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

Segment Forty-Four—If I Could Fix One Thing

My mother died of cancer. Her mother died of cancer. Her daughter and son both have had cancer. For me, it’s pretty evident what “one thing” I would fix if I were omnipotent. Unfortunately, I’m not.

But, as my sister and I have both learned, there are plenty of things that we can fix.

I used to start almost every class with that simple question.  If you could fix one thing about [the topic at hand], what would it be?  The answers are an education. In culture? The answers often tie to honesty, transparency, and clarity. In management, the answers relate to direction and patience. In contracts, the responses tie to language and specificity. In team management, the reactions are often about openness, fairness and commitment. The question drives us to ponder what we’re trying to solve, rather than focusing on a silver bullet that cures all ills.  There is no panacea. But we do need to know what we’d really like to fix.

Lesson Learned: After a recent post, a long-time peer of mine replied “Can you do a segment on making mossy ground into actual grass?” Egad.  I’m resigned to doing lawn tips.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was his (Roger’s) one thing to fix. The answer, after extensive trial and error, is to till the ground, cover it in about two inches of compost from the local nursery. Work in the grass seed with a leaf rake.  Water daily.  Yes, daily.  Poof. Six weeks later? You have grass. The reason I’ve included this point here is that it was Roger’s one thing. For all the help I’ve tried to provide across 40+ blog postings that’s what he was waiting for. No matter how we, as knowledge curators, have stored vital knowledge over our decades of life, some people just want our insights on fixing the simple stuff. 

Another lesson learned. I open every class I teach by defining what participants will have when they walk out the door. People need to know that they don’t have to “wait till the end” to find out whether or not they’ll get what they want or need.

If you could fix one thing.

I’ve often had students comment that they can’t identify just one thing they’d like to fix. The list is SO long and intimidating, that picking a #1 concern can’t be done. They’re in DEEP trouble.  I believe that even if you can’t label one thing as the highest priority, you must be able to do a little triage on your life.

I learned that in spades when I was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer. If I could fix one thing.  Wow. Simple enough.  I’d like to be able to be without cancer. But…I can’t fix that.  So, what is it about my situation that I can fix? In dealing with oncologists, general practitioners, nurses, and my endocrinologist, I expressed the one thing about the broader problem that was driving me crazy.  Nausea. Fix that, and it would be a major step forward in my quality of life. In relatively short order, they concurred that they could fix that with a drug called Zofran (ondansetron). Poof. Nausea controlled.  If I could fix one thing?  FIXED. It didn’t kill cancer cells. It didn’t give me more energy. But, it took care of the one thing that I desperately needed to fix. Since that transpired, my life has been one improvement after another. And it’s all because I was able to find the priority issue that had to be addressed.

Lesson Learned: If you can’t fix the grander problem, fix the underlying problem.  Getting that sense of physical headway was crucial. Being able to go out the front door without worrying about throwing up in the gutter was a big deal. When I’ve had jobs that I couldn’t stand, the big fix would have been to get a new engagement. But when that’s not possible, ask yourself what you can fix. At WIGY (Y-106, Bath, Maine), I went from news guy to news director in the same company (WERZ, Exeter, New Hampshire). At the Country Corner Restaurant, I went from dishwasher to cook. At ESI International, I went from technical writer to trainer. Note that I didn’t quit. I found new opportunities within the same organizations. Quitting is rarely (although sometimes) the solution. More often than not, the key is to put yourself in a role where a single aspect of the job that you dislike is gone (or reduced), and a potential brighter future is in the offing.

The opening picture for this article was the fourth house my wife and I ever owned. It was 521 Wilson Place.  We moved there from 517 Wilson Place.  My office was at 513 Wilson Place and we had a rental property at 515 Wilson Place.  (Noticing a theme here)?  The house is, as of this writing 100 years old (and now belongs to someone else). If you’ve ever owned a nigh-historic property, you know that the prevailing question of this article runs common—If I could fix one thing…  There’s never just one thing to be fixed. The cracks in the horsehair plaster lath. The chips in the 100-year-old honey oak flooring. The loose caulk around the windows. The lack of a chimney liner. If you’ve lived this dream along with Nancy and me, you know that analysis paralysis is a common problem.  I can’t fix everything, so I’ll fix nothing.

That inertia is downright lethal in any situation. No matter your environment, go ahead an identify where your energies are best spent. If you could fix one thing? That question by itself is based on a false premise. It should read differently.

I can fix one thing. Where do I start?

THAT is a much better question.  It’s affirmative, positive and forward-looking. It opens the door for a brighter outcome tomorrow. I have large, arching concerns. Where do I start?

I start by knowing that my life has improved year over year for decade after decade. And there are still plenty of fixes to go. I’d better get started.

Up next?  You know more than you know!

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.