Category Archives: Blogs

Living with Cancer in Silicon Valley

Enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

Enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

My cancer returned Monday. In not exactly a subtle way. I have two tumors, one of which is 11×8 centimeters. They are messing with my left psoas muscle which explains all the back and leg pain I have been having.

Being the occasional idiot I am about ignoring pain, I waited too long to get medication. Now I am on an intense mixture: the morphine is the platform, the percocet dulls the spikes, and the neurontin is nothing less than a bomb going off, so thankfully it’s reserved for sleep, something I have not had for weeks.

This is my life. I am living with cancer, I have had three major operations — here comes #4, I have had a frightening amount of chemo, and I lost a year of my life right before joining Atlassian. I can struggle or I can embrace it. Those of you who know me understand I have only one option. Not because I consciously choose. I am just innately positive.

Lean into it. A shrink once gave me this wonderful Zen advice about facing challenges and problems: they aren’t going away, so you can choose to fight them or embrace them. Embracing them means finding the positive, and turning the badness into goodness. Cancer is an opportunity.

I sincerely believe cancer has been more positive than negative. Thanks to my first battle, I had time to focus on my son, who was struggling with teenage issues, and help him make a remarkable turnaround to a focused young man. It was in him, but I learned how to be a better parent thanks to cancer.

I learned how much love there is in this world. All you have to do is get in touch with it, and it’s everywhere. Even out here in the social-2.0-blogging-weird-o-sphere, the connections can humble you. People may be conversing in Seemingly Strange Ways like Twitter, but there are humans behind those electronic bits and the messages and meaning can lift my spirits. That was the lesson I learned about blogging about cancer and seeing the love come back. My blog inspired people, and the Awesome Karma came back inspiring me through a major surgery.

A friend reminded me: I have a blueprint for this journey. Getting the news Monday about the two tumors sucked. I was upset to say the least. I love my life. Four years ago, I married the most Incredible Woman on the Earth, I bought a new house, and I met this incredible little company called Atlassian. I just love my work. I love living here in California. I am the luckiest guy in the world. My blueprint starts with reminding myself that I do all these things — the ritual Sunday night family dinner, the sandwiches my daughter Brittany brings me while I am sitting here waiting for surgery… the list is long — because I love them. And yes, it includes the work I love.

The first priority on the blueprint is of course getting the right treatment and recovering. But the blueprint includes trying to work when you can. I called a customer Tuesday morning, just 20 hours after getting the news. Willie Doyle had read my blog and wanted to share their agile development story. I love talking to customers and learning what they’re doing. The point is: cancer is not going to stop me from learning new, cool things like this.

Surely I will have to cycle down and let things go during surgery. Right now my biggest challenge is managing this intense concoction of drugs so I can still do the little things I love: like blogging.

Awhile ago I chose to write about personal things in this blog, and not just talk about software, business, Atlassian, and the expected. That’s also part of my blueprint: people have complex, interesting dimensions, and sharing these opens up opportunities.

The Secret Ingredient to Blogs?

(Warning: This ingredient may not be for every blogger.) The ingredient is mixing business and personal issues. Right off the bat, this flies in the face of accepted Public Relations rules. But, the more personal and authentic a blogger can be, the more readers will believe a blog. Why do I say this?

I was honored to have Christine Kent of Ragan’s Media Relations Report cover my story of cancer in this blog. She asked me if there was any upside to executives talking about personal issues in their blog. My response was, “if executives blog honestly and passionately about something personal, there’s no need to figure out if there’s a corporate upside or downside.” The question is not about upside; it should be about authenticity.

People are sick and tired of all the media relations filters. One principle problem with our US Presidential Campaign Death March is everything is filtered down to pablum. No surprise: the one moment Hillary Clinton got emotional in public, the media treated her more positively for her authenticity.

