The Business of Pharmacy Podcast™
April 11, 2022

Focused During Adversity | Alex Barker, PharmD, The Happy PharmD Founder

Focused During Adversity | Alex Barker, PharmD, The Happy PharmD Founder

Alex Barker, PharmD, Founder and CEO of The Happy PharmD, discusses how his business stayed focus during personal adversities.


Speech to text:

Mike Koelzer, Host: [00:00:00] Alex for those that haven't come across you online, introduce yourself and tell our listeners what we're going to talk about today. I'm 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Alex Barker pharmacist by trade, a business owner by night and day and everything else. I run a company called the happy farm D and what we do is career coaching for pharmacists.

So we help them create inspiring careers in their lives. Normally it's getting into a new job, new career. Uh, sometimes it is business as well. Today. We're going to talk about, you know, the struggles of being a founder, walking through insanely difficult times and relying on your team to enact your vision for what you want your company to do, the struggles of what goes on with you personally and, and overcoming those.

Mike Koelzer, Host: I'll extend my sympathies at this point, Alex, I know that your dad passed away quite recently. Yeah. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Yes. That played a huge burden on me. Um, I was there practically every day and the last few months. Um, but as I reflect on that journey, like I wouldn't have been able to do any of that. If I was working.

40, 50, 60 hours a week. Um, over the last year through my dad's cancer treatments, I was probably working during that time 20, 25 hours a week, which is where I want to be, uh, with my work. Um, I was working typically Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, um, taking fun occasional meetings on Fridays doing some prep work, maybe on Mondays.

Um, And then eventually though, I just dropped off really due to grief, misery and pain for months, I didn't do anything. The occasional communication, uh, my email was managed. My social media was planned and managed. Everything was planned and taken care of by my team. And I would've never been able to do any of that.

If I had. Put in some hard work in 2020, uh, the pandemic really lended itself to automation for me. Um, and now I'm kind of getting back into it. So you're catching me now. I mean, I'm still full of grief and misery, but having to be here on this podcast, talking about what we've learned and what we've gone through.

Mike Koelzer, Host: Where do you see yourself without that four months of the vision hat on let's say, and maybe it was on 

Alex Barker, PharmD: when I think of the traditional definition of vision, I think about like, well, what is your company trying to accomplish? What is its specific purpose? And luckily that's set pretty well in stone ever since 20 18, 20 19, um, and that's to work with pharmacists and help them transition into new and better jobs.

I think 

Mike Koelzer, Host: I asked a crappy question because I was talking about vision and I think what I meant more was. That area between that of there's vision that you set and then there's the execution, not even execution. Maybe the word I'm looking for is the growth slash watching your tail that no one's coming up to each of, from behind.

I think maybe that's what I'm thinking about. Not the five-year vision or the 10 year vision, but what do we need to be doing a year from now? Those kinds of thoughts? 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I think I had a lot of fear about that over the last year. Fear of, um, getting out of touch with the audience and with our customers.

I think I've had a lot of fear about losing our edge. Um, but I had a really great mental shit. Because I had a lot of worries and fears and anxiety all during this time. Um, that really backed me up into a corner. On the one hand, I felt like I couldn't really chase my ambitions. I have big projects that I want to work on and I want to do, and I want to get into, but on the other side of that, I felt miserable.

I felt full of guilt and shame and. I don't want to do any of this. Um, my dad is dying and I'm incredibly unmotivated and sad. So I had a lot of. Inner frustrations and that really couldn't go anywhere. And 

Mike Koelzer, Host: that guilt and shame came from where you were even thinking about business in a time when your dad was dying or that you were not giving enough to your business.

Where was that from? 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Well, oddly enough, I think it was from my dad. Was a chemical engineer. Um, [00:05:00] and if you've never met one, they're basically pharmacists that do a lot more math and science, uh, with, uh, mechanical parts. So he anal retentive and a hard worker. Um, this is a guy who stood up against company lawyers who were doing some shady stuff.

Um, this is a guy who would work his butt off. And not complain about it and not talk about his worries or frustrations. Hmm. Um, and I really looked up to him and as much as I am a clown and a goof, I do think that I adopted a lot of his hard work mentality and thinking, and it always pained me when. I felt like I wasn't giving it my everything.

And unfortunately, with that kind of thinking, it's flawed because as soon as you give anything or something, it's never enough, you can never appease that desire. And so, as I'm grieving through losing my dad and seeing him deteriorate because of this brain cancer, I'm thinking to myself, You have a great vision and ambition for what you want to accomplish in this world.

