Cancer & Leadership Part 3: Don’t Wait

The waiting’s the worst.

And it’s one of cancer’s secret weapons I think, at least as it relates to the human psyche. Because there you sit–and there I sat–awaiting the results of the CT.

That part is really awful. Perhaps that’s partly because there’s just nothing you can do about it at that point. You’re going to sit on that uncomfortable doctor’s table/chair/bed thingy, trying to stay as still as you can. You do this not so much so that you can hear everything others are saying, but rather because you know that whenever you move,  that thin, tissue-ish paper that’s forming a barely-there barrier between you and the table/chair/bed thingy makes a terrible racket.

So you sit. And you wait. And when the doctor comes in, you listen. But then…

It’s back to waiting. You’re almost held hostage, in a sense. I knew I had cancer, but I also knew that I had to wait for further tests. And then I had to wait for the surgery to be scheduled. After that I waited for surgery day to arrive.

And surgery day itself? What a nightmare. I had gotten myself so worked up waiting for all this to go down that I got a terrible migraine the morning of the surgery and–sorry if you have a sensitive stomach–vomited all over the hospital parking lot when I arrived at 0-dark-thirty in the morning.

Then there’s the surgery area waiting room. Waiting rooms are a curious thing. I mean, if you think about it, it’s a room whose sole purpose is to provide a spot for people to do…nothing. Scattered across hospitals all over the place are rooms of people who have been herded to those rooms so they can do absolutely nothing. Clumps of humans. Doing nothing. Waiting.

Weirder still is that the waiting room was just a waiting room for another waiting room. It’s like being on wait list to get on the wait list for something you have absolutely no desire to do in the first place.

So I got to Waiting Room #2 and, well, waited. Then the nurse came in, gave me some brief instructions, and left. So far, if we were stopwatching (not a real word) the whole episode, it’d have shown the following. Waiting: 87 minutes. Doing something other than waiting: 27 seconds.

Anyway, fast forward through more waiting for more stuff. Waited for a hospital gown, and a stylish one at that. Waited for the nurse to come back. Waited for her to read through all the forms I was about to sign. Waited for the anesthesiologist to come chat idly about something I can’t remember. Waited for the surgeon to come in after that to talk through the day’s timeline. Waited for the anesthesiologist to come back in. Waited for nurse to put in IV. Waited while the nurse told me how long it would take for the IV to kick in. Waited while she brought the oxygen mask toward my face like a parent using a spoon as an airplane and flying food toward the uncooperative and possibly screaming mouth of a baby. Waited while she said to count backward from 10. Waited while counting backward. 10…9…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

So much waiting. So little doing. It was true that morning, and it’s often true in other contexts as well.

Ironically enough, although I started working on this post a few days back, at this very second I’m waiting in an airport, my flight having been delayed six separate times already today. So I wait.

Sometimes, though, we do nothing–we wait–even when our circumstances aren’t forcing us to do so. We wait instead of trying something. Before we’ll try that thing, we wait for there to be seventeen different case studies done on organizations that are almost identical to ours, that are in markets almost identical to ours, that have favorite colors similar to ours, and that have themselves only tried a similar idea after having completed a multitude of case studies on their own. If the case studies seem to indicate anything less than a 99.62% chance of success, we scrap the idea.

By the time we determine to move on something, we’ve lost opportunities. Instead of being one of the first to market with a technology, we’re nestled safely in the middle of the pack. Rather than risking alienating a few consumers, we dial back our organizations’ personality and identity and become one more in a sea of bland, indistinct brands. Fearful of bothering anyone’s sensibilities, we essentially ask employees to be emotionless, heartless cogs that help turn the gears of the organization as it strives (but not too much) for the safety that can only be found by avoiding risk altogether. Scared of the potential of a product or service not catching on, we hide behind any number of reasons that product or service might not work.

But what if we stopped waiting? I’m not saying that we should run headlong into uncertainty without care or concern, but perhaps we need to consider whether we’re moving forward with even the slightest sense of urgency and purpose.

Sometimes it boils down to this: We’re waiting on ourselves. We’re waiting for the perfect time (there isn’t one), or the perfect situation (no such thing), or a risk-free, failure-proof opportunity (refer to previous parenthetical phrases).

Maybe it’s time to quit waiting and start doing.

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