As promised, I’ll be sharing a bit more about owning and selling a small business. Today, I’ll tell you how I ended up as a business owner. I’ll try to be objective and share the pros and cons, but please be aware this is all based on my experience, and I am no expert.
When I graduated from optometry school in 1999, all I really wanted to do was see patients, the more difficult the better. After finishing a residency with the Indian Health Service, I had certainly seen my share of the more difficult ones, and I felt I was ready for whatever job awaited me. A common misconception that I think many college graduates share is that if you do well enough in school, a good job will be waiting for you when you finish. Most times you have to be a bit more proactive when looking for gainful employment.
Value of a Mentor
My residency adviser was a very practical man, and he made me sit down and figure out what I wanted to do. Being an optometrist didn’t cut it. He made me figure out where I wanted to live and what sort of practice I wanted to be involved with. He encouraged me to moonlight at a commercial establishment (WalMart) to see how that side of the game was played as well.
About six months into my 12 month residency, I had decided I wanted to stay in the Southwest, preferable on the West slope of Colorado. He suggested that I send a letter to every private practice in the area telling them about myself and that I would be looking for a position soon. I also started talks with the ophthalmology group that held clinic at our hospital once a month. The resident generally ran the clinic, and it was a good opportunity for the surgeons to see you in action. At that point, I wasn’t ruling out staying with Indian Health as a career either. Probably without having my adviser and mentor, I would have procrastinated until the end of my training before seriously looking for a job. I can’t stress enough how important finding some sort of mentor is with helping you get started in a career. As a result, I had three viable options for employment well before I was out on the street.
I interviewed for a position with Indian Health way out in the middle of the Hopi reservation, which sits smack dab in the middle of Navajo area. Basically it was not close to anything except desert, goats, and tumbleweeds. Pros would have been great benefits, medically challenging patients, and absolutely nothing to spend my money on. You can only buy so much fry bread. Cons were lower pay, it was a government job with lots of red tape, and I would have to leave behind my budding romance with my now husband.
I also was offered a position with an ophthalmology group in Santa Fe. The pay and benefits were really good, but the opportunity for advancement was low. Optometrists working for surgeons will always be bottom feeders. You want a surgeon to be very sure of themselves when they’re cutting you open, but that sometimes translates to arrogance when he or she is your employer. I liked the area. Grocery stores were abundant, unlike on the reservation, but again, the whole long distance relationship was not appealing.
Do You Believe in Fate?
I actually found my job by working at Wal Mart. One Saturday, I was slaving away when a middle aged gentleman strolled in and asked to speak with the doctor. I told him I was only filling in for the weekend. He introduced himself as a local private practice optometrist, and I realized I’d just sent him my “I’m the best job candidate ever, please hire me” letter. He happened to be in the store, and out of curiosity, wanted to meet the doctor. He asked if I liked working there. I said absolutely not, but I was getting paid peanuts as a resident, and this was a good income supplement. We hit it off and kept in touch. While he didn’t hire me that day, it did lead to an offer. He wasn’t actively looking for an employee. He’d been burned with his last attempt at partnership, but he was hoping to step back and find an eventual buyer for his practice. I think I was in the right place at the right time. My original job contract stated that I would work for two years as an employee and then buy into the practice. Otherwise, I’d move on.
While I never set out to own a business, I was now headed in that direction. I do believe you can make your own luck by having a good attitude and being proactive. Often, a non-optimum situation can lead to an opportunity. At that point, I had been fairly aggressive about my job search, but who knows what path I might have taken if I hadn’t been working that Saturday? I took it as a sign that it was meant to be, and all I had to do was learn how to run a business, should be a piece of cake, right?
Have you ever had a great experience from being in the right place at the right time? How did you get your current job?