A Three Day Business Trip: A non-traditional trip report.
On Sunday I left for a very quick business trip. Two days of travel for one day of business.
This particular trip was interesting.
On day one, on the way to my destination there was a power outage at a major airport in the US. It caused havoc all over the world for those trying to travel to one place or another. For some reason, on this day I was not affected and got from point a to c with a layover at b. I traveled with no issue or delay.
Once at the airport I caught a cab to my hotel. It was a typical cab ride. Although I tried to strike up a conversation with the driver by asking him where he was from, there just wasn’t a lot of engagement. Maybe it was simply a factor of it being late at night. Or, it could have been because he was playing some awesome Marvin Gay. So I got in, arrived at my hotel, paid him for the service and then he went his way and I went mine.
On day two, while standing in my hotel lobby in Washington DC, I decided to make more out my travels and struck up a conversation with one of the employees as I prepared to depart for my meeting. I could have easily walked through the hotel doors and simply walked to my meeting, but instead something told me to ask him the same simple question: “Where are you from?”
He indicated Ethiopia.
I told him that I had been to Eritrea and other places in the region, but had not set foot in Ethiopia. I followed that comment by telling him that even though I had not been there in person, I knew many others from his homeland and I actually knew a little bit about his country.
He kind of looked at me in a way that said, yeah right.
So I mentioned one of my virtually connected social media friends. You know one of those linkages on one social media site or another that you connect with for a variety of reasons: interests, people, places and things. This connection in particular started out literally as two people who would have never met had it not been for a mutual effort that we both were involved in and as a result, a connection was made. Initially it was just that, a connection, nothing more. But questions were asked and because of the conversation that ensued, a much deeper connection was made. Commonality between the dots established, and as a result a much deeper friendship is unfolding. Not sure yet, but sometime soon I will ask her if she likes Marvin Gay. Like the hotel employee, originally this connection and new found friend is also from Ethiopia.
Although an unrelated connection, she loomed in the back of my mind and I asked this hotel employee if he had ever heard of Axum? You see, I wanted to make it evident that I actually was being genuine by drawing a connection between my new friend who lives in the US just like him. For her Axum holds a very personal, physical and emotional linkage to her life journey and that of her family.
After I asked him the question, let’s just say his face lit up and he said, I was there 2 months ago. He then proceeded to pull out his phone and show me all the pictures he had taken on his trip back to his homeland with his family. We spent several minutes talking about his family, talking about his country, talking about his trip, talking about the beauty of this area of the world, and the goodness of the people. We left each other and simply shook hands, hugged and smiled.
There we were, a hotel employee working and living in DC who was originally from Ethiopia. Me, a guy from Kansas in DC on business. And, indirectly, a third external social media connection. Unknown until that conversation, three indiscriminate travelers who all shared common interest and experiences.
Had we not taken the opportunity to simply talk to each other, this moment would have been lost in the noise and business of it all. The world of six degrees of separation/connection would have been one, two and three less personal abstract connections strong and they would have remained hidden in the obscurity and isolation of it all. In the world of human interaction and superficial indifference, had we not taken this fleeting moment to speak with each other, our connectedness would have never become known. Had we not talked, this physical spot and location on our collective paths would have simply remained insignificant terra firma that two passersby were using to get from one point to another while dismissing everything in its way. It made me think about the importance and value of human interaction and engagement. It made me think of:
- The steps that took us to be there, in that moment, and why or how we ended up in that hotel lobby, together—talking to each other.
- The rich subtlety of making the most out of each opportunity to seek and find the connections around us.
- The ability to take the time to simply engage with and expand our understanding of others.
- The influence of new found human experience and connections along our journeys and actively participating in the journeys unfolding to find the unfound—discover the undiscovered—hear the unheard—and speak the unspoken.
- The importance of sharing snapshots in time that far too often get lost in the obscurity of busy schedules and an indifference towards each other.
- The value of a conversation, a handshake, a hug and a smile.
I spoke with this kind soul, literally moments before heading to an all-day meeting. Moments that easily could have been used looking at my smart phone. Moments that could have provided any number of excuses why not to engage, to not relax and/or slow down and make this morning last, to not look around and smell the roses, and not capturing the essence and potential importance of each moment and in the profound return on investment in using each to create and share lasting snapshots along our journeys.
You know, those moments filled with distractions, moments filled with excuses, and moments where because of an arbitrary imposition of “time management” I would not see the human network of “Aspen” trees around me. Those moments that once lost, can never be regained. Those fleeting moments where we all have a choice to look at someone and say either one two things:
1) “You know, I am a really busy man/woman. I have too many things going on and I just don’t have time to slow down and see the world around me. I just don’t have the time or patience to interact with it and my fellow humans. I really have to get to my really important business meeting.”