And you want to work. You want to do these things, but you, you can barely sit in front of the computer and write an email. Um, just actually last week, I finally wrote this email about a new book that I want to work on and it took me five minutes to write. This email, but I have, I didn't do it for months and probably up until about January, I felt guilty about it.

I felt guilty like, oh, just, just do it. Just, just send your ideas. Like, it's good. Just get them over to the editor and you can get the process started. But no matter what I did, guilt followed me for a while. When I would sit around and do nothing or play video games, you know, during the day, oh, what during the day.

And I would say to myself, what are you doing? You're a bad dad. You're a bad husband. You're a bad leader. You're a bad person. And that got old really quick. So therapy helped out a ton. And I learned to. I go through that anymore. Really? 

Mike Koelzer, Host: You own your business. You're going to live and die by your efforts.

It's yours yet. You still feel that guilt. Hey, I've got it too. My dad speaks from the grave sometimes when I don't feel like I'm doing my thing. Where does that guilt come from? Because in essence it should be nobody's damn busy. This is your thing. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Yeah. And what's so funny is that no one on my team, no one who supports me has my wife, my kids, my, my dad, no one has ever said anything like that.

And anytime I did anything, everyone was like, great. That's awesome. You did something. That was exactly what we needed. Um, so that inner voice, that inner person actually has a name. I'm actually not going to say this person's name, because this is actually the same name as an alumni colleague. Um, but this voice is an anal retentive.

Uh, good is not a good enough voice. Uh, this, this voice is someone who tells me, um, you could've done. When, when I work one hour, this voice says why not to? When I give everything doing a video or a course or a class, or I'm speaking, this voice says the next morning, when I wake up, um, you forgot this. You didn't do that.

Uh, or you got that thing wrong. And I have learned to. Separate this voice from my own inner dialogue and accept this voice. I'm doing really hard by the way, to not gender this voice. Cause I, I want to say what the gender is. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: This is actually someone you have in mind or is it fictitious? Is it really?

Alex Barker, PharmD: Well up until a couple of months ago, I didn't distinguish this voice. It was me, it was my own inner thoughts, but I have learned that I don't really want to have these thoughts. They are not helpful. They do not motivate me, but well, in a way I think they have, um, this [00:10:00] voice is. Afraid. It's my own inner thoughts.

And it's trying its best. It's kicking me in the pants, trying whatever it can to get me to do something about my fear, because my fear is this business is going to tank. This is going to fail. People are going to find out that, you know, I'm a fraud and I'm a loser and no one's going to believe in me. Um, if I don't do some.

So you need to do something. And so I've learned that this voice in my head, I've learned to objectify it and get it out of my head to get me to stop feeling anxious about it and pain and sadness so that I can move on. Number one, to better emotions and feelings that don't create anxiety and depression and misery.

And. Rationalize with this voice so that it doesn't have so much power and control over me. Um, because. Man, this voice has created so much misery over the last year that I really do because I was losing a dad. Like the last thing you want to do to someone who's like, I'm just imagining this workplace scenario where your boss is like your boss just found out, oh, you're you're, you're losing your mom too.

I dunno, terminal, breast cancer, all that, that, that really sucks by the way we need those reports tonight. I need you to stay late. Oh. And by the way, don't make any mistakes because I know you have in the past and you suck. I'm going to go now, but that was what was going on in my head over the last year.

Mike Koelzer, Host: Did you ever have violent 

Alex Barker, PharmD: dreams? Yeah, I have had a few, but I've also had violent thoughts too. Um, Like crazy thoughts about committing senseless violence. Obviously I'm, I'm a rational human, so I'm, I acknowledged them. I say, okay, what, why? But let's put those aside because you're not going to do those things.

Um, I think that's a part of being human, you know, to deny the fact that you've ever wanted to hit the person who's causing you to go, you know, 55 in a 70. You want to cause harm. But 

Mike Koelzer, Host: I had a time in my life probably 10 years ago where I was caught in a double bind and I wasn't standing up to a person I should have been standing up to.

I never stood up to this person and I was having dreams for the longest time about killing people in my dreams. I mean, I've probably killed like. Yeah. I mean, not, not lately. I haven't, but I've probably killed hundreds of people in dreams about 10 years ago. And I felt really crappy during this time.

I wasn't standing up to this person who I thought was bullying me in a way, not physically, but bullying me through passive aggressiveness, different ways like that, that someone would bully you. And I was talking to. This therapist, and this is over time, but she had asked me, she said, what did this person look like in your dream that you are killing?

