Don’t Be Stupid

I’ve been slowly pushing back into work and it’s been going well.  Just as I get going it’s time to go home.  I pushed it a bit one day and paid for it the next, but I’m getting there.  Patience, woman!  Ugh!  This isn’t my strong suit.

When I got back to the office I came face-to-face with a big mistake.  I had dropped the ball on one out of a few dozen or so projects and a firestorm took hold.  I am embarrassed to say the least.  I’m not sure what happened, but I know one thing: I had too many balls in the air, too many projects, too many responsibilities, too many people, and way too much ambition.  From my point of view it was one project of dozens of others.  But to the client on the other side, it was their project: one project.  The most important project.

And they are absolutely right.

As awful as it is, it did open up a window through which I examined my life thus far.  I am nothing if not ambitious, competitive, and goal oriented.  I’m also defensive, aggressive, assertive . . . and often reaching for more in spite of myself.  I came to my place of employment to be successful in one role, but I eventually took on more.  I was given more, and more, and more.  And at some point it was too much and I started to break down.  This workhorse who was admittedly out of shape but seemingly invincible to illness contracted the flu (the real thing, not a bad cold).  Only seven months later I developed bacterial pneumonia.  During that month I began to get sharp pains in my right breast.  It felt like a sharp thin needle was suddenly pushed in and pulled out in an instant.  I would be moving along doing whatever and suddenly it would hit.  Each time it stopped me in my tracks.  It went on for a few months until I finally went to my gynecologist.  She advised me to get a mammogram.  I didn’t do it.

I didn’t have time.  I had too much to do at the office.  I had responsibilities!  I didn’t feel anything in my breast and the sharp pains subsided to some degree–surely nothing was wrong.

Some months later I felt something in the same area where those sharp needle jabs were felt.  Small.  Like a pea from a pod.  I needed to see the doc, but I had too many things happening at the office.  A staff that would wax and wane from 9 to 13, not to mention students and interns, more and more collections coming in the door, facilities issues, security, space, turf wars with mean spirited douche bags–there just wasn’t time.  I had things to do.  I promised myself everyday I would call, but I would forget and think about it as I went off to sleep.  So many important projects.  So many things to do.

Too many things to do.  And they were all more important than me.

I started to slow down and the pea evolved into a garlic clove.  I had to get to the doc, but there was too much going on.  I had class, more projects, finally halving off a large portion of my responsibilities to someone else.  I protested at first, then realized it had to be.  It was too much.  Eighty percent of my time was pushed out to this one responsibility alone–and three other full-time jobs to do on top of it.  I would have time now.  And I was absolutely and positively relieved.  But I had many things to do; this thing that I felt would have to wait.  I would definitely call tomorrow.  And tomorrow.  And tomorrow.

A full year had passed from those initial needle jabs.  The pea that had turned to a garlic clove had now turned to an almost orange wedge.  I had to do something.  I was tired, I gained weight, I was losing momentum.  But there were so many projects, so many things to do.  I had placed people, tasks, responsibilities, and essentially three full-time jobs ahead of my own well being.  I lost vacation days, personal days–because I rarely used them.  Madness.  Sheer madness.

My friend, once I confessed to what was going on, said to me “Enough!”  He shut the door to my office and wouldn’t leave until I called the doctor and made an appointment.  And he rode my ass until I kept it.

Capture

The pea that morphed into a garlic glove that morphed into an almost orange wedge over ten months was cancer.  In time I learned that it was killing me.  Slowly and incessantly.  And by the time I took the time it was too late to beat it back.  I was stuck with it.  I was the most important project and I lost sight of that.  Just as I had lost sight of that client’s project over the course of some years.  Ambition and a desire to achieve was both my professional success and my personal failure.  I sacrificed myself for people who could give a rat’s ass about me.  Yes, I have plenty of reason to beat myself up and be pissed, but what’s the point?  It was my choice.  It is what it is.

