The Search for Impact

Let’s face it; sometimes our jobs are pretty tough.  The project we’re on is challenging.  We can’t help but ask, why are we doing this?  What is the point?  There are times or situations that, when in the weeds, we can’t see the impact we are having.

Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect and think about what projects I’ve done that have had impact.  Not ‘what is my life’s calling?’  But rather, what am I doing that is important?  One of my most interesting projects was the City of Hope National Cancer Center Radiation Oncology Renovation. That’s big name for a project that was essentially a massive renovation to a 1971 building to put three large linear accelerator vaults into a basement by essentially knocking out a whole side of the basement. The project was technically challenging, had a time-consuming review by OSHPD, intensive scrutiny by OSHPD field staff, a change in architects, switched to design build from design bid build, and more. 


While keeping things moving, owners happy, bosses happy, and clients happy, I was having trouble with being happy. Sound familiar? What could I do about it? I got to thinking about the project, and who I’m ultimately doing this for. Linear accelerators basically send protons hurtling down a path at near relativistic speeds, in such a way that they smash into things and, as it turns out, fight cancer. Sounds like science fiction, but hey, its science.


I started at KPFF one week after I got married. At my wedding, my mother was undergoing chemo therapy to fight three different forms of breast cancer. I’ve never seen her as frail, or small, or vulnerable as I did at my wedding. But she is a fighter; she powered through and beat cancer.  I’m happy to report that, 12 years later, she is still cancer free. So, as I’m sitting at my desk, dealing with ‘emergency’ RFI’s and change orders that need to be presented to one of the toughest OSHPD field engineers out there, I realized that I’m doing this for my mother. Not that she was actually going to City of Hope for treatment.  But someone’s mother, or sister, or brother or father was. What I was doing was helping people just like my mom. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment of clarity helped me take on the challenge for what it was.  I met it head on. It took some of the sting out. It didn’t make it easy, or even very much fun. But there was a reason. No, I wasn’t curing cancer. I wasn’t solving world peace or the energy crisis.  But I was having an impact for those in my community, for my mother.

So, when I’m faced with work challenges, I realize I need to shift my focus, find the impact, and enjoy the struggle. It’s worth it, when you think about it.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” - Maya Angelou, American Poet

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