And I said, well, I don't know. I didn't really see his face. He's, you know, he's about my size and my height and my age and my air color and things like. I was killing me through these dreams, not a depressive killing and not a suicide kind of thing, but I was so angry at myself for being in this double bind, which I could not have really gotten out of in now that I think about it.

But I was so angry at myself that I was. Killing myself in my dream, because I was so mad at myself for not standing up to the person, but also maybe not being a comfort to myself. It's a crazy thing that pressure from the outside and a lot of it's from yourself, 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I think our subconscious is finely tuned to what we do and don't do.

And, those decisions were the dream. Like the final straw and the camel for you to 

Mike Koelzer, Host: act the situation I was in had already passed. It was me still dealing with bullying myself. You know, why didn't you do this in this situation? Why didn't you stand up for yourself in this kind of sub? And now I know I couldn't have really, but it was giving myself a break.


Alex Barker, PharmD: Were you able to forgive yourself? 

Mike Koelzer, Host: I don't know. As soon as I think so, but sometimes when I'm on my fourth bowl of ice cream at night, you know, doing everything that's bad for me. And you know what I mean? And watching some mundane stuff when I could be doing these goals that you're talking about and being better to myself and I'm like, I'm not sure if I have.

I think life goes on, but enough about me killing myself in my dreams, Alex, back to [00:15:00] you, you never killed this person in your dreams. You never really let them have it. This person that was coming to you in the night and saying, Alex, do better. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I think I've always been a pacifist, both by physical nature.

Like I'm not tall, I'm five, nine. I was never a big kid. I could never beat up anybody. Um, I definitely had a way with words though, in a way I was very good at making people feel awful about themselves in the most humorous way that I could to make other people laugh at their, their own expense digging in.

Right. So I'm very harsh with myself. Because of that. And I think I've learned to love this voice as best I can because this voice isn't going away anytime soon, but I don't have to just keep listening to this voice. I, I don't, I don't need to feel like I have to always be working for the survival of my company.

Um, I've hired great people, amazing people. To do the things I've asked them to do. And I've never also really been a anal retentive, controlling person to my benefit. And so I don't, double-check things. Um, I let them be messy because that's my life. That's who I am. And there's great freedom in that as a leader, because I don't have to watch people.

I used to do one-on-one with everyone. Um, not because I felt like, okay, I need to double check your work with you. I just felt like I had to do that because I was the one with the vision on what needed to be done. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: I was listening to an interview with Freakonomics, Stephen, Dubner talking about Facebook iterations, different versions of Facebook, and they give the freedom to the programmers to try something out of the stem of facing.

And if it works, they can come back to Facebook and say, Hey, this is work. Look at the numbers. And then Facebook will bring that into their stem. Here's what I thought of that though, is all these years in the business. When I hear that voice, and maybe you hear that voice, people are driving me this, this voice to say, uniformity, go focus, structure, no room for time, no room for relaxation, but sometimes.

Like without you meeting with each individual person and watching everything, there is some room for. Some personal freedom. You don't want so much that you're happy. Pharm D no longer has. It's no longer means what it means, but there's some room for freedom, but it's hard to see that when your being so hard on yourself, I don't know if that's the case here, but it's hard to see it when you've got so much structure in your own mind going on.

Oh, I 

Alex Barker, PharmD: dunno how much structure is going on in my mind, but I am happy to report, you know, I've been gradually getting back into things. Being very kind to myself and I made the decision early on if, and when I feel like working, I will, but if I don't, I won't. And in one meeting I had with, uh, Sarwar who helps she's one of our coaches, she's a pharmacist.

And she also helps us with content. And John said that she had this interaction with, um, a pharmacist who wanted to join our team. And she said that this pharmacist kind of asked her a very confrontational question. I was like, what, what, what what'd they say? She said, who is it? Who is doing all of this?

Who's in charge. She was like, what do you mean? I mean, Alex founded the company, but I guess he's in charge. She's like, no, no, no, no. You guys all say the same thing. You guys, I have different conversations with different people and you guys all say the same things. So does Alex like to make you read something and memorize it, or like why, how are you this way?

Um, while, you know, it was a very investigative question for someone that wants to join . That's smart and this is what you should be doing. It made me feel like, oh, okay. I've been away for a long time. I've not been engaging with stuff. And yet, despite that we have hired amazing people who get it and they call each other out.

And at the same time, they also support each other and what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish. Um, and I feel like when talking about automation or business building, it almost comes [00:20:00] down to do you just, do you have the right people? Do you have people who give a damn, um, there's so few people who actually do, and it's usually because they don't trust what the company gives them.