2) “You know, my meeting doesn’t begin for another 45 minutes. It will take me 10 minutes to get to the meeting place and hey, rather than just sit in an empty meeting room slurping coffee, I wonder what this person’s story is? Where are you from?”
You know, I have been in this place before and chosen not to engage and just focus on getting to where I need to go and then attending one of “those” typical meetings and the returning home. You know those really important meetings where we all believe we will solve world hunger and yet:
- You have an agenda that quickly gets lost in the discussion with everyone going off on tangents and meeting organizers trying feverously to return to it like it is a sacred schedule that ultimately will see our arriving at nirvana and true enlightenment.
- You get inundated with either really relevant or irrelevant power point slides.
- The intent is to have open discussion and collaboration where something immediately and substantively results.
- Where unfortunately, discussion and collaboration ultimately turn into an ADD laden excursion down multiple tangents, and one or two people seem to rise to the top dominating the conversation(s) and everyone else just sits there quietly and politely getting perturbed.
- Those meetings where everyone else other than those two people dominating their really important input, are so fed up they get on their smart phones and conduct business or start planning for the next meeting
During this particular meeting I was kind of straddling the fence on this one.
- It really was a good meeting and a lot of good information was being discussed, but there were personalities slightly dominating some parts of the discussion all day.
- Unfortunately I also had a major proposal effort I was supporting that needed to be delivered to the sponsor by close of business. Of all days, me in DC, the person I was supporting was back in Kansas, the group we were responding to in yet another state. So I was ignoring every other email except for the ones coming from the person I was supporting. Then following the all-day meeting, I ended up on the phone for the next two hours on the telephone and concurrently trying to read a furious exchange of interspersed multiple last minute emails trying to get the proposal finalized and submitted.
And all along, in the back of my mind, I was contemplating the 2:00am wake up to get to the airport for the return trip to my office for two more important meetings.
- One of those would have me speaking on two different initiatives to various leaders in my organization.
- The other, was a review of eight proposals that I would not be able to read on my smart phone, did not have or simply would not make time to fire up my computer in the hotel room, and because of that choice would have to review them in the two hours I would have before my first meeting once I returned back to the office.
And with my return trip causing me a little distraction, I found myself coming out of my daydream of my next morning’s travel nearing that point in the cycle of meetings where they:
- Reach that ultimate point of burn out where someone gets irritated and says “No, please don’t interrupt me, let me finish my thought.”
- It is kind of like a movie. There is an introduction. Then the rising action. Excitement builds to a climax. Then those running the meeting realize the meeting is about to end ant they hit a turning point. Ultimately they end. As the meeting plot unfolds, they begin with “everyone” engaged, “everyone” gets excited and effectively participates, then “everyone” gets bored, then giddy and slap happy where everything becomes a humorous anecdote to really getting something accomplished. Then everyone shakes each other’s hand and walks away with some wondering what just happened.
And, where most everyone arrives at the end of the meeting being left with the fundamental truisms of meetings: You know, those lingering wonderings of the “Tao of OK:”
- Did we accomplish something?
- If not, can we flesh out the agenda with information that will show we did?
- What next?
- Where to from here?
- Did I just learn something or did I miss the point?
- Did I make a connection with someone that I didn’t know before?
- Did I leave this group simply by walking out and going to the next event, or did I shake someone’s hand, did I give someone a hug (ok, got it, not politically correct but still human), did I leave someone with a smile?
- Did I just lose 8 hours of my life to a meeting and three days of travel?
- Do I really have to write a report about a meeting?
Then after the “meeting” was finished and I had supported the follow on two hour frenzy of proposal submission, I found myself the following morning on day three in a cab on a ride back to the airport for my return flight (did I say it was very early as I had to get back for the two other really important meetings in the afternoon).
Similar to the cab ride that brought me to the hotel, it was a cab. It was dark. We traveled the same route that got me to the hotel, but like Heraclitus musings on a river, it was not the same. The orientation and direction were different. One was late at night, the other was early in the morning. One with one cab driver. This one with another. So technically I did not roll with tires on the same road twice.
After I got into the cab and asked him where he was from, I found myself having an interesting conversation with a cab driver who was from Morocco. He asked if I had ever been there. I said no but it was on my bucket list. I told him that I had been in other areas close by regionally. We compared notes, and then literally spent the entire 20 minute ride honing in on the uniqueness of this moment in time and our common linkages despite having never met each other before.
So what did we talk about during the ride?
The power of using education to transform humanity for a better future.
