Can’t Buy Me Love or Happiness

With so many great holidays to celebrate this time of year, there is one holiday in the bunch that will forever be my favorite– my anniversary!  It’s the anniversary of my farewell from a high intensity career in dentistry.  It has been 4 years, and it is so hard to believe that so much time has already passed.  It’s fitting that it all came to fruition around Thanksgiving, because gratitude is the one feeling that never wavers.  I know I made the right decision, and I’m so thankful those days are behind me.  What does waver, though, is my perception of my own level of success.  Sometimes I feel like I am exactly where I should be, and other times that annoying internal voice loves to convince me that I’m not successful enough.  You see, as someone who was drawn into the glitz and glamour of dentistry, I’ve had to work really hard to undo old beliefs and redefine success for myself over the past few years.  I had to let go of the respect.  I had to let go of the status.  I had to let go of the big money.

I had to let go of the idea that being important was the only way I could feel important in this world.

My questions around success struck me hard several months ago when I grabbed the local paper, and the front page said, “Faded Star, The Life and Times of Colorado’s Amanda Peterson.”  Do you know who Amanda Peterson is?  Maybe you remember Cindy Mancini and Ronald Miller.  Amanda was the actress who played the beautiful, popular, sensitive, and cool high school girl in Can’t Buy Me Love.  With the photo of Cindy Mancini adorning the front page of the paper, I stepped back in time and remembered how much I wanted to be her.  With a natural charm and an unequivocal beauty, she was who every young girl in the 80’s wanted to be.  She had it all!  Amanda Peterson’s charisma shone through into her character, and even seeing her photo in the paper almost 30 years later, all those feelings of admiration rushed back.  I could absolutely see how Ronald Miller and the rest of the world fell so in love with her.

Sadly, her story didn’t play out how you would have expected this charmed young lady’s life to unfold.  I can’t say I remember seeing much of her after that– until now.  Her rise to success was followed by years of personal struggle– a departure from a blossoming career, as well as a life of arrests for drugs, alcohol, and even child abuse– and eventually an early death.

How could the girl who had it all let it all go like this?

I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who seemed to have and be it all could not believe that herself and could be so unhappy.  I can’t know what caused her so much strife in her life.  Maybe it was mental illness or low self-esteem, or maybe she  simply didn’t enjoy her career the way many of us don’t enjoy our own careers.  That’s not for me to know, but what I do know is that her larger-than-life success wasn’t enough.  You can have all the success in the world, but if you don’t see it, it’s as if it doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t matter if the entire world sees your brilliance.  If you don’t believe it, it means nothing.  And it dawned on me that many of us go through this on different levels.  My own career success wasn’t enough for me, but to everyone who knew me, it seemed like I had it all too.  That was a lie.

I may have been successful on paper, but I was failing at life.  I was failing at being me. 

  I know this is the same for many of you out there because you tell me– a lot!  Today I ask you this: what good is our success if in achieving it, we fail in the other areas of our lives?  What good is career success if we fail to find time to support our own health, or if we neglect our families, or sacrifice our own happiness, or even if we hate our lives because of it?  That is not success.  My old definition of success obviously came at the expense of my own happiness, and though I know the truth, it still takes a lot of time and effort to undo many years of harboring old beliefs.

Of course success always comes with some level of sacrifice.  Some sacrifices are good, but some are not.  What are you sacrificing to be successful?  Are you stuck in a life that seems “successful” but is secretly tearing you apart?  Maybe success isn’t about the dollar signs, the title in front of your name, and what others perceive about you, but more about your own state of mind.  Maybe it’s time to reconsider it for yourself.  It may be hard work to undo those old beliefs, but I can tell you the trade-off is definitely worth it.


58 thoughts on “Can’t Buy Me Love or Happiness

  1. Well said Laura…Well said
    I’m so happy for you. I’m also glad I had the opportunity to meet your threw Dentistry. We will always have a special connection…

  2. Hi Laura
    Nice article.
    I feel exactly as you did when you were a dentist.
    Problem is I can’t find anything to replace it.
    I feel trapped, but I am still searching for my vocation.
    Thanks for your article, it’s inspirational.

