So, Doc…can I keep the leg?
A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer
Segment Thirty-Three—Losing a Leg or Other Very Real Fears-(Strike that. Let’s Do Something Else)
Let’s start with the end. I still have my leg and was never in deep threat of losing it. But as the risk guy, I confess to occasionally falling prey to worrying about things that only have a remote probability of occurrence—like losing my leg.
In addition to the cancers and the klutz genetics, I’m a diabetic. I have a close relationship with my insulin pen. And when I was diagnosed with sugar trouble (which is what diabetes is), I got all the warning literature that talks about losing toes, feet and other extremities due to the damage the disease inflicts.
Before that, though, I learned that a college friend (also diabetic) lost his leg to diabetes, which made it all the more real. So the warnings of my oncologists and endocrinologist and my general practitioner all came in at full force. Watch the sugar, or you could start losing limbs. This was not some remote possibility. It was real, and I had seen it happen to someone I knew.
WE INTERRUPT THIS SEGMENT FOR AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT.
I’m teaching a class next week on how to influence others and how to garner their support. As I re-read the blog I had prepared for today, I came to the realization that I was doing EVERYTHING I was about to teach my students not to do.
We read to be edified. We learn for the sake of self-improvement. We thrill when we see some humor or see ourselves in the stories being told. We are influenced when we believe that what we’re doing will somehow improve our lot in life.
Who do we hang out with? People we enjoy or people we can help.
What stories do we relish? Those with some aspect of the triumph of the human spirit.
What reels do we watch on TikTok, FaceBook or YouTube? Those that touch us openly and resonate with our personal understanding of the way the world should be. We watch silly pets, zany chefs, and amazing “caught-on-camera” moments.
Lesson Learned: This is actually the class I’ll be doing next week. It’s about how to present opportunities to those around us, rather than threats. It’s about being the positive influence. It’s about how you win far many more disagreements with the warm fuzzy of a newborn foal than with the contention of “do this wrong, and you’ll die!” People want to know that they can succeed and help others succeed. Decades ago, in Atlanta, a client wanted to establish an on-line learning experience. I cheerfully walked them through the early steps in the process, and had a meeting with the client where they expressed shock that they could likely do everything else themselves. They felt bad about letting my contract end. I felt victorious. I had enabled them to succeed on their own. They triumphed. We all won.
Opportunities are curious things. They are attractive (in the literal sense). They attract friends. They attract business opportunities. They attract positive attention.
If we beat people over the head with fear and threats, they are the opposite of attractive. They are (again, in the literal sense) repulsive. They repulse those who are hopeful. They repulse those who might consider spending time with us. They repulse. Period.
The challenge is that it’s far easier to sink into a dark scenario than it is to brighten the day. It’s easy to recall the pains and discomfort (like a chewed-up leg), rather than to celebrate the fact that we’re up, breathing, and enjoying another day.
Take a moment and, if you can, identify a politician (living or dead) who truly resonated with you. Then consider a quote from Dr. J. Davidson Frame, author of Managing Projects in Organizations. It may sound similar to a lot of other quotes, but I believe that David got it right:
Politics is the Art of Influence
You watch a short YouTube and find yourself still glued to the screen 20 minutes later. Why? Because the creator of that video influenced you. They trapped you with a message you were ready to hear. Which messages resonate and influence us? Those that present a vision of the world as either we see it or we would like to see it.
Lesson Learned: Before you send out your next meaningful e-mail, review it for the negatives. Look for words like cannot, no, and never. Reconsider how it’s written before it goes out, as you have an opportunity for positive influence. Seize that opportunity! And if it’s hard to see the bright side, try to see the humor in the dark side, or at least try to take the stiff-upper-lip approach that tomorrow will be a brighter day.
WE NOW RETURN YOU TO THE ORIGINAL (only slightly modified) SEGMENT
The fears came back in full vigor last week when my dog was charged by another dog, and I (the human shield between them) got dragged into a rock-and-concrete culvert, completely trashing my leg. All the lovely details are in Segment 31.
At first, I didn’t give it much thought, as I’ve suffered worse injuries in my life. But as you can see by the picture (which is not the worst of the pictures of this thing), this was not a minor, get-thee-to-urgent-care kind of thing. No. Urgent care rejected me. (Note: If you are rejected by urgent care, you need to believe it’s more serious than you thought). At the emergency room, they gave me multiple shots, numbed me, cleaned me, and sewed me back up as best they could.
Lesson learned: If you have wild, dangerous, risky thoughts running through your head, ask the doctors and ask them early. It took me a couple of days of serious paranoia and a call to my family doctor to get the sense that despite that I’m a cancer-riddled diabetic with a serious leg trauma, I’m not at risk of losing my leg. It’s like that on projects, too. We’re sometimes afraid to ask about worst-case scenarios because we don’t want to breathe life into them by talking about them. During the early days of my career, I had made a faux pas with one of our clients, and was sure that they were going to fire me (but they were waiting until the end of the month to tell me). As the end of the month closed in, I got up the courage to ask if they were looking at making any changes to our relationship. The answer? A simple, “No, why?” They couldn’t even remember my misstep, while I had spent a couple of weeks obsessing over it. Those weeks were weeks of mental energy wasted.
Be it relationships, physical trauma, expenses…we all worry about threats to our existence. And while most are not the and-then-you-die kind of threats, the most lilliputian of problems can take on Brobdingnagian proportions. (For those who have never read Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput was the land of miniature people, while Brobdingnag was the land of the giants). In many instances, the reason some threats are blown out of proportion is not that we know too little, but that we know too much. My truck-driving son knows way too much about the dangers of the highway and the people who take their lives in their hands playing games with 18-wheelers. My anatomy PhD son knows way too much about human physiology and the myriad ways we can (albeit unintentionally) kill ourselves. As project managers we need to find the balance these two young men have found between the (very real) threats and the suppressive influence of over-worry.
We can survive our nightmares if we just ask a few basic questions:
- What’s the worst-case realistic scenario?
- Have others survived this before us?
- Have I shared my fear with others who might influence it (or be in its sphere of influence)?
Get through those questions, and the clouds part. The fears abate. And tomorrow becomes a better day.
Up next? Bugs? Daffy, Elmer? Or Michigan J. Frog? Who’s Your Avatar?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.