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Friday, November 19, 2021

Lesson 1 for Mentees from a Seasoned Career-Changer (a series)

I've changed careers too many times and I've left a lot of money on the table but it has been a scintillating, inspiring, and educational adventure. 

In this first lesson I've taken three popular platitudes tossed around when giving career advice and given them my own treatment based on my experience and what I wish I could tell myself 30 years ago.

Lesson 1 - the platitudes

Platitudes, like stereotypes, biases, and gut reactions, exist for a reason - because experience and evolution has taught us there is some truth in them but they are not to be relied upon without rational input. Here are my thoughts on three of most common career-focused platitudes.

    Follow your passions 

I'm convinced almost everyone attempting to give career advice starts with "follow your passions". I won't break the pattern but what I will say is that I think most of the time the underlying assumption is that your career/job should (or would ideally) be aligned with your passion. That's great for those people for whom that is true but I don't think that is necessarily the ideal. You may be one of those people who enjoy their passion being different from what they get paid to do or one those for whom their passion is truly agnostic of a particular career, job, profession or discipline.

Some are blessed knowing their passions very early. A college friend, Larry, knew he wanted to be a professional trumpet player when he was 14 years old. He pursued that single-mindedly and successfully. I was never blessed with that kind of clarity early on. I only put my finger on it in my 40s. Sometimes your passion is conveniently packaged in a career like Larry's was. Sometimes its something quite outside your specific career but very much helps you define it. Sometimes your passion - like mine - is more amorphous and drives you to change careers to fully satisfy it.

My friend Brent's passion is about building financial independence. When he stumbled into a low-level job in a fast-growing company with almost endless upside career opportunity and stock options, he committed his entire career to the company that would be the vehicle to fulling his passion. His particular job - even the company - is simply a means to a very strategic and planned end. 

My friends Ron and Mike and Scott share a passion for saving money which drives them to avoid any behavior which risks their savings or ability to add to it. Consequently they stayed in the first secure professional job they got because it gave them the comfort of security with minimal risk and a secure vision for what their future looked like through to and into retirement. 

My friend Wayne is passionate about inventing which drove him to engineering school. When he was paid to invent stuff for a big multinational company he loved his job. When they eventually started to stifled his creativity, he did what most inventors do - started inventing his own stuff for his own company. He's not very good at the company stuff and is learning how to surround himself with people who let him invent and they manage the corporate side.

My friend John is passionate about music but refused to ever let himself defined professionally as a musician because he never thought it (or he) was legitimate enough or good enough or whatever his deal was. So he tried his hand at all kinds of things trying to make himself passionate about a career or job until he realized it was outside the workplace in the off-hours when his guitar was in his hands and he was surrounded by music, musicians, and creativity. He also realized he didn't want that to be his job or career - he loved it too much to want to depend on it financially.

My passion is learning. I just love learning and I love the feeling of being a little bit of a 'fish-out-of-water' - being thrown into the deep end of some pool of knowledge and paddling around finding my way to the edges and figuring out how to maneuver in this unknown discipline. I imagined at one point my perfect career path would be as a university professor - surrounded by halls of learning - but I've now come to realize I don't enjoy the narrowing of focus that comes with deep specialization. I want broad, surface-level exposure to a myriad of topics, disciplines, and industries.

Sometimes your passion is aligned with your work; sometimes your work is a means to affording your passion. Neither one is better or lucky or even necessarily more lucrative. What is important is the sooner you can identify your passions and decide how they fit (or not) with your career/job aspirations the sooner you can just get on with it - with being you, pursuing your passions, and living authentically. 

Of course there are limit to every such platitude. For example, don't 'follow your passion' if you've decided your passion is a vice or one of the seven deadly sins or illegal. Also, for every 'follow your passion' there are a million examples of where that can lead you astray. Sometimes it can make you sacrifice other things also important to you - like relationships. The insatiable need for balance pervades human existence. Sometimes - left unrestrained or properly channeled - it can lead to more chaos than you want. For example, my passion for learning new things can lead to me just - SQUIRREL (see what I did there) - lacking focus and seeing things through. Decide where your limits are and what other things are important to you that compete with your passion if imbalanced.

    Do what you love and you'll be good at what you do

Firstly, this doesn't mean you'll be good at everything you love (see Florence Foster Jenkins). My wife loves music more than I do but she can't sing and never wanted to learn an instrument. She would have made a great radio host with her  love of music and great speaking voice. Turns out she loved words even more than music and turned that passion into a career.