    1. Hi Scott, Thanks! I had the same problem for many years and felt trapped! Keep searching. YOu will find it, or it will find you. Glad to hear from you. Good luck on your search, and let me know if I can help!

  3. Such an awesome post; you’re slightly ahead of me with the disappearing dental act. I haven’t practiced for three years now and couldn’t be happier and more fulfilled. I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and went through a bone marrow transplant last year, came back, hosed the office, and going back to school to do what? Who knows. Anything but something that requires a drill and a stressful day. Let me tell, who cares about money beyond the basics when you’re facing death. It has a way of changing your priorities and sorting out real friends from those that abandon you at your most vulnerable state (think, most of my dental classmates, not many of whom understood why I dropped out….it’s like this cult with dentistry). Perspective. Got divorced, sold the house, to boot. New page in my life helping others. Ride my bike more, moving to Europe next year to find myself. I have family there, so that helps. I’m so glad to be leaving the depressing rat race and weather behind in Chicago to join my parents and family on a Greek island, at least for awhile. Maybe I’ll write a book. I don’t have the Mercedes anymore, the mini-mansion, or the plastic friends. Good riddance. You have made the right decision, hence why I love your blog.

      1. Scott, you’re welcome to. I’ll tell you, I’m going through this personal renaissance. Who knows if I’ll be around in ten years. The last thing I wanna remember is relining a partial for someone that still owes me money, lol!

        1. This FUNNY comment about your last memory reminds me of the one very strong image that continued to drive me to make a change– I pictured myself waking up one morning at 65 years old, sitting on the side of my bed trying to convince myself to muster up the energy for another (miserable) day in the office, and shaking my head wondering why I wasted the majority of my life doing this every day of it. I didn’t want to waste my life away this way, and keeping that picture in mind was such a strong motivator!!

    1. Thanks, Cat III. Glad you liked it! It’s so cool to know that others out there can relate so well to these same things. Illness will definitely put things into perspective for you, won’t it? I think I remember you describing how people told you that you were lucky that you got sick, so you could leave dentistry?? I bet now in your wisdom you would tell everyone not to wait to let a health crisis be the catalyst to living your best life. A lot of people could learn a great deal from your experience. Of course it’s not the way anyone would choose, but it’s great that you used it to drive yourself in the direction you want to go. You mentioned the friends and a divorce. I was surprised by how a change like this does rearrange your relationships and show you who is your true friend and who chooses you for your status.

      Your plans sound fantastic!! I think I want to go too! I hope you don’t discount that you’ve spent your whole career helping others– even if it doesn’t feel like it because of how miserable some of it may have made you. But I’m curious to know… what are your plans for helping others in this next chapter. Do you know yet??

  4. You really have hit the nail on the head with that post. Redefining how we perceive success is a lengthy process. I gave up dentistry over 2 years ago and really don’t miss it but feel a lack of success. It’s a normal feeling I’m sure but in my times of feeling this o have to remind myself that it was just the wrong career for me. A poor choice I made years ago. Having said that I try not to dwell on it as there is little I can do to change that now. It’s far better that I decided to not let dentistry take up any more of my life. And for that I am happy.
    Thanks again for your post.

    1. That’s great to hear Mark. I never know if others have struggled with the same beliefs– it’s so good to know I’m not the only one! We all just need to shut out that inner voice that’s such a jerk!! I’m so glad you are happy with your decision too. I’m with you– no regrets!

  5. I enjoyed your post a lot. it gave a sort of a confort because I still ask myself should I leave or should I stay and I hope I will find the answers I need in the therapy I started more than 2 months ago.
    Thank you and happy holidays!

  6. Dear Lolabees,

    Happy New Year!

    I am so happy to find out about your new post. I am still struggling and thinking about it I should leave my dental studies. I have been looking for a major in my university that I am interested in, and I found out about social work. I would like to pursue the career of a counsellor, and the way for me to become one without spending more years on graduate studies is that transfer into the second year of the four-year social work programme of my school.

