I didn't know what to expect.
I was sitting in a bland waiting room, staring at a clock on the wall. My wife noticed how the time was moving slower than expected, that the nurse in the next room was talking too loud about medical issues, and how the fog and rain outside looked a bit ominous.
In early December, something showed up in my blood. It's a little ironic, because I've been working on a book about blood (long story on that one). I kept joking with people that this was all happening because I needed a good way to end the book. They didn't think that was funny.
I've seen a few movies where the doctor finally tells you whether or not you have cancer. The camera zooms in to a ticking clock on the wall. You wipe the sweat from your brow. You tap your foot. All of the issues you've faced in life suddenly pale in comparison to the pale look on your face.
I'd been through all of the tests--an MRI scan, a biopsy, and something called an MRI-guided biopsy (a way of combining two things together just to be absolutely sure). Who knew there were so many steps? I'd never had any tests like this before. I'd never been to the hospital. It felt like it was my turn. "Mr. Brandon, your number is up, please come to the counter and collect your hospital gown." The nurses were patient with me during these procedures, although I can't quite explain why they decided to use YouTube to play music in the MRI machine. Maybe I'll figure that one out someday.
A few things flashed before my eyes in that waiting room. None of these flashes had anything to do with work. I thought about my kids, mostly. I thought about Door Number One (cancer) and Door Number Two (no cancer).
Then I thought about how I need to give up control.
Most of the stress over health issues comes from a desire to control the outcome. Sitting in that waiting room, you realize you've lost control. It's either a yes or a no.
My problem is widely shared. We're all seeking control in one way or another. Sure, we mentor others in a half-hearted attempt to make it seem like we don't want to be the one who makes all of the decisions. At times, we even delegate menial tasks to subordinates, all the while keeping tabs on them like our direct reports are nothing more than a Google Chrome browser. Our ultimate goal is to control the outcome. And, for some of us, we want to make sure when things go well that we get all of the credit.
As a leader, we sometimes get caught up in the act of exhibiting control over others. We micro-manage the sales team to death. We ask for one report after another from the social media folks in marketing. We push and fight and cajole. We're being "the boss" and making sure everyone knows it. We crack the whip because that's our job.
And then, it all collapses. Controlling is not the same as leading. Leading is an act of empowerment and enabling others. Great leaders can walk away from a project or even a company, giving up all control, and the people involved will happily continue working. When bad leaders walk away from a project or company, everything falls apart. You're too busy spinning all of the plates in the air. When you stop spinning, everyone sort of sits back and breathes a sigh of relief--and all of the plates fall to the ground.
In that waiting room, my plates had all crashed down. On several projects, the momentum had stalled out over the past few weeks. I wasn't answering emails with lightning precision (sorry about that). This was the type of stress that's more than just a distraction. It's a low-level hum, like a motor running off in the distance.
Now, it had all come to this moment.
Then I heard a nurse in the hallway. She said something about good news.
We walked into the doctor's office. He repeated the phrase. It was good news.
All of the tissue samples were benign. I didn't have cancer.
What did I have? A really hard lesson in giving up control. The people who performed the tests, the nurses who explained the procedures, the doctor who gave me the good news. I had to become the patient--and become patient. I had to accept the outcome.
Looking back over the last three months, my biggest lesson was in deciding to let go of these issues and accept the outcome. This type of cancer is genetic. It's based somewhat on my eating habits, but the truth is--your number comes up or it doesn't. And, if it does, there's no way to change the answer. The doctors and nurses take control. I have to give up control. No amount of cajoling or finger-pointing will help. I had to take a step back and give up control. I had to decide to let them do their jobs.
Not to sound morbid, but the truth is that our number will come up someday. All of us have 24 hours each day. Everyone will eventually draw a card that says our time is up. We will all give up control in the end, one way or another. It doesn't matter if we're talking about business or marriage or our children. It doesn't matter if you're young or old. When we finally take a step back and survey the options in life, we can either try to control the outcome or we can be part of the outcome, an enabling force.
All of us are in a waiting room. We're all looking for the answer.
For me? I choose the second option. I give up control. I want to enable and not control.
To think it all started with a blood test.