“Be authentic. Tell your story. Put yourself out there. Take some risks. Readers will relate to that.”
Maybe not the exact words of a Keynote speaker from the fantastic FinCon ’17 meeting held last week in Dallas, but close enough.
Let me start with a little digression first.
A number of you from the other side of the pond (and perhaps even this side of the pond) may be familiar with the music of Jake Bugg.
“Jake who….?”, you may ask with a puzzled look.
He is a very well-presented young chap who hails from Mrs. PIE’s home city and his music is the type of folk rock you might expect to hear cranking out of a Seattle or Boulder coffee shop or a quiet bar, mid-week, in a ski-town as the season winds down.
(**Editorial note from Mrs. PIE– about the only bloody time you might find things quiet in a ski-town bar!)
Anyway, this post is not an attempt to wax lyrically about the life and times of a very talented musician. Rolling Stone does that much better than I can ever conjure up.
Music speaks to us in so many different ways. Each of you will no doubt have a favorite song / artist that will be the most played on your mobile device. A song you may listen to while running, cycling, commuting to work, skiing or passing the time of day on yet another long business-related flight to who knows where.
On Mr. PIE’s mobile phone you will find this song as the most played.
Song: Something as Simple as This
Artist: Jake Bugg
Album: Jake Bugg (Ha! Not the most creative of album names…)
From the lad himself (photo above from a gig last year in Boston that Mrs. PIE attended with a friend), a great quote about his song that spoke to me:
That was a strange song because life in general you come across a lot of barriers and sometimes you just want to push through things and just try to find an answer for everything, try in every way, but in the end it’s not that simple.
So, why is this song the most played on your mobile devices, Mr. PIE?
Let’s dig into the lyrics and find out why.
One section in particular below is the hardest fucking thing I have ever written. But it is time I shared it and it has been incredibly liberating putting it into some words. So let’s go.
The opening line in the song:
I’ve been in search of stones
making up the pavement of less traveled roads
Mining for treasure deep in my bones
that I never found
For me, the first line speaks to one dream I have always had to get out and travel to far-off places. From the early age of 10 years old when my mum and dad saved up enough money to send me on a 10-day educational cruise with school that would depart a port in Northern Scotland and make stops in the fjords of Trondheim, Norway, the magical wonder that is Copenhagen, Denmark and the port city of Lubeck, Germany.
That trip at an early age put the wheels in motion for “taking the road less traveled”. Roads that would eventually take me from the UK to the USA and a career that involved leading projects in Europe and Asia, continents I was fortunate to travel frequently to and expand my knowledge beyond science and into navigating the cultural aspects of leading global teams.
The Joy of Work
Being brought up in a very tough working class small-town in rural south-west Scotland, I took the road less traveled and went to university to study chemistry which became a lifetime passion and career in the world of drug discovery.
Mining for treasure
This is one way of describing what we do in the pharmaceutical world of drug discovery. Mining our corporate databases of millions of compounds (small molecules, antibodies), inventing and searching for that perfect molecule that would balance the properties of potency, efficacy, dosing attributes and safety to be able to advance into clinical studies in humans, receive approval from the FDA and get into patients who are desperately needing something to alleviate symptoms of often horrible diseases.
Mining for treasure deep in my bones that I never found
It is rare for any scientist to be an inventor on a project that ultimately leads to an approved drug. I have worked 25 years in big pharma, an inventor on over 50 patent applications, >20 of which have been granted by patent offices world-wide. In terms of project teams that I have been part of, I have not yet found that molecule to make it through FDA approval and into the hands of physicians. But it is getting close, real close! A project that members of my team worked on in 2008-11 (and a number of us, including Mr. PIE are inventors on the patent), is in a series of six large Phase 3 clinical registrational studies, with the goal of approval in late 2018/early 2019. Those Phase 3 studies are a really tough hurdle as the molecule is being studied in a large diverse patient population where we already know it is efficacious with an acceptable safety profile so far. The studies of longer duration will also tell us if it safe – surprising toxicities can crop up in late-stage clinical studies and halt the development of a compound.
