By Cheryl G. Murphy, OD
Feb. 5, 2020
I have worked as an employed OD for over 15 years. At 41, I am starting to reflect on my career. I used to dream about having my own practice and hanging a shingle out front with my name on it, but lately I have been wondering, will I ever see that shingle in real life? And if it never comes to fruition, how disappointed should I be?
The Dream of Practice Ownership
Is it possible to have a fulfilling career as an OD without becoming a practice owner or partner?
I am a caring doctor. I love my patients. I put my heart and soul into my work. I create bonds with my patients. Some patients ask me why I haven’t opened up my own place yet. That answer for the last decade has been simple: I have triplets.
But now the triplets are growing older, gaining independence and are self-sufficient in many ways. As they have grown, the daydream of my own practice shingle floats back to my mind. Could now be a good time? Is that what I really want? Will that make me feel the most satisfied and accomplished in my career? You could say I’m experiencing a mid-career crisis.
Don’t Worry If Halfway Through You’re Questioning Your Career Trajectory
Having a “mid-career crisis” is normal, not only in optometry, but in every industry. Antonio Neves, a career coach, works with many clients between the ages of 35 and 45 who feel they have entered a career slump and question the path they chose.
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In his Inc. article, “Experiencing a Mid-Career Crisis? A Top Career Coach Explains 5 Ways to Break Free,” Neve’s advice can easily be applied to optometrists. He speaks about having achieved so much after climbing the ladder for so long that by the time we are between ages 35 to 45, we are not used to not having to climb anymore and can feel lost without having that set goal for which we have to reach and strive (like getting into optometry school, surviving optometry school and the boards, securing a good job, getting settled with family life, a house, etc.)
Neves says that to combat the feeling of stagnancy that mid-career can bring we must stay curious about our profession, continue to network, take time for self-care and do what makes us happy. We may also need to redefine our personal view of success.
In a heartwarming interview published in Harvard Business Review, Kieran Setiya, a philosophy teacher at MIT and author of the HBR article, “Facing Your Mid-Career Crisis,” says that when you look back on something in your career that didn’t work out as planned or that you did not do and it makes you feel bad, don’t fret, “… a certain kind of regret or loss around midlife is not a symptom of anything going wrong. It’s a symptom of your ability to appreciate many different kinds of values, and that in fact, [is] a good thing. It would be terrible if you were so narrow in your focus that there was really only one thing that you could see value in.”
More Than One Way to Be Successful
Maybe in the past I was too narrow in my view that success in optometry means hanging that shingle when really success has nothing to do with that shingle. There are many ways to practice optometry and feel successful.
Success is not defined solely by whether or not we own our own business. Success can be different for each of us. To avoid a mid-career slump, we have to look for ways to keep our passion for optometry alive.
Pick-Me-Up Tips to use when dealing with a Mid-Career Crisis:
Make your voice heard. This may entail writing about optometry and vision as a freelance writer like me, or lecturing at your local optometric society meeting on a specific topic, or advocating for optometry’s rights politically.
Do Good or Volunteer. Success and career fulfillment can be found in volunteering, going on mission trips or doing eye exams for charity.
Network. Go to CE meetings and conventions like Vision Expo where you mingle with old friends and colleagues and meet new ones.
Hone Hobbies. Do a hobby that makes you happy or find a new one. Always wanted to learn calligraphy? Been meaning to go skiing again? Always meant to start jogging? Sometimes the best way to come back refreshed to your work is to use your free time wisely to do something else.
Determine what most sparks your passion for the profession and find ways to make yourself feel fulfilled and successful. That may mean redefining what success means for you and letting that old “ideal” you are hanging onto go if it no longer fits or belongs in your life.
Your new, redefined ideal might not be what you once thought it was 15+ years ago… and that’s OK! Besides, who knows what it will be 15 years (or even five years) from this moment. So, goodbye shingle! For now…
Have you felt a stagnancy in your career? How are you dealing with that feeling? Have you faced your own mid-career crisis? What do you do to stay passionate and engaged in your work and with the profession? What hobbies do you do in your free time that bring you back refreshed and excited to work? What defines success in optometry for you?