Pharmacists, you own your career — Part I
By Jason Poquette

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Few things are more annoying than the person who pretends to know it all. They fluctuate between rants about politics and their profession, they wax eloquent on the wisdom they have gained over the years, and they dismiss anyone who dares to question their beloved dogmas. They're never wrong. Just ask them. Such individuals may attract a little band of worshippers for a while, but sooner or later most people smarten up and move on.

But the opposite extreme, in my opinion, is equally annoying. By that I mean the person who pretends to know nothing. They have enjoyed some measure of success. They have had a significant amount of life experience. But they keep it to themselves. Maybe for some it is not intentional. But sometimes folks just don't want to share.

Well, I'm going to dare to share. I don't know everything — not even close. But what I am about to share with you may very well change the way you look at everything. Or maybe it won't. Which result happens depends entirely upon you. If it changes you, I cannot take the credit. If it doesn't, I will not share the blame.

Let me explain.

One of the many things they don't teach very well in pharmacy school is career management. Don't misunderstand me. That wasn't a bitter jab at pharmacy schools or the professors who often give 150 percent of themselves, investing untold hours above and beyond the call of duty into the lives and careers of their students. But every professional program has its limits.

This oversight, however, is especially significant. Students have just spent six years (often much more) and well over six figures to get the training and education they need to safely and effectively contribute to the healthcare system and the well-being of patients. However, in spite of that enormous investment, they have spent relatively little time, and much less money, preparing to manage their careers.

The question I would repeatedly ask my students as they cycled through the rotation I taught in conjunction with our local pharmacy school is this: What is your plan to protect and promote your career? The answer I typically got was something like "engage in continuing education" or "join a pharmacy association" or "try to excel in my position or job." These, of course, are not bad things. But ultimately they have nothing whatsoever to do with the management and promotion of your career.

Being the best at anything may be great for patients and wonderful for your employer, but in and of itself, it does nothing for you. Excellence is indispensable. But we have all known people with far less raw talent and intelligence become far more "successful" in their careers. I had only a short time with many of these students, but grateful responses have assured me that some of what I tried to communicate sunk in.

What did I try to communicate? No one really stated better what I was trying to explain than Earl Nightingale (1921-1989). Earl, you may know, was a popular motivational speaker and the author of the well-respected work "The Strangest Secret." Earl once said this:

"Jobs are owned by the company, you own your career."

If ever we get this through our heads, whatever profession you happen to be in, it has the potential to be a game-changer in the way you approach everything you do.

Lesson 1: Never allow your job description to define you

"You own your career" has so many implications, that one cannot possibly unpack it all in a single post. I will hopefully write more on this in the future if there is some interest. But let me just make one point for you to ponder: Never allow your job description to define you. I would rank this as one of the top mistakes made by individuals in their careers, including pharmacists. Their employer hires them. They are thrilled. And from that moment on their definition of success is determined by their capacity to excel at a list of things their job expects of them.

The end result is this — you end up becoming your job description. And guess what, you have effectively limited yourself to that line of work forever. You are like a key, carefully cut and shaped — beautiful and shiny — but you only fit into one lock.

Sometimes my students thought I was crazy, until they got out into the real world and saw that what I described to them was precisely what happened to 99 percent of the people they met. Then they got it. We become brainwashed by a job description and end up defining ourselves by a list of 10-12 things we must do.

But if you truly want to own your own career, you have to throw that mental list away. You need to break the stone tablets on which that job description is etched in your mind. Your "job" is not you, any more than you "shoe" is you or your "car" is you. Understand me. I'm not saying to ignore what is expected of you. What I am saying is this: Don't let it define you.

Action 1: Define yourself and your goals

The alternative to allowing your job description to define you is to define yourself. Who are you? What do you want to do? How much money do you want to make? Where are you going?

Ideally you should put this on a 3-by-5 card. It should only be one or two sentences at most. It might not be easy to come up with a single statement, but it is critical to the process of owning your career. Once done, it needs to be committed to memory. And don't forget — you can change this. That's OK. The point is you change it — not your boss, your teacher or your blog coach. You.

And that, my friend, is how owning your career begins.

Jason Poquette, BPharm, R.Ph., earned his pharmaceutical degree from the University of Connecticut in 1993. In addition to his 20 years of practice, Jason writes his own blog, The Honest Apothecary, a pharmaceutical news and information site dedicated both to patients and to fellow pharmacists.