Embrace the Fear

This Post was originally published on October 18th, 2014

For most of my life I have been afraid, not just afraid, but terrified.  I know that may seem incongruous, but it is true.  I am afraid of falling, and dying alone, and the things that lurk in the darkest corners of my imagination, and failure, and bears.  I have nightmares almost every night about one of those things, but the thing that I am most afraid of is missing out on the fun or interesting things going on around me.  Yes folks, I the Reverend Doctor Owen E. Foley, duly sworn Notary Public in the great state of Vermont suffer from the terminal disease known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

Man has always been fascinated by what he cannot have, and plagued by regrets of things that he could have had if only the circumstances had been handled differently.  It is no big shock that Moses and god discussed coveting on Mount Sinai millennia ago..  Our generation is no different, in fact we are probably worse than people before us.  We live in an interconnected world where we are constantly being bombarded with all the GREAT or AMAZING things that everybody around us is doing.  This creates a major inferiority complex where we look at our “mundane” or “boring” life and fail to see the adventure, just the drudgery that we have become used to.  There is always excitement or adventure in new things or experiences, but that shine quickly fades as you become used to it.  Through working out standup routines I have found that what is new and terrifying the first time you perform it becomes old hat by the 3rd time, and you need to strive to keep the excitement level up since you are probably dealing with a new audience each time.

Ah the old third paragraph, the time where I write about an interesting story where something related to the post topic occurred to me, fear not faithful fans I will not disappoint.  A few years ago my friends rented a house with brothers from all the eastern regional chapters in Atlantic City for founders day weekend and I was invited to join.  I knew it would be a good weekend, but it would cost me about $150 for fees, and gas, and probably a lot of extra cash for gambling.  On top of that I did not have an active passport so I am not sure if I would be able to leave the states and get into New Jersey.  I instead decided to take pass and work a my normal Saturday shift at Eckerd.  Almost a decade later I still regret missing out on that trip.  There were stories about toilet paper football, and hookups, and coffee made with Jack Daniels instead of water, and a giant pole that was stolen from the roadside, and even a pile of “human excrement” on the basement floor that cost them the deposit.  All I got was $88 pre tax and a boring weekend alone at my apartment.

I would like to clarify that FOMO is not always a bad thing.  There are few motivating factors as effective as missing out on something and trying to redeem yourself.  I can personally tie several road trips and fun adventures to trying to “redeem” myself over the skipped AC trip.  Sometimes missing out can be the kick in the ass that you need to get yourself moving on something even better.  The problem lies when your sole motivating factor is that you don’t want to miss out on anything, because lets face it there is only so much that you can do, trying to go beyond that will just lead to disaster.

I have found that the biggest key is identifying what really matters.  In the pharmacy world we are trained to be omnipotent and multitask to no end.  This is not field specific because we live in a world where everyone is on multiple screens and our lives are filled with digital clutter of all kinds.  Every productivity “expert” lobbies for doing one thing to increase your productivity or focus, but it is so easy to get caught up in the search for productivity that you never actually take action.  You become so focused on the overwhelming amount of ways to get yourself out on whatever situation that you are stuck in, that you are so afraid to choose one and make the commitment, thereby missing out on the options provided via other options.  The basics never change, you want to make enough money to live a good life, you want to surround yourself with good people, and you want to feel fulfilled.  No amount of productivity advice or life hacks will get you there, you need to know what you want and reach for it.

I have recently begun reevaluating my priorities.  I found that my work too much, sleep too little, try to miss nothing schedule had lead me to the point of burnout.  Although I have basically been walking the burnout line for the past 10 years I still recognize when I was getting too close to the edge.  This summer I took some time for myself, and I am so glad that I did.  I started working out more, and traveling for things that really mattered instead of just trying to fill the time.  I found myself splitting time between multiple things but not being obligated to try everything and be everywhere at once.  This was most likely the best summer of my life, and I was able to do it while working 50 hours a week and being on the go every weekend.