They don't, they don't think their manager, their colleagues, the founder really cares because if they did, they would, they would probably act differently. Um, I know what it feels like to walk into a pharmacy where I actually feel appreciated and cared about. When you go into a place where people care about you, you know, Because humans are finely tuned, I believe to like, just notice very subtle things.

You know, when someone is forcibly saying hello to you or hi, how are you? But you can also tell when someone says that very same phrase and you're like, oh, this, this person actually is asking this and cares. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Talking about treating people well in a business. Yes, you should treat people well, but I am a firm believer in never owning your employee, anything outside of two weeks.

Here's what I mean. I always say I'm going to give my employees two weeks of pay. For two weeks of work, let's say the check comes out every two weeks. I don't like the whole world and you didn't say this, but I don't like the whole, like we're a family thing. Oh yeah. You 

Alex Barker, PharmD: gotta be careful. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Here's one of the reasons I hate it.

I've had employees come in to me and they say, I'm putting in my two week notice and I'm like, back in the day, I'd be like, oh, okay. Maybe a little hurt inside, you know, kind of wondering, but I had to put a good face on like, congratulations, you're moving up in the world. Things like that. But if I, as a business owner, brought them in and said, you know what, I'm just kind of making a change.

There's nothing really wrong here, but you're gone, you know, no big reason you're doing a pretty damn good job, but goodbye I'd be the villain in that case, but it should be equal. Everything should be cleared off in two weeks. To your credit, Alex, the management. I understand what you're saying about being nice to people and so on, but your management, your power is not so much that you treat your people well, it's because you have a great system.

You're a great leader with a great system. It's not because you're so nice. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I think both help, but yeah. I mean, if you're, if you're an a-hole, you know, people are going to figure that out quick. Hi people 

Mike Koelzer, Host: haven't they have, that's the sad part about it? 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I think when, when we say like our business, we're like a family.

I think what they're trying to say is we like to hide stuff under the rug. We don't like, we don't like to talk about. Issues or have conflict. And, and we like to pretend that when we get all together for Thanksgiving, that we're happy and jovial, and we've got a few beers and we're good. And then we're going to show up, um, on Monday and back to the grind.

Um, I make it very clear to people, you know, this is a business first and our personal stuff is going to get in the way it just will. Yeah. Um, but yeah. I tell people, you know, when, when personal gets in the way of business, when it's consistently doing it is when we've got a red flag and we need to address it.

And what you know, what's actually interesting about this mic is I don't know if you've lost someone. Um, but I have found in my own head, not, not now, but I saw a struggle appearing, which was, you're not working right now. Would you extend the same quote, grace to your employees if they go through this and you know, my initial answer was no.

And then guilt like, oh, well, if you wouldn't do that for them, why are you doing it for yourself? You lazy bum and, and what's been insanely helpful is to recognize, guess what? They're not running the company. They don't have the fears that you have. They can go get another job. Did and put all the blood, sweat, and tears to create this that you did.


Mike Koelzer, Host: has to work out for you. It has to work out, you've got a column that you want, either rusted handcuffs or golden handcuffs. It has to work out for you. You can look at it and say, yeah, I was hard on myself, but then I was good [00:25:00] to myself for six months and I wasn't there and I was there and all that. You can paint it any way you want to paint it, but it had to work out for you or your business.

Wouldn't be there. The employees, you know, sorry. But here's the thing with the employees, Alex, I might sound nonchalant about that, like, sorry. But the thing is they can do that on their own. If they don't like something, if you don't like something in the business. Either spend three days or three months or three years and change it, you know, you dug a hole with something you didn't like to change it.

You're stuck there. You're stuck there. You're there someone else though? Yes, they can be let go, but also they can leave if they don't like something they're not stuck there. I know you can change, but it doesn't happen as soon as two weeks. Yeah. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: It's not equal, right? It's not equal. It can never be no, because that's not how business works.

I don't think we want to become a communist nation or company. Um, I think it's okay to be a communist with things like your family. We want to help our family regardless of the circumstances, because we love them, but we don't want to be that way. And it's government and politics and the bigger you get, because not everyone should be treated that same way.

Um, to give the same love you give to your family to everyone you'll eventually end up abused, right? It won't end well for you. What comes to mind for me is compromise. And, and I don't want to get too philosophical here. Go ahead. One thing I am slightly concerned about is the future. Of course, everyone is, and I'm slightly concerned about how I see culture shifting.

Uh, way from, uh, acceptance and compromise. What kind of turned me into this was watching how both in the media, but also in places like Reddit, which is an awful place to go. Uh, but I spend a lot of time there, is how people treat others when, um, they feel. Offended or dejected. So, you know, relationships are a great place for, for, for that discussion about how like, oh, if you know that person did that to you, then you need to dump them.

