In honor of Labor Day in the U.S. I thought I would share some of my musings related to work that came to mind as we fired up the barbecue and indulged in free range, hormone free, ethically raised steak and chicken yesterday.
What would you do if you found out you were going to die in (insert period of time here)?
I have entertained that question many times at dinner parties, in deep conversations with friends, and in my mind on those really trying days at work when your are booking your next vacation as a means to get you through the rest of the afternoon.
I'd quit my job and spend it all, maybe give it to charity or family, but only after I have my fun.
I'd travel the world. I have already done this, but the more you travel, the more places you see and the more places you want to see.
I'd tell everyone I care about how much they mean to me.
These are among the answers I have given in response to this hypothetical question in the past.
Now that I have an incurable, but potentially survivable cancer, this question seems way less hypothetical. Strangely, I am finding that the answers I once gave in my state of good health are not exactly the same as my answers today.
Before I go any further down this line of thinking, I want to be clear that I am as hopeful as anyone that the treatments I will start within the next week will work and put this disease at bay. I don't think my fate is sealed. I am determined to survive. But, there is something about hearing the words "stage IV", "incurable", "aggressive disease" that does change the way you think about the rest of your life, whether that amounts to months, years or decades.
I am asking myself this question with new eyes and an open heart. I am even wondering why I didn't think about these things more before cancer. The truth is that none of us know how much longer we have. Just like many others, I have lived as if I had an endless supply of days, complete with a list of the things I would get to "later," whatever that means. It's actually been a very soul enriching and encouraging process (at least for me) to grasp, really grasp, the fact that our time here on earth is limited. And, to be grateful, perhaps for the first time, for life I am blessed to lead. What a precious gift that cancer has given me.
For example, as opposed to what I previously thought, and as insane as this may sound, the last thing I want to do right now is quit my career. What I wouldn't give to feel well enough to work full time.
Why? Am I some crazy workaholic? Maybe, some have certainly accused me of that (and of worse). Do I derive a sense of self worth and value from my success? Probably, yes. But it's also because my career is important to me. I don't work just to make a paycheck (although I am not complaining about that). I work because it grows me, it stretches me, it puts me into community with people, it molds me into a better leader, it's interesting, it's intellectually challenging...in other words I LIKE MY PROFESSION! How lucky am I to be able to say that ... as I am fully aware there are many out there who wouldn't say the same.
I also think it's deeper than enjoying one's profession, or even what I believe is an innate, God-given desire to work. It's about wanting our lives to matter. It's about legacy. This little word is often thrown around when it comes to presidents, prime ministers and the mega wealthy, but I think it applies to us little people too. When I really start to think about how I want to live the rest of my life, this word is central.
While I would love to continue to travel around the world, it's not what I want to be remembered for, it's actually pretty selfish and isolating. While it seems nice(ish) to sit around, to let myself be sick and let my husband pay the bills while I eat bon bons and get caught up on the Real Housewives of (insert city here), that's not what I want to be remembered for either. I want to be remembered for contributing something during my time here; and more importantly, for fully living up to the person God created me to be. Not that I know exactly what that means ... it was something I was planning to figure out "later."
But, this past month is bringing forth a little clarity. I think work, at least for me, is part of achieving this goal. I have also noticed that the vision for what my career could become has started to expand. It's no longer all about climbing up and up on the political or corporate ladder, although that could be back on the table someday. I have a desire to write, not always for clients or an employer, but write down my thoughts about the world, about life, maybe about travel. This blog is one avenue. Maybe I will tackle some other items on non-cancer related topics that I've always said I'd explore one day. Maybe that day is today, or tomorrow. One thing it's not is "later."
I also want to be a better, more present, partner, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece, citizen. I don't just want to tell people what they mean to me before it's too late. I want to put down the smart phone and participate more in people's lives, even when it's messy and uncomfortable. That is a privilege and a pleasure. It's also scary. It means getting real. It means vulnerability. It means unconditional love and selflessness.
This new perspective also extends to our financial resources. Using these resources in a way that invests not in things, but in people's lives. In things that will matter after I am long gone. As cheesy as it sounds, it's true, you really can't take it with you.
This is my daily work; redefined, and hopefully defined and defined again with guidance and conviction that can only come from above. I will struggle. I will do things that conflict with these words. I am fallible and fragile. But, life is not about getting everything right the first time, but rather about being open to learning something and to growing when we screw things up. There is hope in that kind of living. Maybe even the makings of a legacy that in some small way betters life for others.