A few weeks ago I had a major victory.  I left a bottle share where I would have had some new and interesting beers that I probably will never have again in exchange for watching American Dad reruns and falling asleep early, and it was totally worth it.  I woke up clear eyed and sober and ran a 5k, and what is more important I didn’t regret my decision for a second.  While this represents a big win, it isn’t the end.  We are hardwired to want what we do not have, and that hunger is a great motivational tool, but we have to pick and choose what is really worth it.

You can’t pick your fears, or else every white girl would be afraid of gluten.  The best that you can do is embrace the ones that you have and try to overcome them.  I will probably always be afraid of missing experiences, but the key is being content with the experiences that you choose.  Life is full of decisions, and sometimes you have to choose the responsible decision over the fun one or the boring decision over the flashy one, and I am okay with that.  The night is dark and full of terrors, but at least I feel comfortable facing my fear of missing out because there will always be plenty of other things to keep me up at night.

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A Moment of Silence

This Post was originally published on July 30th, 2014

I suppose that it is a good thing that most of my current friends were the ones that I made during the first 2 years of college.  I have certainly met new people and formed new friendships, but through it all the core of people who I surround myself with hasn’t changed much in the past 10 or 11 years.  One of the biggest pitfalls is trying to explain our shared experiences to people who weren’t there.  These inside jokes take on a whole life of their own and sometimes you need to pull back the curtain and give some insights on probably the most drawn out inside story that I have ever been a part of, The Great Bologna Disaster of 2006.

I often refer to the summer of 2006 as the strangest point in my life.  I had been thrown out of ACP, turned 21, started working in retail pharmacy, initiated my burrito quest, and spent most of the summer rudderless and lost.  This was also the summer that cemented a lot of my friendships.  As anybody who has been rudderless and lost knows, its the people who stand by you and try to give you guidance that mean the most to you after.  It is easy to say “I stand by my friends through anything” but a completely different beast to actually be there when they need you.  Ultimately this is a story about how I wasn’t there for somebody when he needed me.

The Acquisition of Bologna

July 4th, 2006

The fourth of July is always a special day filled with BBQs, fireworks and fun… unless you work retail pharmacy and it is a day filled with holiday emergencies and calls wondering if you are open (no I just hang out here on my days off when the store is closed).  This was my first holiday working retail, and after slugging my way through 8 hours at Eckerd I felt like I never wanted to see another human being ever again.  I returned home to 100 Holland and found myself completely alone since everybody had headed out to spend the holiday with family.  Being alone suited me and I was able to lose myself in several hours of tv and relaxation in a pre Facebook newsfeed world where enjoying life was more important than talking about how much you enjoyed life.  Then I got the call that set everything in motion.

Brad was one of my best friends, my first friend at ACP, and the person that I hung out with the most.  We shared many common interests like beer, and whiskey, and watching TV, all important stuff when you are 20 or 21.  Around 11pm Brad called me hammered out of his mind looking for a ride because his girlfriend had thrown him out of their apartment.  Knowing Brad I figured that not picking him up would result in him doing something stupid and me feeling terrible about letting him down.  I had not felt like drinking that day and said that I would pick him up outside his apartment, he said ok and that he would take a nap on the sidewalk until I got there (we lived about a mile apart).

Minutes later I pulled up and found Brad passed out underneath the bench in front of the laundromat that he lived above.  Whenever you have to wake someone up when they are passed out underneath a bench it is destined to be a good story.  Once he was up he was very lucid and with it for someone who had sounded so drunk on the phone, maybe it shows the benefits of taking a hardcore power nap.  He was in fact so lucid that he demanded that I drive him to the Ghetto Chopper so that he could get a pack of cigarettes and something to eat.  When I said it wasn’t the best idea he threatened to open the door of the moving car and walk there.  Fearing another hardcore napping session we went to the store where he pulled out a three wadded up singles and about $7 in change.  Shopping when you are poor college student is always a balancing exercise, when you are hammered it gets even more complicated.  Since we didn’t have smart phones at that time we had to do the math so that he could maximize his cigarette to food ratio for under $10.  It was a battle wandering the aisles until he found it, the holy grail, buy one get one free bologna.

