From Sickness to Success

7 business lessons learned from cancer

By Scott Petinga

I never set out to be a “survivor.” My life’s aspirations were pretty
basic: become successful professionally, marry my soul mate, have
two beautiful children and perhaps even retire early. Getting cancer
certainly wasn’t on the list. But there I was, lying on the operating
table the day of my surgery, shivering – not knowing how much
longer I actually had to live and hoping that, when I opened my eyes,
I would awaken from the nightmare. It didn’t happen. Cancer was
a cold, hard reality that has certainly changed me. I look dierent,
feel dierent and act dierent. Besides indelibly altering my outlook
on life, cancer taught me hard-learned lessons on how to conduct
business and realize success in a more signi€cant and gratifying way.
Here are 7 business lessons I learned from cancer that can help others
in their own professional endeavors:

1. Fight for what you believe in. I have a tattoo on my left
forearm that says, in Chinese, “to turn defeat into victory.” !at
is how important the concept is to me. If you don’t take a stand
for those issues that really matter to you, someone else is going to
make the decision for you. Regardless of how extremely di”cult a
business or workplace challenge might appear in the moment, it’s
only temporary. It is human nature to question our own ability,
especially when we are facing a challenge that is taxing, di”cult,
new or involves opposition or criticism from others. When you have
a viable position that bucks the status quo, don’t be afraid to take
a stand in line with your vision and values. And, be prepared. Base
your position on facts, €gures and well-researched information rather
than trying to make emotional appeals. Anticipate objections and backlash and be prepared to counter with an even stronger argument.
Be as transparent as possible so that there is no seemingly clandestine
agenda or bias to be exposed later on. And, most importantly, hold
steadfast to your standards and ideals all along the way.

2. If you don’t love what you do, quit doing it. Love what you
do, and be surrounded by people who share your passion. No matter
your age, education, or tenure in the business world, NOW is the time
to focus on what you’re passionate about. Don’t wait for conditions
to be perfect or for your life to be threatened. Don’t just go through
the motions half-ass. Find the gasoline that lights your €re. Quench
your thirst for learning and investigate outside of your comfort zone.
Empower yourself to make decisions and take actions, and uncover
the value in your eort even when you fail. !en try again.

3. Make life better for those around you. I now understand that
the quality and happiness of life directly impacts quality of work. Ask
yourself ‘what can I do to help’—whether in relation to a colleague,
an employee, a boss, a business partner. And, don’t’ expect anything
in return. A spirit of altruism is the best way to proer help without
any level of expectation, so there will be no disappointments in kind.
If you’re an employer, discern how you can go over and above to help
an employee apparently struggling with a personal issue, which could
include paying for their health insurance premium for a period and
giving them paid time o to deal with a di”cult life situation. If
you’re an employee, oer to grab coee or lunch for your boss or
a colleague “on your dime.” Stock the employee break room with
pastries “just because.” Call a business partner or prospect just to
say “hi” and don’t talk any business. Even more simply, greet people
with positivity. Encourage them. Compliment them. Lend them
a helping hand. Notice their progress, cheer them on and make
them smile. !e more happiness and success you help others €nd,
the more ful€llment you will realize every single day of your life. If
it makes the world a better place, even for a #eeting moment, you
have succeeded.

4. Do your own thing and do it your way. The concept of going
your own way and doing your own thing is not new. !e problem is,
most people don’t do it because it bucks tradition and goes against
the grain, and frankly, it scares the s#%! out of most people. But on
the other hand, it can provide you with a hell of a lot of freedom,
and provide you a life-long exemption from blindly or reluctantly
following protocol. Mavericks live according to their own agenda
and goals and, even in the corporate world, there is more latitude to
blaze new trails in business than you might think. !e key is to look
at each task for the opportunities they present. Sure, there may be
a “perfectly €ne” or traditional way of doing something to achieve
a good result. But, when you have a better approach or process in
mind that can achieve an even more desirable result, it may just be
time to go rogue. In today’s cut-throat culture, originality is perhaps
your greatest gift. Use it.

5. Risk it right now. At this very moment you have everything
you need. Sound impossible? It happens to be true; you just may
not appreciate it. Do you have food, clothing and shelter? !en
you have everything you need and, once you live by this simple
philosophy, taking risks becomes far easier. !e most important
part of this notion is that most business opportunities don’t wait
around, so take action now. Don’t make the mistake of waiting on
someone or something to come along to make taking that leap of
faith more viable. “Perfect timing” is a fallacy—there are few if any such moments in life. Don’t wait so long that you can’t take a risk even when you want to, only to be consumed with remorse for what “could have been.” Now is the time to capitalize on opportunities that present. Make it so.

6. Live life like a two year old. In other words, fall down
often, screw up repeatedly and occasionally be de€ant. Children
are extremely resilient and, as adults, we lose this enviable quality.
throughout our career we proverbially fall down, get bruised and
even skin our knees. We might even literally shed a few tears. But,
perseverance and tenacity, honed with hindsight-based perspective
so as to not repeat the same mistakes, are key to staying the course
up the ladder of achievement.

7. Forecast regrets to reorganize. When someone is on their
death bed, they never say “I wish I had worked more”. They regret not
spending more time on the things that matter the most. !at said,
not all regrets would be related to your personal life. If, hypothetically,
you had two less working hours every day, what would you cut out?
You’d cut out the least important tasks and focus more energy on the
endeavors you are con€dent would impact the bottom line or your
career trajectory the most. Don’t wait for a major adverse event or
unforeseen time crunch to reorganize your work life. Project your
thoughts into a problematic “what if” scenario to prioritize, downsize,
re-allocate, oset, delegate and downright omit whatever you can to
expedite your climb up the ladder of success.
!ey say cancer has a way of changing people. !is is true, but
there’s no need for a threatening medical diagnosis to be the catalyst
for needed change. An emotional “reboot” can pay dividends at
any time and in anyone’s life, to most certainly include business
matters. !e key is to tap into, and harness, a mindset of emotional
vulnerability for a new-found perspective that can help you recalibrate
and generally € tune your approach to achievement so that you can
not only get there faster—but in a more meaningful and ful€lling
way. As far as I am concerned, that is the true measure of success.