To Be a Happier Pharmacist, Tell Yourself a Better Story

If you want a better job, you have to tell yourself a better story about the job you currently have.

It was about 6 pm on a Monday, and I finally had a "break in the action” at my pharmacy.

As I reached over to turn up the volume on my radio, I noticed a familiar albeit extremely unhappy face at my consultation window.

“Fancy meeting you here,” I said, extending my hand. “Whatcha doing over at ‘the competition' my friend?"

He was the pharmacy manager at one of our local competitors. We had been friends for years, but I couldn’t recall seeing him actually inside of our store before.

“How are you so darn happy all of the time?” he asked in a rather direct manner.

“Say what?” I replied, somewhat stunned by his question.

“Well, after the day I’ve had with my DM breathing down my neck about immunizations, medication therapy management (MTM), customer experience scores, and having to deal with about a million whiny patients, I decided to come over here and walk around awhile, just to cool off," he explained. "I’ve been doing that way too much lately.”

He paused and took 3 or 4 hard breaths, the way a boxer does between rounds, and then continued on in a kind of rant.

“Anyway, I saw you were working, and I thought I would say hello," he said. "I ended up standing here for about 20 minutes watching you laugh and joke with your customers as if you didn’t have a care in the world.”

“And?” I asked, hoping to get to the bottom of what he was driving at.

“And I don’t like it! Not because you’re the competition, but because I’m jealous!" he exclaimed. "I mean, you’re just as busy as we are. You give shots and everything else. So how come my job stinks and yours doesn’t?”

I couldn’t help but giggle a bit.

“The truth?” I asked.

He nodded slightly.

“It’s not your job that stinks, it’s your story!”

I overheard one of my technicians gasp.

I put my hand on his arm and said calmly, “Listen, my friend, it hasn’t always been this way. A few years ago, I was so tense and burnt out that I ended up going on citalopram and metoprolol due to what I was calling job stress. Looking back on it now, I should have called it story stress.”

“Story stress?" he wondered.

“I had bought into the story that I had it tough. That my job was hectic and overwhelming to the point that it was killing me," I explained. "What a LOUSY Story!”

“What happened?” he asked.

“I was working one night when a man came in to introduce himself and thank me for taking good care of his mother who had recently past away from natural causes," I said. "He told me that she always talked about how kind I was to her. The funny thing was, when he told me her name, I didn’t recognize it at all.”

“I’m not sure I get it. In what way did that help you?” he asked.

“I realized that my job isn’t about me. It’s about the impact I can make," I explained. "That is to say the impact I can make if I make the story about my patients and how I can help them. The problem is we let the busyness, the increased expectations from above, and the ever-present budgetary constraints write our story for us. It’s up to us to write our own story.”

“Maybe, but I’m still not sure what you mean by ‘story’!” he said, though he was becoming much calmer. He even smiled a bit.

“Every day, all day, we all walk around with an internal dialogue that determines how we feel about whatever happens to us and around us," I said. "How we interpret that dialogue determines our happiness.

"Take, for example, what happens when a guy cuts you off in the parking lot. He is either a jerk, or someone who made a mistake, depending upon the story you tell yourself about it. Notice the difference it makes to your blood pressure.

“How we feel about our jobs, our lives, and the people in it is determined by the stories we tell ourselves. If you want a better job, you have to tell yourself a better story about the job you currently have.”

“It cannot possibly be that easy," he argued.

“What choice do you have? It’s not going to get any better until your story get’s better!” I argued back.

“I guess you’re right. It’s not like immunizations or MTM claims are going to magically go away," he noted.

“True, and I bet you can think of some of your patients you wouldn’t want to trade stories with," I added.

“Amen, brother. I’m going to go home and work on writing myself a better story,” he said, turning toward the front entrance.

I then walked over to the drop-off window to wait on a guy who had just come from the emergency room. As it turns out, he had just totaled his car.