In all the years that we were friends I don’t think that I had ever seen Brad so happy.  He was nearly crying tears of joy while talking about how he was going to get 2 or 3 full “eats” out of these beautiful Oscar Mayer delights.  He hugged his deli meat close and weaved his way up to the cashier like a proud new father.  On the short drive back to my place he proceeded to inhale almost a full pound of bologna while telling the other package not to worry, he would get to it later.  By this point I was just about fed up with babysitting and dragged him inside.  He bounced back to his “woe is me” state where he got pleasure out of telling people how bad his life is and I lost my cool.  For one of the only times in our friendship I tore into him, letting him know how his actions were affecting everybody around him and ruining the relationships that he had worked so hard for.  He obviously didn’t take this well, got up, threw the remaining bologna into the freezer, and stormed off into the night.  We didn’t talk for several weeks after this, and I suppose that this was the event that started to end our friendship.  To this day I still don’t know where he went and what he did, and I don’t know why on earth he put the bologna into the freezer when it so clearly belongs in the fridge.

Feeling Powerless

July 30th, 2006

I woke up and felt that something was wrong, it was just too quiet.  No fans, no alarm, no music, no electronic hum, just the rush of traffic and the sounds of Albany, somebody had forgotten to pay the electric bill… for 11 consecutive months. The house was around 140 degrees because of the stifling air of the ghetto combined with the lack of insulation and overall mustiness of the run down building (once we were evicted in 2008 the building has set empty and is probably condemned).  Even worse the fridge had now power, and the next day was my 21st birthday, how was I going to cool down all the beer that I was finally going to buy legally?  I made a few calls and eventually got word that the bill would be paid and electricity would be restored, but not for a few days, which coincidentally were the hottest days of the summer.

Like any resourceful young gentleman I was able to make epic plans to rid the fridge of everything, it was time to grill.  As you may know I am a prolific griller, even many years ago before I had honed my culinary skills I found no greater pleasure than producing chemical changes through the application of heat to meats and vegetables over and open flame.  Since my friends were all college students it was easy to put the word out and have them show up for free food.  I grilled pork chops, and burgers, and kielbasa, and chicken, and whatever else I could salvage from the freezer… everything except for the bologna.  Even though Brad and I had made up we weren’t back to the point of hanging out, and there is something wrong about eating someone else’s lunch meat, plus grilled bologna doesn’t sound too appealing.  Sadly I threw his beloved lunch meat away, and after he had only gotten one “eat” out of it.

I know that this might seem like a waste of your time, but an inside joke is only good if there is someone else to share it with.

We made up, and were able to pull our friendship together for a bit, but a year later Brad developed pancreatitis and wasn’t the same after he got out of the hospital.  I didn’t want to drink with him because I had seen him so near death, he thought that I was shunning him.  We ran into each other a few times during the last year of his life, but we acted like acquaintances instead of the friends we once were.  A few weeks before graduation Brad fell victim to his demons and took his own life.  As kids who spent our lives awash in booze and self destruction we always said that we would never live to see 30, little did we know he wouldn’t see 25.

For years I dwelled on the fact that he didn’t reach out to me, or if he would have how receptive I would have been.  One of my greatest regrets is that I allowed someone who once meant so much to me to push me away.  In reality I don’t keep in touch with many of the friends that I graduated with, simply because life gets in the way.  Gregg and Graig moved to North Carolina and got married to their college girlfriends, we catch up occasionally.  Tom moved back to Cali, deleted his facebook, changed his phone number, and married his cousin.  Jake went to Alaska and came back with a wife and 2 kids, we haven’t talked since graduation.  I went to Rob’s wedding, and we touch base all too infrequently.  Ciara went to Alaska and is now living a life of adventure in Wyoming.  And Grant lives 45 minutes from me and we haven’t been able to catch up.  Tim has been the only person that I have stayed close with, and that is simply because he is too damn stubborn to let me push him away, plus we go on every single vacation together.