    Nevertheless, even though I found out about what I could turn to if I quit dentistry, I am afraid that I will make the wrong choice. On one hand, dentistry made my life miserable. And just like how you put it, this trivial “success” is not real when it takes away your soul or does not allow you to handle other aspects of life. I have been putting my life on hold just for studying dentistry. I do not want my life to be like this anymore. I want change, especially now the new year has come. On the other hand, my dad, my elder sister and my dental classmates have been discouraging me from quitting dentistry. They think that I am giving up a career which has a good prospect. They also think that I should continue to study dentistry for 3.5 more years to get my licence first before I decide if I want to quit or not. However, I know that I have no strength to carry on with my dental studies. If I continue to stay in the BDS programme, I know I will get depression or other mental illnesses.

    I am so upset about this situation. Your blog post has definitely cheered me up. I am still afraid, but I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

    Thank you very much for your post. Congratulations to your anniversary! I am so happy for you on making the right choice for your life.

    BDS thrid year student from Hong Kong

    1. Great to hear back from you again. Glad you found this new post (you can subscribe and get an email every time I write a new post, in case you haven’t done that.)

      I completely understand your fear about making the wrong choice. I felt and still do feel the same way. Despite that, I also know that sometimes we have to make the wrong choices in order to find the right one. It’s better to make a move than to stay paralyzed by your fear. You know?? You have an uphill battle to fight, and it won’t be easy… especially with the opinions of your family. I bet 90% of us on this blog have that obstacle too. But it will be worth it. I’m so sorry you’re struggling. A lot of us here know how you feel. Please keep in touch, and keep us posted!

      1. “we have to make the wrong choices in order to find the right one. Its better to make a move than to stay paralyzed by your fear”. I couldn’t agree more, it is the paralysis that is soul crushing. Thanks for the push 😉

      2. Dear Lolabees,

        How are you? I am so happy to come back here with a new identity. I am currently a year 2 Bachelor of Arts student in Hong Kong instead of a dental student! Semester 1 of my journey in BA has started in Septemeber and I am now immersing myself in 19th century English literature and mid-term revision. And I am truly happy despite being busy.

        I am very grateful to you for your blog posts and encouragement. Your story and kindness in sharing your struggles allowed me to reflect on my life. By the end of January this year, I have finally made up my mind to apply for internal transfer in my school.

        I spent 2 months sitting in lectures of majors that I am interested in, including English Studies, Linguistics, Psychology and Counselling. Eventually, I have made up my mind to transfer to the Bachelor of Arts programme becuase it allows great flexibility in choosing majors. I have more time and room to explore my interest before deciding on which specific

        1. Opps… Sorry for pressing the wrong button.

          Let me continue with updating you of my new direction in life:

          I have more time and room to explore my interest before deciding on which specific subject to major in. Since I was in high school, I have been loving reading English novels and books. It became clear that I should follow my heart. I believe that no matter how hard it may seem to monetize my BA degreee in the future, I would be willing to work hard for this than continuing on the deoressing path of dentistry.

          After submitting my application for transfer in mid-April, I waited anxiously for the offer from the Faculty of Arts.

          Finally in early August, they sent me an email of acceptance. I got advanced standing for my past 3 years of studies, so I could enter into year 2 of the 4-year BA programme directly. I am planning to major in English Studies, and maybe a second major in French or language and Communication.

          This is my story so far. It was scary at times. I am so grateful for the support and help from my counsellor, academic adviser, my boyfriend, my friends and siblings. Without them behind my back, I would not be able to summon up my courage and make this decision to change my life for the better. I was even brave enough to speak directly to my father about my decision. He has always hoped that I could stay on the dentistry path because he considers hardship as an inevitable part of life and I should as well suck it up and keep going. I have decided that I am 21 years old already, so I should take responsibility for my life and not let the opinions of others influence my decision.

          I did what I knew would be best for me. And life opened up a new door for me to develop my interest. I would not expect it to be esy, but I have learnt that it is never too late to make the change necessary for our own happiness. No money could buy me love or happiness indeed.