You need to get rid of them because they did that one thing. And I'm not saying something as far as cheating, just how they treated you or, or what they said to you. And it's almost like people cannot accept it. That other people are fallible just as you are and that they make mistakes and that they can grow and learn, but to just reject others based on the belief that they won't is almost putting away a compromise.

And when you put away compromise, you ruin any chance of relationships, developing deeper and becoming something bigger and better. Hence what a business is all about. If your business cannot compromise, even with places of automation and, and growing and learning, then people are not going to stick around long because they are going to reject.

And it makes me a little bit concerned for the future. Um, because I see more and more reasons why people want to leave or want to quit. Um, not that I want to say that people have petty reasons. Sometimes they do though. Sometimes it's about all this person said. Well, did you talk to them?

No, no, I did it and I never will. Okay. Well, what happens with it? Go on to the next place. Cause it probably will because we're freaking human beings that, I mean have conflict all the time. Cause that's what being human is. It's how you interact with each other and ideally show trust to others and respect that allows even businesses to go on.

And sadly what we find. Is that most workplaces, because you know, we're in the business of getting people into better places we find over and over again, that people in the workplace don't feel at all safe, that they're always having to watch what they say, watch what they do, because if they say or do the wrong thing, they will be outed.

They will be found a fraud, they'll be fired and they have to constantly. Be on guard. It's like, I can't even do the work that I'm trying to do. I'm playing this political game of cat and mouse doing my best to avoid any kind of conflict. Yeah. There's no room. [00:30:00] Right. Which is kind of like family at times.

Kids these days. Yeah. Let's talk about them. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: These days do a lot of shacking up together. You know what I mean? Living together before marriage and so on and the marriage ideal has gone down. And here's why I feel sad for that strip away. Any religious connotations on it, strip away any public scrutiny of living in sin.

Take all that away. What's really sad about people not being married these days is there's no room for error. My poor wife agreed to live with me forever and she gave me permission to be an asshole. You know, she didn't say that, but she gave me that permission to do that. And then maybe rise above that and then maybe become a better person.

The problem with. The dissolution of marriage, takes all the religious stuff away from it. It's sad that people are on eggshells and their relationships. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I can see where you're coming from with that. I feel like every generation is going to change. There's actually some really interesting anthropology research about this idea about how generations change and what they consistently do over time.

I wonder. What will happen next for the next 10, 20 years, but what I, we can already see happening now is that people are changing jobs more frequently because they, number one, feel like they have the freedom to do so. Um, and so they don't have to put up with BS when they see it. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: They're not married to it.

So that's a good thing. A lot of times, 

Alex Barker, PharmD: right? On the other side of that coin, when people. Do you make those changes? It's usually not because of the company or the work, it's because of people. I wish they would teach more of these soft skills kind of ideas early on in the education system. But sadly, I don't think they will.

And I also, I also think a lot of people are just missing out because of. Not seeing it in their families. Right. Um, I think back to your idea of people not getting married as they used to be. And I mean, as a married man, I'm obviously very biased to the idea. Cause I, I think it is a good idea. I like it. I've benefited from it.

I can understand why other people don't. Um, and I don't condemn them for whatever their decision is, but I do think as someone who raises two girls. That to have these concepts taught early on about conflict resolution, about the moral obligation to apologize when you are wrong, um, make society better.

Because as soon as you remove the idea that you have to do your very best to not do anything wrong, you create a very stifling culture, not just in the home, but in the workplace. Right. And it will kill any kind of cohesive team. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: If you have to be perfect all the time. That's bad. Yeah. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: When, when you have to be perfect all the time, it creates a culture where you're constantly on the defense and you can't, you can't have fun.

You're not playing a game anymore. You're you're playing. Don't get in trouble. I've talked about this at great length, how we've created and within our industry, a culture of perfectionism, um, and no matter what we do it is our roots and it is very difficult to change any kind of behavior, you know, profession wide.

Um, And it's why when you go to things like major association meetings, like you just know, people are not really saying what they want to say. They're not really spilling the beans or saying what's on their heart. It's prefabricated. And it doesn't feel real or genuine, which is why we see quite a few associations worrying about numbers, because this is near generation.

Is all about relationships. It's all about authenticity. Like that's the buzz word that you see in a lot of, you know, HR, um, publications or Harvard business review. It's all about that stuff because that's what this new generation really cares about. And I think our profession is coming to terms with that, like realizing, okay, we have to address these problems and actually talk about them.