If Brad would have lived I doubt that we would be in touch, or that I would still consider him to be my friend, and sometimes I even forget that he is gone.  I only think about him once and a while, sometimes reminded by the matching tattoos that we got in West Palm Beach, or by the sight of a handle of tequila.  No matter how much time passes, or how many memories fade away each year on the day before my birthday I can think back to a simpler time when a few pounds of bologna can make someone’s day, and think about my old friend, and smile.

Addicted to Workahol

This Post was originally published on June 2nd, 2014

“Why do you work so much?” That is invariably the question that I get whenever I explain my schedule to family or friends for the first time. As with any broad question the answer depends on what whomever is asking wants to hear. I can name any number of factors as to why I work three jobs, mainly money, professional growth, or simply compulsion. I tend to work long stretches of days, today was my 8th day in a row and I was scheduled for 61 hours, but in reality wound up putting in around 70 plus an extra 5 hours of travel. Some people would quit even thinking about that, but I got out of work, jogged 2.5 miles, wrote a 1600 word blog post, and am going to get up tomorrow and work 5 more days in a row. This is my life, this is my compulsion, and I am not sure why I do what I do, or how I am able to get it done.

My parents often joke that they have now clue how old hippies could have raised such a perfect little capitalist. When I was 8 I organized several kids in the neighborhood into a lawn care/snow removal business where even though they were mostly older I was able to convince them to work hard to make cash. By the time I was 12 I started carrying boxes and organizing the stock room at the independent pharmacy down the street, and the week after my 15th birthday I got my working papers and would ride my bike or bum rides to wash dishes at a restaurant. When I was 17 and could drive to work I started at a gas station that sold propane and propane accessories where I would work 13 hour shifts every other weekend in clear violation of child labor laws. I didn’t care, these jobs were a way for me to earn money that I would put toward the things that I enjoyed, and I relished the independence that those purchases symbolized. I was always the one who could afford concert tickets or whatever new CD came out that week, and I even funded my two trips to Europe through hard work. Even then I was laying the groundwork for the work hard to fund lifestyle that you want to live mentality that I still have today.

In college work was a little bit harder to come by because I was supposed to spend more time focusing on my studies. At the same time I discovered that beer was an important reason to work and have cash on hand. I spent 2 years doing the work study building guard job and grabbing shifts from whoever didn’t want to work their own. Instead of the 5 hours a week that I was supposed to get I routinely averaged over 20. I worked that first summer at the SPAC box office doing the best job that at I have ever had. My second summer was harder since I was taking Organic Chem over because I loved it so much the first time. I somehow managed to work full time at SPAC, full time as a pharmacy tech at a hospital while still doing well in my class. I would routinely leave the house at 5am and return at 11pm, but I made it work and apparently a monster was born. The rest of college was spent bouncing between retail pharmacy chains working 10-30 hours a week, picking up shifts whenever other interns had tests or plans. When I was on rotations I kept up the pace and at one point worked 63 consecutive days between rotation and my real job. When people ask me if I am afraid of burning out now I say no, because once you have been through what seems like the worst situation its all downhill from there.

Once I graduated I was thrown right into the fire and worked overtime during my first week as a pharmacist. From there I picked up a overtime shifts like a maniac. For the first time in my life I was making good money and was caught up in a whirlwind of greed. During the first few months I paid off my credit cards and my car while putting money away and starting in on my student loans. At that point it was pure greed that kept me motivated, over time it became a habit instead. During the first three years I worked more than 1000 hours of overtime, plus worked a per diem job on the side. That may not sound like much on paper, but that is roughly an extra 6 months of work during a 36 month period.

