Freedom of Choice
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Many Americans pride themselves on the freedom to make their own choices. We are a free country. Does freedom equal happiness? I started thinking about my personal journey. Am I free? Did I make the choices that brought me to this point in my life or were there other factors at play? Am I happy with the choices I made?
Let’s think about financial freedom. I believed that getting my doctorate would provide me with financial freedom. I believed that having a good paying job would be the answer. If I can just have a good paying job, a nice house, a decent car, then I will be satisfied…content…happy. But I saddled myself and my family with a large amount of debt. It was called “good” debt.
A mortgage or student loans are “good” debt, but that amount of debt also adds stress. Stress robs you of happiness and contentment. It also affects decisions that are made and takes away a feeling of control. Decisions to work for a large, corporate retail position after graduation (for instance) at the expense of my dream job. Should we take that vacation? Can we afford it? What if my car breaks down? Do we have the money to fix it? I am truly blessed to be a pharmacist and I don’t regret getting that education, but did it actually provide me with more freedom? I don’t know. It is a trade-off. I have a nice house, a good career, a decent car, but am I happy? Sometimes. Am I stressed? Yes. Am I working on it? Yes.
I’m reading a new book by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee called Happy Mind, Happy Life. He talks about the Want Brain. Our society feeds into the Want Brain. If I just have a good paying job, a nice house, a decent car, then I will be satisfied, content, and happy. But it’s just not true. The Want Brain always wants more. It robs us of that feeling of contentment and happiness, and we begin to substitute “Junk Happiness” to have a temporary feeling of happiness. It’s just a little bit of dopamine in the brain that says, “I feel good”, but that feeling doesn’t last.
He talks about core happiness as a three-legged stool: Contentment, Alignment, and Control.
Feeling aligned means that the person you want to be and the person you are actually being out there in the world, are one and the same. Dr. Rangan Chatterjee
Alignment is something that hit home for me. For the better part of the last 10-years, I have been misaligned. I said in my pharmacy school interview that I wanted to help people have better health. I didn’t want to be a cog in a vending machine, turning out prescription medications at a record pace. I wanted to make a difference and have a connection to my patients.
When I first graduated, I quickly moved up the ladder to a management position at a grocery store chain and really started connecting with my patients. I knew their medication histories and could make OTC recommendations without checking the computer to see what other medications they were taking. I cried with a patient who was diagnosed with breast cancer and celebrated when she went into remission. My patients celebrated with me when my son was born. But then I was ripped from my patients that I spent time developing relationships with to be placed in a low-performing store with a 2-hour commute in Atlanta traffic.
Corporate saw it as an “opportunity” to show what I could do as a pharmacy manager, because I successfully grew the business at my first store. I didn’t see my child on the days I was working because I had to leave before he woke up and arrived home well after he was put to bed. I felt betrayed by my company. I felt a loss of control. How can they just move a pharmacy manager to another store with no discussion, no notice, and no consideration to the ramifications of such actions? I didn’t get to say goodbye to my patients. I didn’t get to see my child on the days I was working. My morning commute was 2 hours. This is what success looks like?
Things had to change. So, I relocated to North Carolina and worked for another large corporate chain (because I needed a good paying job to pay off my student loans). I found myself in a frenzied situation dispensing medications as fast as I could check them for accuracy. I barely had time to talk to anyone or make relationships with my patients. I became the very thing I hated, but I was good at it. I was a cog in the wheel of a corporate prescription vending machine, just dispensing medications at a record pace with no actual connection to my patients. My authentic self was getting lost in the day-to-day shuffle.
I started to substitute other things (mostly food) to make me feel a sense of happiness. Pint of ice cream – check. Cookies – check. TV show marathon with a pint of ice cream and whole bag of cookies – check. Shopping spree on Amazon - check. But then I would feel miserable, and my health was suffering. This was “Junk Happiness.” When we aren’t being our authentic selves, we lose a feeling of control, and we are not content, we substitute true core happiness with temporary junky substitutes. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t healthy. Things had to change.
Then, I discovered Functional Medicine, different eating plans (Keto, Paleo, etc.), food sensitivities, pharmacogenomics, and micronutrient depletions. I was excited about this "new" information, but I felt like more of a fraud at work. I was dispensing medications to people that if they just made some lifestyle adjustments, they probably wouldn't need to be taking. I tried to incorporate the new things I was learning into any consultations I was giving, but I was reprimanded that I wasn’t filling prescriptions fast enough. I knew I needed a new job to be true to my authentic self and searched for the better part of 2 years. I started PIVOT to reconnect with my authentic self through these blog posts and the educational videos. I also changed my full-time job to an independent pharmacy where I can spend more time making connections with my patients and incorporate Functional Medicine into our conversations.