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

Segment Eighteen – What Another Can Do—I Can Do

When describing my house on our country street to others, I always simply say It’s the one with the stone wall next to it. Immediately, everyone knows precisely which house I’m talking about.  Three years prior to this writing, that wall didn’t exist.  We had a trio of problems upon moving in to our new house.  They were that the backyard looked like the cratered surface of the moon, there was no way to till the yard to grow grass, and the previous owners had planted the ugliest shrubs on earth along the property line.  Bad.  Bad.  Worse.  In analyzing solutions (like a good project manager), the solutions started to manifest themselves.  Remove the rocks from the moonscape.  Dig out the ugly shrubs.  Find something to replace the shrubs along the property line. 

When we still lived outside DC, we were only about 40 minutes from Gettysburg.  While the kids were growing up, we spent a lot of time on the battlefields.  If you’ve never been, Gettysburg battlefields are peppered with rock walls.  They served as an inspiration.  I had once asked a park ranger at Gettysburg if the walls were original or placed there for the tourists.  They were original, he assured me. 

My eldest (the paleo son) standing next to a rock wall in Gettysburg…

Hmmmm.  The rock walls had survived over 150 years despite the constant parade of visitors and tourists.  They had survived the Civil War and beyond.  It was the perfect solution.  I had space for a wall.  I had a seemingly infinite supply of large rocks.  All I had to do was stack them in such a way that they would last for centuries.  How hard could it be?

Lesson Learned:  When doubting your ability to do something (or survive something) new, watch the movie “The Edge”, starring Anthony Hopkins.  Mid-movie, Hopkins is trying to bolster the courage of his fellow traveler(s) in facing extraordinary adversity.  He begins a chant.  What another can do, I can do.  What another can do, I can do.  Even if you hate the movie (it’s one of my favorites), you have to love that particular line of thought.  I had no idea how to build a stone wall to last, so I went on YouTube and found a link to stone wall construction.  (Little did I know the most important tool in the process is your level).  When I told people what I intended to do, they asked about my experience.  I countered by explaining that some stone walls survived from the Paleolithic era (10,000 to 30,000 years ago).  And I doubt their builders had degrees in stone wall construction.  What another could do, I could do, and with a YouTube explaining the process, I definitely had an edge.

What another can do… (Yes, that’s mine…)

While most of us don’t have a nice, clear YouTube video to explain what we’re trying to do, we do have resources.  This attitude is borne of reliance on others.  Someone else had to blaze the path before we got here.  (As a former Maine resident, I will forever wonder who the first person was who ate a lobster.  But I thank that individual). There’s often doubt that anyone will be willing to share the information we really need in order to accomplish our goals.  But you might be surprised.  They’re out there!  They’re willing (and dare I say, anxious) to share what they know.  The problem is that people just don’t ask the right questions. 

Want to take on something new or venture into some unknown territory?  First, find the authorities.  They’ve written blogs and books.  They’ve been in the public eye for the goals you’re trying to achieve.  They either are who you want to be or have some special talent you want to have.  Once you find them, ask.  Some will never reply.  Some will be dismissive.  But, surprisingly, some will embrace your question and give you the first few steps to achieve your personal goals.  The questions you should ask include, but aren’t limited to:

  1. I’d like to emulate you in this regard.  Any particular first steps you can recommend?
  2. If I don’t have that one particular talent/aspect of talent, any thoughts on how to develop it?
  3. What’s the biggest mistake that people who want that outcome make?

Lesson Learned:  I’m writing this at the UPMC Schwab Cancer Center in Cumberland, MD.  I just finished my doctor’s appointment, where I got the amazing news that my cancer markers continue to decline and my health continues to improve.  About a month ago, I had asked my doctor how I could improve my chances, and she replied that I had already taken the first step.  I was following my treatment regimen to a “T”.  She said the biggest mistake that many cancer patients make is waiting to decide to forge ahead with the treatments and getting their cancer in check.  While mine will never be cured, each visit brings hope that I’ll outlive the ultimate outcome, and die from something innovative, like skydiving.   How did I get here?  I asked the experts.  They provided the roadmap.

Will experts really provide the roadmap for your goal?  Yes.  Plain and simple.  Yes.  And if they don’t?  You need to find another expert.

What about Doubt?

And then…the enemy of hope…DOUBT…creeps into the conversation.  Think of all the times someone has told you what you are incapable of doing.  No one really gets to…  You’ll never be able to…   My one son (colloquially known to me as “the dinosaur kid”) was told from his youngest days that paleontology is not generally a paying career path, and that the competition is so great he should find a fallback career.  As a result, he studied not only dinosaurs, but paleontologists.  Without realizing it, he was constantly reminding himself that what another could do, he could do.  He is now the assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.  Did he have doubts along the way?  Yes.  How did he get the gig that other paleontologists dream of?  He consorted with the experts.  He followed their lead.  And he got his 10,000+ hours.

10,000 hours?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about what sets the exceptional players apart from the average.  One of the common threads for those individuals is 10,000 hours of hard-core commitment.  My son, Adam, started investing time, effort and energy into reading everything he could about dinosaurs from the age of 4.  (Prior to that, we read to him…)  By the time he was 14, he wanted the journal of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology subscription for his birthday.  If he was committing an average of two hours a day to his passion, by the time he was 18, he was an outlier. 

Lesson Learned: Being an outlier doesn’t come easy.  When someone asked me how I became a consultant, I explained the months of work invested in writing books, researching class content, watching other trainers and learning the different perspectives on the profession of project management. A young man (I’ll call him Glenn) asked how long all that would take before he’d be ready to begin as a top-flight consultant.  I told him that setting the stage would likely take five to seven years of hard work.  He replied, “What’s the short version?” 

There is no short version to excellence in any field.  My youngest son has been driving the big rigs for about five years now.  With 10-14 hour days, he just recently reached his 10,000 hour mark.  He does amazing things with a 53-foot trailer that I couldn’t imagine.  (I regularly hit things backing up our camper when we had one).  Want to be among the tops in your field? Be braced for the investment.

I only have two years’ experience as a cancer patient.  I don’t know all the ins and outs.  I do know the experts.  They have been adroit at reminding me of what cancer victors do.  And as long as they can share that knowledge, along with how to do it.  I can do it.  What another can do, I can do.

Up next?  So THAT’s how hope sounds.  Huh.

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.