Now that I have reviewed my history it is time to review the potential reasons why. As I said I am often motivated by greed, either in the short term or in the long term. I work extra to support a lifestyle that allows me to enjoy myself whenever I have time off. I find that whenever I have days off I spend a lot of money. By working extra I not only make money, but am able to save whatever I would have spent. I took a pretty big pay cut when I left retail, plus I gave up all the overtime that I wanted, and my per diem job. When I switched jobs I wasn’t able to adjust my finances and kept trying to save and pay off debt at the same rate. Obviously this wasn’t possible, but I started picking up per diem shifts at Rite Aid to make up some of the difference. I was also offered a position working one or two days a month at the independent in town. I felt that this would be a good option to branch out and decided to give it a shot. These extra jobs allow me to bring in almost as much as when I was working retail full time. While I admit to greed I don’t feel that this is the whole story, there have to be other reasons.

Every work week I have more professional variety than most pharmacist have in their entire career career. Some days I work split shifts covering both the long term care and the inpatient pharmacy. I also work retail on two different pharmacy systems, often in two different states, and deal with approaches to the practice from both large chain and independent pharmacy perspectives. I like working for Rite Aid because I am comfortable with the system and since they were very good to me after I left Walgreens. If I hadn’t have taken the job working LTC then I would probably still be managing the same store I was last summer. Whenever I have to work a shift it feels comfortable, like putting on your favorite pair of boots that you haven’t worn in a while. Working at Marble Works is completely different, it is a whole new setup and a new computer system, and frankly a whole different ball game. Independents have to play differently, and with 3 stores, a DME store, and a mail order facility I am able to see a lot of different aspects of the profession. When I first became interested in pharmacy my goal was to become a pillar of the community, and working just half a mile from my apartment finally puts me in the position to help people within my own small town. Since everything is new and different I feel that I am able to step outside of my comfort zone and grow more on top of satisfying my need to diversify. I don’t know if I will be able to keep up this variety for much longer, routinely making the changes on computer systems and styles takes a lot of energy, but for now I am going to take that ride and see where it goes.

Maybe all it boils down to is compulsion. I grew up watching my dad get up every morning and drive an hour each way to do a job that he didn’t like. He kept up an attitude that at least it was better than what he did before and he tried to make the best of it. What I am doing isn’t perfect, but it sure beats working in the salt mines. Maybe that plays a role in it too, what I do is mentally taxing and high stress, but it pales in comparison to the manual labor that millions of Americans do every day. Working so much is a cure for idle hands and keeps me motivated and pushing forward instead of sitting around and letting my worries get to me. I like my life better when I am busy and accomplished, when I have downtime I tend to fall apart. I am an example of inertia, I am the energizer bunny personified, as long as I am moving forward nothing can stop me.

From mowing lawns to managing pharmacies my path to absolution has always been through work. People may call me a workaholic, but I wear that badge with pride. I still find time for the things that matter in life and feel that I have more to me than just my job. By diversifying and trying new things I am able to grow as a person and as a professional, plus the money doesn’t hurt either. I may be exhausted, but I am not burnt out. Even if I was then I know from experience that the cure for burnout is a three day weekend and a few drinks with friends and I will be ready to do it all over again. This is my life, and as crazy as it can be I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Birth of Introspection

This Post was originally published on April 21st, 2014

Last month when I was on vacation I discussed writing with an old friend.  I don’t think that this guy has a Facebook, and if he does he is then we aren’t friends.  He mentioned that he has read some of my work and that he enjoyed the introspection that I had put into it.  This is great because first of all I have always craved his approval and secondly it means that someone is benefiting from these ramblings beyond my computer screen.  This got me thinking about the growth that I have made over the past few years and how much better I understand the world around me, and the world between my own ears.