Conversely, you won't love everything you're good at. I was very good - at one time - at classical guitar but it never filled my soul. I love singing but I had no desire to do it professionally or to define myself as 'an artist'. 

Keep in mind that 'being good at it' does not - at all - mean you'll be financially successful at it. These two things are quite disconnected. The world of commercial success is filled with people who are quite mediocre and, even more so, wonderfully talented people are often impecunious. 

For those who are pragmatists, less romantic than I, they might say "love what you do, and you'll be good at it" which to me sounds way to much like resigning to one's fate and having to decide you just love what you do. However, there is some truth to that because even those people dedicate 12 hours per day to their 'love' will sometimes hate it. 

Finally, sometime your career is hidden in places your never imagined your passions - or talents - would lead you. Take me, for example. I didn't really like  science in grade school. I was fascinated by it much like one is fascinated by something completely foreign to them but I showed no propensity for it and my grades reflected that. Consequently I avoided all things science throughout the rest of my schooling. Now I wake up every day with PHD-envy and find myself happily surrounded by scientists talking science to them. What I discovered is a career in science that didn't require me to be a scientist but allowed be to be constantly fascinated and educated by everything they do. My passion to learn is well fed by immersing myself in a discipline in which I have no business being in based on my education. My passion didn't lead me to be a scientist but my passion led me science.

Okay so maybe I've just ripped this platitude to shreds. If you're not always good at what you love and you won't always love what you're good at, is there any truth to this one? There is. 

In every career, in every job, in every company - whether you think so or not - you have options to tweak what you do to match your passions (interests). You may not think so. You do. It may require you moonlighting to prove it but if you're passionate about it, that's no problem. I'll give you an example. I had a job as an association management executive. Many people told me that was my specialty and my job was to focus on the business of association management agnostic of the association's specialty (e.g., trucking, pharmacy, nursing, banking, etc). I disagreed. I found myself passionate about cell therapy and believed that to do the best job possible for the association I was managing I needed to learn as much as a non-scientist could about cell therapy and the challenges the members and industry were facing. That lead me to consuming massive amounts of information which I then decided since I was consuming anyway I might as well share, when lead to the creation of a newsletter, Cell Therapy News, which then lead to hiring a young graduate out of a science journalism program, which lead to the creation of a company that spun out more publications and lead me to blogging and Twitter and LinkedIn Groups, and eventually starting my own cell therapy consulting company and the rest of my career and that young woman I hired is now Vice President in a biotech company. No one asked me to learn as much as I could about cell therapy. No one asked me to launch Cell Therapy News - in fact I had to stay after-hours to build the content and add to the database. But eventually my newsletter caught the attention of the industry and advertisers and my boss and became part of my job and created new jobs.

So "Do what you love" doesn't always come up nicely packaged up for you in a career or job description. Sometimes you have to carve out of every opportunity you have what you love about it and make the most of that because you love it so much and eventually you create your dream job. 

    No risk, no reward 

I'll start this one by admitting there are plenty of people who are rewarded financially without taking much risk at all. The 'investors' who make it big with OPM (other people's money), the trust fund kids, the baby boomers who rode a real-estate wave and retired wealthy almost regardless of what they did, etc. Financial reward is not the kind of reward I'm addressing here. I'm not giving financial advice here; I'm giving heartfelt career advice. To have a rewarding career, one must take risk. That risk doesn't always have to look like the big gamble - like mortgaging your house to finance a startup. Sometimes its about trade-offs or sacrifices or taking the path few people agree is the right one.

Again, this comes back to following your passion and following your instincts. One of my favourite jobs was teaching. When I decided to take my Bachelor's of Education there were no teaching jobs - no one thought it was a smart career choice. I didn't know better, I just chose to ignore the common wisdom and follow my instincts - follow my interests, pursue my passion for learning (for which all things related to 'school' was a surrogate). I took that risk. A great teaching job was my reward. 

In 2006 (later in life), I left a great job with great pay with a great company with great growth potential in a great industry with a great mentor to start my own consulting company. No one thought that was a good idea. I took that risk. My reward was six years of the kind of education which only exposure to an enormous breadth and depth of companies, technologies, people, methodologies, and business models can provide. 

Sometimes the risk  you need is not making a change. For me, the risk of not exploring 'the alternative' is one of the hardest to accept. For the last few years, taking the risk of staying put and not chasing the next shiny opportunity has rewarded me with the lessons I needed to learn by seeing things through. 

