A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Fifteen – Who are You?

I received an e-mail this afternoon from a peer (Chuck), who asked if I could plan a Lunch and Learn for his organization on self-examination. Specifically, he had discovered a book on tendencies (https://gretchenrubin.com/quiz/the-four-tendencies-quiz/), and felt the insights were valuable. Of course, like a dutiful navel-gazer, I immediately took the quiz.

In the course of my professional career, I’ve taken dozens of such quizzes.  None of them surprised me.  For the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I’m an ENTJ.  Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging.  For the Strength Deployment Inventory, I’m blue-green going to red.  And in Dr. Rubin’s quiz?  I’m an Upholder.  All that and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s. 

More importantly, though, is the occasional dive into the question that brings us to such surveys.  Who are you?

The Strength Deployment Inventory theoretically tells you what behaviors you have when you are not in conflict and those that you have when you are in conflict.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator puts you into one of sixteen categories to define your own nature and how you interact with others.  In all of them, simple scenarios drive you to moments of self-examination.

I’ve never been a fan of navel-gazing, but I have to admit that the questions push me into moments of personal honesty.  This matters.  If you are ever looking down the barrel of the gun of a serious medical diagnosis (or other personal crisis), there is a crying need for personal honesty. What matters? How will you react? What makes for a “true you” performance in your hour of need? 

Lesson Learned:  I once had a student who said he had taken the MBTI a dozen times and never came back with the same result twice. He doubted the tool’s efficacy.  I asked him why he thought his results were so variable.  He replied, “I never really know what the right answer is, and I keep trying to find the answer they want.” While the MBTI had not provided insight on his personality type, it did provide a wealth of understanding in terms of his personal tendencies.  He believed there were right and wrong answers to a personality inventory.  And rather than just striving to be himself, he strived to discover who others wanted him to be. He missed the point. 

Since taking the four tendencies quiz, my wife and I have had a lot of discussions about what these inventories tell us about ourselves, and for her, it has prompted a serious look at Stoicism.  Stoicism emphasizes development of self-control and the acceptance of one’s circumstances, regardless of whether they are good or bad. It’s about one’s circle of influence.  It seems very much in keeping with the serenity prayer:  

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Thanks to the constant bombardment of information from social media and the mass media, it’s often hard to make the distinctions required to live a Stoic life. Complement that with once- or twice-weekly intervention from the medical community, and Stoicism seems all the more elusive. So, what do you do?

For me, the answer is rooted in my own workaholic tendencies.  My rock wall is finished, so I’m busy trying to make grass grow on a moonscape.  I’m baking bread every other day.  I’m getting started on a raised bed in the backyard.  And I’m still doing a modicum of paying work. 

It would be easy to argue that I’m hiding in my work.  And I wouldn’t suggest you’re wrong.  But pounding around in the dirt in the yard is therapeutic and almost anesthetizing. One thing I think that gets missed in the Stoic discussion is the notion that, unlike the surveys that seek to tell you who you are, it allows you to escape from yourself.

Carl, isn’t that kind of escapism kind of negative?

Nothing could be further from the truth!  It’s downright rewarding. 

Lesson Learned: I spent over 13 years of my life in the Frederick, Maryland to Washington, DC commute.  For some, a long-distance commute like that (50+ miles one way) is lethal. But taken from a Stoic’s perspective, it became my time for contemplation, planning and meditation.  You cannot change DC traffic.  You can alter how you react to it.  I used a voice-recording app to record articles, letters, and moments of genius while sitting on the I-270 spur.  I played mind games with the license plates of the others trapped in the gridlock with me.  If you can find ways to make potentially time-sucking and frustrating experiences like traffic jams even semi-productive, you learn not to resent them.

Of course, now, I live on a mountaintop with maybe half-a-dozen cars spinning past our house in a day. I’ll take that over DC traffic any day of the week.

I enjoy my life now, because now that I’m in my 60’s, I know who I am.  Today.  I’m not the same me I was 20 years ago.  Heck, I’m not even the same “me” I was four years ago, pre-cancer.  But I wouldn’t trade who I am today for who I was, even with the health conditions and the rapidly thinning hair.  Who am I?  That’s a question we should all ask ourselves each and every morning.  Some days, I’m the risk guy.  Some days, I’m the PMP® Prep guy.  Some days, I’m the yard worker. Most days, I’m Nancy’s husband and best friend. Most days, I’m Mocha’s dog-walker. Some days…

It’s fun to fill in that blank.  Take a moment and do it for yourself.  Who are you? 

Some of you reply to these articles, and I genuinely appreciate that.  If you feel like doing so, reply with who you are today, as well as who you were just a few months ago.  Odds are, there are differences.  The key is to embrace all of the “who”s. 

Lesson Learned: When you find a “who” you particularly like, seize on it and don’t let them go.  Revisit that role when you’re having a particularly rough day. When I met my wife’s parents for the first time, it was at a Halloween party at the church.  I was dressed as “the backward man,” wearing a mask on the back of my head, shoes on backwards, and buttons and zippers down my spine.  It was a version of the “goofy me”.  That’s who I was for that evening.  What’s funny is that it’s 40 years later, and I still have folks at the church remind me of that first encounter. And they smile and laugh. Decades have passed, but I can still be that guy.

Don’t let go of the goofy you.  Or the academic you.  Or the loving you. And when you ask yourself (every morning, remember) “Who are you?” just embrace the answer.  And if you don’t like the answer? Be someone else. 

Next up?  Who cares? You might be surprised at how long that list could be if you look at it from a historical perspective. 

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog

If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.

AND DON’T MISS THE MAY 22, 2023 EVENT!! Carl goes back to the land of the Webinar, with a discussion on “Why am I so Calm?” E-mail for more details.