To be successful in optometry, focus all of your attention on one thing and one thing only. No, not the patient… that’s the easy part. Not vision plans. Not location, location, location. Not online marketing, websites, TikTok, X (formerly known as Twitter) or Instagram.

It’s YOU. Focus on YOU.

We verge off track every time we lose sight of this simple fact. Now, I am old and crotchety… and I always had the crotchety part down since I was, oh, nine years old when I realized I had nearly zero control over so many things and could only control one thing (barely)—ME. Well, “control” might not be the most accurate analysis of what I did to make sure everyone knew I was in the room, applying my self-proclaimed intelligence in any manner that made me feel important—no matter what the cost.

So, the young and crotchety me learned a lot as the old and still crotchety me slowly developed so I could focus on myself by not focusing on inserting ME on everyone else, which is what I naively and selfishly thought I had to do.

You simply cannot be successful in optometry if your joy in practicing wraps solely around what your patients, staff, vendors, financial advisors, bankers, lawyers, the lady who gives you cheese samples at the local farmer’s market, kids, spouse and dog… what THEY do for you. (I may make an exception for the cheese lady.) Joy in our (and anybody’s) profession comes from YOU—your growth, heart, actions and, very often, your grateful and humble acceptance of your superpowers and foibles as equally dangerous when applied incorrectly. 

Dr. Montgomery Vickers

The wonderful, late Dr. Burt Hooten tried to beat this into our rigid undergrad heads (and therefore competition-addicted mounds of mush) by reminding us that we each are unique and we would find patients who liked this about each us. Wish I had listened better. Could have saved me many sleepless nights when I did everything right and the patient still thought I was an ignoramus.

What steps can you take to change your focus from all the hubbub to YOU? 

1. Quit the search for perfection. Even Steph Curry and Caitlin Clark miss foul shots occasionally. Ask anybody betting on the spread in Vegas. 

2. Read something that’s not on a device. Anything. Read a pickle jar label or something and then work your way up to James Michener’s Centennial. May take a while.

3. Men—stop shaving for a couple weeks. No, once I think about it, don’t do that. You’ll look like a bum.

4. Women—I have been married for almost 44 years. I know better than to give any woman advice. Y’all just do what you want and it will be OK.

5. Laugh uncontrollably. Giggles and little smiles don’t count. If that seems impossible for you, eat a gummi and go to any random CE meeting. Of course I am recommending a Haribo gummi bear. What did you think I meant, anyway?

6. Make someone else laugh. OK, not everyone is funny and not everyone who IS funny is ALWAYS funny. My column is proof enough of that. But EVERYONE can stick two straws up their nose and burp. Works every time and I WILL get that into this column one day. 

7. When your smartwatch tells you to breathe, breathe. In fact, my advice is to breathe all the time. Does that make me smarter than my watch?

Dr. Hooten didn’t precisely use the language I used above to make us self-aware. He actually said, “If you’re tall and good-looking, your patients will be tall and good-looking. If you’re short, chubby and ugly, that’s how your patients will be.” I knew what he meant and I have worked my entire life on the second part with much success.

Dr. Vickers received his optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1979 and was clinical director at Vision Associates in St. Albans, WV, for 36 years. He is now in private practice in Dallas, where he continues to practice full-scope optometry. He has no financial interests to disclose.