By Pete Atherton
In competitive sports at all levels, we often hear the phrase “Own it!” It might be a golfer facing a tough golf course, a baseball pitcher facing a tough batter, a football lineman facing a tough guy across from him or a mountain climber facing a steep cliff. While it is encouraging for a coach to say “you can do it,” the mindset “you own it” is much more empowering, deeper and enduring.
Business is also very competitive, and sports metaphors are often used in the workplace. Early in my career when situations arose, I recall more than once a boss telling me “you own this.” To me, that was much more than saying I was responsible. It meant my boss trusted me with something important, and empowered me to get it done. After gaining some experience and confidence, I would step up before being told and say “I own this!” And, later as a manager, it thrilled me when my employees would tell me they “own it.”
I believe we can deal with a chronic disease like IgG deficiency in a very similar way. We can let the disease own us, or we can own it. If we let it own us, then we give in to the sick feelings that make us feel miserable, and give up doing things we want to do like having an exciting career, contributing to society and building friendships. If we own the disease, we put it in its place, manage it and get on with our lives. In fact, we can really enjoy our lives!
I often had the urge to tell friends or people at work about my common variable immune deficiency (CVID). I wanted their sympathy and some allowance that I may, at times, not be at my best. But I resisted that temptation because I did not want that to be the focus of who I am. I did not want colleagues to think about my disease when they talked with me, to carry that burden or treat me differently. Rather, I wanted our collaborations and contributions to be what colleagues think about and remember. Sometimes it was challenging when I was sick at work or had to get away for infusions, but I worked hard to get things done and communicated by email or phone. In fact, infusion time became a welcomed quiet time away from the hustle of the office.
One of my favorite athletes is Greco-Roman wrestler Jeff Blacknick who had the same wonderful high school wrestling coach I did. Jeff qualified for the 1980 Olympics, but the U.S. boycotted the games. In 1982, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had surgery and radiation therapy. With his cancer in remission, Jeff then qualified for the 1984 Olympics and won a gold medal. He was one of the nicest unassuming people you could ever meet, even when the cancer came back. The way I saw it: Jeff owned his cancer, it did not own him.
Now I hardly think about my CVID. There are far better things to think about like my beautiful wife and our nice transition into retirement, our children and first grandchild, traveling, working out at the gym or biking along the river, playing sports or bridge with neighbors, and the startup company I am helping out.
To “own it” does not change the physical reality of a disease, but it sure can change how we can really live in spite of it.