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How my cleft palate prepared me for life on Wall Street

By Dave Liu, as told to WebMD via Smile Train

Many will consider being born with a cleft lip and palate as a setback that can have negative implications throughout one’s entire life. Looking back now, as a 30-year veteran of the finance and technology industry, I can clearly see that my split journey has given me the tools I needed to stand up on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley. And succeed in business.

I was born in the 1970s with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, and have undergone nearly a dozen surgeries throughout my lifetime. At the time, before the age of the internet and social media, I could not find role models, or cultivate connections with those in similar situations. It was only in my twenties that I met another person with a cleft. I spent most of my childhood in Hong Kong, where I kept largely to myself, isolated by the social stigma associated with a rift.

Growing up can be difficult for anyone. And this can be especially difficult for slit-affected individuals; without representation it is isolating and lonely. After being bullied and ridiculed by others, at a young age I was taught an important life lesson by my parents: to focus on myself and ignore what others say about me. I channeled my energy to improve myself through my studies and outlets such as drawing comics and Chinese painting. It enabled me to ignore what others said and focus on improving myself.

Despite the peculiar appearance and constant looks, I am always reminded of the words my parents said to me. To this day, I still use them as my North Star. With a focus on my studies and self-improvement, I received a financial degree from Wharton School and an engineering degree from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. When I entered the workforce, my cleft prepared me well for a long career on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley by giving me what I called “rhino skin.” A spiritual perseverance to persevere. I learned to view it as a blessing rather than a curse because it gave me the perseverance and determination that has driven me throughout my career.

Now that I have achieved many of my career goals, my hope is to serve as a source of inspiration for cleft-affected individuals and create a cleft thread composed of the role models and representation I wish I had as a child. If I could share a message with younger individuals facing adversity, I would say: remember you are not alone and to believe in yourself. With a little luck and perseverance, you can achieve anything you want.

To share my journey and the tactics I used to climb the corporate ladder, I wrote a book entitled, The Way of the Wall Street Warrior: Conquer the Corporate Game Using Tips, Tricks and Smartcuts. One hundred percent of my net proceeds will benefit charities such as Smile Train, the world’s largest slit-focused organization that transforms lives, and smiles, through the free slit surgery and comprehensive slit care they offer worldwide.

About Dave Liu

Dave is a 30-year veteran advisor, 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 people and organizations outside of WebMD to submit articles for consideration on our site. Do you have an idea for a submission? Email us at [email protected]

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