          Thank you very much again, Lolabees! I sincerely wish you a happy life for whatever you do.

          Best wishes,
          2nd year Bachelor of Arts Student from Hong Kong

  7. Can’t wait until the moment I return to this page to post that I officially left dentistry too! The power of positive thought.
    My husband just doesn’t completely understand the concept and definitely not on board with the sacrifice to help me escape :/ I understand his concerns– but it is my literal sanity and happiness at stake and this in turn effects his own happiness. We have a young daughter and I’m being told I’m selfish. It will mean I’m there for her 100% of the time; how is this selfish? He will have to drive further since we wouldn’t be able to afford where we live now, but he has a set retirement date and it’s not far away.. But too far away for me to continue to do dentistry and then move when he’s done.
    I’m trying to work on a new career (from home) that seems saturated at this point– but hey u never know.
    Praying for an answer sooner then later.
    Thanks Lollabees!

    1. Hi Cats. I can’t wait for that either! You can do it! Sounds like if your husband isn’t so keen on you quitting, then finding an alternative before you leave dentistry is your best bet. That’s what I did! I worked part-time in dentistry and part-time in my other business for a while. What is the new career you’re working on?

      1. Thanks Lola, yes, that would be easier to have another set career before the transition..but UGH I can’t it will take too long for any income stream. I want to food blog. Love to cook (healthy/nourished/chemical free etc.), take pictures teach others etc.
        would you mind sharing how long it took before you started generating income from this blog?

        1. We have some similar interests!! I don’t really make much money at all from this blog. It’s really a labor of love, and that’s probably clear based on my lack of recent posts. 😉 If I made money from it, I’d have to add more content more often. I actually like that the pressure isn’t there to do that. I spend enough time in front of my computer as it is. That’s another thing to think about– would you want to be at your computer so much. I do recommend blogging for fun at first if that is something you love… it will open your world, and who knows what may come to you!!

  8. Belated Happy New Year. I merrily jumped the dental ship almost four years ago due to relocation for husband’s job and love life as a full time mom of two little ones. The only problemmio is finding the plan B. Half intelligent, lots of transferable skills, etc. but unable to channel this into any productive, low stress, family friendly earner. Aware that these are still my earning years and there will be only a piddly pension pot if I don’t win the lotto, sell a kidney or come up with a plan. Also want to set a good example to my kids as a contributor to our family finances. Really keen to hear of other paths you & your readers have found or can suggest. Honestly still feel full of potential but ashamed of no concrete plan.

    1. Flosstastic, so sorry for the late reply! I’m so glad you were able to find a better path for yourself. I completely understand the idea of wanting to be a contributor and a good example for you children– I think that’s an innate part of our personalities as dental people. I do think a bit of exploring is a great way to start… plan b is hard to find. And I think we want to have it all with our plan b– which I believe is totally possible! What do you like to do? Do you have any interests?

  9. Thanks, Lolabees!!
    I have also found “comfort” in knowing I haven’t been alone in feeling trapped in the Dentist career. I found I was a very good and competent dentist… you know.. “good hands” and all. But, I slowly felt my soul being crushed every day. But what could I do??? I had literally devoting my entire life into getting into dental school…getting thru the process with high grades… and making a living. So, I decided to see if specialty training could be better. So, I did that!!! More school, more devotion to the craft. Still… feel like a square peg in a round hole. Have you ever heard of a specialist leaving the “craft” ?? you know… the ‘golden ticket’ of Ortho??? just wondering…

    1. Class II, so sorry for my late reply! I was just like you describe yourself. Was great at what I did, but I never quite felt that. Oddly it’s funny to hear you say that about ortho. I went to dental school because I wanted to be an orthodontist. Once I got to school, I realized I didn’t want to have to be #1 or 2 in my class and go to more school, so I never pursued it. But there was always a piece of me that thought maybe the grass was greener. I don’t necessarily think it is. I do not know of any orthos writing in here, but I do know someone who seems unhappy. She has never said so, but I see her pursuing other options… I think it’s probably not entirely uncommon that some of the orthos out there are unhappy too.