A colleague of mine once said to her large team of scientists, “We have the best job in the world. We come into work every day and bring our innovative spirit and conjure up ideas of making that perfect compound to treat horrible diseases”.
Indeed we do. She said it beautifully.
I will miss that tremendously when I leave work. The work is hard and far from something simple, as many outside the pharmaceutical industry would believe. But it remains a really important dream for every single scientist working long hours for months/years on end in their efforts to find cures for hideous diseases.
Let’s be honest, calling time on a bad job/nasty boss through retirement is a reality for many. Not so for me. I will find it not so simple to leave behind many aspects of a fulfilling career.
With all that, I will be retired by the middle of 2018 and will be cheering on loudly from the side-lines, rooting for a successful FDA approval of the drug and seeing it reach millions of patients with auto-immune disease who need it the most.
The Pain of Work
I don’t mean to paint a completely rosy picture of life in the pharmaceutical industry. Far from it. Just head on over to any of the forums on pharma life and you will see some of the challenges pretty quickly. The pressures of work can manifest in many different ways – work-life imbalance, burn-out and illnesses such as clinical depression leading to desperate measures that all too often sadly cannot be recovered from. No different to many other jobs where the statistics speak a horrible truth about working life in corporate America.
The Center for Workplace Mental Health, supported by the American Psychiatric Association tells a depressing (absolutely NO pun intended) tale on various issues that are job-related:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Suicide Prevention
- Violence in the Workplace
Without going into too much detail, the winter of 2011/2012 was an extremely challenging one for me.
On the outside – a confident, successful scientist who appeared to be living the dream. Working on exciting projects, traveling to exotic parts of the world as part of that endeavor.
On the inside – a very different picture was being painted.
Miserable with brutally long work days over many months, pressure of unrealistic deadlines, attempting to gather data-sets that were simply not achievable and dealing with two team members that brought a level of dysfunction that belied their college credentials (both were Ph.D, MD’s) who seemed to bring an entitled approach to an otherwise great project team they did not want to invest in. This was all capped off with worries about the road ahead in life, being able to provide sufficiently for the family and managing a level of work-life balance that was quickly spiraling out of control. I was not getting enough sleep due to terrible bouts of anxiety, often waking up at 2am or so and never getting back to sleep. Throw on top of that the behavioral characteristics of an INTJ (Myers Briggs type – the “I” is an introvert – a person who internalizes a lot) and you have a recipe for a complete and utter disaster.
Mental Health Issues
In bed, I turned to Mrs. PIE early one cold New England morning in December 2011 and said words under very emotional circumstances that I will never ever forget.
“I am desperately, desperately miserable. I even have had dark thoughts of ending it all”
I needed help. Quickly.
To this day, I still cannot remember exactly what was said or happened. But it involved lots of hugs and words to the effect of getting help. And getting help IMMEDIATELY. That is exactly what Mrs. PIE did for me. I was subsequently signed out of work for six weeks with intensive counseling and support during that period. This counseling and help continued, on and off, for quite some time after that.
From another line in the song:
Tried institutions of the mind and soul
It only taught me what I should not know.
Reaching out for help is not easy. Going through counseling is hard. It brings out feelings that are difficult to handle. It brings up aspects of life experiences, perhaps from childhood, that you should not know. With all that, I am a better, stronger person for it. Mrs. PIE will vouch for me. With unwavering support of her and counsel from healthcare professionals, advice from great friends and work colleagues, I came through to the other side of what felt like a painfully slow process. In that process, I met others going through hell and in counseling groups, I listened to them, provided a reassuring voice for them when they needed it. Having somebody listen to you is a big part of the recovery process. Talking and listening, just like we do on our blogs.
Have there been difficult times since then? YES
Do I now know when to reach out for help? YES.
If any of the above resonates with you, and you are feeling miserable, at the end of your rope, do this one thing. Talk to somebody immediately.
That’s the hardest part. The first conversation.
Let the words flow. Let the feelings flow.
It gets better by doing that. You take more in by letting go.
