Article Date: 2/1/2001

Unlocking Your Potential
Could the secret of success lie in your attitude? This O.D. thinks so.

We've all had someone who's made a positive influence on our professional careers. Surprisingly, the person who had the biggest positive influence on mine wasn't my optometrist father, nor my favorite high school teacher or even some college professor. It was Earl Nightingale who simply repeated, "You are what you think you are."

His name doesn't mean much today because he died long ago, but Earl Nightingale literally changed my life. His motivational messages were a big part of the success I achieved in my career.

Do you know where you're going?

Nightingale said, "If you can't sum up your goal in one sentence, then you don't know where you're going."

It was 1960 when the contact lens field held a lot of promise, but I was nursing some serious doubts about getting involved. What was my goal? I really hadn't thought about it.

Nightingale described a rudderless ship, constantly moving but never getting anywhere. I saw many colleagues, discouraged one moment and boasting about unrelated activities the next. They spent time on pursuits that added nothing to their practices.

Nightingale's solution was simple. Set a goal and face every decision by asking, "Will this help me meet my objective?"

So, I sat down and clearly defined my goal. In the process, I learned to spend for promotion, lease newer instruments and borrow to expand inventory without waiting for patient volume to justify the expense. I hired personnel and planned for a practice that wasn't to be for quite a while. I wasn't able to afford a consultant at first, but I hired one as soon as I could. Holding personal expenses down and keeping a high profile wasn't much fun, but it made the difference between success and failure.

Sure, I made mistakes and paid for every one of them. For example, I learned the hard way that higher rent for the right location is a good investment. When I moved into a high-rise office building in an upscale neighborhood, the practice boomed. I realized afterward that I should've done it sooner.

Finding a greener pasture

Nightingale said, "Get good at what you do." The message reached me when things couldn't have been worse. Grasping in every direction, I was practicing general optometry, selling instruments and desperately searching for a greener pasture.

We call it niche marketing today, but 40 years ago, it was focusing every bit of energy in one direction. I established my specialty as contact lenses and focused all my energy in that direction. Almost over night, competitors became my sources of referral. Because my practice was a different kind of practice, patients were willing to spend more for top-notch service delivered in an attractive environment.

Some common-sense advice

Nightingale said, "The magic word is attitude." A truer statement might never have been made.

From the day I first heard that statement until I retired 25 years later, I was confident of success. And sometimes confidence in your own abilities can make the difference in achieving your goals. I didn't achieve outstanding success by many standards perhaps, but more than enough to give its source some genuine credit for this common-sense advice.

Unfortunately, I never met Earl Nightingale. I heard him speak once, but regrettably, I never got to shake his hand. However, I'll always be grateful to the man who provided those words of wisdom.

DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? Contact Tobin E. Sharp at (215) 643-8127 or, so we can talk about getting your story published.

Optometric Management, Issue: February 2001