The majority of advice on writing good blogs is keep it short, be punchy, be pithy, be controversial, and the like. While most of this is reasonable advice, speaking from the heart trumps most of this. My longest blogs are my most well read. Another popular piece of advice is have a clear theme or subject for your blogs. Again, I stumbled on mixing business and personal issues at the risk of being scattered, yet today a woman who is a volunteer for Livestrong told me in an email, “I love that it’s corporate and personal at the same time: it’s you. In my work… I have proposed launching blogs with the same natural style. Now I have a good example to show my Board of Directors.” Lesson: Do not obey all the rules. Make your own.

But why mix business and personal issues? Well, it’s not for everyone as I warned at the start. I told Christine Kent it’s Steve Jobs’ business if he wishes to talk about his personal life. Also, the rules are different for public companies.

If you can mix the two, you open the opportunity of showing more passion, more heart, more transparency, and then all that Often Boring Business stuff just might have a chance of being a little more interesting.

Cartoons, Saville Row Suits, and Blogging…

Hugh drawing … have nothing in common, right? Wrong. Not if you are Hugh MacLeod who I first encountered when I saw a business card he designed for Adriana Lukas. Turns out his cartoons are somewhat well known in the UK, he also does marketing for a Saville Row suit business. We went by his shop on the pub crawl he and Robert Scoble organized, and he is a well known blogger as well.

We had just come from the National Gallery where we were drawing so I asked Hugh to do a cartoon in my sketchbook, and here’s what he was so kind enough to do…

I forgot to ask if this was a self-portrait or directed at me.

Pub Crawl in London

Mulligans PubThe last night in London Robert Scoble and Hugh MacLeod organized a pub crawl. Pub #4 was Mulligans in Mayfair. A bit high tone. I had been told Mulligans was great, and when James Governor of Red Monk handed me a nice fresh Guinness, well… what more does one want? That’s James and me in the pic with Mr. Scoble at work videoing in the background.

It was a great to meet James and find a research firm trying a new approach: creating free, open research. Charging for consulting is fine, but the conflict of interest inherent in the approach of the traditional large research firms is questionnable.

There was no shortage of interesting London bloggers, techies, Guinness lovers on the crawl. Lloyd Davis who moderated the panel I spoke on at Onine Information joined for a while. I also met Mark McGuinness of Wishful Thinking.

Exit Stage Right

I made the switch to WordPress having had it with Movable Type. Movable Type was like sticking needles in my eyes. The engineers at Atlassian like it, and while I like them, there’s a reason why WordPress’ community is so large.

27.2 Billion Blogs Are Not Enough

Certainly not. Why else start a blog? Technorati searches 27.2 billion blogs. Surely the world must be in desperate need of another.

Fact is I only can think of sound reasons for not starting a blog. For starters, one should poke hot needles in their eyes before starting a blog. Why? Because…

1. I need another RSS feed like I need a rabid orangutan swinging a sledgehammer at my teeth. I have too little time to read my New York Times subscription. Long ago I gave up on the time commitment the Economist requires. I am still adapting to the stress and guilt of fifteen saved episodes of Saturday Night Live on Tivo. Right. Another blog.

2. How many of the bloggers out there actually were Journalism or English majors? Who taught these people to write? Surely most of them must own The Elements of Style, The Chicago Manual of Style, or some other handy reference on grammar and writing. Surely.

3. After you read Paul Graham, Guy Kawasaki, Joel Spolsky or a few other of your favorites, I am sure there must be a good million bloggers with something equally insightful to say. That requires only 1 in every 27,200 is brilliant. Aren’t these reasonable odds?

4. There are lots of easy to remember URLs available, so snap one up, flail away at your blog, and launch I think it’s available! Or,com. Damn! It’s gone, but or the softer, more introspective, more community-oriented is available and can clearly differentiate you.

5. There are no shortage of opinions on the web, and upon deep inner reflection, I realize I need lots of advice from total strangers grazing out there. It adds an element of risk and excitement to take advice over the Internet from people who may have driven their own financial portfolio into burning oblivion, who recently have been released from some maximum security prison, or whose level of medication has reached the point that only blogging can release their demons. These must be people I need. 27.2. billion of them will not begin to satisfy my lust.

Yes, I can think of countless reasons for not starting a blog. Perhaps even 27.2 billion if I had the time to ponder.

So with that, I am here. Howdy.