Not just say that. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Is that like on an interpersonal level or from the [00:35:00] podium? Are you saying that people do these things, when they're in the hallway, they're not sharing their true self or is it more on an institutional level that people are not being honest? Give me an example of where you were going with that.

Alex Barker, PharmD: Yeah, I won't name names because we all want to play fair. Right? Well, even me doing that, that's 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Is it you Mike? 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Well, no, I wasn't thinking that, but that's good. But. Even, even the idea of me not saying who to call out, who is kind of like being up on that podium. Right. Because I'm not being genuine anymore.

I was at a nameless pharmacy, uh, association meeting and they were talking about the burnout issue because that again is a buzzword. And I've talked about that at length and I could tell. Just the vibe of the audience was, this is a problem. And I think I may have a problem. And I think the problem is my job, but everything that was being said from the podium was about how they needed to fix it.

You know, it's kind of like an obese doctor telling you how to lose weight. And I'm not saying that the association, uh, did or didn't have those issues. Um, but when you don't admit your own fault, when you don't admit, Hey, we actually have this problem too, you can't be genuine anymore. Which is why I think some people find when I talk about it refreshing, because I've been a part of both.

I have been burnt out myself. I have contributed to a burnout problem. I have seen people within my own company get burned out and figure out okay. We need to fix this because this isn't the way you should work or act because there's a ton of problems associated with it. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: You're saying that let's picture this figurative room.

Maybe you're saying that the leader. Are saying all of you, pharmacists individually should change this about you instead of looking at themselves and saying, how can we change? Is that what you're saying? Yeah, 

Alex Barker, PharmD: absolutely. Give me an 

Mike Koelzer, Host: example of that. We're not going to name names, but Alex, no one listens to this damn show, it's just me and my dog that turned it on a Monday afternoon.

No, one's listening. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Let's hear it. You know, it's funny to be in this position, Mike. Like someone who was on the sidelines, like give me the, give me the goods, tell me the secrets of what's going on behind the scenes. I can now say with full certainty. I ain't gonna do that. I ain't going to throw people's names in the muck and mire.

Mike Koelzer, Host: No, give us an example. You can talk about the issue without blaming anybody. Right? We can talk about the issue of infidelity without naming your neighbors that we talked about before the show, you know, Bob and Sue across the street. You know what I'm saying? We don't. Oh, oh boy. We don't live too. We don't want to have to name the names.

Come on, give me the issue without naming the names. An example and 

Alex Barker, PharmD: example. Yeah, well, here's the one that infuriates me, the whole theme of the conference was resiliency. And that's a great idea. We all want to be resilient, who don't want to be able to handle life's awful problems and bounce back.

Everyone wants that. But when you start recommending things like meditation, another thing people are, people are burned out. They are unhappy, and they are dissatisfied with the working conditions. And by burning out, it means they're working too much. They're doing too much. Oh, you want to be resilient as a solution to burnout.

Here's another freaking thing to do. I'm laughing because Corey Jenks, who I think is a fellow Filipino. He is actually the one who he and I were spending the other day with. And we were talking about this very idea and, and I'll give him credit for, you know, wording it the way that I'm even wording it. He was laughing and frustrated as much as I am frustrated about this very issue, because to give someone who's miserable, another thing to do, it's insane.

It really is. And so when I think about these people in charge making these recommendations, and I actually, I know from insider knowledge that this place, this, this group creates burnout, it only justifies my belief that you don't know what you're talking about. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Creates a dominant association or creates in the industry by not doing something that 

Alex Barker, PharmD: well, both, if their burnout resources are recommending.

Individuals do more. [00:40:00] It is counterproductive and it doesn't make any sense. And also as someone who has read thousands of articles on the subject, we know with great certainty that making people do mandatory things like resiliency, training or burn. Solutions don't fix the problem. Also, every freaking cause of burnout is not caused by the individual.

It is all done by the workplace. So making recommendations like that just proves to me. Number one, you don't know what in the world you're talking about. You haven't talked to a single burned out person. It just frustrates me. So now you've got a frustrated guest, Mike. Thanks. Thanks for making me mad on your podcast.

I'm going to walk away from the edge now, 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Is there a way going forward or should this conference not have happened because it's useless and if it's not useless, you've got the mic. What are you telling these hundreds of people looking up at you? So ladies and gentlemen, you've got the mic. What are you saying to them?

First of all, you're not paying me enough. It'd be a hard position to fill 

Alex Barker, PharmD: joking at truthful, but if it's possible, insanely hard, I don't even know if one person can know one person can't do it and not for however long their terms are. Uh, I, I don't know. We need it. Not just pharmacy wide solutions. We need a revamp of how we think about work.