Fun on the Road to FIRE
As I write this on a flight back to Boston from FinCon, the four days of community with a remarkable group of people is a reminder of the value of networks, friendships and support systems. That is part of the inherent DNA of FinCon and it was a huge piece for me.
Don’t get me wrong, the many great breakout sessions, keynote talks are part of what makes FinCon so great.
There were other things that made it VERY special.
It can be summed up by getting time to talk to a community of like-minded people about plans/dreams as we each weave our way towards our unique goals in life.
- Before I even got to FinCon, I did some practicing two days prior with the Physician on Fire and a few of his readers at Harpoon Brewery in Boston. Nothing like a few preparation drills!
- The sharing of plans, quietly over coffee (and numerous other adult beverages) with Fritz at the Retirement Manifesto. I tell ya, it was a real pleasure, Fritz!
- The many awesome conversations, meals, drinks and laughs with Mr. SSC and Mrs. BITA. It was a real pleasure spending a ton of time with you both and getting to know you. Your humor had me in stitches all week. Thank you. Thank you. I can’t say enough….
- That bat-shit crazy (verging on transcendental) bar experience with Mr. and Mrs. WOW, Mrs. BITA and Mr. SSC, watching a shady dude pump nearly $7,000 into a BitCoin kiosk ATM at 1.00am in the morning…..guys, that will live long in the memory as one way NOT to invest.
- The early morning party (very kindly hosted by Gwen from Fiery Millenials) conversation with Mrs. BITA and Mr. 1500 Days on the wastefulness of humans who feel the constant urge to buy friggin’ Wooden Giraffes from Pier One as an alternative to saving a few $$’s.
- The laughs and giggles on a brief conversation with Mrs. Groovy from Fritz’s phone at BrainDead Brewing company. Mr. PIE turned out to be BrainDead the next morning and it certainly was not Mrs. Groovy’s fault…..
- The brilliant costume party garb of the Make Smarter Decisions folks who demonstrated their creative genius to dress up as Mr. and Mrs. Groovy in honor of the Groovy folks “trash-talk” videos. Did you guys take that “trash-picker” home…??
- Chatting geo-arbitrage and healthcare in Panama with Jim @ Route to Retire. And then his costume for the party. OMG, his J Money costume…..
- An only-too-brief chat with Maggie and husband from Northern Expenditure about living / vacationing (or I should say “holidaying”) in the UK
- Getting a warm friendly hug from Mrs. ONL and Penny, two bloggers who are each weaving remarkable stories in their respective lives. I love their writing and their Tweets
- And talking to Jill, the Mad Fientist’s wife, at the informal meet-up on Day 1 about living in Scotland, northern New England and much more
- The wonderful conversations with Chris (that kiddo climbing video was wicked awesome as we say here in Boston) from Eat the Financial Elephant, Chris from Apathy Ends, Chris from Keep Thrifty, (I met a lot of Chris’s!!), Miss Mazuma (we might just make that trip to walk the Camino de Santiago) Matt from Optimize your Life, (Matt, a Patriots Fan and a kindred soul as another awesome INTJ!), Andy Hill from Marriage Kids and Money, Guy on Fire, I Dream of Fire, Jillian (yes, you are VERY tall and have an even bigger warm personality) from Montana Money Adventures and Steve and Courtney from ThinkSaveRetire and A Streamin Life. I found yet another Patriots fan in Courtney, whose family are all fans. Go Pats!
I could go on and on but you get the picture. To all those I met at FinCon, and those I didn’t have the opportunity to meet, thank you all for making it an amazing experience for me.
At FinCon, I was asked repeatedly what plans I had after retiring next year. My response invariably came back to the same thing. Is there really a simple answer?
From the last line of the song:
Oh and the answer, well, who would have guessed?
Could be something as simple as this
God knows how I could have missed
Something as simple as this…
Work too often is far from simple. At various points in our lives, simplicity is all we need. Yet it is never simple to find. Whatever your “simple” is, hold onto it very tightly. Treasure it.
Love and hugs to all of you.