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As always, 3 signs triggered this post.

First, I’m prepping my lecture next week on underdogs: how to challenge the process. In it, I’m going to talk about all the stuff that people don’t like to talk about around leadership. Like, when you truly believe it what you’re doing, dare to change something for the better, and actually persevere to get it done, you’re inevitably going to irritate others. That type of work brings out the haters.

Being someone who creates change and does cool stuff upsets the apple cart, and it’s not always easy for others to deal with the fact that you as a creator made something that they don’t like. (Hint, they actually do like it, they’re just jealous that they didn’t think of the idea first and have the gumption to execute it themselves). As urban dictionary says, ‘If you ain’t got no haters you def ain’t poppin.’ Not as eloquently stated, urban dictionary’s term does, however, get to the point. Who said leadership was easy or makes everyone happy? If it was, everyone would be doing it! When you’re a change maker, you’re poppin, but you’re not always going to be everyone’s favorite flavor.

Second: lately, I’ve been tossing the term ‘ikigai’ around a lot in class. It’s a Japanese term, and translates into “reason for being” in English, roughly, or rai·son d’ê·tre in French. It’s your (or an individual’s) higher calling or purpose. Students have been working on this as part of the self exploration of…themselves this semester. Personally, I think this is some of the most important work you do not only for yourself while here, but for others.

Third, this week, I grabbed a copy of The Wall Street Journal in the airport lounge and read an article with a list of books, one of which stuck out to me, called…not so ironically, Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up To Joy And Purpose Every Day. Whenever a book catches my eye, I immediately go check it out or put in on reserve at the library. And so, today’s eye catching book is now inside my Kindle. As I’m digitally flipping through it before bed (after reading a stack of work stuff — not as much fun), the author discussed another term I had not heard about before: which is the namesake of this post, kodawari.

The definition in the book is intriguing for this term: “commitment,” “insistence,” or “starting small,” as a pillar of ikigai. I also tried the definition in Google Translate and got “engagement,” and another definition, “the pursuit of perfection,” (but I personally am not a fan of the p word. Perfection doesn’t exist; but the idea of chasing a unicorn is a bit exciting, isn’t it?) I’m also thinking it must have something to do with focus and persistence as well. However, here’s the long definition in the book that struck me the most:

Kodawari is a personal standard, to which the individual adheres in a steadfast manner. It is often, though not always, used in reference to a level of quality or professionalism to which the individual holds. It is an attitude, often maintained throughout one’s life, constituting a central element of ikigai. Kodawari is personal in nature, and it is a manifestation of a pride in what one does. In a nutshell, kodawari is an approach whereby you take extraordinary care of very small details. — Ken Mogi, Awakening Your Ikigai

I’m about to get really vulnerable here…but what a big chunk of my own work has personally been missing for me this past year (and admittedly several past years over my several decade career now) is this exact thing: kodawari. I’m not doing my best work right now, because I’m too busy fixing others’ stuff, and too focused on stuff that is not my own ikigai. I can’t get to the good stuff — like helping the 1,000 of laid off pharmacists out there with innovative, inspiring programming to help them level up in their careers, or the 5 year old girl interested in becoming a forensic scientist or computer programmer, or the 55 year old trying to figure out her entrepreneurial endeavor pre-retirement, because I’m still over here filling out reports, cleaning up other people’s messes that I inherited, and shoveling off my desk overrun with other people’s ideas of what they think should be done.

I’m guessing that I’m not alone out here either. All of us are being asked to do more and more, with a lot less, but how often do we really stop and ask ourselves if it’s noticing the detail and quality experience of what we’re doing right now, and questioning if it is the actual stuff we truly SHOULD BE DOING rather than everyone else telling us what to put on the pile…? Without an eye on quality, values, and mission, eventually, all one ends up with…is a big pile of 💩. And really — who wants to handle OPP (others people’s 💩 — NOT the other urban dictionary definitions…)?!?