We need to philosophically change the way our culture thinks about work and a leader of an association of a tiny industry. Cannot do that. Um, so number one, I gotta, I gotta get promoted to like, I don't know something in the government, which by the way, no, thank you. But from my limited stance, if I was in that position, I would have to start working on policies that would fundamentally change how pharmacies work.

Um, because we know that policies influence practice. And we also know that we would probably have to get rid of some of the powers that be in order to change that. Cause right now it's, it's very clear that those that are writing policies, advocacy groups, uh, typically not directly within the pharmacist, advocating profession are advocating things that are making it worse.

And they 're making things better for them because they're making tons of money doing it. But from our standpoint, it's making the workplace awful. It's making things not good. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Some of that's outside of pharmacy, give you an example 

Alex Barker, PharmD: of that. Yeah. Um, so in my own state of Michigan, Uh, a law was passed a couple of years ago that made it legal for a pharmacist to have remote access to another pharmacy in a different location, in a different building, and be able to manage that, um, via virtual.

Potentially, uh, the reasoning behind it was to create better access to care for places that have, you know, Baron pharmacies sounds great. But would you want to be a pharmacist? The only pharmacist right now on staff, in charge of your own pharmacy. Oh, and also you're managing a pharmacy 50 miles away where you don't know the technicians.

You don't know the patients, you don't know anything. Talk about. Like malpractice, you know, galore, waiting to happen. Someone 

Mike Koelzer, Host: that's still influencing pharmacy, but doesn't have a clue of what really people are going through. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Yeah. But something actually I've had happen that as a leader that I'm even concerned about within my organization, that as you begin to delegate and give people more power and well, really responsibility, not so much power you create.

This opportunity for yourself to become disconnected. And it's become a growing concern of mine as the founder. Like I need to be talking with people consistently because if I don't, I lose touch, I lose sense of what people care about. I lose sense of what even our own values are. Because I've made bad calls in the past as a leader, I've made misinformed decisions and it's made me a better leader by understanding where that went wrong and what I needed to learn from that experience.[00:45:00] 

So this, this fictitious scenario, I would hate that I would hate that. And I would have to interject weekly if not a few meetings every week where I'm meeting with people on the ground and hear. Their stories and learning what they're experiencing, um, because it's so easy to disconnect care, what you care about.

And unfortunately, sometimes care a little bit too much about what you care about. Right. And he started getting dirty at that point and taking money and it's a slippery slope. To have any kind of power like that. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: You've got all these great ideas, but who of us? Don't we all sit there and think about what we should do?

But now I'm telling you, I come over and I whisper in your ear at this convention, Alex, these people are two weeks away from a life change. We already talked about that. We talked about people putting in their two week notice. We talked about a company that may be selling, but not telling their employees until a week or two ahead of time.

They sold. A lot of stuff happens in two weeks. What are you going to tell them to do for the next two weeks? 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Ask the question. What is it that we are currently doing that is making it unsafe for us to work? Not fit, not just physically, maybe that's probably not much of a concern, but mentally, what is making us unsafe?

'cause I bet. If you were able to describe all of the things, uh, that make a relationship unique, that someone you love. So just in your mind, picture someone you love or you care about, and if you were to describe that relationship, it would be things like respect, care, concern. Even, and if you were to describe all the things of a person that you despise or loathe or a one to object to, you would, you would say things like disdain, uh, disrespect, all the opposites.

Right. And I would venture a guess that everyone could come up with activities, interactions, the way people talk and workplace evidence, that would be able to say, These are the things that we're doing in the workplace that are making it unsafe for me to work. I'm more concerned about what's going to happen at our daily huddle than I am concerned about making sure that this medication is safe for this patient.

And I would say, come up with a list of all of those things and talk about them. You don't have to fix them because maybe not everyone has the same viewpoint as you, that's probably the case, but if you could at least start talking about them in the next two weeks, You'd be making some progress because just like sometimes the family Thanksgiving, no one wants to talk about uncle Jim's racist comments last year, you know, it's time to talk about it.

It's time to get it out in the open so that we can at least address that. Because if you don't it'll fester and it will ruin your company. And it'll probably make it a place where people will want to leave. If not, we'll leave. I guess that's what. 

What's your worst quality that you could wake up with someday?

Mike Koelzer, Host: Not every day. You roll out of bed though. And you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. What's the worst quality? 

Alex Barker, PharmD: And does that affect your business or can you hide it enough? 

