By Barbara Reiss, OD
Do you wake up every morning excited to go to work? I didn’t always feel this way, and judging from some of the commentary on OD’s on Facebook, neither do a lot of you. Maybe you love practicing optometry, but insurance is getting to you. Maybe it’s patient demands. Or you’re just not thrilled with your staff. Maybe the routine–standing in a dark room and asking, “which is better, one or two?”–over and over–feels uninspiring.
Maybe you’re thinking that this is no big deal, most people don’t really like their job.
It is a big deal. Your unhappiness or lack of engagement affects so many people–your patients, your staff, your community. Most of all, it affects you. It’s your life. The only one you get.
Karl Pillemer, Ph.D, a professor at Cornell University interviewed nearly 1500 people age 70 to 100+ for his 2012 book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.” He asked them what life lessons they’d pass on. What piece of advice were they most adamant about?
Spending years in a job you dislike is a tragic mistake and a recipe for regret.
Some of us have our own practices. Some of us work for others. For those of us who are employees, Pillemer’s “wisest Americans” had this advice:
- Don’t take a job just for the money. This is a huge mistake, and it’s understandable given the amount of debt new OD’s graduate with. In Pillemer’s study, a sense of purpose and passion beat a bigger paycheck hands down.
- Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy. Be persistent and creative. Early in my career I was bored and restless with day to day practice. I became a research optometrist for a large contact lens manufacturer when soft contact lenses were FDA-classified as drugs. It was an exciting time. Health care delivery is changing dramatically–don’t be afraid to think outside the practice box and look for something that lights your fire every day.
- Make the most of a bad job. OK, you hate it, but can you learn something? (Even if it’s what NOT to do…) Can you find what’s in it for you, so that you’re not miserable every day? At the very least, work on your interpersonal skills. You’ll get along better with other people in the office, and you’ll have patients who will follow you anywhere.
- Make sure you have autonomy to make your own decisions. In general, the less autonomy people have, the unhappier they are with their jobs. You should be able to choose the contact lenses you fit, the tests you perform and the specialists to whom you refer.
If you have your own practice, this issue looms large. It’s your practice, you have control, but you can’t control everything. We tend to evaluate success based on finances, but no one in Pillemer’s study recommended working hard, long or unhappily just to earn more money.
So what can you do?
- Create the kind of practice you want. There is lots of advice in this forum for adding specialty contact lenses, sharing knowledge about nutrition, increasing services for ocular disease, hiring the right people, having a great optical. Figure out what excites you and work on that. Take courses, join a study group. Become an expert. Invest yourself in the practice.
- Be a leader, and coach your staff to be your team. Leadership is generally not taught in optometry school, but once you have your own practice and start hiring staff, leadership is essential. The American Academy of Optometry offers workshops in leadership at every meeting. And there are thousands of books and articles written on leadership so you can educate yourself. I like this article–it sums up leadership qualities succinctly, and has links to more reading if you’re interested: http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2013/12/greatest-leaders/
- Give back to your community. Social scientist researcher Michael Norton has a fascinating TED talk entitled “How to Buy Happiness.” http://www.ted.com/talks/ michael_norton_how_to_buy_happiness?language=en In it he describes research that documents that people are happier when they give to others. We know from Shawn Achor’s research described in my first article (http://odsuccess.com/once-im- successful-ill-be-happy-right/) that happiness is a precursor to success. So how can you give back?
Running school and/or glaucoma screenings are obvious, but consider what your office can do as a team. Our office adopted the Guide Dogs for the Blind. At holiday time, we let our patients know that we were donating money to that charity. A lot of our patients jumped on board and threw a dollar into a pot so that we were able to make a generous donation in the name of “The Family of Precision Eye Care.” We also regularly donated goods and services to charitable organizations for their fundraising events. A $50 gift certificate to your optical can build a lot of good will.
In his graduation speech to the Stanford University Class of 2005, Steve Jobs recounted the creation of Apple and said this about work:
“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
As optometrists, we are fortunate to have chosen a profession in which it is possible to do really great work. I hope you all have work that you love.
Copyright: gajus / 123RF Stock Photo
Dr. Reiss retired from private practice in 2013 after working for many years in an ophthalmology practice in Huntington, NY, where she specialized in contact lenses. She spent the early part of her career working in the contact lens industry in clinical research and professional relations. Dr. Reiss has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry since 1980. She has served as national chair of its Admittance Committee, and has been a member of its Membership Committee and President’s Task Force. She currently serves on the Communications Committee and helps edit the weekly Eye-Mail News Brief. She has been a member of the Board of Directors of the American Board of Optometry since 2011. Dr. Reiss lives in Austin, TX where she enjoys yoga, cooking, making new friends and exploring Texas hill country.