We’re never going to get to our own ikigai while dealing with OPP (unless, of course, your personal ikigai IS to be an OPP fixer. I can state with clear conviction mine is not.) So, one way to handle this is resist. Rebel. Say no to others piling more poo on you. Instead, focus on what’s truly important and meaningful, with full and for you.

I think pharmacy as a profession may have a kodawari problem too. Think about it — particularly in healthcare right now. Other professions LOVE to tell pharmacists what to do — how much to charge, what we can and cannot do within our profession, like insurance companies, PBMs, and even lawmakers. And while I get that public safety should be first and foremost, we actually allowed this overregulation to happen! We’re the ‘non-business-y’ bipartisan, nice clinical pharmacist running around the basement, or the community practice pharmacist that allowed that drive through to go in, or that state legislature tell us how to practice. Our profession has become the nice guy on the first date instead of actually taking a stand on something and practice the way that we want to, rather than giants of the industry handing us pieces of our former professional glory. Do you want to be in this type of profession?

#@ll No!

Now, before you get your protest banners and megaphones out, am I saying to shirk your day job and responsibilities in order to be free? No, unless you’re Bill Gates or Elon Musk, or have piles of cash in the bank. But what I am saying is — be so busy noticing the detail, the conviction of what your purpose or passion or calling is in your life and your work that you DID sign up for in that job description, that it literally acts as a shield against the poo that others keep attempting to rain down on you. Get the keys to the building and then work on the stuff you want to work on and bring value to the organization in a different, unique way. Don’t let the 💩distractions from others overtake your kodawari, no matter how glittery it is. Focus on your own 💩and be too busy to get dragged into the morass of “more” by others.

  • Be that pharmacist so passionate about drug safety to hit up your employer to put in a poison center and then run it — work on it during every free second you have at work until it becomes 100% of your day job.
  • Be that pharmacist who works in her doctor’s office during the day off from your day job to provide advice and then turn it into a full time concierge pharmacist day job and you’re FINALLY practicing the way you want to practice!
  • Be that educator who inspires the next generation of STEM professionals to dare to build stuff and create stuff, even if they don’t have a paycheck tied to it, or God forbid — create it JUST FOR FUN!
  • Be the writer who writes that book — on napkins, in coffee shops, in your spare time, whenever, just to get it done because you need to get it out of you!
  • Start small. Think big.

For me, that means providing more education, edutainment, and innovation to my universe of colleagues in pharmacy, entrepreneurship, and law — but it needs to be creative, original, and truly unique education. First. Only. Not sitting on committees just to make sure there’s coverage. Not messing around with distractions ancillary to this focus; not doing other people’s jobs for them, just to ‘balance’ out workload. (BTW, who said work needed to be ‘balanced’ or fair, anyway?) Not the same thing recycled over and over again. Not irrelevant, fancy, high-priced distractions. Not holding hands by the campfire and singing Kumbaya. Not someone handing me what they think is best for me to implement as a lackey. I am not a cog in a wheel. And friends, neither are you!

Is this resistance important? I think so. In fact, be ready and willing to be fired over staying true to your kodawari. Be ready to be unpopular over it, if necessary. You’re most likely going to make others unhappy when you start saying no to them in order to do what you do best and don’t sign up to manage their poo. But, I’m giving you permission to start putting out the Heisman here. Out will come the haters when you stay true to yourself. Or, fire yourself from OPP. Because at the end of the day, if you’re truly meant to do something and you’ve only got one life — isn’t it better to live with ikigai, kodawari, and being true to yourself and your calling, rather than keep on being, doing, and focused on someone else’s 💩, no matter how sparkly it is?

Something to ponder…

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite reasons why I used to get excited about the weekend edition of The New York Times, photographer Bill Cunningham. (You should definitely see his documentary — it is fascinating how he lived.) Anyway — he said the following: “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do. That’s the key to the whole thing.” He was my kind of rebel…wherever he is today. He didn’t do OPP, and neither should you or I, if you & I truly want to live your ikigai.


Erin L. Albert is a writer, inter alia. Opinions here are her own. She’s also not into OPP.

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