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Chance, fate or determination?

Some people say everything happens for a reason, others think our lives happen by chance, and a third group believes that life is what you make it. How I ended up as a dental journal editor or a dentist for that matter, shows how, in my life at least, fate, chance and determination have all played a part, whether I knew it or not.

Of all the activities I liked when I was young, writing was definitely not one of them. So I was surprised when someone once jokingly said that I was born to be an editor. At the time I didn't believe that anyone was born to be a dental journal editor. In fact, as a child there were many things that I could have said I wanted to be when I grew up, but, at the age of 8 I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a dentist. Sure, that was cute and my mom told all of her friends at the next mahjong game that her little boy was going to be a dentist one day. I think that planted the seed in her mind, and my parents spent the next 10 years helping me to make it happen. Chance, fate or determination? And whose determination?

Neither of my parents went to college. I was going to be the first in my family to make it. My folks spoke to other parents and their friends to get the scoop on what colleges wanted. They were told that being an Eagle Scout was like getting 21 in blackjack, so I became an Eagle Scout. The colleges also wanted to know what I did outside of school. I had a younger sister that I had to babysit for free, so I wrote "volunteers with young children." I had to take out the trash weekly so I added "helps with cleaning up the community." That was good in the mid '70s with the first wave of "going green."

It's hard to imagine how much applying to college has changed. In my day you took that application and spun it into your manual or electric typewriter. You began to fill in the blanks and went slowly so as not to have to erase an error or use the dreaded Wite-Out. I remember putting in the basics: my name, birth date and place of birth. I remember listing my school activities, such as they were. I was on the yearbook committee. I went around with a camera and took photos, mostly to meet girls. It worked pretty well! I also belonged to the A.V. club. Yup, I knew how to work those 16-mm projectors. I barely made the tennis team, but I don't think I ever won a game. I dug deep and remembered that I once went to a meeting for the science club, so that went on the application too. I don't know whether it was chance or fate that I eventually got in to a decent school and went on to dental school.

Now I am the father of two children. I went to a meeting at my daughter's school the other night. She is in ninth grade and would like to become an orthodontist. Chance? Fate? The college counselors gave us the 2008 update on college admissions and a timeline of what we should begin thinking about. The walk away message at this time was to basically lighten up and not do or say anything for another year. Let the school do everything for now and try not to aggravate your child too much (i.e., no parental determination).

The college counselors told us that they would build a portfolio for our daughters (she attends an all girls' school) as part of the application process. When they used the word portfolio I couldn't help but laugh. I can just see what she might have on her application in a few years. My daughter was involved in gymnastics until she was 10. I can see "Olympic gymnastics hopeful." She ran an Alex's Lemonade Stand for three years running; that could go down as "Regional Fundraising Chairperson for National Cancer Campaign." They're not leaving a lot to chance these days.

Ultimately, though, who knows? My daughter's love of languages combined with her desire to be a dentist might lead her in directions she (and I) can't even contemplate today. My desire to succeed in my profession led me to organized dentistry when I was fresh out of school. A referring doctor in my area, Dr. Jeffrey Sameroff, met with me in what I can now see was a moment of desperation for him. At a dinner meeting of the local dental society he calmly said to me that he thought I would make a great local journal editor. "A what?" I asked him. "A dental journal editor, you know, what I do."

Little did I know at the time he had been local editor for 22 years and was looking for a little relief. Again, fate, chance or determination?

That night began a 13-year odyssey that started in Pottstown and led me to Harrisburg, Pa. Along the way I have to say that I have met some incredible individuals that I can truly call friends, and I continue to expand that list almost daily. I have learned from the best of the best. Everyone that I have come to know in organized dentistry operates at the highest standard of care and shows the most integrity of those in our profession. If that is not enough of an endorsement of our professional organization I don't know what is.

Having served as editor of Pennsylvania's Montgomery-Bucks Journal (for 10 years) and editor of the Valley Forge Second District Dental Association Journal (nine years), Dr. Terry recently became the Pennsylvania Dental Journal Editor. His comments, reprinted here with permission, appeared in the May/June issue of that publication.

Editor's note: The ADA offers a number of resources designed to promote dental careers. For more information, visit www.ada.org/goto/careers.