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HomemiprofessionTwists and Turns An Unexpected Career Journey

Twists and Turns An Unexpected Career Journey

Free-spirited Millennial, Leilei Zhou found the balm for her itchy feet in a family-owned practice in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire.

Let’s face it; if you’re reading this article, you’re either an optometrist or you work in the optical industry. So, I gather you’ve met a few other fellow optometrists. As a breed we are usually not the most exciting people in the world, but I’d like to think of myself as the slightly more adventurous of the bunch; something to do with being a ‘wanderlust-ridden Millennial’, perhaps?

I discovered I really do have a passion for helping people, whether it’s providing eye care to those in need or simply putting a smile on someone’s face

I hailed from Auckland, the City of Sails, have roamed the rolling hills of Dunedin, and travelled to the exotic shores of Vanuatu. I’ve done some soul searching in the inner west suburbs of Sydney and eventually taken on responsibility as a practice owner.

It all started at Auckland University, where I decided to pursue my passion for all things eyes. I worked tirelessly to ace every exam (to the best of my abilities anyway), master every technique, and perfect my bedside manner, just like every other optometry student.

But little did I know my journey was just getting started. After graduation, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, I took a leap of faith and headed south to Dunedin, where I worked in a corporate rural practice. We served everyone from farmers to international students. I quickly realised that being an optometrist in a small town was difficult in more ways than one, but I rose to the challenge.

However, the thrill of adventure was calling (wanderlust-ridden Millennial, remember?). I soon found myself packing my bags for Vanuatu, living on a medical ship, and working in an outreach program to help those in need.

I braved the heat, the seasickness, and the language barrier to provide eye care to the island nation’s most vulnerable communities, all while absorbing all the vitamin D I could to live my best life.

But eventually, it was time to return to civilisation, and with Australia’s eastern seaboard promising better weather than Dunedin, I landed in Sydney. I started work for a trendy optometrist chain in the hipster suburb of Newtown. Next to all the stylish youth, I have never felt more ‘uncool’, but I enjoyed the artisanal kombucha, the wholefoods, and new age fitness classes.

However, something was missing. While Newtown was fun, I realised the inner boring optometrist in me was still more interested in the ‘serious’ side of the profession. I took a plunge and started working at IC Optometrist, a family-owned independent practice in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire.

The practice had a loyal following and a sterling reputation, but I thought I could bring in some fresh perspectives and new energy. I saw potential and decided to buy in, becoming a co-owner alongside the family.

The transition was not without its challenges, but it was an interesting process nonetheless, all through the buzzword of the century – an ‘unprecedented’ global pandemic – COVID-19.

But as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I look forward now to learning the ins and outs of running a business, managing staff, and dealing with the day-to-day headaches of owning a practice. I hope to tackle each obstacle with grace, determination, and passion, with the support of two incredibly knowledgeable business partners – Ian and Brenton Cleaver.

A Journey of Discovery

Now as a practice co-owner, my excitement comes not from the thrill of travelling to new destinations, but from finding new ways to innovate and improve, all while staying true to the practice’s core values and traditions.

My career journey has not only been one of adventure and growth, but also one of self-discovery.

I discovered I really do have a passion for helping people, whether it’s providing eye care to those in need or simply putting a smile on someone’s face.

I realised that as I form genuine connections with patients, I really am interested in what variety of tomatoes Sharon is growing, and what secret little swimming hole Paul discovered on the weekend.

I have also learnt the importance of taking risks and trying new things, as cliché as that sounds, COVID-19 really taught me to seize the day – carpe diem! Because who knows what other ‘unprecedented’ event is just around the corner?

And perhaps most importantly, I discovered the ability to make a real difference in people’s lives. I’ve come to appreciate that my work has meaning and purpose; isn’t that a privilege?

Leilei Zhou graduated with a Bachelor of Optometry from Auckland University in 2015 and is the co-owner of IC Optometrist in Sutherland, Sydney.