October 15, 2019phdgreg
First, a few news items. A revised edition of my book with Cassie Solomon, Leading Successful Change, will be out early next year. I’ll be cohosting In the Workplace, live from 5-7 p.m. (October 24) on Wharton Business Radio (SiriusXM channel 132), please listen in. I’ve got several podcasts and articles from this year to share and will do so in my next newsletter.
In this newsletter, I offer a few thoughts about a hike that my daughter Emmy invited me to take with her: 24 mile, 4500 feet down, 6000 feet up, rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, 15 pound packs of mainly water, and temperatures over 100. Our completion of the hike in one day this past August was the result of months of physical training. More important than the physical, my daughter and I hiked in order to shake free of persistent contaminants from my 2017 year of medical counterattack on my multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that had built a tumor in my spine and caused it to collapse. Reconstructive back surgery (including ample supplies of titanium and cadaver bone), radiation, chemo, and a stem cell transplant filled the year, dominated my private life, and dented my professional life. I am now approaching two years in remission with lots of treatment options should the one that I’m on falter. Physical recovery dominated 2018 and what I would call PTSD recovery has dominated 2019. This hike (and the training for it with my endurance athlete daughter) fits into that life context and, I believe, offers some insight into our world of work, especially when whitewater is particularly rough and prolonged.
Emmy and I joined a team of people seeking to recover from the ravages of a health crises through a physical adventure challenge. The sponsoring organization was The Project Athena Foundation and I encourage you to check out their website. Our trek involved five Athenas and one Zeus (you can imagine who that was, in name only), over two dozen sponsors, and nine staff composed of endurance athletes, former and current military, and first responders.
Someday, I hope to write about 2017 and beyond, including this hike in more detail. For now, I offer these thoughts about the hike, recovery, and resilience:
1) It takes others. Yes, the highly popularized personal ‘grit’ matters, but in the end grit is necessary and likely insufficient. People formed the Athena Foundation, fund it, donate their time and expertise up close and personally to help unknown others continue their healing, their trek back. Resilience comes from individuals and collectives sharing pursuit of health and the challenge of life, including work, be it personal, team, or organizational. Accept the help and give help as you can.
2) Practice patience. One forward step at a time taken at the best maintainable pace. It’s a long hike, in this case over 15 hours beginning about 3:30 a.m. You do what you can as you can. Respect yourself (and others), your drive to heal and your limits.
3) Allow the existence and, perhaps, the return of optimism and hope as you enter the valley, cross it, and climb out. Recognize its occurrence in yourself. Find it in the eyes and actions of others. Name it. Cherish it. Celebrate it.
4) Keep at it. The hike, like recovery and resilience, is demanding. Plodding with neuropathy in one set of toes, lots of titanium, slightly cockeyed hips and twisted torso, one shortened leg, and a recently injured Achilles tendon all count as challenges…as do the challenges faced by every other fellow traveler and all the training that brought each of you each step of the way.
5) It’s personal. It’s both a shared and a private hike to recovery. Appreciate the drama, yours and others. Attribute meaning, large and small, as you go. Pause to take in the view as the sun sets on an ageless canyon, scene of countless hikes. Savor your view and take in that offered by others, in this case my daughter Emmy’s.