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

Segment Forty-Nine— Happy Birthday to You!!

As I write this, my wife’s birthday is next week. The celebration begins on the first of the month, and continues until my birthday in October. It’s a big deal. Each year, there’s something new. For her? It’s that the old Beatles’ tune, When I’m 64, takes on new meaning. For me, it’ll be the year when I tell Social Security I’m retiring. My great-niece just turned 16 and is working diligently at getting her driver’s license.  The numbers game is compelling. I remember being old enough to drink legally, old enough to rent a car, old enough to see an R-Rated movie (yes, in my hometown, that actually mattered).

I find it intriguing that my wife doesn’t want to do anything TOO special for her birthday. I want mine to be a national holiday! What’s the difference? Her birthdays were special the entire time she was growing up. She had a birthday party every single year of her childhood. I can only remember two birthday parties in my entire childhood. That’s why my 60th birthday party was my favorite party EVER.

Days are only special when we make them special. Ever had a Mallomar? You can only get them when the weather has cooled.  They can’t take the heat.  It makes them special. Fresh tomatoes? Only while you can still pick them off the vine in your backyard.  They’re special. Shamrock shakes at McDonald’s? Special. King cakes in New Orleans? Only at Mardi Gras.  Special.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of king cakes, and yet I’ll eat a piece in a heartbeat because of their limited availability. They have rendered themselves special by not being completely ubiquitous. (And if you’ve never had King Cake, be careful.  There’s a small plastic baby buried in there somewhere.  No, I’m not kidding).

Birthdays are special.  You get one a year. Period. If you have more than one, you’re lying to yourself. And if that day passes without notice, you’ve just missed out on one of about 70 or 80 opportunities (if you’re lucky) to acknowledge that you arrived on planet Earth.

I strive to make my wife’s birthday special (particularly because it’s a harbinger that my birthday is only about a month away). She genuinely doesn’t care. It’s a very fundamental difference between us. I get frustrated because people take special things and render them less special. We need to be careful about that. I remember when you couldn’t find an open gas station on Christmas or Thanksgiving. I remember when everything was closed for Memorial Day or the 4th of July. Those days were special.  Now? Welcome to Wal-Mart. I frankly count this as one of the reasons for the success of Chik Fil-A. Their Sunday shutdown renders everything else that they do as special.

Lesson Learned: We can take a page from this. If we’re working on a project with monthly deliverables, consider the Deliverable-Day-Plus-One a monthly holiday. Having done my share of restaurant jobs through the years, I’m impressed that a lot of them have made the logical choice to shut down on the weakest day of the week (Monday). Others have taken advantage of that by shutting down once a week on Tuesday. No matter the choice, it makes the eatery just a little more special when you have to plan around their “off day.” And if they’re trying to get new hires, it’s a little easier when they can guarantee that even the newest staffers will get every Monday off. And if you can’t give people time off because you don’t have the authority, consider a potluck food day, or a “Celebrate [the vendor] Day”. 

My mother-in-law is very gifted at this.  She taught first grade forever. And whenever anyone would accomplish anything meaningful, she would put together picture boards and make custom cakes and buy balloons and glo-sticks to turn it into something more memorable. Her grandchildren (my kids) grew up believing that birthday banners flapping from the front porch were normal.

This can be taken to extremes, and I consider that dangerous. According to Calendarr.com, the first few days of October 2023 illustrate just how bizarre being “special” can become:

October 1 Sunday

World Vegetarian Day

National Hair Day

National Fire Pup Day

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

National Homemade Cookies Day

International Coffee Day

Urticaria day

International Day of Older Persons

International Music Day

October 2 Monday

National Name Your Car Day

National Custodian Day

World Habitat Day

Child Health Day

International Day of Non-Violence

World Architecture Day

October 3 Tuesday

World Temperance Day

Mean Girls Day

National Boyfriend Day

October 4 Wednesday

Random Acts of Poetry Day

National Taco Day

National Golf Lovers Day

National Cinnamon Roll Day

World Animal Day

National Walk and Bike to School Day

World Financial Planning Day

World Space Week

Feast of St Francis of Assisi

October 5 Thursday

National Get Funky Day

National Do Something Nice Day

World Teachers’ Day

October 6 Friday

National Coaches Day

World Cerebral Palsy Day

Shemini Atzeret (a day of bonding between God and the Jewish people)

World Smile Day

National Plus Size Appreciation Day

National Body Language Day

National Noodle Day

That’s not even a WEEK! (And I couldn’t help but notice that they overlooked my BIRTHDAY in there).

That’s just extreme.  Start acknowledging all of those days and NONE will have significance.

But pick something truly meaningful, and the concept of delayed gratification can kick in as we and our team members learn to wait for the big event. For me, one such event will always be Thanksgiving.

 It’s the one day that you get a chance to eat well…all day.  You get a chance to share stories with your friends, neighbors and their relatives. Shockingly, most stores are closed, and streets are relatively quiet. I remember as a young driver, gassing up the car before the big day, as it was daunting to find an open gas station anywhere.  While it was a tad inconvenient, it was also a big reminder that the day was special.

As human beings, we determine the nature of “special.” Certain foods are special (fresh tomatoes in the summer, anyone)? Events are special (my wife attended the last full Aerosmith concert recently before Steven Tyler blew out his vocal cords). My pastor and church choir director both have special socks. I have special shoes.

And while we can go through life without anything designated as special, that would be a huge mistake. Instead, we should strive to identify the special qualities of the world around us and celebrate them.  Today is a special day.

Up next? Critical Path – A Life-Changer

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.