away. This applied to clothes, toys, even money. My sister and I did everything possible to avoid triggering our mother’s uncontrollable need to wash or discard everything in our home. We spent our childhood walking on eggshells, and we were often viewed as contaminated ourselves. Imagine being a child who had to take three, four, five, even six baths a day until your mother felt you were clean. On the upside, I was an exceptionally clean child. I suppose it is not surprising that I became a hygienist!
Looking back, I choose to see the positive impact my unconventional childhood had on my life. In the words of Carlos Castaneda, “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” My mother’s condition gave me an extraordinary gift–the ability to see situations and people differently. It taught me to look at why people act the way they do, to understand what triggers their fears, to identify their stressors and read their body language. It taught me that truly understanding people’s motivation will help you be better at anything you do. And for me personally, if I truly understand my “why,” I’m able to come from a place of love, infuse it into everything I do, and make better decisions for myself and those around me.
My mom shaped my understanding of people, but it was a traumatic bike accident that sent me head first (literally) into dentistry. When I was eight years old, I went over the handlebars of my bicycle. I was banged up and knocked myself AND tooth number 8 out. It was a long, grueling journey of surgeries, root canals, crowns, bridges, apicoectomies, tooth loss and implants. Along with extensive physical damage, I suffered emotional scars that were hard to heal. It affected my smile and confidence for years. It helped me understand how it feels to be afraid to smile and how heartbreaking it can be to be made fun of for your teeth.
As traumatic as it was, I hit the jackpot with the dental team that took care of me that day in Gainesville, Ga. They were extremely kind to me and eased my fears. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a dental professional. I wanted to help others and be able to give the gift of a confident smile.
Eventually, my mom abandoned my sister and me, and fortunately we were cared for by my loving and supportive grandparents until I was a teenager. They were my rocks and taught me the true meaning of honesty, integrity and love. Then, at the age of 15, I went to live with my father. He had no experience with raising children, so this was hard on both of us. He treated me like an employee rather than his daughter. He put me to work at his heating and air conditioning business and I spent the weekends painting and cutting grass at his rental properties. I did the laundry, took care of the house, and also worked at a local veterinarian hospital. I squeezed all of this in while keeping up with school work and playing sports. This was a hard time for me because I was working so hard and had no emotional support system.
My dad was very strict and ended up kicking me out of the house three times – twice in high school and once in college. Imagine being 16 years old, coming home from school and finding all of your belongings stuffed in your car with no place to go. But instead of letting this roadblock define me, I plowed right through it. I found a place to rent and worked to support myself. I had become resilient, not defeated. And by 17, coaches and teachers stepped in and became my support system.
One of the happiest moments of my life was graduating from high school with a scholarship. I headed to college with a full year of tuition covered. But I needed a cheap place to live. My dad said I could not live with him and his new wife, but I could rent one of his properties for $125 per month. I thought this was great! I found a roommate and charged $200 per month to help pay for the bills. I worked a handful of odd jobs to help make ends meet. At the end of the year, I transferred to Gainesville Community College where I began to take my dental hygiene classes. In the last year of dental hygiene school, I told my father about the extra rent I was charging. A few days later a certified eviction letter came in the mail because I was “stealing $75 a month in rent.”
This was a very low point in my life, but I pushed through it and it made me stronger. It made me self-sufficient. To this day I do not understand where my father’s resentment and coldness comes from, but I’ve grown to accept it. I chose a positive path, and this is where my motivation for life was born. I realized that I could take my ability to understand people, their personalities and what made them thrive, and use it to help others. I just didn’t know how yet.
Fast-forward to the early 2000’s. I was now a hygienist, and I was struggling with fertility and needed flexibility in my schedule to make all of the doctor’s appointments. I ended up temping in over 100 practices. I saw teams that worked well together, and teams that didn’t, and offices that didn’t have the right environment or the right core values and personalities to work well together. I saw a need and created a website to help everyone in our profession find the right job. I always say I gave birth to triplets–twin girls and DentalPost. The rest is history!
My upbringing, struggles with my parents and observations of my mother’s OCD have shaped my style of leadership. I treat my team like family. My purpose is clear: to create the personal safety and the freedom of choice that I longed for as a child, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s important to me to have a work culture that feels safe, supportive and productive. And I love helping dental practices across the country do the same.
Everyone has their story and it shapes all of our needs and desires. I’ve learned we can turn hardship into motivation and create positives out of negatives in any situation. I work every day to help practices create a thriving culture where everyone can bring their unique gifts to the table.