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Donielle Johnson | Finding purpose to life, work and everything in between

🤔 Finding and understanding your why

Our guest on today’s episode is none other than Donielle Johnson. She is the Executive Director and Global Head of Regulatory Affairs for Medical Devices at Bausch Health Companies. Her mouthful of a title and global impact are far from being the only impressive things about this Amsterdam-based New Orleans’ native as you will find out shortly.

Donielle will share with us her insights on the importance of understanding and finding your why in your career and life in general.

🧠 👄 A brain and mouth built for regulatory affairs

A fun fact about Donielle is that she was a classically trained ballet dancer for 15 years.

She hung up her pointe shoes in favour of a lab coat when she joined Howard University for an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. She went on to pursue her post-graduate studies at the University of South California and got a job as an intern in clinical work.

Everything changed for Donielle in 2006 after a mentor commented, “with your brain and mouth, you need to be in regulatory affairs.”

This comment planted a seed in her mind that blossomed into a successful global career as a regulatory affairs expert. Donielle has since worked for major companies in and out of the United States including Philips Healthcare, Johnsons and Johnsons, and most recently, Bausch Inc.

The transition into regulatory affairs was not without its challenges but Donielle eventually found her footing. She attributes her success in regulatory affairs to her ability to negotiate and communicate as well as her understanding of the science.

She put it best when she said, “I find this role to be a mixture of law and science.” It is all about being able to understand regulations, individuals and culture, abilities, and needs both on the side of the engineers and the regulatory authorities.

As a mediator between these two crucial bodies, Donielle has managed to fulfil her dreams of helping people by ensuring timely production of high quality, life-saving medical equipment.

She also finds that connecting over food can be a powerful way to build rapport and a productive business relationship. So maybe plan that next pitch or think tank meeting over coffee, wine, or even a homemade meal.

❓What is a why?

For Donielle, clarity in her purpose and future only came after she understood her why. But before we get into what got her to her eureka moment, let’s first see what exactly a why is.

Donielle describes the why as a personal statement. This is the set of goals that give you a purpose in life and your career. They keep you motivated to keep moving even when you find yourself running on empty. They give you a reason to get out of bed every morning.

Here are a few ways our special guest believes that having a why helped drive her to success and fulfilment.

    • It keeps her stubborn enough to refuse to give up.
    • She has faith that there is always a way where there is will and effort.
    • She has learnt not to take no for an answer.
    • It made her open to challenges and all the projects no one else wanted.
    • It improved her learning mindset and flexibility to change.

What’s even more important to remember is the fact that the why is never about the money. And even it is, it shouldn’t be your biggest driving force. Above all else, find a why that allows you to actually have a healthy work-life balance and the freedom to pursue your interests and build on relations.

🎒 Donielle’s painful journey to discovering her why

With this understanding of what the why is and how much of an impact it can have in your life, let’s take a look at what drove Donielle to discover her why.

Her’s was a sad and painful journey that started when she was just 13 years old. This was in 1993, which was a major turning point in her life for two reasons. Firstly, it was the year she tragically lost her father to an accident involving a drunk driver.

Secondly, it was the year her mother got hepatitis after receiving contaminated blood during routine thyroid surgery. This infection would devastate her mother’s health and lead to 2 appearances on the liver transplant list.

In 2005, Donielle’s mother fortunately got the life-changing transplant she so desperately needed to survive. However, in the years that followed, she relapsed and ended up right back on the transplant list.

Donielle and her family had a bit of hope after learning of a drug trial but had their hopes crushed when their mother failed to meet the inclusion criteria for the trial. Unfortunately, her mom passed away in 2006 from complications of liver disease. And in a tragically ironic twist of fate, the trial drug they had been denied was approved by the FDA in 2007.

This whole ordeal frustrated Donielle as all the bureaucracy and red tape possibly denied her mother access to life-saving therapy. It is during this period of grieving and recovery, Donielle found her why.

She wanted to get safe and effective medical devices out to market in a timely manner.

That way, she could help give other families the chance that hers was denied by time and bureaucracy.

💬 Advice for anyone seeking out their why

If you are currently in the process of trying to find your why, Donielle’s advice is that you be patient with yourself. It is crucial that you understand that your purpose and the why is already within you. It is meant to be uncovered, not discovered.

It will take deep introspections and addressing of ignored trauma. It may also take a future life event to change your perspective and expose your hidden purpose and potential.

In Donielle’s case, her why only became clear to her after intense grief therapy following years of coping by overworking herself.

🔥 Quickfire round

As we wind up, here are a few more fun facts about Donielle Johnson.

What is the best book you have ever read?

Professionally, it has to be “The 4 Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. However, her favourite book of all is “What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day” by Pearl Cleage.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Be your authentic self. Some will love you and some won’t. Some will be there for a season and others for a reason.

Most importantly, don’t try to fit into some else’s idea of what you should be.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?

Take some time to play.

What legacy do you want to leave?

“She came. She saw. She conquered. She inspired.” – Donielle Johnson.

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