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How my cleft palate prepared me for life on Wall Street

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From Dave Liu as WebMD via. communicated Smile train

Photo of the smile train logoMany would consider childbirth with a cleft lip and palate a setback that could have a lifetime of negative effects. Now, when I look back as a 30-year veteran of the finance and technology industries, I can clearly see that my cleft journey gave me the tools I needed to rise and thrive in business on Wall Street in Silicon Valley.

I was born with cleft lip and palate on both sides in the 1970s and have had nearly a dozen surgeries in my life. Back then, before the age of the internet and social media, I was unable to find role models or connect with people in similar situations. It wasn’t until my twenties that I met another person with a cleft. I spent most of my childhood in Hong Kong, where I stayed largely to myself, isolated by the social stigma that comes with division.

Growing up can be difficult for anyone. And it can be especially tough for those with division; without representation it is isolating and lonely. After being bullied and ridiculed by others, I was taught an important life lesson from my parents at a young age: focus on myself and ignore what others said about me. I have focused my energy on improving through my studies and activities such as drawing comics and Chinese painting. It allowed me to ignore what others were saying and focus on improving myself.

Despite the strange looks and constant glances, I was always reminded of my parents’ words. To this day, I still use them as my north star. Focused on my studies and self-improvement, I earned a degree in finance from the Wharton School and a degree in engineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. When I entered professional life, my column prepared me well for a long career on Wall Street and Silicon Valley by giving myself what I called “rhino skin.” A mental strength to persevere. I’ve learned to think of it as a blessing rather than a curse because it gave me the strength and determination that have propelled me throughout my career.

Having achieved many of my professional goals, I hope that I can serve as a source of inspiration for those affected by cleft and create a cleft council made up of the role models and representation I would have wished for as a child. If I could share a message with younger people facing adversity, I would say, remember that you are not alone and believe in yourself. With a little luck and perseverance, you can achieve anything you want.

To share my journey and the tactics I use to climb the corporate ladder, I wrote a book called The Way of the Wall Street Warrior: Conquer the Corporate Game Using Tips, Tricks and Smartcuts. One hundred percent of my net proceeds go to charities like Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft organization that is transforming lives and smiles with free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft treatment around the world.

About Dave Liu

Dave is a 30 year old veteran consultant, entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and author of The Way of the Wall Street Warrior. You can learn more about Dave by visiting his website at

This article is part of WebMD’s contributor program, which allows individuals and organizations outside of WebMD to submit articles for consideration on our website. Do you have an idea for a submission? Email us at [email protected]


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