We all start as children blissfully unaware of the world around us.  As we grow up we gradually become aware of more of the things that are going on.  Our view grows from just knowing that we exist to include our family, friends, community, and eventually we get the idea that we are not the center of the universe, just one thread in a rich tapestry of life.  I was lucky enough that my family encouraged growth and awareness through experience.  I was pretty well traveled and through books was able to be exposed to several different world views and see things through the eyes of others.  By the time I was in high school I was able to grasp some of the complexities of life around me, not to say I was some type of savant and I certainly didn’t understand everything, but I did have a decent grasp on reality and my place in the world for a music obsessed lonely teenager.

In college something changed, I regressed gradually at first but as the pressure mounted I became an animal, I suppose as a type of defense mechanism.  I reverted to a macho mindset that I was going to be a tough guy, a real man of action instead of just a pussy thinking all the time.  For a long period the main things in my life were boxing, eating, and getting drunk, literally the eat, drink, fight survival responses of a wounded animal.  I couldn’t understand emotions, I oscillated between terribly sad and irrationally angry. Everyone kept telling me to be happy, but I don’t think that I would recognize happiness if it jumped up and hit me in the face, but then again hitting me in the face would probably just make me angry.  Obviously this is a bit hyperbole, but the fact is that just 5 years ago I was a very different person, and frankly I was not someone who I would currently want to spend time with.  So what was the turning point?  What was the catalyst that promoted the burst of self awareness and started this change toward enlightenment?  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Yes that bothersome little book that ACPHS forced us to read for Healthcare and Human Values changed my life.  I have never been a fan of classic literature, but for some reason I was able to understand and digest this book like no other.  Maybe it was because my 23 year old sensibilities were on par with 18 year old Mary Shelley in 1816.  I remember sitting in the back of our 20 person class, head down, hat on, hood up, hung over and hearing someone stumble through a poorly prepared answer to a homework that I didn’t bother to complete and just having the light bulb go on.  With my head still down I dissected the entire book during a few minute talk that clearly answered the question asked as well as tied in themes flowing within the book and connected them to modern society and science.  When I finished I looked up to the entire class staring intently at me seemingly shocked that the drunk guy who skipped all other classes actually had a brain and knew how to apply it, and the professor who I had for several classes as a freshman smiling because after a long hiatus I was back.

It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but after that one experience I was able to muster the courage to start thinking big picture again.  I set myself a goal that when I was on rotations I would use the time for my benefit and ask the deepest questions and find the right answers that would straighten my life out.  I was going to figure out finances and professionalism while regaining the love of travel and exploration that had laid dormant during my booze soaked college years.  I set a very ambitious goal of having my whole life figured out by the time that I crossed the stage with my diploma.  Needless to say I failed.

I felt, and still feel, that the best way to grow was to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  I tried to do that personally and professionally as much as possible during rotations.  I was able to grow a ton and move toward the type of self actualized life that I dreamed about.  I set about to acquire data, reading books, blogs, and watching deep thinking media instead of the terrible action movies that I adore so much.  I also set about trying to ask myself the deep questions about myself, and predictably I didn’t like the answers.  I decided that since I didn’t like the answers the best thing to do is to play the odds and keep asking questions, eventually things should work out.  Wrong.  Long after graduation had come and gone I was still searching for the answers that suited my needs under the guise of being a thinker.  Little did I know that the funk I had put myself in thinking about issues without acting on them was worse than the blind actions and ignorance that I was running from.

Life is all about balance and trying to strike that perfect chord where everything works in harmony just for a split second.  I obviously haven’t found it yet, but over the past 5 years I have swung to both extremes and am searching for the elusive middle ground.  I will keep making mistakes, and will bounce back and forth as life goes on, but at least I know that there is no such thing as a magic bullet.  No one amazing event will ever make you happy for ever and ever, no one terrible event will ruin your entire life.  My path to introspection isn’t complete, it never will be complete because I have a whole lot of exploring left to do.  We have never been promised happiness, so I suppose that the pursuit will have to do.