During Review’s New Technologies & Treatments in Eye Care conference in Savannah, GA in August, I had the honor of providing a big-picture talk to the Intrepid Eye Society, which co-chaired the program.  Although I usually speak or write about clinical subjects, vision for the profession, key opportunities and insights, I like to step back periodically and focus on a subject that may affect the lives of many in my cherished profession. 

There comes a time that we should look at the big picture for our lives. While I’ve made many mistakes and trusted the wrong people, those hard falls taught me more than I could have imagined. I’ve learned that we have the ability to create the life we want, so why not make it the best one possible?

Values Make Decisions Easier

Start by being clear about your values. If you know what you stand for, you have a filter in place for any decision. If humility is one of your core values, it’s easy to give credit to your staff and others when accomplishments are achieved. If dedication to family is a core value, electing not to add another clinic day or even an extra evening becomes an easier decision.  

Begin With the End in Mind

The famous time management author Stephen Covey stated the above principle. If you take this quote to the ultimate level, it would mean to think of your obituary and what you’d like it to state. That can be difficult because we don’t want to think about the end of life on earth, and it’s so far away we can’t fathom the thought, but it’s truly about thinking of the legacy you want to leave. Do you want to be known for helping your community, faith, charity, being a dedicated parent, moving the profession forward, to name but a few? 

Once that’s clear, then the specific optometric career choice—including where you want to practice—becomes easier. If your career is a priority at this stage, moving anywhere in the country for the best opportunity is ideal, but if it’s to raise children where you or your spouse grew up so grandparents and family are close, then the decision is very different.

SWOT Analysis

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—many companies evaluate these, but each of us should do something similar for one primary reason. Usually, what feels most natural (sometimes it takes practice to get there) but most liberating, effortless and enjoyable is often what we were meant to do. Next, look at the strengths you have and where you may need to hire or get help. Then, translate that into specific and unique opportunities, while always asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if it fails?” That is, what is my safety net should an unexpected situation arise? If contingency plans are in place, it’s much easier to take the risk.

Along those lines, in his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the “hedgehog concept”—list all of your activities and determine which ones fit into all three of the following ‘buckets’: something you are passionate about, something that could eventually generate sustainable income and something that you can be better at than most. If you can find specific work that fits all three, you are where you are supposed to be career- or business-wise. If not, it may be time to take your career in a slightly different direction. I’ve seen many colleagues successfully do this in the corporate world and as medical science liaisons and researchers.

Set Goals and a Vision

My residents who set written goals and plans have been the more successful in their careers and lives. Make your goals specific, measurable, set a time frame, write them as if you’ve already achieved them and review them periodically. As core values change, you may have to adjust, and that’s perfectly fine. Picture your ideal future—make it emotionally charged, detailed and as vivid as possible. 

Make Life Fulfilling

In the movie Back to the Future, Doc leaves by saying, “Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!” It’s a great reminder that things aren’t so complex and you can make your life what you want. Sure, there will be bumps along the way and mistakes will be made, but bounce back and learn from them. If we think of the legacy we want to leave before our time comes, vividly picture the ideal future and set goals and plans based on the values we hold dear, our decisions, and thus lives, can truly be fulfilling.

Dr. Karpecki is medical director for Keplr Vision and the Dry Eye Institutes of Kentucky and Indiana. He is the Chief Clinical Editor for Review of Optometry and chair of the New Technologies & Treatments conferences. A fixture in optometric clinical education, he consults for a wide array of ophthalmic clients, including ones discussed in this article. Dr. Karpecki's full list of disclosures can be found here.