On a trip to an optical superstore to help my mother select new eyeglasses I found myself frustrated by the “help” at the store. I noticed they were undermanned and that other patrons were equally frustrated. As a result, I miraculously overcame my intense shyness and began helping other people look at new frames while the optician helped my mother complete her order. He offered me a job on the spot and I declined respectfully.
Over a year later when I graduated from High School I was at a loss as to what kind of job I should seek while in college. Knowing the story of my infamous trip to the optical shop with mom, my father stopped into a small optical shop within walking distance of home and inquired about work for me. I was of course mortified when he told me this and he sent me to meet the shop owner at once to pursue part time work. Little did I know my career was calling me.
I was fortunate enough to have my first job in the optical field not be at the optical superstore but rather with a good natured (albeit slightly lecherous) independent Optician. He took me in as an apprentice and taught me to run his entire optical business. Within one year of working for him I was selling high end optical fashion, measuring, ordering and fabricating prescription eyewear with relative accuracy and ease. When he retired (Independant Opticians were dying out in the U.S.) he sold me like a slave with his practice to a local “fast food” optical chain.
I continued working in “big” optical and put myself through a 4 year degree and a 5th year of student teaching only to decide the public school system was a mess I did not want work in. After graduation from GMU I was feeling lost and frustrated. I was tired of the “fast food” optical environment and knew from my early experience that there were a great many holes in the way these businesses “serve” the public.
I ended up working in a multi-doctor practice as one of two staff opticians. This is where I found and I worked with an amazing mentor and friend for the next nine years. My frustration however, at not being able to supply people exactly what I knew was best for their needs continued.
All Doctor offices seem to focus their dollars on quality exam equipment, self education, insurance claims processing, staff and all things directly tied to their side of quality patient care. This is as it should be but they often end up overlooking the importance of the role the Optician should play in the world of their optical dispensary. Consequently their dispensaries all end up looking the same and filled with mainstream products secured at the lowest prices possible so to squeeze the maximum out of sales dictated by health insurance companies rather than the real needs of the actual patient.
And thus, in a country that undervalues the importance of an educated, licensed Optician. Where independent opticians have been a rapidly dying breed since the late eighties, I struck out on my own. Everyone in my industry said I was wrong. That my business model could not survive. That independent opticians have been rendered non-essential by managed care, Big Box stores and Optometric practices that use their own license as an umbrella in order to hire cheaper help. Everyday for the last nine plus years that I have opened the doors to my business I have proven to myself that “they” are wrong. People really do care about quality optical products and I am not the only one left in the world who is in pursuit of good vision.
The moral of this story is in all things you should be true to your sense of right and wrong. You should follow your interests and stay on the life path that allows you to make a difference even in the smallest ways. The Golden Rule has driven my career and life path. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Simple words that take a lifetime and then some to master. And, “may the force be with you” always.