Heard at the dentist... about being successful


I was at the dentist office this afternoon and overheard the following conversation. One of the dentists said:


You need to brush your teeth so they will look white and shiny. Once you're a dentist then people will come to you because you have white and shiny teeth. You will have an excellent business.

If you have bad teeth as a dentist, nobody will come to see you. You will have a bad business.

You need good business as a dentist, so make sure to brush your teeth so they're white and shiny.

When you're a successful dentist with a lot of money, you can buy an expensive sports car and drive around town to show all your friends.


I was in the other room so I couldn't see the dentist and the patient. Presumably the dentist was talking to a little kid and teaching him/her a lesson on dental hygiene. The kid was probably getting his teeth fixed or something, hence didn't speak a word. In the back of my mind I found it fascinating and mind boggling that the dentist was making the association that being successful meant having a lot of money and having an expensive sports car. Is this really the message that we're giving to the younger generations? The dentist was implying that having an expensive sports car meant one is successful. Does successful mean having a lot of money? Why do we seem to associate success with money?


Successful by definition is accomplishing an aim or purpose, or having achieved popularity, profit, or distinction. I would say that being successful does not mean having a lot of money. You can be a successful parent by raising a great kid and spending quality time with your kid; you can be a successful husband/wife by loving your spouse and always be there for her/him; you can be a successful individual by being involved in the community and volunteering your time to help others around you; you can be a successful person by finding your life purpose and fulfil your purpose in life.


Associating money with success is like associating attractiveness with anorexic bony-stick thin. It simply doesn't make sense. One problem of this association is that we're always comparing ourselves with people around us. That $25,000 "expensive" new car isn't expensive anymore when your neighbour just purchased a $40,000 car. Instead of feeling happy and successful, we feel that we're unworthy and some of us may even become depressed. The only solution is to beat our neighbour by having an even more expensive car. This eventually leads to a vicious cycle of buying more things for the sake of showing others that you're "successful."


Is it right for us to judge someone whether he or she is successful or not? Perhaps we may see this person as unsuccessful, but perhaps this person sees himself or herself as extremely successful. Why? Because they're happy and content with their lives. They feel that they're making others around them happy; they feel that they're contributing positively to the world around them; they feel that they're making a difference in their communities by helping others. If this person does not drive an expensive sports car, does not have the latest electronic gadgets, does not live in a mansion, or does not dress in well-known brands, does that make this person unsuccessful because he or she has nothing to show for?


So how is this kid in the dentist chair going to grow up?

What do you think?





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  • Reply
    May 23, 2015 at 3:54 am

    The successful dentist is one who has got white and shiny teeth but also one who has lots of patients, who also have white and shiny teeth because he/she has helped them! To me, the expensive car would just suggest that he's overcharging his patients!

    However, "successful" in many people's eyes often means "financially successful". Some people feel the need to show others that they are "successful", eg the expensive car, expensive house etc.

    Others, eg the secret millionaires who drive old cars - they don't feel the need to show people their success.

    It isn't right to judge people on the things that they own, but I admit that I still do occasionally, since it's the way I've been brought up, in the society I live in. I have to make a conscious effort not think that way, although it's getting easier.

    Even now, I know in my parents' eyes I am not "successful" in that I earn a fraction of what my high earning siblings earn. Good job I don't feel the same way as I know that if I had chased for that higher salary (and where do you stop?), I would not be half as happy or content as I am now!

    Still I can't help but feel that if I splashed some cash on say designer clothes and goods etc, my mum would be happy as she would think that I was finally earning big bucks! I guess you can't change the way older folk think.

    • Reply
      May 24, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      Hi weenie,

      I think there are too much focus on successful means financially successful. People's idea of financially successful often means that you have something to show to other people. I believe this is the wrong mentality. Recently in the US, an old gentleman passed away and donated millions to charities. This gentleman was a janitor his whole life, never made much money and was very frugal. Although he was "financially" successful, he had nothing to show for. To me, he is way more successful than someone who drives an expensive sports car.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2015 at 6:25 am

    Success to me is achieving your goals, not someone elses goals.

