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

Segment Thirty-Seven—– Mann Tracht, Und Gott Lacht (Man Plans and God Laughs)

That’s an old Yiddish adage.  And it applies to almost all aspects of personal and professional life. Pick your context for anything you plan.  Garden, House, Client Work, Events, E-mail, Walking the Dog, Going to an Event, Driving to the store, Market list, Grass-growing……

OH, did you have vision.  And then it happened.

Drought, flood, bankruptcy, cancellations, Internet failings, dropped leashes, breakdowns, store closings, forgotten items, hard-packed clay…

Man plans. God laughs. 

As a project manager, I’ve made plenty of plans.  As a risk manager, I have risk plans galore. As a patient, I have visions on treatment and the success thereof. As a husband and friend, I have visions as to how to make my wife happy.

In so many cases, there’s a fly in the ointment (or to quote the Bruce Willis character from DieHard, there’s a monkey in the wrench). But do I honestly believe God laughs? Yes, in fact, I do. And I think God is trying to lead by example.

Lesson Learned: Because I live on a mountain made of rock, it’s phenomenally challenging to grow grass up here. I rototilled the hard-pack clay and tossed down seed.  And God laughed. I’ve ordered in dirt from the local nursery and worked in some grass seed.  And God laughed.  Right now, I’m in the midst of covering large patches of my yard in thick, rich compost, mixed with seed.  And we’re now in the midst of a drought.  I hear God up there warming up. I have yet to find the magic that will turn my whole backyard into a lush putting-green green. But there’s value.  And THAT is why I’ll be able to laugh with the Almighty next time around.

We need to find the value in our failings and shortcomings. I have long told the story of striking a deer one commuting morning on Washington, D.C.’s George Washington Parkway.  When I had a student ask if I had learned anything from that, I stressed that I hadn’t struck a deer since.  But of course, I spoke too soon.  One day after running an errand (with my dog, Mocha, in the backseat) I was only about two blocks from home, when a herd of deer appeared, crossing the road.  I stopped with ample time, and the deer continued across the road.  This was not lost on the dog. She spotted the deer (a Labradoodle’s natural enemy) and charged from the backseat to the front, headlong into the windshield. She broke the windshield, proving that her head is made of stone and is impervious to pain.  My windshield was not that fortunate.  (Safelite repair, Safelite replace).  Had I learned my lesson on how to avoid deer?  Yes. Did I have a plan to avoid deer?  Yes. Did I anticipate that my windshield would be splintered from the inside-out? No.  Man plans.  God laughs. And ultimately, so did I.

When we can laugh at our own misfortunes, it’s a high-value moment. It means that we can relish almost any aspect of life. When I was not yet a full-fledged teenager, my father (a big believer in corporal punishment) crafted the “Board of Education” in his workshop.  Historically, his hand had been the weapon of choice in any remediation I required, with a very firm and painful swat to the rump.  But now?  He was upping his game.  He had a new paddle, crafted to inflict both pain and fear. The first time I gave him cause to use it, I was terrified.  I was in NO mood to laugh about anything.  Until the first swat. It was loud. It had impact. But it didn’t hurt a tenth as much as his hand. If it would have been in my best interest, I would have laughed.  Fortunately, I had sufficient political savvy to scream like a wounded badger. For the rest of my youthful life, I knew a new set of rules, largely because I could laugh (albeit internally) at my own misfortune.

When I totaled my 2001 PT Cruiser (the first new car I owned in my whole life), I was hit head-on by a Peterbilt semi. As I walked away from the Cruiser, I laughed.  I was walking away from a very nasty accident. (The even funnier point was that I was driving to teach a class on Risk Management).

Man plans and God laughs. We should be laughing along with the Almighty.  Plans are just that. Plans. They are not reality. The next time that a plan falls through, search for the laughable.

Lesson Learned: In late 2010, I had a training scheduled (read: planned) with the Chattanooga chapter of the Project Management Institute. The experience meant I had to fly through Atlanta to get there. As was not uncommon at Hartsfield International Airport, my flight was delayed, delayed again, and then canceled late in the evening. Class was to start the following morning, and I knew I was in trouble. It was then I recalled an article I read about a new, recently-initiated service called Uber. Loading the app onto my phone, I contacted them to see if they could do a 120-mile run.  $300+ later? I was comfortably ensconced in the Chattanoogan hotel, ready to take on the next day’s training. We plan.  God laughs. But it’s a lot easier to see the humor in the situation when you can create alternatives.

Notice that I said “create” alternatives, rather than have them.  If you want to be in on the joke, life should be (at least in part) one giant back-up plan. Most of the time, those plans are lessons in creativity.  They represent a willingness to ask “how else can this continue?” rather than “how can I surrender?”

Consider the best back-up plans and fallback plans that you’ve had to deploy in your life. My guess is that they led to surprisingly positive outcomes. My fallback plans have led to new careers, my marriage, new friendships and other opportunities too numerous to mention.  I have to imagine your story is similar.

Up next?   Do They KNOW You’re Proud of Them?  (Lessons in friend and employee retention)

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.