One Shirt Can Change Everything…

As I write these words at my desk high above downtown Pittsburgh, I think about the journey I have taken. My road to not just my survival but to my thriving has had many twists and turns, multiple roadblocks, and more than a few retraced paths.

I have faced many ups and downs, and I have learned from my supporters and detractors; I wouldn’t be here without the love of my family and friends and without the intrinsic dedication that lead me to ultimately believe I could achieve my goals. I am living my dream.

I am currently a dentist and run a very successful downtown private practice. I am surrounded by people who love and support me and for whom I do the same.

My life in 2020 is a long way from where I started. I am an only child that was raised by a single mother.  My mother and father were never married or together for any meaningful amount of time.  My father came in and out of my life until he passed in 2013.  Ultimately my childhood, upbringing, and formative years of my life were shaped by my mother and my maternal grandparents.

Before having me, my mother, who held a master’s degree in education, was a physical education teacher at a public school.  Even with having summers off, she strongly felt that I would be better off if she could spend the entire first year of my life with me fulltime. She took a leave of absence, sacrificed her job, was forced to accepted government assistance, and downsized her life. While I don’t remember much of my first year, I have always deeply admired how much she loved me and what she was willing to give up for me.  After my first year, she went back to teaching fulltime. While this did still afford her summers off, I spent most of the school year with my grandparents.

Even though my mom worked as a full time teacher, she still struggled to give me the lifestyle she wanted to provide for me. My first memory of where we lived was a one-bedroom apartment in a large, old house that was broken down into multiple apartments.  It was a lower-income neighborhood, but we felt very safe. For a few years, we slept in the same room with our two beds separated by a dresser.  When I was 7 years old, we then moved into a duplex where I had my room.  I remember this as being a big upgrade. I really didn’t know any other way of living.

During this time, my grandparents would go on vacation, but my mother and I would never do anything more than visit the local pool during the summer. They couldn’t afford to take us, but my grandparents would always bring back souvenirs from wherever they went. The gifts were mostly shirts with the name of the destinations, but one year they brought me back a different kind of shirt.

I always liked looking at cars and my grandma had brought me a Lamborghini shirt. Not knowing much about fine automobiles, she just bought it because she liked the picture of the bull on it.  I had no idea what it was, but I loved that shirt.  Over time, I would ask people if they ever saw or drove a Lamborghini.  Of course, everyone said no and I finally got tired of hearing, “it’s a nice car, but too expensive for anyone to own”.

That was it.  I was going to work as hard as I could in school and life to buy one. I wasn’t going to be told what I could or could not have. For the next 6 years, while my mom and I remained in this duplex, I attended the local elementary school and worked exceedingly hard to be at the top of my class.

My mom and grandparents saw how much effort I was putting into my schoolwork. After 6th grade, my mother thought I would be better served by attending a bigger school with more opportunities for educational advancement and higher competition rate among students.  We left the duplex and started living with my grandparents whose home was in a better school district. Living with my grandparents was cramped, but we made do, and it never seemed like we were intruding.  After a couple of years, my mother was able to save enough money for a down payment for a house in that district.  Granted it was in the more affordable border area, but I was still able to continue at the same high achieving school.

I thrived at my new school.  In addition to all the new course offering and enrichment, my overall class size was five times larger than the previous one. This gave me the chance to compete with the children of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and the like.  It was this exposure that motivated me to succeed. I saw the kind of jobs it took to afford the houses my classmates lived in, the nice vacations they took with their families, and how life for them was just more comfortable. I knew it would be hard work but it was not implausible. I was motivated to achieve this level of success as an adult.

They key to happiness is not just money but also loving what you do. I wanted to study something in college that I liked but that also afforded the lifestyle I saw the families of my high school classmates enjoy.  I got serious, I studied and took the hard classes. I graduated in the top 10 percent of my large, elite high school class and scored high on my college admissions tests.  I was able to gain acceptance into a small, respected liberal arts school with a renowned pre-med program. Yes, the school was way out of my family’s price range, but because of financial aid through academic grants, scholarships, and federal loans, I was able to work out the finances.

After busting my butt for four years, I graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and scored well on both my medical and dental school admissions tests.  I decided on the Dental Professional route because it seemed to serve my personality better because the total time from entering school to working fulltime was less. Also, the lifestyle seemed much less stressful but still had the benefit of making a good living. I could have both a career and time to enjoy family and life.

After graduating from dental school, I was able to become an associate for a few years to learn the ropes of the profession. This was essential professional experience I would need before buying my own practice.  Buying my practice has afforded me a very comfortable and enjoyable life.  Being a dentist and owning my own practice has afforded everything I had coveted when I was growing up(house, vacations, cars), but mostly the peace of mind knowing that I will always be able to provide for myself and family.

It’s crazy to think that my success was all launched by the souvenir shirt that my grandmother bought because she liked the bull on the front. I never got the Lamborghini (yet), but I was able to accomplish many more important goals that have made my life enjoyable and free.

From my very unpretentious and unassuming beginnings, I now sit in my corner office typing my Survive and Thrive story – Christopher Paul Hayner, D.M.D.