Today’s Optical marketplace is changing at lighting speed. And while I’m sure this isn’t news to you, what you may be missing is that there is a tremendous opportunity to help mentor the new generation of Optical Professionals who are entering the field. I’ve been in this field for almost 20 years and I can tell you that as a young Optician, I relied heavily on the expertise of those around me. And still to this day when I find myself in a situation that is new to me I reach out often to people who have mentored me over the years.

So here is my question, if you’ve ever had the benefit of having someone mentor you, have you ever considered being a mentor yourself?

Bueller…. Bueller…..

Our Optical world is a busy one. Between patient care, the incessant calls of “are my glasses ready,” walk-in adjustments, and the newest one: having the discussion with patients of why working with an optical professional is a smarter choice than letting the internet make your glasses. We often get so busy that the thought of taking the time to answer that young optician’s question feels like they are asking you to remove your left leg and give it to them. But, remember that if you’re being asked how to do something, it is because the other person sees that you know how to do it. That’s got to feel good, right? And if not you, who? Optical Educators are in high demand today. So if you have knowledge to share, and you’re thinking about leaving the Optical field better than you found it, (and I know you are because you’re taking the time to read an article about Mentoring) then here is an Opportunity for you.(Yes, you.) Our young Optical Professionals face a profession and field that is much different than the one I started out in, and those waters can be murky and choppy. Of course, they have questions, they should. Of course, they need leadership and education. Don’t you think they should be due the same niceties that those of us who have been in the field for a bit had in our early years? So, again, I will ask, if not you, who?

The current market demands an Optical Professional with a varied skill set. They must be personable and fashion conscious and they must be able to listen and trouble-shoot. They also must be on top of current technology and have good fine motor skills and the ability to perform intricate repairs. They must understand the physics of light; they must understand margins and the skill of sales, and have the knowledge and ability to recommend the right product for the right patient. We’re not asking for much… Maybe we should just add that they should be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, right? So, do you have any of these skills down pat? Can you share or teach some of these skills? (And, yes, I’m still talking to YOU.)

Self-Doubt is a Killer

Often we think that someone else will take up the baton and make sure the next generation of Optical Professionals is well trained, but if we are all thinking that someone else will do it, it will never get done. Also, I think many of us are guilty of listening too much to that little voice inside our head that says “Just who do you think you are?” or “What makes you think you know enough to teach someone else?” (Sound familiar?) But, I’m going to tell you that if you have that incredible skill-set that we discussed earlier, there are many, many young Optical Professionals who need to see that kind of an Optical Bad-Ass in order to see what they can aspire to be.

So Now You Know

Ok, so you get that I’m talking to you, and now your question is “Well, how can I help” and“ What can I do?” Great! Now we’re moving in the right direction! There are many ways you can get involved, first, join your state association and meet other people within the organization. Joining optical associations is a great way to meet people who may need mentors but also to meet people like you who might be interested in mentoring others. Also, there are several online forums for Optical Professionals who can help troubleshoot and provide support for their peers. Taking it a step further, Optical Education conferences are always looking to provide new content presented by new speakers, so if you are more geared toward formal education, there are ways to get involved in that too.

But the bottom line is this - my favorite quote from the late, great, Maya Angelou; “When you learn, teach, when you get, give.

Johnna Dukes, ABOC is currently the owner and operator of an optical boutique, with experience in both the private practice sector as well as the retail chain setting. She has a wide range of experience varying from optical support staff to dispensary management to practice ownership. She lives in Okoboji, Iowa.