  10. I do love your articles and courage to really pursue what you want out of life! EVEN after all of the dental training. Yes… dentists are a “clan” of people that eat their own – so to speak- if someone goes a stray. I was very unhappy with General dentistry so I worked hard and went into Orthodontics….hate to say it, but not that much happier doing this. I mean… who gives up the “golden ticket” of ortho??? That’s what I’m going thru… my entire life has been devoted to dentistry… I stared out as a dental assistant in the military at 17 years of age… So, I’m constantly trying to find my niche while utilizing my education. I’m am so proud of you and your courage.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. You make another interesting point in this comment– even after having some experience as an assistant, you found it still wasn’t right for you. I always thought that would be an indicator, but clearly it isn’t. Do you have an exit strategy??

  11. I also quit the profession back in 2010. After only 3 years of practice, my body, brain and spirit couldn’t take anymore. I’m staying home with the kids while I hone my photography and graphic design skills. I only wish I quit sooner. I think if we started with more dentistry during the first year of school, I would have left right away. I enjoyed the general science classes. By the third year, I was way too deep into debt to leave. Luckily, my husband is a really great earner and is helping me to pay off the debt. Thanks for sharing your story online. I can really relate to so much.

    1. Hi Sherry,
      You’re so lucky that you knew early and didn’t waste many years in the career. Sounds like you’re on to something really great. Congrats! I love hearing from others like us who have been able to make the leap! I hope you’ll keep in touch and let us know your next career move.

    2. Hi Sherry, maybe Lolabees can put us in touch w/ each other because your story sounds all too similar to mine! Although I have never really quit. I keep chipping away at it, and have found jobs that weren’t as terrible as some, and I like contributing financially, even though my soul is being sucked right out of me each day I stay in! I keep hoping that the day will come when we can financially swing me never going back. Hoping it happens in the next few years. I mostly stay home with kids because there is no way I could do it full time.

      1. Hi Julie, Yes definitely. I’ve been off dentistry for 6 years now (time sure flies when you’re having fun) and I don’t regret it at all. I’ve had two kids and took many online classes to train me for my new career. I’ve finally made the break into going pro with my new life as an artist and I’m happy that I can contribute financially in something that I am very passionate about and love doing. It didn’t happen overnight but took many, small gradual steps. I still have a way to go but I’m very happy with my choice.

  12. I came across your blog posts, and so much of what you say reflects my own experience. For me though, it was nursing, and I was still in school when I decided to quit. It doesn’t compare to someone like you who went through 4 years of dental school and 10 years of actually working as a dentist before finding the strength to leave, but the feeling is similar. I understand that chronic unhappiness when you choose to continue doing something for $$ that makes you miserable, and that jubilation when you let it go.

    It was the hardest decision ever made for me to quit nursing. My only regret in life is that I put so much effort to get in and endure the schooling (despite my misery) when I shouldn’t have bothered. Even though my grades were solid, I could handle the stress, etc. it just wasn’t who I was. It seems you realized that a few years in as a practicing dentist, but outside pressure kept you from leaving. Too often I remember telling myself, “This is my last day,” only to keep going back. Then before an exam, I just couldn’t bring myself to continue. I’d have to be forced to do it to survive at that point to keep going.

    In conclusion, you can’t put a price on your mental well-being.

    1. Hi JWCK, I’m so glad to hear from another healthcare pro. It may be a little less school, but I do think leaving your profession is very similar to leaving dentistry, and you explain exactly why here. Regardless of how much time we invested, you probably went into the field thinking it was going to be an amazing career for your life and became very emotionally invested, and you still worked very hard to get yourself there. And… walking away from anything so significant is really hard. I think that leaving any profession for a new one is really hard. Change is hard for most people, so we drag our feet until we can’t anymore. Anyway, it’s so amazing to me how some things are universal for so many different people.

      I relate to what you say. Just to add a different perspective to your regret… maybe you needed to go through this experience to get to where you are now. Maybe without it and without being forced to make a difficult decision like this, your life would have turned out completely different! I wish I loved dentistry. My life would have been so much easier, but I think going through the hard times I did help me appreciate how happy I can be. And I absolutely agree– you can’t put a price on your mental well-being!

