Finding strength is hard in dark times, but not impossible. Three principles helped me overcome family and mental health challenges to become a successful, fulfilled family man and dentist.


COMING FROM a financially unstable home with two working parents, it was difficult for me to understand my purpose. My older brother was a basketball star, while my younger brother was the apple of my parents’ eye. I was the middle child, and by age 11, I was on a path of self-destruction, dabbling in drugs, alcohol and gangs.

Luckily, by my late teens, I started waking up—not because my life got easier, but rather because it became harder. My parents divorced, which set in motion a whole string of unfortunate events. We lived in 10 different houses in just two years and I jumped from school to school, failing eighth grade and being forced to drop out due to an inability to establish legal residence in California. I knew only one thing: I was tired of that kind of life.

A few years later, I earned my GED to fulfill the requirement for a church service mission to Honduras. Two years apart from my family and friends helped me focus on helping people and serving the needy. It was monumental in creating a positive environment that also facilitated a mindset of success. Then something big happened—I developed a passion for dentistry while serving as translator for a medical brigade. Watching our dentists selflessly give new smiles to people I had grown to love opened the door to a new life: a life of dentistry.

Even though I now had clarity and motivation, those attributes didn’t make my path to dentistry any easier. I had to overcome my fourth-grade reading level, more financial challenges and juggling life as a husband and father determined to be present and provide stability for my family. The experience taught me three basic principles I’ve used to accomplish my goals ever since.

Let your past become a strength. I credit my older brother for helping me see the value in challenges. Rather than be embarrassed by mistakes or limitations, or shutting them out, I let every challenge, failure and success serve as proof that nothing is impossible. This mindset also makes it easier to view new challenges as speed bumps relative to what I’ve been through.

Always try to be better. Sounds simple, right? Not to everyone. I battled major depression, thoughts of suicide and unhealthy life choices. I had to find my own strategies for self-improvement. Doing so is the equivalent of having blinders on that keep me from competing with anyone but myself or comparing myself to others.

You don’t need to do it alone. There’s enormous power within us all when we stop being too hard on ourselves and start appreciating our progress.

Stay teachable. It’s easy to forget this when you become more accomplished and people start looking to you for advice. I remind myself that there’s always so much more to know. It feeds my soul and keeps me hungry for more knowledge and skills.

Every day, we’re surrounded by people for whom merely dragging themselves out of bed is a challenge. Using the mistakes and failures from your past, always striving to improve and staying teachable, you can find peace. You don’t need to do it alone; I’ve had help from family, mentors, professors and friends. There’s enormous power within us all when we stop being too hard on ourselves and start appreciating our progress. Doing so, we can find value in ourselves and inspire others along the way. n

TRENT FINLEY, DDS is a graduate of Columbia College and the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Dentistry. He balances professional and clinical achievements with his passion for giving back, donating countless hours to missions, community service
and mentoring. Follow him on Instagram @dr.trent.finley.