Have you ever taken a red-eye flight across the country to say goodbye to a friend who is dying? That’s exactly what I did five days ago on Easter Sunday. Bill Ball, my 44 year-old best friend, was in ICU at the Cleveland Clinic and his body was betraying him after battling leukemia and being hospitalized for the last four months. He was in full-blown organ failure. Other than his heart, kidneys, liver, and bone marrow, the rest of his body was doing great. But apparently those organs are somewhat important, at least according to the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic. Who knew?
Before we go any further, I want you to know that Bill has rallied big-time in the last 72 hours! He is out of ICU and all of his organ are responding, including his kidneys. (I haven’t been that excited to see someone peeing since my kids were potty training.) He still has a long row to hoe, but his doctors are now very encouraged (and encouraging) that he will be back on track by the end of next week. If things go as planned, he will have a bone marrow transplant then and be on the road to recovery.
So what does this story have to do with success and sales? EVERYTHING!!!
Here are the 9 lessons I learned from the ICU:
- You need professionals in your corner. The nurses and doctors at the Cleveland Clinic have a reputation as being world-class for their skills and cutting edge technology. This is definitely true. But their compassion and ability to put their patients first is beyond amazing. I watched them in awe. Lesson: How do your customers view you? Do they think you are the absolute best? More importantly, do you have professionals that are helping you to become better? What areas do you need help in? Are you willing to invest the time, money, and effort to become world-class?
- You need people who love you in your corner. Shelly Case-Ball took an oath to love and cherish in both sickness and health. She is definitely living that out. She is a literal case study in compassion and love as she works tirelessly to care for Bill. At the same time she is holding together a blended family that includes two little girls, aged 5 years and 18 months (picture below) that they became foster parents for just before Bill became sick.
I saw this same compassion and care from the lovely Dizzy D when her mother was dying from dementia. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but I’m proud to know both of them. Lesson: When you have a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day do you have someone who will stick with you, love and believe in you?
- You need a reality check. I honestly think that this challenge was exactly what Bill needed. He told me today that it wasn’t until this happened that he really understood exactly how sick he was. He was understandably very emotional about it. Until he understood what the stakes really were, I don’t think he could understand exactly how hard he must fight. Lesson: What about you? Are you crystal clear about what the stakes are in your sales career? Do you realize an opportunity of a lifetime only comes around once?
- You need hope. I’m not the only one who believes that hope is important. King Solomon put it this way, “Where there is no hope, the people perish.” As the multitude of doctors (nephrologist, oncologist, cancer specialist, colorectal specialist, etc.) came to see Bill, they gave him hope. They were realistic, but they always focused on the future and what came next. They gave Bill a clear vision of what the next steps were going to be and encouraged him to stay hopeful and positive. Lesson: Do you know your next steps? Do you have enough activity going on to be excited? Do you have a clear vision of your future?
- You need to fight! Every little battle matters. Getting out of bed was a victory that Bill hadn’t achieved in almost two weeks. He sat up in a chair. He walked about 50 steps. He urinated multiple times and every cubic centimeter was recorded and celebrated. Once Bill has been transplanted, the battle won’t be over. He will need to fight every step of the way. He must work his tail off to regain his strength. He will need to battle against discouraging days and setbacks. Each day will be a test. Lesson: We often think of battles as being epic. We picture knights slaying dragons. But the reality is that most of the battles we face are much more mundane. They begin when the alarm clock starts chirping. Will you answer the bell, or will you pull the blankets closer and hit the snooze alarm?
- You need people to challenge you. I’m not sure what Bill thought I was going to say to him on Tuesday when we had a few quite minutes alone among the chaos that swirls around in every hospital. I pretty sure he didn’t expect me to get up in his grill. After we had shared several very emotional exchanges about how much we loved each other, I switched gears. I gave him a little tough love. In a situation like Bill is going through, it is easy to start feeling sorry for yourself. After all, most visitors to cancer patients are unable to express anything other than pity. I reminded Bill that the last thing he wanted after someone left was for them to feel bad for him. Bill needed to understand that the fastest way to his own emotional recovery was to be the voice of hope and enthusiasm. What he really wants is for his visitors to leave feeling better and more hopeful when they leave than when they arrived. Lesson: When people walk away from interacting with you, are they energized or drained?
- You need to be reminded. As I sat in Bill’s room giving him tough love, we went through all the people who love him and count on him. I started with the obvious; his wife, children, siblings, mother, etc. But we progressed to all the people he had impacted during his life: His team at work, the community he lives in, his overwhelmingly numerous friends, etc. We also went though all times he had triumphed in face of ridiculous odds. (I first meet Bill when he was a 24 year-old, multiple location, Domino’s Pizza franchisee.) The more we talked about what he had already done, the more his spirit raised up. Sometimes all it takes to face the future is looking back at what you have already accomplished. Lesson: When you are staring at the thing that is scaring you most, do you remember what you have already accomplished?
- You need to live life as if today is your last day. Tomorrow is promised to no man. I know that this is VERY CLICHE. I also know that we all need to be somewhat pragmatic. So in no way am I saying that you should quit your day job today to run away and join the circus. Unless that is exactly what you need to do. As a cancer survivor and someone who has been given more than my share of second chances I have a very acute awareness of how precious and short life really is. There is absolutely zero reason to be miserable. If you don’t love where you are in your life, I have both good and bad news for you. The bad news is that you are exactly where you are today because of the choices you have made. The good news is that if you make the right choices, you can get to exactly where you want to be. Lesson: Warning, the future you want is much closer than it may appear…. But it will take a million small good decisions every day, and the discipline to execute on those decisions. So here’s the tension: You must live like there’s no tomorrow while at the same time planning and working for a better future. Not easy, is it?
- You need to tell the people you love that you love them…. at an annoying frequency. I don’t believe there is any doubt that the people in my life know I love them. But that doesn’t excuse me from telling them that very fact often. Lesson: When was the last time you called a friend or family member just to tell them that you love them? My new goal is to not let a single day go by without saying “I love you” to the people that are most important in my life. Will you join me? The business corollary is do your customers know how much you appreciate their business? If you were arrested for appreciating your customers, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
I don’t know what the future holds for Bill. I do know that he is a winner, and winners win. I also know that to a person, people that know Bill all say, “If anyone can beat leukemia, Bill can!” Will you join me in praying for Bill and his family?
I know Bill would also appreciate your notes of encouragement (even if you don’t know him) over the next few months as he battles this disease. His mailing address is:
Bill Ball C/O Cleveland Clinic
9500 Euclid Avenue
Mail Code: G111-10
Cleveland, Ohio 44195