In my last post, How to ‘Happygolf’ Your Life, I talked about the speech my husband, Dana, gave as the keynote speaker for the 2016/2017 University of Alberta School of Business Graduation Banquet. I also gave my own reflections on his story about happygolfing his treatment and being a professional cancer patient.
There were two other stories with takeaways that Dana shared as part of his speech. They have been on my mind quite a bit over the last few weeks. I will summarize them and, again, provide my reflections as his wife and partner during those times.
Identifying the Right People
Dana talked about being at the annual Janssen family reunion the summer after he was diagnosed (almost a whole year later, while he was still in treatment). There are about 70 Janssen’s between here and Red Deer so it was a busy event. He described the beautiful summer day with green grass rolling down a hill into the lake. Children playing and lawn chairs all over. He said he remembered thinking there was the very real possibility that this was his last, or second last reunion. He had to think about all events like this: birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas…
It was startling to hear that he was thinking these things. While these thoughts certainly crossed my mind, I didn’t allow them to linger. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it together if I thought too hard about losing him. I was in a state of constant vigilance. Watching Dana, monitoring his energy levels, how much he was eating, when he needed to take his meds next, etc. As his partner and caregiver, there was little room for thinking about death because if I let it, it would take over and it just wasn’t an option I could comprehend.
Making those right people the priority
While enjoying the company of his extended family, he thought about how they might feel if he died and about them attending his funeral. For most people, it would be very sad and they would think of him fondly, but it wouldn’t change their lives dramatically. But then there were the people whose lives that it would impact drastically. Me, his parents, brothers, and sisters wouldn’t feel the same way. Add in a few close friends and it was maybe 10 or 15 people? Max.
He talked about how he found this idea of insignificance actually freeing. He said, “So what if people on the street, coworkers, and clients would go on living their lives. I can make a huge difference for the people directly in my life. These are my “Right” People.
Dana spoke in detail about the day he was diagnosed (which I included in my last post). After he came home to tell me that he had cancer, we sat on the couch and tried to figure out how we should tell our families. This wasn’t something that we felt would be a phone call, nor did we want to wait until we saw everyone next, even if it was only a few days.
We decided that we would drive to each house separately and tell them in person. This meant we had 6 stops to make between each of our families. So that is what we did. He actually showed, through these actions, many of the people who he had identified as his Right People. The ones for whom life wouldn’t just go on.
A Venn Diagram for Life
At that time, I don’t think we made a conscious decision that they were those Right People, but rather instinctually knew.
How can you identify your right people?
To help you think about it, consider:
- Who, if they called you right now and said “I can’t give you the details but I need you to come now”, would you go for, no matter what you were doing?
- Who, if you called right now and said the same, would show up for you?
- Who are the people who overlap both circles?
These are your Right People.
These are the people that your actions and life will truly impact. We spend so much time worrying about people who just don’t really matter to our lives. It took a pretty serious situation for us to reflect back on who we were closely connected to and whose lives we had the greatest impact on.
Your Twitter followers don’t matter. Your Facebook likes don’t matter. Your Linkedin connections don’t matter. These are vanity metrics with little true meaning in the grand scheme of your life. The people who you identify as your Right People matter and deserve your time and attention. They deserve your vigilance.
Leaning on my Right People
I remember sitting in the dark in my garage in my car as I called my closest friends in the few days following Dana’s diagnosis. I didn’t want him to hear me crying every time I told the story and it was the only place I could think of where I would be totally alone. I was still navigating how my role in his life had changed, as I transitioned to a caregiver, and I didn’t want to put any more stress on him than there already was. It was my job to take care of him, not him of me, so I reached out to some of my Right People to help take care of me.
The world doesn’t stop for you
Dana went on with his speech to talk about how, at that time, he had become a professional cancer patient. In the same way that you might imagine yourself as an accountant or doctor, he looked like a cancer patient. Pale, hairless, puffy-faced (due to the steroids), tired-looking, etc. but he was doing everything he could to keep his spirits up and forge through it.
The biggest challenge was that, through all this, we still had our business. We had 6 people (including ourselves) working out of our home. When you are self-employed there’s no sick leave or paid time off and the bills and mortgage still have to be paid. We had active, long-term clients that we still needed to provide good service. They were, of course, concerned and sympathetic, but we still had a job to do and people relying on us. If we couldn’t handle it, they would have to go to someone who could. The world didn’t stop because we were dealing with this crisis.
As Dana got further into his treatments he just couldn’t work the hours. He could maybe get an hour or two of email per day before needing to rest. One of the biggest issues we had to overcome was that Dana had so much knowledge siloed in his head. His cancer treatment changed the way we worked because it forced us to be creative so that Dana was not a bottleneck for work to move forward when he wasn’t available. We had to adjust our process and communication to make sure our team and clients were getting the care and attention they needed.
I got a new job too–I became CEO. I found office space for our team so that we could have our home back for Dana to recover in. I joined business mentorship groups to learn and grow as a leader. I handled all the face-to-face meetings with clients because Dana was too sick. I took phone calls and did prototype demos in the day room at the Cross Cancer Institute before coming back to sit with Dana while he was getting his treatment. I wrote website content by his bedside while he slept. We did “management meetings” while walking with his IV pole around the ward to keep his circulation moving. We did what we had to do to keep the business moving in the right direction.
Our company revenue grew by 30% that year. We moved into office space. We also added two new team members. I was pushed well outside my comfort zone and became a better entrepreneur and person. Dana and I are closer than ever. Dana survived. In every measurable way, we came out better (except that Dana’s hair didn’t grow back and he is missing about a third of his right calf muscle :P).
Partner with the Right People
Dana’s takeaway (and mine as well) was that we couldn’t have managed our business and made it through treatment without teaming up with our Right People. I was lucky enough that Dana chose me as one of the people in the middle of his Venn Diagram for Life. I have the honor of being one of his Right People, just as he is one of mine. I was able to step up when he needed me. I was also able to lean on some of my Right People when I needed to.
Our families and friends were exceptional and we were constantly reminded how lucky we were to have so many Right People in our lives. It was a hard year, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but this experience changed both of us for the better. There is nothing like a life-or-death situation to give you some perspective on what, and more importantly WHO is important.
What are you doing to make the center of your Venn Diagram bigger?
The world doesn’t care if you have cancer. The world doesn’t care if your car breaks down, or if rent is overdue, or if your baby was up crying all night. It doesn’t care that you didn’t get a raise, or land that big client. The world doesn’t care, and it doesn’t stop, but that doesn’t mean that the things happening in your life don’t matter. You care about these things! And so do the Right People!
When you think about the center of your Venn Diagram for Life:
- Who is in it?
- Are the people you surround yourself with every day the same people as in the center of the circle?
- Who do you put time and energy into each day?
- What effort are you putting into forging stronger relationships and partnerships (personal or professional) with the people in that circle?
- What are you doing to build new relationships and partnerships to make that circle bigger?
I hope you will reflect on who your Right People are, who you are partnered with (in any aspect of your life), and if those same people are the ones in the center of the Venn Diagram for Life. You have the power to make choices about how you construct your life and who you let in it. I hope you create your own experience, find the right people, and team up with them in any way you can.