Third Game Plan
Marty Linsky is unimpressed with my ambition to join Donald Trump on The Apprentice and his slightly raised eyebrows indicate only marginal amusement with my stand-up comedy endeavors. I had not planned to tell him about either during our informational interview, but now, over coffee in the Portland International Jetport, I seem unable to stop talking.
We had arranged for me to pick Marty up at the end of his training engagement and drive him here before his flight home to New York. Since the moment he climbed into the passenger seat of my Jetta wagon, I have talked nonstop. I blurted about adaptive leadership, the connections I saw with my consulting. “I am a fish who has found my ocean!” I gushed. “Adaptive leadership is a perfect framework for all the diversity work I have done!”
I downloaded my entire career. Domestic violence work to United Way to domestic violence again. A stint with public radio and television before working for an AIDS organization. Preaching the gospel of condom use across Maine. A graduate degree in social work and building a nonprofit organization for gay youth. By the time we stood at the American Airlines ticket counter, he had heard how the gay youth organization became the foundation of my organizational development consulting. As we slid upstairs on the escalator to the coffee-deli bar, Marty heard about my favorite consulting gigs – the seven weeks in Micronesia (they honored me with a pig roast when I left) and the four years with a college athletic department (Ramona has a lot of great sweatshirts now). Somehow, I had refrained from actually tugging on his coat sleeve like a five-year old child and shouting “Notice me! Notice me!”
Now, sitting over coffee, I am telling Marty about The Apprentice and comedy classes.
The point of an informational interview is lost. Marty should be the one speaking. I should be the one listening. Somehow, I know it’s the steroids. But I am powerless over my mouth. I am beginning to suspect, but no one has told me, that steroids cause the equivalent of a manic PMS. When I had a functioning uterus, I could count on every frustration or sadness being magnified for one week each month. Big tears, big sadness, emanating from a real, but small kernel of disappointment. Each month provided a hormonally-induced opportunity to examine and accept or discard what the kernel could reveal. Talking at Marty, I feel the sinking awareness that this steroid-induced mania is right this moment magnifying an anxious insecurity way larger than a mere kernel.
Marty listens patiently to everything. His bright blue eyes, unnerving behind his spectacles, miss nothing. He manages to convey detached yet empathetic interest. He is intrigued by my culture change work with the college athletic department, so he asks questions about that. I confess the crux of my call to him. That consulting was fun at first – it paid the bills and no one was getting beaten, thrown out of their homes, or dying. I was good at it. Competent. “But now I’m bored. I’m looking for more. Competence is not passion.”
An airport worker, in his fifties or so, approaches our table. I finally stop talking. “I noticed your ‘CHEMO BITES’ button,” he says awkwardly. “May I ask what kind of cancer?” My hand reaches up to my hat, fingers brush the button. I’m so used to it already that I forgot it was up there. I look at Marty, who smiles at me and sits back in his chair, interested in the exchange. “Ovarian cancer,” I tell the man, “but my prognosis is excellent. I should be fine.” I always add the I should be fine. Ovarian cancer is a heart stopper and I don’t want people feeling more concern for me than they need to. It’s hard to witness, over and over again. His eyes well up anyway. “Really,” I assure him.
“My sister died of that,” the he shares. “She suffered for years. She’d have liked that button. God bless you.” I reach into my coat and pull out an extra button for him. Wonder if I should stand up and hug him or not, then choose to shake his hand from my sitting position instead.
“Does that happen often?” Marty asks after the man leaves us.
“All the time.” My life is out of control, I want to say. I am supposed to be having a coffee about my career and instead I am comforting the bereaved and passing out CHEMO BITES buttons. Instead I am being a good-cancer-soldier with a plucky, survivor attitude. Instead I am nattering on about The Apprentice and stand-up comedy when I want to be, oh I don’t know, something different and better than this! That’s why I called you!
I drink my coffee. I’ve talked enough already. I feel overexposed.
Marty returns the conversation to our work lives. He has listened (what else could he do for the last forty-five minutes?) and informs me that his current career began in his forties. He reminds me I am still young, there’s still time to explore and find meaningful success. He tells me about the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and outlines their MidCareer Program. It would be a good fit, he says, for where I am right now. Two hundred middle-aged students from all over the world, all on a path to discover what’s next, who enroll for a year to earn a Masters in Public Administration. A degree they don’t necessarily need. Just like me, many of the students already have advanced degrees. It’s not the courses, he emphasizes, but the people and the connections and, literally, the world of opportunities that being in the program opens up. It’s life changing. Plus, he adds, as if life changing hasn’t caught my attention, there is more opportunity to study adaptive leadership. Marty tells me I should really think about it.
After our coffee, when Marty gets on his plane back to New York, I think about it a lot.
© 2011 Cathy Kidman