In just a few days, many of us will gather with friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving, a time set aside to be with the ones we love and to remember those close to us that are no longer with us. Serving as the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season (no football pun intended), Thanksgiving is the special day when many of us will begin to dream about the weeks ahead and the continuing festivities and gift-giving that await either on Christmas, Hanukkah or other celebrated holidays.

But for one special day this November 23, many of us put aside thoughts of Black Friday shopping and the like in order to take time to remember all we have to be grateful for in a time of both economic and global instability.

In that spirit, we asked some optical industry professionals what they are most thankful for this holiday season, both on a professional and personal level, and here’s what they had to say.

Jennifer Stewart, OD
OD Perspectives

“Optometry, what a ride it has been, and the opportunities are endless. I continue to be able to reinvent myself and pursue new dreams, goals and opportunities—and have a blast along the way. If you had told me in 2007 when I graduated that I would become a partner, buy a practice, sell that practice, cold start a dream practice, become an international speaker and consultant, mentor, teacher, dreamer and innovator, I'd never have believed it. This profession is a gift, and I am thankful everyday for the opportunity to live out my dream.

“On a personal level, I am thankful for my family. My husband eternally embraces and supports my ever-growing list of entrepreneurial ideas, and my two boys think I am ‘the best eye doctor and speaker in the world.’ My mom has always believed in me and said yes to everything, including my first horse at age nine. Also, I am surrounded by my best friends and colleagues. And while social media has its downside, it has allowed me to expand this network and stay connected with those near and far.”

Rick Guinotte
Business Advisor, Owner
Acquios Advisors

“I am very thankful for the many leaders I had the opportunity to be associated with over the past 20-plus years. Some taught me what not to do by failing in their roles, but many were very supportive and answered questions to be here for me. I am grateful for Kirk Kastens who took the leap of faith with me to start Acquios Advisors and also Tim Merrigan who has been an integral part not only for our company but also for his sense of humor. Our team at Acquios Advisors is second to none. The collaboration, the chemistry they bring to the table day after day is unmatched. I am thankful for each and everyone of them and their families who support them.

“My wife Debbie is who I am most thankful for in my professional career. She has been very supportive through all my phases of growth as a manager and now an owner at Acquios Advisors. She has believed in me and stood by me when tough decisions needed to be made, and was there to celebrate the successes.”

Frank Barnes, Jr., OD
National Optometric Association

“What I am most thankful for in my professional career is the growth of my private practice (BNC Eyecare Group), and the appreciation I receive from my community. In my professional career, I am also most thankful for Dr. Tanya Carter as my partner and guiding influence.

“What I am most thankful for in my personal life are the relationships within my family, and the individual accomplishments of my adult children, Frank Barnes, III, MpH and Adrienne Barnes. Who I am most thankful for in my personal life is my ‘to death do we part’ wife, Dr. Tanya Carter, and my lifelong supporter nurse JoAnn Barnes, RN, MS, and my mother, who have both always believed in my success. And thanks to the NOA, who gave me my optometry family.”

Ronald L. Benner, OD
American Optometric Association

“There are many people who have had a great influence in my life—some well recognized across the profession, but many more that are known only in their local communities. Each of them helped me see a path to success and contentment in balancing care for my patients, staff, family, community and organizations.

“The mentors I’ve had professionally have frequently crossed over into my personal life. My father, however, gave me the confidence needed to question and advance in life. While not appreciated when younger, I now value him teaching me to be responsible for myself and to not expect others to do or care more than I do for the people, organizations and causes that are in my life.”

Jenn Chinn, OD
Dr. Chinn’s Vision Care

“I am most thankful for the amazing community and strong friendships I've built in the industry through networking. It is always so impactful to have relationships with people who understand the potential failures and triumphs you may experience in your career. I am constantly learning from and am inspired by my fellow eyecare professionals. This has allowed me to not only be the best clinician I can for my patients, it has also given me so many opportunities in an ever changing industry and world that we live in.

“I am most thankful for my father, who is also an optometrist, for paving the way for my success in this field and career. His unwavering support and constant encouragement has allowed me countless opportunities that many do not have, and for that, I am forever grateful. Without him, I wouldn't be who I am today.”

Keshia S. Elder, OD
Dean of the College of Optometry
University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL)

“I have so many people that I am thankful for in my professional career. My mentors, colleagues and colleagues who became friends have really enriched my time in the optometric profession. I won’t state names, but you know who you are. Overall, I think I am most thankful for the privilege of being an optometrist who helps shape the future of the profession through optometric education.

“My village is my family (friends+family). The fellowship with and support from my family and my village makes this journey called life, with all its ups and downs, a fulfilling experience.”

Alireza Somji, OD
Therapeutic Optometrist
Sports Performance Vision
International Sports Vision Association (President)

“There are so many people to be thankful for in my career, however, there's one clear winner...the International Sports Vision Association (ISVA). I attended an ISVA conference several years ago and it changed my career. I met so many amazing docs who made me realize that there was so much more to understanding vision than I could have imagined. I left that conference shocked that I'd never actually considered or understood how vision really works.

“The ISVA president at the time, Dr. Alex Andrich inspired me to explore learning more about visual development and performance and it changed the way I practice optometry. Understanding vision at a functional level has allowed me to merge my passion for sports and visual performance.

“I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to be thankful for our great team of staff who live and breathe our values. They really allow me to explore and implement new ideas (like sports vision training, a dry eye spa, etc.), and without them it would be really difficult to do all of the amazing things we do at the practice.

“I am also thankful for my family. Without the sacrifices of my mum and sister, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to move to the U.S. and further my undergrad education, which means likely optometry wouldn't have been in my future. There's also no doubt that without the support of my wife and kids, I wouldn't be able to do the things I do and pursue my professional and personal interests. I'm very thankful for a supportive family, they help me maintain balance between work and life.”

Michele Andrews, OD
Vice President Professional and Government Affairs

“When I look across my professional career, I have been very fortunate to have enjoyed several different roles that have provided opportunities to learn and grow and do some really great things. I am thankful for a leader named Marty Knudsen, who I met many years ago as I accepted my first director role. She was not my manager; we worked side by side. But she took me under her wing at a time when I very much needed support and direction.

“She was an incredible role model and someone I watched intently in terms of how she took care of her team and grew the business. She had this special ability to make the team feel super comfortable in bringing anything to her, including bad news or challenging situations. And she’d listen and empathize and then suddenly, somehow, we were moving forward with solutions. Her famous line ‘Are you ready to build the bridge?’ was the signal that we had wallowed long enough. Thanks, Marty, for showing me how to get over it and do some great things.

“When I look at my personal life, the appreciation I have for my family clearly rises to the top. It begins with my husband, and our decision years ago to create and support a home environment where we both pursued our careers and navigated, together, the inherent imbalances that came with that choice. That allowed me to live and work guilt-free, which is a gift.

“And of course, I am so proud of my two incredible children, who grew up with moves across four states for their parents’ career opportunities, the support and chaos of a village of caregivers, listening to hours of conference calls in the car, and sharing the highs and lows of their days with us via Facetime. And in the lifetime of after-school pick-ups, we only forgot to pick them up twice, which I am immensely proud of. Thank you, Stuart, Cole and Elly for all of it—I wouldn’t change a thing.”