One step at a time

Tackling the biggest challenges takes resilience, but even small steps can add up


This week, in between the outages that interrupted my favoured evening pastime of scrolling on Instagram, I came across a concept I hadn’t heard before – that of ‘eating the elephant.’

In a line often attributed to South African activist Desmond Tutu, the phrase claims: “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time,” and suggests that, though a task can seem insurmountable, it can be achieved by breaking it down into little steps.

This played on my mind as I joined the SEE Summit on the Environment on Monday 4 October, which gathered speakers and panellists from research, manufacturing and practice, to discuss how the optical industry can reduce its impact on the environment.

With Nick Bridge, the Foreign Secretary’s special representative for climate change, outlining the need for “a serious course correction” in reducing emissions, and hearing some of the challenges that face the industry in adopting new, more sustainable practices, the task ahead can feel enormous.

But a key message throughout the virtual event was that taking small steps really does make a big difference – whether it’s making swaps for more sustainable packaging, seeking out frames made from recycled materials, or introducing the topic into more conversations with the practice team, or patients.

James Conway, CEO of Millmead Optical Group, suggested that the process is a journey: “You just have to keep moving forward. You’re not always going to get it right, but there are no stupid questions.”

It takes resilience to keep going sometimes, especially when the task can be challenging, or the path uncertain.

This is something I am sure many of us can attest to, having operated throughout the past 18 turbulent months, but during conversations with the AOP’s student committee members, I am always particularly struck by how resilient the optometrists of the future are.

In a follow-up to our COVID-Generation project, launched earlier this year to explore the effect of the pandemic on student and pre-reg optometrists, OT heard about some of the continued challenges facing this cohort of trainees.

Despite this however, students talked about “owning” their experiences – both the ups and the downs – and feeling proud of the progress made through such an unusual time. In a message for the profession, Indy Ghuman, final year optometry student at Aston University and chair of the AOP student council, said: “Don’t underestimate the students of COVID-19. I think it’s bred a very resilient group of early career optometrists.”

OT has seen more stories of resilience in the past week, in Lucy Miller’s Q&A with three Paralympians discussing their experiences of competing on the world stage at Tokyo 2020 – a concept that would certainly bring me out into a cold sweat. Or Leah Boyle’s interview with locum optometrist, Priya Morjaria, about the three women who have shaped her career path, and the traits of determination she admires in her mentors.

If you have a story of resilience that you would like to share, do get in touch with the OT team – we’re always interested in hearing your stories.