It was in November of 2003 that I embarked upon a new career. I finally landed the job I had sought for many years, the coveted role of pharmaceutical sales representative. Fast-forward 5,000-ish days: it finally happened. I am officially laid off. Fortunately, this is an event that did not take me by surprise. Anyone working in the industry today should be well aware of the layoff risks. Over the course of my ~720 weeks of employment, I experienced at least 6 reorganization events, always managing to beat the odds and survive. As the years passed by, I lost my strut and simply checked the endless stream of boxes, no longer thriving in my role.

Finally having my number chosen is both cheerless and cheerful. I have wanted to try my hand at something new for many years: “Golden Handcuffs” seems to lend an appropriate visual literary tool. I have envied those who fearlessly cast aside high wages and steep benefit packages to forge ahead and follow their dream(s). I also find myself wondering what my dreams even were?  I must’ve had some at some point. Now isn’t that a sad state? I am excited to rediscover what those dreams may have been, or perhaps I have new ones, now that I’m older and supposedly wiser. I’m reading an excellent book called “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind” by Vishen Lakhiani to help me unlock my mind after years of consensual brainwashing. The accompanying app from Lakhiani’s company, Mindvalley, offers helpful applications of the concepts presented in the book. Luckily, it came across my Amazon Kindle Unlimited suggestions list about two weeks ago, so I got a bit of a jumpstart with my thought process. I observe, as I write this, that the job that I coveted for so many years – and finally landed – mostly seemed to have brought me what society expected me to want, to achieve, and to possess. I suppose I feel somewhat like I am detoxing from corporate America and “brules”, as coined by Lakhiani. It’s rather disorienting. Yesterday I found myself weeping on the telephone with beloved colleagues, and today I found myself shedding joyful tears, relishing in a newborn freedom from life hunched over a steering wheel, mindless twilight-zone-esk quarterly business plans, and the perpetual fog generated by reach and frequency sales models.

Now I’ll detour a bit into the world of pharmaceutical sales, only to wax poetic. When I entered the industry in 2003, I did not hold the same viewpoint on the issues that perhaps my post will bring to mind. Understand that I spent a great portion of my life very deeply enmeshed in the rhetoric. During the earlier time of my career, the industry was just slightly to the right of the #partylikeits1999 pharmaceutical heyday bell curve. The blockbusters were soaring, making fortunes and, at that time, were mostly affordable to all. The PhRMA Guidelines had generally taken hold, and representatives were no longer taking physicians and their spouses to exotic destinations and other loosely monitored entertainment endeavors. The world of the tchotchke was still going in full force: at one point in my career, I had so much work swag in my garage I thought we might be buried under it. Over the years, as pressures increased, those same boxes of pens and notepads were no longer permitted. At every level of healthcare, the quality and quantity of interactions between physicians and pharmaceutical sales representatives dramatically declined. Not to mention the ever changing political landscape of healthcare. As access to information, via a simple mouse-click, has become commonplace and physician downtime (between visits) has declined, the world of pharmaceutical sales appears to be in a slow, yet very steady, slide into the abyss of antiquity. Those in the industry will argue that there is no replacement for human, face to face interaction. While I accept the value of looking at someone in the eye while you speak to them, I think that the customers largely would not miss pharmaceutical sales representatives at all if they simply stopped coming – with the exception of a small few who benefit from the “occasional” meal provided to their well deserving office staff. And don’t forget, due to the Sunshine Act, even a powdered doughnut hole (not to be mistaken for the Medicare donut hole) must be reported to CMS. I will briefly pause to say that the aforementioned office staff work incredibly hard to keep the ship(s) afloat in a sea of sick people, relentless insurance company back and forths, and a never ending stream of phone calls from patients, pharmacists, and many other parties. But in all seriousness, in this era of expanding waistlines, no one needs the dang donuts.

It appears I have digressed somewhat – I mentioned my perceptions have changed.  I used to view my job through rose colored glasses. I felt I was providing a true patient outcome improvements, erstwhile providing sound medical evidence to bolster provider confidence. Due to confidentiality agreements to which I am subject, I cannot provide specifics, however I can share that I no longer view healthcare sales and marketing in a benevolent light. I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve held this stance for quite some time, and I have been too chicken to set myself apart and free from it. There were many times in my career that I found myself being asked to deliver sales messages that my gut simply felt were not in the best interest of patients. I developed a work-around for this conundrum by not participating in delivering said canned spiel, unless I was being evaluated by a superior who expected to observe the delivery and subsequent objection handling. There are so many hands in the healthcare cookie jar these days that it’s nothing short of a miracle that the system hasn’t already collapsed. I don’t know if we can govern ourselves out of the collective quandary. And we’re not helping ourselves either: we are fat, type 2 diabetic ridden, hunched over, defeated, and mentally trapped in our culture locked cages. While I decompress from the self selected cesspool I swam in, I cannot help but wonder how I ended up compromising so much. And sadly,  I also wonder if I will be successful in permently breaking free from it’s siren song. Right now, I have absolutely no plan except this: to understand who I am. Just me. Defined simply by viewing myself through God’s lens, while following the only rule that matters: treat others as I wish to be treated.

The Golden Rule, no more Golden handcuffs.


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