Thanksgiving, Cancer, & Leadership

“There is no evidence of recurrence at this time. We’ll see you again in a year.”

Relief.

I thought about both high-fiving and hugging the urologist/oncologist, but decided against it. One of them was sporting a mustache that I could only assume and hope was part of a No-Shave-November effort, but it was enough to give me pause about hugging anybody.

There have been several similar moments over the past couple years. It’s an odd mix of feelings, really. Relief. Gratitude. Thankfulness. The nagging thought–no matter how small–that maybe it’ll be back next year. It puts a different perspective on, well, lots of things.

So perhaps it’s handy that Thanksgiving is in November. (Did anyone else get the weeks confused and think it was actually next week instead of this week? Oh. You didn’t? Yeah, um, I didn’t either.)

As some of you know, November is a big month for me now. It was just two short years ago that my doctor accidentally found cancer during a CT for something completely unrelated. That “accident” obviously changed a lot of things. You look at your life a little differently after something like that. Externally speaking, you get to admire the beautiful 9-inch scar left from the surgeon doing his thing. Internally, your mental and emotional scars and struggles can be magnified and pushed toward the surface.

This whole cancer ordeal has taught me a lot and continues to do so. It’s a challenge for all of us to be more thankful, isn’t it? I don’t say thank you nearly enough, and I don’t think I show enough gratitude with my actions either. I’m reminded that I need to show appreciation to people, both personally and professionally; and that I need to be thankful and content with certain things rather than arranging my life around getting this or that, having this or that, or whatever else. Because really–what good is any of that if you have a terminal illness? A jet-ski doesn’t do you much good then, does it?

Did you ever notice that even after you get this or that, or have had this or that for a while, that you find yourself needing some other thing? You tell yourself that’s not actually the case; but your actions, attitude, and Facebook posts say otherwise. It’s almost like there’s a space in your life that can’t be filled with material stuff, but you keep trying anyway. Or perhaps it’s like a desire that simply cannot be satisfied with the things you think ought to satisfy it, but you insist on attempting it anyway in hopes that it’s this thing that will finally do it for you. That’s no accident. We’re wired to sense in some way that there’s something more than just what we can see or possess.

Within our roles as leaders in our respective organizations, how thankful are we? How consistently do we show or otherwise express gratitude to others, both employees and clients/consumers alike? How often do we complain about really dumb stuff when really we should be thankful we’re in the situation we’re in rather than one that’s way worse.

How well do we serve others? Leadership is more about serving than it is trying to figure out how to get that bigger office or bigger paycheck. That stuff may come, and it’s fine and good if it does, but that’s not why we lead. At least I hope not.

Do we get that this life we’re living and this work we’re doing is and has to be about more than what we might act like it is?

Maybe we need to take a little timeout over Thanksgiving to reflect. Perhaps we should challenge ourselves to be more appreciative of what we have and what we experience. Maybe–just maybe–this holiday, our work, and our lives are about more than what we think it is.

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