“It’s of value to fall in love with the process of doing something hard, overcoming it and becoming a better person because of it.” – Lex Fridman

Graduation season is upon us once again, and the ODs on facebook community is proud to welcome each and every one of our new colleagues to the profession. Graduates, you’re likely feeling all kinds of emotions; accomplishment, pride, relief, exhaustion, even fear of the unknown – what lies ahead? While different things are in store for all of you, in some ways the difficult part is behind you, and different challenges lie ahead, but one thing is certain; you are all now physicians and what you have accomplished academically can never be taken away from you. For those of you who’ve fulfilled your dreams of becoming a health care provider and join our ranks we extend our most sincere wishes for a long, prosperous, and rewarding career.

The path to become an Optometrist is very clear. It requires you complete several levels of schooling, find a way to fund your college and graduate education, successfully complete your undergraduate and graduate degrees and pass several national and state board examinations all while maintaining your sanity. Over the years as I’ve mentored students and young ODs I’ve been asked one question repeatedly, albeit in different ways; “what path do I follow for professional success and happiness”. This is is where it gets interesting. The “path following” is over. There is no path anymore. Instead of following a path you must blaze your own trail.

Let me explain. How I came to be the Alan Glazier, OD you know today has a lot to do with the internet; a tool that was barely in existence and was not being used by people outside of the government when I graduated from NECO in 1993. The use of the internet and the impact it was to have on society was inconceivable at that time. It was a nascent technology and I could never imagine how it was about to shape my entire career, create amazing opportunities and give me a voice to advance agendas I cared about. I had some inkling about what I thought I wanted my career path to look like but it sure didn’t include anything to do with an “internet”, whatever the hell that was. I wanted to go into private practice and develop a multi-location practice, and earn by helping people. I had no idea how I was going to achieve this. The path seemed pretty straight from where I was in terms of what I needed to do to become an OD, but what path should I follow to achieve my professional and personal goals? How the internet and other things were about to disrupt that “path” was going to make it anything but “straight”. 

There’s plenty of advice on how to “get there from here”. Transitioning from student doc to real doc moves you off of a “path” and plunks you in the working world where you apply what you’ve learned, acquire real-life experience, surmount non-clinical and new clinical challenges, deal with personalities and different work-place situations, become impacted by technology, people, economy and other unknowns no one has prepared you for. You learn things that can’t be taught in school, real-life things, things that change your mind about what you learned on the “path”, things that open your mind to new possibilities; “things” that blow “wind” at you, deflecting you and shifting your direction in ways you never imagined; this is your trail. Of course, you will continue to pursue your dreams, goals and aspirations, but you will encounter new things that cause you to move in different directions than the “path” you might have envisioned for yourself; this is your trail. Sometimes you’ll like the new direction and end up on a totally different trajectory than you couldn’t have imagined, like I did. Kierkegaard said what is my favorite quote; life is lived forwards but understood backwards.….. when you arrive at where life takes you, you’ll look back at the trail you blazed; it’s only from there you will be able to see the “path” you took and it will have your signature on it. Right now it doesn’t exist. There’s no path for success, no template. Someone in the future who wants to be exactly you can follow the path you took and never even come close to achieving what you achieved because they are not YOU.

I’m living a dream; it’s not the dream I set out to live, but it’s a different one; a good one blessed with a family, great friends, comfort and what I refer to as “first world problems” and I did it all by blazing a trail I could’ve never imagined that got me here today. The awesome thing is the trail-blazing hasn’t stopped. 

Setting goals and accomplishing them help establish a ground-state of achievement that lasts the rest of your life. We are fortunate to live in a country where we have an opportunity to achieve knowledge and expertise in an intellectual space and earn a living through sharing of that knowledge and in the process helping others. Remember just a short while ago when you were struggling with challenging concepts, spending hours attempting to retain information, pushing through frustration? That will soon be a distant memory. What will remain forever is your massive and impressive academic achievement. You are a Doctor of Optometry. Use it responsibly, use it well, advocate for your profession, support your state and national organization, and give back by mentoring students and young ODs to ensure the future is a bright one for your chosen profession.