Lesson #3: Roll with the Punches


Life is ever-changing. You should be too.

Jaywalker blues

I left Princess Margaret Hospital beaten up and with even less hair than what I went in with (which wasn’t much). While the chemo had taken its toll on me, it worked, hammering the rogue army of cancerous white blood cells into remission. I stepped outside and breathed in fresh air for the first time in over a month. Immediately, my super-chapped lips split and bled everywhere. Small price to pay to be out.

My friends Rob and Julie took me out for a celebratory lunch where I scarfed down so many fajitas, you’d think I was trying to gain back the 20 pounds I had lost in the hospital—and do it all in one sitting. I was hungry. High doses of steroids and six weeks of hospital food will do that to you.

After lunch, we headed toward the pharmacy to fill a prescription. Rather than go all the way to the crosswalk, we opted to make a break for it and jaywalk. I stepped into the street and started to run. Well, I attempted to run. With muscles completely wasted from the chemo, my legs buckled underneath me and it took everything I had to remain upright. Cars sped towards me as I staggered to the other side, begging my legs to work.

It was an important reminder that I was going to have to adapt to a new reality. Things were different now. With my liver already overloaded with all the toxic chemicals the doctors were pouring into me, I couldn’t go out for beer with the boys. My weakened immune system meant I couldn’t go to crowded movie theatres and had to do my grocery shopping at odd hours. I had to adjust my schedule around my medications, making sure drug A was taken on an empty stomach and drug B with a full one. And yes, sprinting across a busy Toronto street was no longer realistic.

As I adapted to life as a cancer patient, I also quickly realized that my journey from diagnosis to recovery was going to be a zig-zaggy one. I had a treatment plan, but frequent setbacks forced me to constantly modify it. My blood counts would sometimes crash and we would need to postpone some of my chemotherapy. A viral infection would knock me off course on more than one occasion. An adverse response to a particular drug meant the doctors would have to adjust my meds.

Rolling with the punches

Kakuzo Okakura, a Japanese scholar from the 1800s, once said that “The art of life is the constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Setbacks and change derail even the best-laid plans. We need to learn to roll with the punches. Being flexible is as important as being well prepared.

The path to overcome an obstacle rarely takes a straight line. Setbacks are inevitable. The more responsive and open you are to changing directions, the greater your chances for success.

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Nurture a flexible attitude. Plans change, things happen, projects get derailed. Acknowledge that setbacks are inevitable so you won’t be too discouraged when they do happen.

Be ready with a Plan B. Plan ahead so you can adapt to unexpected changes. Put away extra money to deal with an unpredictable car breakdown or health issue. Don’t put all your eggs in a single investment basket. Bring five ideas to the table for when the first four get nixed.

Be open. Keep an open mind. There are a million ways to get from A to B so don’t be rigid about your plans. Listen to other people’s opinions, ask questions and explore your options. You may have a clear vision of what your engagement photos should look like, but your photographer may have an even better idea.

Let go. Adapting to a new reality means letting go of the past. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of nostalgia and reminiscing. But when that devolves into whining and fixating on how things used to be, then you probably need to give your head a shake and get back to the business at hand.

Find opportunity in obstacles. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth. That big client backing out is an opportunity to introduce fresh ideas to your strategy. That broken leg is an opportunity to catch up on reading. Losing your job is an opportunity to reevaluate your career goals. Fail your way to success by embracing snafus as learning opportunities.


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