My Unplanned Journey | by Angie Stone

Isn’t it interesting that we create a vision of what our lives will look like? The even more fascinating thing is that, for most of us, our lives end up being very different than we had ever planned. The cool thing is the journey ends up being far more meaningful than we could have imagined.

I knew in high school I wanted to be a dental hygienist. In addition to working clinically, I envisioned being an educator in a hygiene program. There was another path that seemed like a good way to get an education in the dental profession. Serving in the military. In the early 80’s the military wasn’t all that popular among young women and the teachers who I looked up to convinced me the military was no place for a girl. They also thought I was too smart not to go to college. That was a compliment, right? So, I made the decision to go to college. I should have followed my gut.

My first semester at Marquette University in the Bachelor’s Degree Dental Hygiene program was all general studies. Although I was a great student in high school, I was awful at the college thing. One dropped class, a few C’s and D’s in the critical science classes required for dental hygiene made my first semester a train wreck. The A I received in Public Speaking did little for my subpar grade point average. The military seemed like a much better option after those 16 weeks. I never returned to college after Christmas break. I joined the United States Navy, where I went to school to be a dental assistant.

I was a much better sailor than I was a college student. Thank goodness! I had committed to being a sailor for five years and Uncle Sam wasn’t about to let me quit, even if I wanted to. During the time I served our country I learned much about life, managed to achieve some impressive awards and got myself a husband. It was more than I had ever imagined it would be. Had I not wanted to be closer to my family and start a family of my own, I very well may have stayed for 20 years.

Upon leaving the military I went to work in the civilian world as a full-time dental assistant and along the way had two children. After the birth of our second child, I decided it was time to get that dental hygiene degree. Wow, what was I thinking? Who in their right mind would choose to go to hygiene school with a 5-year-old, a six-month-old and a husband whose job had him away from home for 10-14 days at a time, home for 2 days and gone again? It was a good thing I didn’t know how challenging those 2 years would be. If I had, I likely would have never finished my degree. Somehow, I made it through and even lived to tell about it!

I received my associate’s degree in dental hygiene 10 years later than I would have had I stayed in school the first time. Not only did that degree come way later than I envisioned, it was half the degree I had intended to earn. And remember, I wanted to teach. That couldn’t happen without a four degree. There was more work to be done. That work started seven years later. My bachelors in psychology was completed in 2006.

Landing a position as adjunct faculty seemed like a dream come true. To my surprise, it ended up being much different than I had envisioned. How could I have been wrong about what work I would enjoy? It didn’t make any sense to me. Maybe I was supposed to be a clinical hygienist instead of an educator.

Unexpectedly, I was told about an opportunity to be a hygiene consultant. I applied. I got the job and left the teaching position. As time went on, more opportunities came my way and I took them. Each one served a purpose and helped me to learn what types of work I enjoyed and which I didn’t. I had no idea where I was going to end up. All I knew is that these things were new and exciting, so why not take a chance to see what they were all about. Was it scary taking a risk, of course. Did it feel odd not having a long-term plan, of course. Did all this lead me to a clearer vision of what I was meant to do, of course. Sitting in the security of a dental office as a hygienist was never going to lead me to my purpose.

Ever heard the saying, “One thing leads to another”? That’s exactly what happened. Over a period of many years, my path was created…one brick at a time. Each job I did, each thing I learned made the path clearer.

So, where am I now? I am the founder and CEO of the HyLife Oral Health Alliance. The mission of the alliance is to enhance the oral health of older adults through providing oral care services where they live. I never envisioned creating and owning a business, taking care of elders, working with hygienists as independent contractors or having an employee.

I am also a speaker. I have also educated professionals on site in 47 states and 7 countries. Remember that A grade I achieved in Public Speaking way back when? I should have recognized it as a sign.

I can add author as well as researcher to the list. I have authored many articles, have research published in a peer-reviewed journal and my book, “Dying from Dirty Teeth” an Amazon Best Seller. (Video) Well…lets clarify that. It’s not a best seller like James Patterson is, it is a best seller in the category of dental hygiene and that’s exactly where I want to be a best seller.

I look forward to sharing more about my journey in future blogs. There are so many topics I would like to share in hopes of inspiring other DeWers to embrace their journey and be all they can be! Oh, wait, that is an Army, not a Navy saying. Oh well, it fits here, and our daughter is in the Army.

Till next time, be well.