But all is not lost.  I will manage this disease and lose the weight that I gained.  And now that I have a real partner with my wonderful oncologist I feel better about that.  I’ll be okay.  Honestly, I never wanted to live until I was 70 anyway (but I just may).  And if I do I’ll be pissed off.  But what about the professional side of life?

Well, to be honest, the professional success isn’t so much a big deal anymore.  I mean, I’ve achieved success already!  I have received two persistent offers to head my own shop since I was diagnosed, but the ambition isn’t there anymore.  I’ve left a good legacy in two large areas that needed innovation in a place where some could only dream of working, let alone the opportunity I had to bring significant and beneficial change.  These areas will continue to grow and evolve–and they should–and the infusion of new ideas and vitality will continue to be what makes it valuable and successful.  No one will remember my name in it all, but that’s as it should be in this business.  It should be seamless and easy.

There is one area on which I plan to focus and leave a final legacy.  It is big.  And it is important.  And I will continue to teach–but only one semester each year.  Bringing young professionals into this profession is important to me.  To make a difference in the lives of students is a rare privilege.  Besides, I want to travel.  My days of personal sacrifice–not dedication–are over.  As my good friend advised me, “Do what you love!”

I honestly don’t know why I have been so bloody honest in this blog.  But on some level it may help people through their own experience and, perhaps, to avoid some aspects of mine.   So to that end I proffer some advice to you, my readers:

  1. If you’re driven, keep your priorities straight–reexamine them from time to time and include your personal life as one of them.
  2. Don’t juggle too many balls or offer yourself up as a sacrifice, because you will become overwhelmed and drop one and everyone of us is professionally expendable.  Your organization and colleagues will live on just fine without you.  
  3. And, unlike me,

please don't do stupid shit

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34 Responses to Don’t Be Stupid

  1. carolynfrayn says:

    Wow Scorchy… I’m one of those who rolled over and found a banana. You rock. Don’t do stupid shit is something I might print up and send to a couple of radiologists who missed the spread to my spine. Personally I’ll probably keep doing stupid shit, but I am reexamining my priorities! Love your honesty.

  2. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Oh, yeah…

  3. Lazy Jen says:

    Thanks for this post. I end up doing this same thing as well–putting me last and work first. This has reminded me that I need to stop doing that and remember there is life outside of work. Sending big hugs your way!

  4. juneaubugg (aka Jennifer) says:

    Chills… thanks for your honesty.

  5. Roz warren says:

    Again, I loved this post and am sharing it to my FB page. Every woman should be reading this blog.

  6. Katie says:

    Great advice. I’m sure a lot of people that hear your story have trouble comprehending why you didn’t get into the doctor the next day–those people probably have too much time on their hands and have no idea what it’s like to put pressure on yourself not because you want to, but because you need to, because you know that’s how you improve yourself. I’m notorious for putting important things off, too, and it’s not even for procraatination’s sake, it’s simply for my own sanity. I hope you aren’t still beating yourself up about not getting it checked sooner.

    • Scorchy says:

      We all do it. Smart folks MAKE TIME. That’s the trick” realizing you’re worth the time. As for beating myself up–nah. I made my choice. It is what it is.

  7. Your last piece of advice is the best! Love that you tell it like it is, girl.

  8. Debbi says:

    Scorchy, as I read your blog I thought you were telling my story! Like your lessons however, I have learned from this adventure. The realization that yourself first and your family second should be your only priorities is the one gift I feel I have been given as a result of my diagnosis. It is so easy to get caught up in the rat race, and I see so many of my friends still caught there. I am very happy that I now see my life the way it is supposed to be seen and my priorities are straight!