      What do you do now?

      1. I’ve read many of your blog posts in the career change area now and it’s really amazing how similar are mindsets are. Just here, reading how you wished you loved dentistry reflected how I felt about nursing. I wish I could have loved it. It (like everything these days, it seems) was competitive to get into, I made friends who I felt I let down by leaving (that may have been worse than actually leaving ironically), I took a student position from someone who may have ended up loving nursing, and nursing provided a seemingly stable future. That’s why it was hard to leave; not because I enjoyed it, but because of the above.

        As for what I do now, I’ve very recently published several e-book fantasy novels. I actually began writing the first one while I was still in nursing school, and I knew I had a problem since I should have been using that time studying. Writing, however, has provided more fulfillment than any previous job/education I’ve had. I hope to make some sort of future out of it. Right now, it’s an opportunity for change which I’m proud to take; successfully or not.

        Since you’ve already got me talking about it, and as a sales rep of sorts yourself, you’ll understand how I’d feel ashamed for not even offering a link.

    1. Thanks, Kiran. You too! It’s so true. They say that success (whatever that is to us) come AFTER happiness… and ironically we often think that happiness comes after we have the money, respect, or success.

  13. Your observations are so true! I learned from the expats in Honduras that everyone is searching…for idealism, that which they lost, that which they never had, or contentment in anything but what made them run away.

  14. Hi lolabees, I haven’t visited in a few years and came upon my old wordpress account and noticed yours was the only blog I was still following. (I replied to an older comment in a different post of yours as well.) I really liked this post. All of the “glitz and glamour” you mention was what attracted me to dentistry in the first place several years ago. Failed two cycles to get accepted, have since made a few less than great financial and personal decisions and then had to go through the interesting and unpredictable process of getting to know myself better.

    And you’re right. Once you’ve uncovered yourself or “undone” as you say the layers that have been put on by so many anonymous hands, and you start believing in yourself, your deep down self, it’s like you become a whole new person and don’t regret it one bit. You feel sexy everyday! But it’s funny because we’re like really just becoming who we’ve always been. Nature has a great sense of humor like that.

    You have a great writing style.

    1. Hi Folken,
      Yes, I remember you! Great to hear from you again. It’s funny that you say, ” we’re really just becoming who we’ve always been.” When I left dentistry, I used to say, “I feel like a new person, no wait, I feel like myself!”

      Tell me what now for you… are you still working towards this life in dentistry?

      1. Nah, no glitzy dental life for me. I am in the process of getting assigned a class start date for Officer Training School to be an officer in the US Air Force. In terms of down the road, I can be happy with just about any day job that takes care of my and my son’s needs; I just want to set a good example for him and also maybe hopefully make some original contributions in mathematics and physics. That would be pretty tight. It feels great to have unlocked my inner confidence and self-acceptance.

        What about you today?

        1. Oh wow, that’s great! Don’t worry– dentistry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! It’s not so glitzy after all. 😉 I’m so glad to hear that you are on the path that is right for you. This math and physics thing sounds very interesting…

          As for me, I’m still doing the weight loss and anti-aging care. To sum it up, I help people look and feel better! And I’m working on a book… we’ll see where that takes me. It’s really what has distracting me from blogging lately! Nice to hear from you and glad you are doing so well!

  15. hello, so at the end do you finished your dentistry? im also a dental student but its on my 4th year and i dislike the doctors, patients etc. very stressful to me. how do you finished at the end? im really confused if i drop out what should i do because i dont have any idea instead of keep drowing deeper into it. your blog is inspiring though x

    1. Applepies,
      I practiced dentistry for 10 years! I never really had doubts while in school– I thought it would get better in the real world. Being in the real world and practicing dentistry definitely has its pros and cons. It’s hard but has its rewards. Glad you liked the blog, and i hope to hear more about your journey! If you decide to drop out, what do you like to do? Maybe you can find something that brings you more joy and less stress!

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