I'd say I have two worst qualities. Um, the first is that, uh, I'm not considerate of others. people Being an only child. I was kind of trained only to care about myself.

Mike Koelzer, Host: I came from a family of 12 children. So that just shows you how nice 

I am. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: You couldn't out your parents with 10. Come on. Those are rookie numbers. Mike, 

Mike Koelzer, Host:

feel like we're way behind, 

Alex Barker, PharmD: you know, 

Honestly, I've been a jerk for most of my life. It wasn't until. I think I turned 24 that I read how to win friends and influence people and realized wow, I've been a dang Turkey for most of my life unlikable 

and I 

on my worst days.

Yeah. And, um, 

I'm honest with people 

with our team. Usually if we, when 

we have team meetings, I tell them, you know what, my tank is low right now. 


don't expect me to care 

I've said that a few times, especially over the last couple of months and they, they get it, you know, they don't blame me. Um, and I don't blame them.

I mean, I don't like it, obviously when my COO is feeling empty or drained, she had a period of time or she had some really awful things happen to her for like a solid six months. And I tried to be there for her when. You know, I asked her to [00:50:00] do what she felt like she was capable of doing, and I didn't ask for more.

Um, and she has returned the favor to me, tenfold. Um, so I'd say lack of concern and frankly, during this period of time, the biggest thing for me is de-motivation right now. I mean, for example, we're recording this in the afternoon. I need to work on a presentation that is due Monday. And all I really want to do is go play with my new puppy.

You know, I don't, I don't want to do it. And I hate feeling this way. I don't have money. That I can do something other than the kind of a statement I said earlier, which is self acceptance. I don't feel like working. Okay, fine. I'm not going to feel guilty about it, but for years I have been, um, self condemning. Uh, my thoughts when I, when I feel demotivated 

Mike Koelzer, Host: your company, the happy farm D what's happy enough right now for you.

Alex Barker, PharmD: Well, happiness is fleeting. It's really not an EI eight on point name. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: You don't have to feel like a Google. If that was your company. I wouldn't say how do you feel Google-y right now, but what's happy enough right 

Alex Barker, PharmD: now for me personally. Yeah. For you. I am, I am filled with a lot of happiness right now because I work when and if I want to and.

Every moment that I am working. I'm so engaged. I love what I do. I talk about things I really care about. And although I'm not as of this moment, I'm not actively like coaching someone. I'm not working with an individual or a group. My team is, and I know that my team. Is changing lives, not just like that individual pharmacist, which is gratifying in and of itself, but we're changing families.

And I have a board of like comments of what people say, things like my wife actually loves me again. My kids don't ignore me on Sunday. Before I go to work. I'm actually excited to go to France. And when I see those things, it feels like joy would be the better term. Because, as soon as you obtain happiness, you have to try that much harder to get it right.

It's just like a drug for you. You need more shrooms to achieve that same level of high that you had a week ago. And for me right now, I am filled with a lot of despair and sadness, but equal amounts of happiness. Because if I were where I was five years ago, I'd be back at my job. Working with a team of people that had mixed feelings about me and feeling like I really wasn't making a difference in my patients' lives because all I was supposed to do was fix, you know, their medical health problem.

But today I get to change a life and a thousand other lives because of that one life. And for me that that's where I'm at right now, misery and extreme joy 

Mike Koelzer, Host: That's life. Isn't it. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: It's a comedy , that's for sure. I mean, it's, it's great, it is a great place to be. Um, I'm very happy. I'm very happy 

Mike Koelzer, Host: speaking about two extremes.

I've got to use up two tickets that got canceled because of COVID. So I'm going to Arizona tomorrow and you're stuck up in the ups. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I was just in Florida. So congratulations. Wow. Whatever. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: It's again, the presence. So I get to be an Arizona picturing you up in the ups. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: Yes. Dealing with the snow. It is awful.

I will tell you that it is awful. We're getting a summer or winter home. It's official. When I 

Mike Koelzer, Host: think about people up in like upper Canada. How'd you do that up there, you know, but people from the Sunbelt think of us up here as being crazy. 

Alex Barker, PharmD: I mean, every place is awful, right. Florida has cockroaches and alligators, you know, and flooding and hurricanes.

You don't want to be there for that. That's crazy. Why would we want to do that as northerners? 

Mike Koelzer, Host: I'll send pictures, pretending like I'm having fun. I bet you 

Alex Barker, PharmD: will. 

Mike Koelzer, Host: Hey Alex. Good to see you. Thanks for your time. Thanks for always having nice [00:55:00] talking to you. Thank you. Thank you.