September 1, 2003
About a year ago, a friend of mine found out she had cancer. A dynamic, executive, loving wife, and mother, she’s a rare gem who revels in her southern roots, designer tastes, and down-home sensibilities.
When she called with the news, I was sitting in a house near a beach, worlds away from the gritty city and the daily grind. “I have something to tell you,” she said. Inside, I chuckled, thinking she must be pregnant. “I have colon cancer. I need to have surgery in the next few weeks.”
Everything stopped. Her 2-year-old’s face flashed through my mind. How could this happen? She had lost her sister to cancer the year before. How could this be?
In the following weeks we talked several times. I thought of her constantly but didn’t want to pester her by calling every day. Frankly, I also just didn’t know what to say, or do. I sent her a book, some CDs, a card or two, but I rejected countless other impulses because every gesture seemed so small in the face of something that loomed so large.
Meanwhile, she was handling this crisis as she handles everything — with faith and clarity and unstoppable action. I know she had many sleepless nights, but she wasted no daylight wringing her hands and wondering why. She just kept moving, praying, and doing what needed to be done. That meant setting systems up at her job and at home to ease her absence, going through nerve-wracking rounds of pre-op tests, and working all of her contacts to find the best possible surgeon and securing a place in his tight schedule. As with most else in her life, she succeeded against the odds, snagging a doctor pre-eminent in the field and then enjoying the deep relief, and gratitude, of a positive outcome.
Her recovery was difficult, but she didn’t require chemo. Within weeks, she was working from home and sending out notes, including the one I received. It took my breath away. I felt I had done so little, but it had meant so much to her.
Recently, I was in the audience at a business conference when Newark, New Jersey, mayoral hopeful Corey Booker recalled a powerful lesson he learned from his father when he was a boy. His dad posed the question, “Three frogs were sitting on a log. One decided to jump off. How many frogs were left?”
“Two,” Corey answered.
“No, three,” said his father. “One decided to jump off. He never actually did it.”
How many times have you meant to call a friend, or bought and then forgot to send a card of sympathy or thanks? When was the last time you failed to follow through with a plan that you knew had promise? How often do we just decide to act?
Thinking versus doing, intention versus action — the difference could not be more critical. Always remember, as the old adage says, it’s not the something you do, it’s that you do something.” Why wait? Start right now.