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

Segment Forty-Seven— Avoiding Self-Inflicted Injury

I love that sign.  It was clearly someone’s serious intent to avoid liability for inappropriate activity on their property—a golf course.  The part that made me laugh when I saw it and snapped this picture was that…walking, running, and recreational activity is strictly prohibited on the golf course. Excuse me?  It’s a golf course.  That inherently means that there will be walking and recreational activity. If you take the sign at face value, it’s time to hang up your clubs.

Still, there was someone who was worried. They envisioned children frolicking on the fourth green and getting whacked by someone’s high-speed ball.

There’s been a lot of that going around, and the Baby Boomers and Gen X crowd are trotting out the fact that they have survived the years despite lawn darts, the lack of car seats, a helmet-free bicycling universe, candy cigarettes and a dozen other perils.  Now, with helicopter parents and hyper-vigilant government, we find ourselves in a world where every food is scrutinized for its carcinogenic qualities and every toy (heck, every plastic BAG!) is believed to put young people in peril.

Despite all the watchfulness, we still put ourselves in peril…every day. You are far more likely to see your life end from a self-inflicted injury than from some nefarious outsider seeking to do you harm. The odds of dying (per the National Institutes of Health) from a gunshot wound increase fourfold if you carry a firearm. Drunk driving is a major cause of death.  But people have to drink before they can inflict this on themselves. Opioid overdose? That’s more likely to kill you than a gun.  But it also means that you have to ingest opioids.

You are more likely to die from a bee sting than a plane crash.  And yet my neighbor is a beekeeper.

When we talk about self-inflicted injury, these are often the scenarios that come to mind.  But the reality is the more of the self-inflicted wounds tend to be those of an emotional nature than a physical hurt. Let’s talk politics! (Let’s not). Let’s talk about the challenges of Presbyterian predestination versus free will. (Again, let’s not). Let’s talk about something safe.  (Good luck)

Lesson Learned: In the 40+ years I have lived with my wife, we have drifted apart on the political spectrum. At this point, there are a limited number of “safe” topics when it comes to national and world affairs. Yet we have found ways to not just engage in such conversations, but to learn from them. It’s a lesson that many would be well-advised to take. Any time either of us wants to make a point about some outrage in society, the key is not to take an outsider’s view. We don’t rely on Fox. We don’t rely on the Washington Post. We don’t rely on MSNBC. If we want to share our concern over a particular point, we offer only source material. If it’s about Joe Biden? We share clips of the President saying what he said. If it’s about Donald Trump? The same rules apply. There’s no third-party filter. The same should apply when it comes to discussions about behaviors at home and in the office. Evidence counts. Unfiltered evidence counts more.  As a footnote to all of this, I would readily sign up for another 40 years with Nancy.

If you rely on someone else’s perspective, you run serious risk of them-inflicted injury. This is something that won’t happen by design, but when someone digs into the perspectives of others, they may find something that you didn’t intend and that doesn’t reflect your attitudes and opinions. “I agree with Janine” may seem innocuous enough, but if Janine has a hidden history of mangling baby ducks, you could be painted with her evil brush.

The same type of concern can also happen when we accept someone else’s premises about any area under consideration. One of my bosses frequently loved to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. No matter what other massive problems were facing the organization, he would determine that it was the perfect time to move everyone’s offices around. The employees, including myself, felt helpless. Another move? Another self-inflicted pain. Note that I stress that this was self-inflicted. I accepted the premise that since everyone else was moving with the boss’ whim, I had to do likewise.

Lesson Learned: Sometimes, you can overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge by invalidating the premise on which it’s based. In that scenario, I was due a raise (which I knew would not be forthcoming) and I didn’t have the high-and-mighty title that some of my peers enjoyed. I walked into the boss’ office and said those fateful words. “I need something from you.”

The boss told me there was no room in the budget for raises and that the executive suite was already overcrowded with “titled” personnel. He thought he had covered his bases before I got to my point. “What I need from you is a pledge. I need a simple promise. I like my current office space. It’s small, but the location is great and the view from the window is perfect. As long as we’re in this building, I never want to switch offices.  I know you get ideas for greater efficiency by moving folks around, but you’ll get more out of me if I never have to move again.”

He was taken aback. There was no money involved. No change in the hierarchy. The only premise that had to be violated was that the “office du jour” program would not apply to me. He agreed. In my remaining time with that company, I never moved again. My quality of life improved. My peers were baffled as to how I avoided the quarterly “change the floor plan” program. I did it by avoiding a self-inflicted injury, which is what accepting the traditional premise would have caused.

In many instances, when we acquiesce, we injure ourselves. Someone suggests we have to (insert your latest undesired behavior here), and we buy in because those around us buy in. We accept the premise because it’s uncomfortable not to. We consent as if we are not active participants in our own lives.

Put yourself in the position. You joined the club because you wanted to play bridge. Now, the hostess wants to spend half the time playing euchre (which you really don’t care for) as well.  A situation as simple as that can prove to be a watershed moment. You may alienate the hostess. You may be treated coldly by the hostess. You may lose one of the social moments of your life. But if you say nothing, chalk it up as a self-inflicted injury. If cancer has taught me nothing else, it’s that life is short. If I’m getting injured, I’ll sure as heck work to ensure that somebody else did it to me.  I’m not injuring myself.

Up next? Good Times with Sir Walter Riley and the Appalachian Service Project

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.