By Susan Clarke.
This article first appeared on Susan’s own website, susanbclarke.com
I have been giving lots of thought and effort to defining what is my skill set, my niche. Basically, I keep coming back to what may be my signature strength – dealing with Oh Sh*T! What now? Oh Sh*T! What Now?
Let me start by saying, I wish there were softer more positive words that I could use. However, the truth is that’s what comes out of my mouth, or what I hear loudly in my head is, “Oh Sh*T! How did I get here and what do I do now?”
Let me take you back to one of my signature Oh Sh*t! Moments.
I was in my twenties. I was fighting cancer. I was fully engaged in being positive, fighting the good fight and doing whatever was needed to handle a fairly aggressive treatment protocol. At nine months in, I had just finished my cancer treatment scorecard of testing, and I felt confident that I was going to beat cancer and get on with my life.
So imagine my surprised when I walked into my doctor’s office and got my grade: F.
Now, of course, that is not how she delivered the news. Cancer report cards are not actually graded. But her words in some ways landed harder.
“The treatments aren’t working.”
“The cancer is advancing.”
“We don’t have another option.”
“You probably have six months to live.”
Oh Sh*T! How did I get here, and what the hell do I do now!?!
I was stunned. I was silent.
I believe I mumbled something and left.
On my way out I saw a flyer: Life Death and Transitions with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Without really thinking too much about what I was doing, I took a copy and walked out.
That moment was a turning point in my life. Apparently, there was no Hail Mary play to call that was going to get me out of this game alive.
I looked at that flyer.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross – I had no idea who she was.
Life, Death and Transitions – these were not subject matters to which I had given much thought.
Still, I needed something. So I wrote.
“Apparently I’m dying and fairly soon. I don’t really know how to deal with that. I don’t have any money. I have no real clue who you are, but I picked up your flyer and wanted to see if there was any chance that I could come to your workshop.
Thanks for considering,
I stuck that little note with my phone number in the mail. (Yes – well before email.)
That was my first conscious experience of what I call opting in, or facing an Oh Sh*T! moment and diving in head first.
Sure, I could have opted out. Gotten angry and blamed. Given up. Or simply walked on down that path of least resistance – doing my little life the same way until I died.
No, writing that letter was different.
My journey sped up after that.
She said, “Come.”
Kubler-Ross presented me with a challenge. She basically sat me down and said, “You and I are not really that different. Someone just told you when you were going to die. Now you are focusing on dying or not dying and that is not living!”
“Living is turning towards whatever life is presenting you and diving into it, being curious – not just fighting cancer – but living life. Face whatever there is to face, throw yourself in and swim.”
Okay, those last words are some of my own words added to her message over the years. But she launched me on a path, a path that has became my motto:
Choose to be living
Choose to be curious
Fearlessly, or fearfully, face whatever is in right front of you
Do not step away from chaos, conflict and uncertainty – step in – that mix brings magic and miracles.
So the journey didn’t end in six months. It wasn’t easy.
My doctors were not thrilled when I started talking to faith healers, alternative medicine folks and considering that maybe my tumors had stories that needed to be told.
No, my doctors thought I was crazy.
But I actually wanted them, as well as anyone else that had a potential game play, on my team.
So I faced the crazy, the questions, the chaos of doing a little bit of everything, throwing myself into that chaos and conflict while staying curious.
What might this cancer be saying if it could talk?
What might I not be saying? Feeling? Thinking? Wanting?
I’m not saying this path was, or is, always graceful. No, there were some very difficult periods. I discovered over and over just how stubborn, defended and resistant I can be.
But I kept coming back to that choice point – am I in? – or am I out? Choose!
I learned to listen. I learned to speak up. I learned the incredible value in differences and the possibility that comes from making space for the new. Also the magic and miracles that happen when people work together on a common problem and care deeply about each other and the outcome.
Now many, many years later, I have taken that learning and applied it to challenges facing leaders everyday. My work, with my partner CrisMarie Campbell, evolves around helping leaders, teams and organizations face their “Oh Sh*T! How did we get here?” moments.
Our leaders need this today more than ever. We need this today. We are living in a huge “Oh Sh*T! How did we get here?” moment. We need to step up our game and quit fighting and blaming.
Opt in – sure it may get ugly, but if we can stay curious and interested in all the possibilities, especially the ones far afield from our own, I do believe we might discover something totally new and magical.
Really, that’s the only viable option left if we are going to keep living – anything else is just dying. It’s time to turn towards “Oh Sh*T! What Now” and Opt In.