There are others who consider the reward to be all about minimizing all avoidable risk.  "No risk is the reward" is their mantra but they are risking something - maybe it is living a more interesting life or seeking out the rewards of a life that takes risk

There is always a 'risk'. Whether you think so or not, every time you choose to do something you're inevitably deciding not to something else. Be conscience of that. Be okay with that. Be aware of the rewards of your decision - even ones you hadn't anticipated or were originally the basis of your decision - but also be aware to what you're not doing by putting yourself on a particular trajectory.


All that leads me to my own bonus 'platitude': trust your instincts as much as your logic. I wish my friend John had let himself be a professional musician because he would have rocked it but that wasn't his path and I believe he has been true to himself. I've been told so many times I should 'be' various things I was good at that were not my passion. Many of these things were very logical - clear job opportunities with lucrative and secure futures - but they did not align with my passion. I've also left things I was very much enjoying and passionate about to pursue things I was even more passionate about. 

You'll face those moments where you feel pressured to make the 'right' choice - by family or friends or advisors or even the logical side or your brain. Don't ignore that but - and this is particularly important for those of you who love math/science - logic/reason is much more contextual than most care to admit. Logic - in the philosophical sense - would not have you ignore your passions, your interests, your loves. The earlier you learn in life (and in your career) to follow what some might call your 'instincts', the happier you will be. 

So what has this lesson been about? Firstly, know yourself and prepare to be true to what drives you. Sometimes your job will be a means to affording your passion, sometimes your passion will decide your career, and sometimes you'll find - or even create - jobs which suit your passion. 

People often say "find your passion" as if it were some treasure which, when found, is the magic to happiness. I prefer - as the image says above - "live your passion" because it is a journey and you know what they say about journeys vs destinations.

Make choices to do what you love and love what you do and when you do you'll be good at it and that - quite simply - is the reward. 

6 Lessons for Mentees from a Seasoned Career-Changer (a series)

I've had wonderful mentors throughout my career. Recently I've had several invitations and opportunities to start paying back by being a mentor at work, through the ESP program sponsored by ISCT, and giving talks to young professionals. It has really made me think about my own career and what advice I would give myself 30 years ago.

As part of that exercise I've come back to this blog to write down some of the hard-earned, experienced-based lessons I take with me into the last decade (or so) of my career.

I've broken down my thoughts into "6 lessons" - a draft outline sketched out below - which I will write about over the coming weeks. It's a useful exercise for me as I consider what value I can share my mentees and since I'm doing it anyway, I might as well share it in hopes that it triggers others to use, engage with, and share what they find useful or things they might add.

Lesson 1 - the platitudes 

  1. Follow your passions
  2. Do what you love, and you'll be good at what you do
  3. No risk, no reward

Lesson 2 - more platitudes and a kick in the pants

  1. All good things come to those who wait (but not for those who wait around)
  2. Be careful what you wish for you just might get it (so be prepared - go in eyes wide open)
  3. I can't. I don't have time. I'm not qualified. I don't know how. And other lame excuses

Lesson 3 - its all up to you

  1. It's your career. Manage it like a company
  2. Perception is everything (or, at least, it is your reality)
  3. Not deciding is the same as deciding (there's a time for thinking and a time for doing)
  4. Pretending you know, helps no one. Be smart - look dumb - ask questions.

Lesson 4- its about the peeps

  1. It's all about the people (invest in relationships)
  2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
  3. Never avoid conflict (but rarely engage in it - make the tough conversations the easiest ones)
  4. Take time to be a mentor

Lesson 5 - be judged by how you helped

  1. Make your mark by contributing (not boasting or boosting)
  2. See a need - get on with (addressing) it
  3. Small scale can scale so don't let the end scare you into not beginning
  4. You can turn anything around, one person/thing at a time

Lesson 6 - thinking matters, doing matters more, thinking about what you're doing matters most

  1. Goals are good, plans seldom work
  2. Vision is good, execution is better
  3. Never forget to spend some time looking at the big picture
  4. Invest in your context

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

First allogeneic stem cell therapy approval in Japan

 In September 2021 Takeda Pharmaceutical's Alofisel (approved in the EU in 2018) was approved for the treatment of complex perianal fistulas in patients with non-active or mildly active luminal Crohn’s disease.

This was Japan's first allogeneic stem cell therapy approval.

Today, Japan’s reimbursement policy panel approved the listing of Alofisel, with an NHI price of 5.62 million yen (~USD $50,000). It will join the NHI price list on Nov 25.

Alofisel, granted RMAT designation in 2019, has not yet been approved in the U.S.