December 2020


Changing perspectives

by Steve Speares ASCRS Executive Director

“2020 has certainly changed my perspective. It has taught me a lot about the definition of success, and it has given me such tremendous appreciation for resilience.”

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.”

—Bram Stoker, Dracula

It might seem odd, even macabre, to begin an article with a quote from Dracula. But the passage beautifully illustrates the spirit of resilience, a timely and popular topic in today’s world. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of hope and enjoyment as being our first principles as humans, but I think Stoker was on to something. Even better, his writing makes me think about what waits ahead as we push forward beyond this “obstructing cause” we face today.
For ASCRS members, and our ASCRS staff, 2020 has seen the ultimate examination of our resilience. It would be a tiresome and labored exercise to go through the process of recapping a year that we are all eager to put in the rearview mirror. “Unprecedented.” “Difficult times.” “We’re in this together.” Each word and phrase has become so ubiquitous they now trigger our brains to tune out whatever follows.
The casualties of 2020 were not just the tragically lost lives of family and friends or limited to the tens of millions of jobs and business failures around the world. The carnage is broader. The damage COVID-19 has inflicted on the intangibles of the human spirit, on “first principles” like hope and enjoyment, on our collective need for personal interaction and gathering, are much more difficult to measure.
With the loss of the ASCRS Annual Meeting in Boston, and various other activities, we have lost millions of dollars in revenue, and consequently have needed to reduce millions of dollars in expenses. In 2020, ASCRS reduced staff, took voluntary salary reductions, released our office space, moving to a virtual office work environment, and pulled back on a number of projects and activities.
But as we close the year, there is an odd sense of accomplishment. Every professional medical society has faced the same challenges, but not all societies have survived. The primary reasons we survive come from the value our members place on this organization. Your engagement. Your contributions. Your membership dues. Your attendance at virtual programs like the Annual Meeting and 20/Happy. This engagement is the reason we move forward.
There are many intangibles that keep us strong as well. The contributions in time and effort our volunteer leaders give to ASCRS. The deep dedication to education of our Clinical Committee chairs and committee members. The countless hours put in by our Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery editors and editorial staff. Weekly and monthly late evening calls among the Government Relations Committee, the Young Eye Surgeons Committee, and other ad hoc efforts that are rarely visible to ASCRS members. It is these volunteers that serve as the heartbeat of this organization, keeping it viable, relevant, and growing.
I would be ungrateful if I did not highlight the financial support our all-important industry partners provide to ASCRS. Oftentimes these companies have no guarantee of a return on investment, but they step up and do what they can to allow us to broaden our educational footprint. They support sponsored events and provide educational grants that ensure free-flowing and unbiased discussion, which is peer-reviewed. They are loyal to ophthalmology and to ASCRS.
In July, I packed up my office in Fairfax, Virginia. It was well into the summer evening as I filtered items for storage, personal keepsakes, and the recycling bin. We had just made some tough financial choices, and closing the physical office felt in some way to be a failure, despite the objective rational knowledge that this decision was lifting a huge financial burden off the organization.
As I finished up, I saw the most beautiful sunset across the horizon of the Virginia countryside. A sense of melancholy enveloped me. Was this not a sign that the sun was setting on ASCRS? It reminded me of a conversation I had with Dr. Robert Machemer when I was a young sales rep. He was completing a complex retinal detachment that took several hours but ended with the retina completely flat.
I asked him, “How do you define a successful outcome in such a difficult case?” He turned to me and said, “Steve, it’s all about perspective. I can show you a picture of a beautiful orange sky with the sun low on the horizon. You may think ‘What a beautiful sunset.’ But then I tell you it is actually a sunrise. Are you disappointed? I don’t think so. It is just that your perspective has changed.”
I took a second look at that gorgeous sky, and I felt completely different. 2020 has certainly changed my perspective. It has taught me a lot about the definition of success, and it has given me such tremendous appreciation for resilience.
I look to 2021 with as much anticipation as any year I can remember. We will still have multiple challenges lying in wait. But now I look to them almost with a sense of anticipation. I am certain our first principles of hope and enjoyment will follow close behind.

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