If you have been to the landing page of this website and watched the 3 minute video (https://www.jagerconsulting.com/), you will know that eight and a half years ago I lost my first wife, Carol, to cancer. The three and a half year battle that we shared, and eventually lost, were some of the darkest times of my life, but with the passing years I have gained some perspective and I have realized that during that time I learned some lessons that can be valuably applied to business.
- Expect the unexpected
When we received the initial diagnosis, Carol and I were both completely in shock. This was not part of the life plan either of us had been envisioning. Of course neither of us expected that Carol wouldn’t fully recover – she was young and strong – but sometimes even the best laid plans don’t work out as you expect and you have to reassess what you are going to do going forward.
In business we set strategic plans that we believe will help us succeed if we follow them. I’m a great avocate of having some sort of plan, but I’m an even bigger advocate of being able to pivot and change plans if necessary. Don’t be wedded to one path or direction, flexibility is key, particularly when you encounter that curveball you weren’t expecting.
2. Sometimes hard work isn’t enough to guarantee victory.
For three years and a half years all of our energy was directed towards getting Carol well again – chemotherapy, two huge liver resections, alternative therapies in Mexico, dietary changes, inumerable oncology visits. The weight of the situation was on us 24 hours a day for over 40 months. The pressure of being strong for all those around me was immense (my children were 7 and 9 when Carol was diagnosed) – believing for the best, but preparing for the worst put me under a huge amount of pressure. I didn’t share what I was going through with anyone, until after Carol had passed – I just tried to tough it out. I now realize that was wrong.
Some managers believe that if only they work harder/longer/faster they will eventually achieve their goals. But the truth is that every business that ever became successful was built on the back of a team. One person may take a lot of the responsibility but different skill sets are usually required, so multiple individuals are needed to get a project or business to succeed. Sometimes you need to work smarter, not harder.
3. Leadership is not about asking, it is about taking action.
After Carol passed away I was in a fog. Nothing seemed to be important anymore. My wife was dead! Immediately following her passing I had a lot of texts, emails and cards from people saying things like “If there is anything I can do, just let me know”. But I didn’t even know what they could do! The people I treasure from that time are those that didn’t ask, they just did. People like my pastors, who actually came to the house, then called the funeral home to work out all the arrangements, and even organized getting the kids to and from school. It was my friend Norm, who had lost his own wife much younger than I lost mine. He took me out, sat me down and said “Don’t let anyone tell you how to mourn”. It was Sue who took over the kitchen and cooked for us all when we weren’t even sure we were hungry. They didn’t “ask”, they just “did”. I’m not sure I ever thanked any of them properly.
I see parallels with people that take control in business. When a catastrophe strikes they don’t sit around discussing options, they jump in and get it done. As Govindh Jayaraman says “Strategy is welcomed, but execution is worshipped” – it’s all well and good talking about something, even coming up with a plan, but until it happens it doesn’t mean anything – action is what moves things forward. Great leaders know this. It’s usually better to act quickly with incomplete information, than to analyse something too deeply and lose the opportunity to make an impact.
4. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to grieve
I told you about Norm. His words will stick with me forever, because they are filled with such wisdom. I have relayed the same phrase to several other men who have suffered a loss, knowing that it will help them too. My grieving process had been going on for three and a half years before Carol died, so when she did pass, it was not a huge surprise. Some people grieve by withdrawing into themselves, some lose themselves in the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, whilst others get angry – with God, with the doctors, with their kids. All of these reactions are valid, but unfortunately you will find plenty of people that want to tell you that you shouldn’t do this, or shouldn’t do that because they are judging you based on what they would do.
When you have business issues, failures or disasters in you will find plenty of people willing to give you advice about what you should have done, or where you went wrong. The various advice is almost contradictory so you know it can’t all be right. The best thing to do is to follow your own instincts about what you should do (even if that instinct is choosing to take someone else’s advice). It’s your business. No one is responsible for its success or failure other than you.
5. Even after a disaster, life still goes on (but success still has to be sought out)
Eight and a half years ago I had a choice. I could wallow in self pity or I could pick myself up, brush myself off and face the challenge of being a father without a wife. I chose the latter option. I know people that have lost years mourning their loved ones, grieving for a past that will never return. The mourning process is both important and necessary, but it can’t go on forever. If you end up defining yourself as a widow or a widower, you are letting the past dictate the present. I chose to pick myself up dust myself off and re-establish my life. I’m now happily remarried, with my own business and a great blended family.
Plans fail, businesses go bust, partnerships get jacked up, but as a business person you can’t let one “failure” determine your future path. If Edison had given up after the first experiment to create the light bulb, we would all still be in the dark. The lubricant WD40 is so named because it was the 40th iteration of the Water Displacement formula that ended up having the properties required.
6. You are not your resume
Over 300 people packed the sanctuary of our church for Carol’s memorial service. Not one of those people, with the exception of my boss, knew her 3 years previously. That was testimony to the effect Carol had on the lives of the people she met in the short time she was here in the US. You couldn’t meet Carol without it impacting you. People took afternoons off work and school to come and pay their respects to her. But Carol had not had a wage paying job in over 9 years when she passed. Not one person was their to honor her “work”, they were all there to honor the person.
What is your legacy going to be? Are the people lining up at your wake going to be there because they feel they ought to be there, or because they WANT to be there. I know for certain which one I’d prefer. So don’t waste time building your resume or your net worth. Neither of those things are going to be travelling with you on your way to heaven, the only thing you are going to be taking with you is your network – the relationships that you have built. Don’t sweat what’s not important – concentrate on the main thing.
Thank you for reading my brain droppings. It has been therapeutic for me (and I hope for you too). If any of these themes has struck a chord with you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Jager Consulting – (440) 385-6737.