The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is boredom.Tim Ferris, 4-Hour Work Week
At face value, you turn up, do the same thing, then go home. Optometry or almost any type of work is repetitive by nature. Within the first hour, 30 minute, or even 20 minutes you are repeating the same procedure. Repetition can be a recipe for boredom. And according to the above quote, boredom and indifference can lead to an unhappy career.
After a while, constant increments into your bank account cannot outweigh the need for accomplishment and purpose, creativity and challenge.
Most of your days is split into three parts. In one day you have 24 hours. 8 hours are devoted to sleep; 8 hours to your life, and 8 hours are spent at work. One third of your day is at work, half your waking day is at work – that’s a significant portion. So, why not learn to enjoy it?
You do not need a radical change in career or seek financial independence; we can learn to love what we do.
So, what can we do?
Focus on what is different
I came across this excellent video (below).
The video provides five points on the negatives in optometry (and how to deal with them); one point really stuck with me: focus on what changes.
The tests we perform in optometry, although requiring an intense amount of skill can become repetitive and later boring. However, when doing an eye examination, there is one thing that changes. Rather, whom. The person who has come to see you obviously.
Most people are nice, funny and interesting. For them, an eye exam is a rare event. What you do everyday is modicum for them, so make their eye examination memorable and enjoyable.
Get to know the person. Think about helping this person. Put explanations in their language. Tell them what is relevant to them.
They have come to you for advice and your expertise to fix their eye problem. Even if nothing is wrong then you have the opportunity to tell them some good news.
Everyday you should focus on what you can bring to the table rather than how life can serve you.
That being said, you cannot win all the time.
The Loses: Dealing with negative patients
Negative patients are, well, negative. Our minds have a strong bias towards negative events1. A single criticism is worse than having one thousand praises.
If you hear nothing, then you are doing a good job. A little positive feedback means you are doing an outstanding job.
Hardly anyone thanks their car reaching their destination safely and on time. This isn’t expectation; it’s what we take for granted. Isn’t it miraculous how all of human knowledge, engineering and workmanship went into making a car that is reliable and safe? It goes unnoticed until that car breaks down.
Then, it’s like the world has ended.
Specialise and Learn
Optometry is more than refraction. The field is growing. One example is in 2014, glaucoma prescribing was introduced, expanding the scope for optometrist who undertook extra training.
There are a variety of flavours in optometry. These include:
- Specialty contact lenses like orthokeratology, hard contact lenses
- Low vision
- Binocular/Sports vision
And the list continues. Learning and crafting your skills is important. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport makes the argument that the crafts-persons mindset beats the passion mindset. Following you passions can leave you broke and resentful.
First it is important to discover what people are willing to pay for: being able to see comfortably. I want to stress, comfortably. Second, it is important to build this skill, like a crafts-person. When you build this skill, it acts as a form of capital. Because others are willing to pay for this, you can leverage this skill to obtain a job and a life you want.
This is why learning and specialising is important because it stops the job from becoming stale, while also increases your worth.
Find the Flow
The state in which people are so involves in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Rian Doris in his interview with Kirwan Rae explains the flow state extremely well.
To paraphrase what Doris says, flow is where you are:
- sucked into what your are doing
- time dilates where hours feel like minutes
- your inner voice or inner critic is almost silenced
- your physical and mental performance is at its peak
Getting into flow is how your perform at your best and also love the work you do. You are totally engrossed in what you are doing.
Going back to Kwik’s book, Limitless, he offers simple strategies to getting into flow, which I have tried to adapt for optometry:
- Eliminate distractions – this means putting the smartphone away. In fact, leave it out of your clinic room. This allows you to focus on work even in between patients. Lunch breaks is where you can schedule these tasks.
- Time – you need time to get into flow; it’s not a switch you can flip. There is some resistance, initially. This will be at the morning when you start and just after lunch when you get back into it. Since you are at work, you will have plenty of time to get into the flow.
- Focus on what you love – this can be solving the problem for the patient or getting to know them.
- Have some clear goals – this can be saying what you are able to bring to your work or how you can help others today.
- Challenge yourself – if you are specialising and learning, then the cases you will be getting should be more challenging allowing you to grow and develop.
Kwik goes further to explain the ‘enemies of flow’. Here are some of them:
- Multitasking – this could be doing referral letters while talking to your colleagues. You need to focus on one thing at a time.
- Stress – outside influences like relationships, deadlines, family matters, and all things that come with life. If these stresses don’t need to be dealt with now then don’t let them into your space where you need to maintain good focus.
Lastly, here is a more graphical representation of flow.
It exists at this happy medium between your current skill level and the required skill for the task.
Too much skill for the required task, and here we have our enemy, boredom.
If the task requires too much skill, then we have our other enemy, a marker of stress, anxiety.
Your job is to find that balance, so you can enter the state of flow.
What you do outside of work can affect what you do inside of work as well. We touched briefly on stress limiting your ability to get into flow. Other things to manage include:
- Healthy diet
- Being active
- Having good relationships
These are important in maintaining a healthy body and mind. This enables you to perform well at work.
In order to focus on these things, they first must become a priority. Let’s refer to The 7 Habits of High Effective People by Stephen Covey.
More specifically: ‘putting first things first’.
Covey introduces a matrix to categorise our daily tasks based on urgency and importance. This is represented below.
Some of us live in in the first and fourth quadrant. The first puts us in a state of stress but is needed to be done and unavoidable like an urgent referral letter in midst of a busy clinic. Then because our energy is spent, we do time-wasting like aimlessly falling down rabbit holes with our phones.
The third quadrant usually ties up with time wasting as well. The urgency of these pulls us in but their importance is better delegated to someone else.
The second quadrant is one that usually gets ignored but provides us the most value. This is because we cannot perceive their immediate consequences. Sleep, eating healthy, being active and focusing on having good relationships generally lead you to a better life but there is no immediate reward for these activities. This is why they get missed.
If you don’t go to the gym, there is no immediate negative feedback, only you will suffer from poor health later down the track.
The aim then comes to focus on what is important and takes you towards who you want to be. If you start focusing on your second quadrant activities, your ability to deal with the first quadrant improves. It starts with eliminating the time-wasters in the fourth and third quadrant.
Optometry does have a repetitive nature that can lead to boredom. And we know that boredom is the opposite of happiness.
One strategy is to focus on what is different. The tests maybe the same, but the person who you are helping is unique.
Negativity really sticks in our mind. More than the positives so. Realising this, if we look at the overall day or week, we can see more positive interactions than negative interactions. This shifts our perspective to one that biases negativity to what it actually is, a positive one.
Next is to create an environment where you are growing and learning. This creates challenges which allow you to move on to the next step.
And this is to get into the flow. This is where you ability is constantly being stretched within you limits, creating growth. Creating flow is where you will found both happiness and fulfillment.
Finally, focusing on your over well-being is important as what you do outside of work to take care of your mental and physical well-being. It is important to prioritise what is important and will provide long term benefits such as exercise, sleep and so on.
I hoping these tips will help you on your career in optometry (or something else). Please comment your ideas below or share this with others who you may think it will help.
- Hara Estroff Marano (2020, June 20) Our Brain’s Negative Bias. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias