It all began innocently enough. Last week I received an email from Newsweek, congratulating me for being on a list of “American’s Best Eye Doctors”. At one point or another we’ve seen these commendations promoted in marketing materials, or perhaps a plaque in a doctor’s office, and dismissed it as a popularity contest of some sort that the doctor won. Frankly the concept verged on seeming superficial, shallow, and self-promoting. But as I looked over this list of optometrists it struck me that many of the names on there were doctors that I personally knew or knew of, and thought highly of as well. And then the same thing occurred in looking over the list of ophthalmologists. To be sure, the company behind the awards looks to make $ from its awardees by selling “licensing options”. But the methodology used to derive the rankings themselves actually seemed credible.
I therefore posted the link to the list on a Facebook page (ODs on Facebook) with nearly 44,000 members, and the person who was #2 on the list, Dr. Viola Kanevsky, was touched by it. I, in turn, was touched by what she posted, as were nearly a thousand other ODs who “liked” it as of this morning. What Dr. Kanevsky wrote was so heart-felt, introspective, and insightful that it deserves to be recorded somewhere for reference if not posterity. It is sage advice not just for optometric career path choices, but for life choices in general. So with permission she granted for anyone to share this, read it and leap.
It’s been two or three days since someone tagged me in a post and pointed out that I ranked #2 after Dr. Art Epstein in a Newsweek article listing America’s Best Eye Doctors. I was absolutely certain it was an Onion Article and waited patiently for someone to send me the “HAHAHA April fools’” message. Then someone posted the methodology used to make the rankings and I realized I knew almost all the ODs and OMDs on that list in my area, and we have been referring to one another for years. In a sense therefore, it is a reflection of referral patterns and professional friendships rather than a ranking of qualifications. There are certainly thousands of ODs out there that are way smarter and better clinicians than I.
Well that got me thinking about professional success and how it happens. Is it all just an accident? I was reading a behavioral design study today and came across something I hadn’t thought about before. “We tend to assume that people make active decisions: faced with a set of options, they always actively choose the one they like most. However, behavioral economists have found that people frequently passively accept whatever happens if they do nothing.” (Behavioral Design: A New Approach to Development Policy Saugato Datta, Sendhil Mullainathan)
This got me thinking about my life and career which, I had assumed, was a collection of random events strung together by a great deal of good luck. I still think luck was involved but in dissecting the major cataclysmic events of my life, I realized that these occurred as a direct result of an active decision. Here I was, trudging along just accepting everything as it happened and waiting for the next thing to come along, and that was ok. But as I got older and gained experience, every once in a while, I felt bold and made what would appear to an outsider to be a rash decision. These decisions completely changed the trajectory of my life and while I will never know what would have happened had I taken the “other” fork in the road, I am pleased as pie with the scenery on this highway.
In trying to find a common denominator for all these transformative choices, I saw that every one involved editing. Editing relationships. Surrounding myself with positive, supportive, creative people and distancing those that were negative, argumentative, and just plain mean. Professionally that meant leaving a well-paying job that was emotionally stifling and unfulfilling, for the uncertainty of self-employment. It meant renewing my professional association membership and taking a more active leadership role even when I felt I just couldn’t afford it any more. It meant dropping vision plans that were marginally profitable but made my staff miserable. It meant raising my examination fees despite my fear that patients would leave for cheaper pastures. It meant taking the huge financial risk of leaving a lease and investing in over-priced Manhattan real-estate. It meant deleting frame lines with name brands that seemed to be in high demand and choosing to carry others simply because I liked and trusted the person selling me the product.
I can go on and on but I’m sure a large number of readers already have a TLDR thought bubble over their heads. So what is the point, you ask? I was speaking to a young optometry student yesterday who needed to interview an OD for her practice-management assignment and it made me wonder what it is that makes me most fulfilled professionally and accounts for my being happy. And that one thing is this: Surrounding myself with colleagues who are successful and collaborative. Because however one may measure success, at the end of the day you have to close your eyes and be contented and dream happy dreams. So therefore, I consider myself successful. And therefore I owe this success to all my friends and colleagues who have encouraged me along the way, and given me unsolicited advice, and answered my many stupid questions, and smiled at me at meetings, and shared proprietary business information freely, and to a certain Alan who created a platform where I am given the space to rant endlessly. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.