  9. dear scorchy,

    i feel inadequate to write a response to what you’ve written. all i can say is that the students who are lucky enough to have you during that one semester will have struck GOLD. i hope you enjoy the hell out of it! and i hope you know that your story has helped me and thousands of others to put things in perspective, to have the guts to forgive ourselves and stay up on our hind legs, happy and in love with our lives.

    love, XO,

    karen, TC

    • Scorchy says:

      You are too kind, Karen. We do need to forgive ourselves. Be kind to ourselves. It’s a challenge to train yourself after years of giving two hoots, but it’s a worthy one. I’ve forgiven myself. It’s being kind to myself that I need to keep working on. xoxo

  10. Meg says:

    Scorchy, please keep writing. I could see myself in today’s blog. I had skipped mammograms for several years–no big reason. Then I felt the lump in my left breast almost like your orange wedge. Where did that come from. I was director of a college program. No longer and I’ve scheduled retirement. I will be 69 when that r date arrive and I am Happy to see it come. Money may be tight but I am so ready! After a double mastectomy, chemo,and radiation I am NED and I intend to stay that way. God willing.
    Meg

  11. Susan says:

    Scorchy, don’t be so hard on yourself. I did the same thing with work. A year earlier I knew there was a suspicious lump and in the back of my mind someone said I had dense breasts and needed ultrasounds with mammograms. But after I freaked out and thought I had breast cancer the year before with a shooting pain at the lump, I did a mammogram, things were fine on the test and I let the lump go away. I was mad at myself for being so melodramatic and even thinking I had breast cancer. A year later I could not ignore it and knew I needed the ultrasound too. My job was too important just like it was with you. I ended up changing jobs and got a recurrence. The new job was more stressful than the other one. So follow what you love and do what you love and be kind to yourself. You are not alone and this disease has a mind of it’s own. We can’t know why, when or how. I love your honesty. Just please love doing what you want to do and if you don’t want to do some type of work-DON’T! You deserve to enjoy the work you choose. Hugs! – Susan

  12. Scorchy….
    You BURST onto the scene merely six months ago….. and you are THE voice. Your words are those we all want to read. Your honesty, your sharp wit, your ability to so perfectly put into words what so many are feeling…. is a gift.

    For whatever it’s worth….. I launched my blog on July 19th, too. One year earlier…… Despite my seemingly intelligent brain, I’m having a Sleepless in Seattle moment: “It’s A Sign” ….

    Keep on keepin’ on……

    xoxox

  13. Acacia says:

    Back when I was Stage 1, I taught full-time straight through surgery, chemo and radiation. I was such an idiot!

  14. Excellent share. Its kind of a shame that it takes an ugly thing to open our eyes, but thanks for that anyhow. “Dont do stupid shit” is an excellent conclusion.

  15. gregsmithmd says:

    Scorchy

    I don’t know you, but I love you for your pluck, your spirit, your resilience, your biting wit, and your positive attitude about the future.

    All really good writing is by definition bloody honest writing. You should strive for nothing less.

    Greg

  16. @rupertbu says:

    🙂

  17. dglassme says:

    Scorchy, thanks for sharing this bit of advice, its sounds profoundly like someone I know, right down to losing days off again this year despite taking many off to get my chemo treatments. As I contemplate giving it all up and moving back to Ohio to be closer to family I’m still not sure that would be appropriate given the need for insurance and potential of running out of savings if I were to live beyond 70. Crazy how this world has created this monster called “work until you drop” in order to survive.

    • Scorchy says:

      It is crazy indeed. I think a lot about those words “love yourself.” It’s not about self esteem and feel good bullshit; it’s about loving yourself enough to take care of your life. Hell of a time to learn. (Balls!) But, yeah, insurance and things also tie us to our jobs/careers. It;s a fact of life.

  18. Deborah says:

    Dear you; thanks. Honesty is what we have time for now. Beating yourself up? Playing the what if game? Stupid shit? Here’s another perspective: I had mammograms yearly and the radiologist missed seeing the cancer on the film. By the next year I was stage 3 and if they hadn’t caught it then i was about 4 months from too late to do anything about it. Shit happens even when you do everything right.
    I’m sending you a hug. There’s time for lots of those.

    • Scorchy says:

      Oh. My. God. You throw in the fact that we’re all human and mistakes are made on so many levels–but when our lives are at stake those mistakes are magnified a million times. (((Hugs)))

  19. alison68 says:

    Have been reading your blog and many others. Your a good writer and what you say is so right. I’m stage 3 grade 3 breast cancer, it a shit time but we keep going.

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