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.
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:
- If you’re driven, keep your priorities straight–reexamine them from time to time and include your personal life as one of them.
- 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.
- And, unlike me,