    Once an economic professor of mine told the story of him and his sister. They were both successfull in life: he by being a prof and running a consulting business that earned him a very nice salary. His sister and her husband were successfull as measured by their standards: the relationships they have with friends and family and the role they play in the local community.

    None was jealous of the other.

    • Reply
      May 24, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Ambertree,

      Good point on achieving your goals. If you can achieve all of the goals that you set out, you're definitely successful. 🙂

  • Reply
    May 23, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Hi Tawcan

    When we are a kid and our ambition is to grow up and become a doctor or dentist, the motivation is to help other people out there who needed them most. These days, when you declare yourself as a dentist or doctor, people will ask you how much do you make or what cars are you driving.

    Reality in the society kicks for itself.

    My favorite saloon barber happens to be bald. Hmmmm 😉

    • Reply
      May 24, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      Hi B,

      Seems that if you're a dentist or doctor and making low salary, that means you're not good with what you do. Doesn't make much sense to me. You can very well working for free and making a difference in your community.

  • Reply
    Mr Zombie
    May 23, 2015 at 10:43 am

    That's not a great message to be passing on, haha.

    When I first started going out with Mrs Z her friend was suspicious that I was actually a qualified accountant because I was driving a 15 year old car with manual locking and windows. Amazing.

    Interesting about having white teeth as a dentist. I suppose it kind of makes sense. But I know loads of good people in finance that can't apply the principles to their own lives.

    Mr Z

    • Reply
      May 24, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      Hi Mr Z,

      Definitely not a great message to be passing on IMO. I thought the first bit made a lot of sense just not the expensive sports car part.

  • Reply
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank
    May 23, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    I am not against with what the dentist said because that is her simplest way of making the kid realize the importance of being successful although there are better ways in doing it.

    • Reply
      May 24, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      Hi Jayson,

      I think the dentist had a right idea but maybe associating successful with expensive toys isn't the right message to give to a little kid.

  • Reply
    Financial Underdog
    May 25, 2015 at 11:40 am

    It's all depends on what you define as success. Having money isn't a success in itself, but it can be a very good indicator that things are going great. Having a cool car is cool, don't get me wrong, but having a cool car as the symbol of success? Meh.

    For me success is ability to reach your own goals and dreams, having a great family full of joy and love, and living a lifestyle that you desire. Money IS a great part of it since it has to pay for all of it, and hopefully producing money is a part of your lifestyle. Money is important, yes. But to take the money out and put it on its own little pedestal next to a sports car and say "- This is what it's all about!" means missing the big picture.

    What I would say to the kid would be different.

    "- You have to brush your teeth every day so they're healthy and shiny. Once you have shiny teeth, you don't have to worry about your health and focus on living a great life. If you have shiny teeth, you can become a dentist and help people have shiny teeth and be healthy. When you help people, they keep coming to you and grow your business and you have lots of friends. Also, you can buy a sports car and go with rides with your friends and a pretty girl!"

    • Reply
      May 25, 2015 at 11:50 am

      Hi Financial Underdog,

      I like your way of explaining to the kid. Having money isn't a success in itself, you need other things in life as well. If you have all the money you can have but your person life is a wreck, then I would say you're not successful.

  • Reply
    Fervent Finance
    May 27, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I definitely don't equate money to being successful. It helps though. I'm sure this kid refused to brush his teeth and floss and probably gave his parents a hard time every morning and night so the dentist was trying to help. And what do kids like more than shiny things!

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    June 1, 2015 at 9:50 am

    I think the concept of having a lot money and buying fancy cars/homes being successful is pretty common. It may only be in the pf blog world where we have a different mindset. I have a relative who is a dentist and makes very good money but he needs to work practically 7 days a week to maintain his lifestyle. He looks tired...is it worth it? I don't think so.

    • Reply
      June 1, 2015 at 11:48 am

      Hi Andrew,

      I think us in the PF world definitely have a different mindset than the general public. I have no problem with that. 🙂

  • Reply
    Dividend Wisp
    February 8, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Perhaps indirectly the Successful Dentist meant that having the ability to buy an expensive new car is a symbol of success. He also did give some very good business advice IMO, you need to be good at what you do, and actually do it yourself if you want to successfully sell the advice/trade you do for people.

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