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Finding & Sustaining Happiness in Optometry: How Do You Do It?

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Creating a career that enables long-term happiness.

One of my mentors, colleague, and someone who has become a trusted friend, Bethany Fishbein, OD, spoke to my students at University of Houston College of Optometry’s (UHCO) in my fourth-year Practice Management class as a guest speaker, and she really resonated with the group. So, I asked her if she would write a guest editorial for our Review of Optometric Business (ROB) readers. I am sure you will enjoy her article as much as the UHCO students enjoyed her talk!–ROB Professional Editor Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO

Bethany Fishbein, OD 

Dec. 6, 2023

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a class of UHCO fourth-year students about finding happiness in optometry.

It’s a timely topic because they’re at the stage of their lives when they’re transitioning from studenthood into the real world, and thinking about the next steps on their professional journeys. They’re applying for residencies or their first job as an optometrist, and are feeling all of the pressure of student loans, obligations of living as adults and expectations of their families, as well as comparing the idealistic visions they had when starting school to the reality in front of them.

And if they accept the posts on many of the popular optometric Facebook pages as truth, the reality can seem a little scary. There are many really unhappy optometrists out there. Posts about disappointment in career choice, burnout, frustration with staff, unreasonable patients, insurance companies and management are common, and far outnumber the happy posts from optometrists who wake up most days excited to do the work they love.

Knowing When It’s Time to Make a Change

Everyone has frustrating patients, days, and even weeks, sometimes. That’s normal. But if you are feeling unhappy with your professional life more often than not, it may be time to make a change.

Change is uncomfortable and scary for many reasons, most of which are thought-distortions in our own minds.

Negativity bias makes the bad things feel much more significant than the good. The sunk-cost fallacy tricks us into believing that anything we’ve already invested into our current situation is only worthwhile if we stay. Anxiety and the tendency to “catastrophize” make us focus on worst-case scenarios and create irrational fear of the unknown.

These thoughts leave us feeling stuck and paralyzed by fear. This may look like an endless cycle of spending “just another day” or “just another week” (which before you know it turns into several months or years) staying where you are to avoid a decision. Being constantly unhappy (and stressed while feeling unable to make a decision) can lead to significant physical as well as mental symptoms, and unhealthy habits.

Identify What You Fear

But if you can “fear-set,” as Tim Ferriss referred to it in his Ted Talk, about what you’re really most afraid of, and think about what the impact would be, you often find it’s not nearly as awful as your brain would have you think– and also not nearly as awful as not making a change would be.

So, if you’ve been thinking about taking the leap to cold-start a practice, having tough conversations with an employer or employee, making an investment to improve your current situation, walking away from a job you thought you’d hold forever, or closing down a practice that feels like a lead anchor… consider the risk of taking action, compared to the risk of staying where you are.

Seize Happiness

As optometrists, each of us has invested far too much money, effort and time to spend the majority of our waking hours doing work we don’t enjoy.

With our OD degrees and licenses in hand, we own a theoretical machine that produces $500-$1,000+ per day (depending on the geographic area and practice setting in which we choose to use it). Even in the worst-case scenarios, we are in the top percentiles of income-earners in the world.   Use this advantage to prioritize your own happiness.

Bethany Fishbein, OD, is a partner in Somerset Eye Care, a practice in North Brunswick, N.J and a partner in Metuchen Vision in Metuchen, N.J. Dr. Fishbein is also CEO of The Power Practice, an optometric consulting company that gives practice owners more clarity around their businesses, more time, and more profit.

 

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