We didn’t focus on using education to socially engineer one group or another. We didn’t focus on infusing agenda into curricula to underscore one philosophical or ideological perspective over another. We focused on the potentially pure and beneficial nature of human interaction to educate and inform each other, us—you and me. We talked about our ability to use that interaction as a means to underscore a more peaceful and positive collective approach to the future. A common perspective of two people connected by a taxi ride about a world that seems hell bent on perpetuating difference. A common desire that despite our differences, we could use education to mitigate not infuse hate around every corner, every issues, every opinion. A discussion about a common hope that rather than use education as a means to instill difference, hate and its polarizing and destructive manifestation but as a means to underscore our commonality. It was not an endorsement or indictment on any educational system; it was a simple discussion on the power of education--formal and informal.
Who would have thought? A common perspective discovered in a 20 minute taxi ride that was held by two cosmic travelers, previously unknown to each other and coming from two different worlds. Two strangers that shared a common belief about the importance of education and how we could use it as a bridging mechanism to inform and help us positively navigate our differences. Two passersby that held common views about the goodness in each of us, the pursuit of that goodness and the value of positivity for our collective future, despite our differences.
It could have been a typical cab ride. Only with passing questions of where are you going, and how are you going to pay. A very quiet ride, with nothing said in between. We would not have had a conversation and expressed our collective hope for a future devoid of all the crap and emotional sensationalism we see in the media today and the divisive divide and conquer approaches to it all. He would have sat in his seat, me in mine and we would have lost these early morning moments in silence. Although the time was short we actually talked about some pretty heavy issues. Two travelers unknown to each other until that moment that somehow linked up along a journey via a cab ride.
His parting shot to me was "Dear friend, we must do better to help educate all of us on peace, love, acceptance and caring--vice hate." All I said in return as he left me at the airport was "Agreed. Peace be with you as well my friend." We shook hands following a conversation between a dude from Ks and another dude from Morocco now living in DC. And as travelers, his journey continued in one direction, mine in another.
Then on the return flight at my layover airport, we had a gate change. I was walking to the new gate and one of the courtesy drivers stopped and said; “Hey friend, hop on I will take you to wherever you are going!”
Now that statement alone could be a discussion all by itself and I may write something about this experience but I found the short conversation with this guy equally interesting.
I asked him where he was from, and he said Egypt. I told him of the nearby places I had been and we just kind of went from there. After about 30 seconds of conversation to understand each other, this guy pensively looked around and then slowly raised the sleeve on his right arm and showed me a tatoo of a cross on his arm.
All he said was I am "Coptic."
I asked him how long he had been in the US (3 years). He was excited that I knew some things about his country and the region. We continued to compare notes. He talked about his family, his wife, his kids. I talked to him about my wife, my daughters, my dad, my family. As we continued to share our stories I asked him if the events in Egypt and the region over the past 7 years specifically had been scary. He mentioned some specifics and then despite all the things that have happened in Egypt recently, he just smiled and touched my arm and said “So to answer your question--Yes, but there is hope for a better tomorrow!” That was how our conversation ended as I got off the courtesy vehicle. He went his way, I went mine.
As I took the steps to get on the plane back home, all I could think about was his final words to me as he turned his vehicle around looking for the next person he could find and say “hop on I will take you to wherever you are going!” I thought about our fleeting interaction and his parting words of hope and the common thread I had experienced over the past three days. I wondered what his next experience would be? One similar to mine, or one of silence only accentuated by the conversational sandwich of: “What gate will you be going to?” Silence. And then a superficial and obligatory: “Thank You” at the end.
So for me this was not only an interesting three days of travel for a business trip and an all-day meeting. This was a lesson about taking the time to see and experience life to its fullest. Rather than a quite ride to the airport, a quite flight to my destination, a quite stay in a hotel room, interacting in a meeting and then repeating it all until I got home, I decided to do something different. I took this as a three day opportunity for interaction and discussions with some really interesting humans. Had I not taken the time, it would have easily been just that; three days that would have simply seen me disconnect from the world as I got on a plane, arrive at my hotel, attend my meeting, get back to the airport and return home literally without one conversation with anyone other than those with whom I was conducting business with.
In the grand scheme I just wondered, how marginal would this trip have been, if that was the collective approach I took?
So my approach to and journey of finding my own 6 degrees of separation continues. A journey that embraces each step I take and in this case each business trip I go on.
The simple nature of a three day business trip that just might underscore to each of us that if we just take a second to see the potential connections around us, they are in fact right there next to us just waiting to be discovered. Despite or regardless of how many important meetings we attend and how busy we really are or aren’t.
This three day business trip just left me contemplating that life just might be a little more important and interesting if we just take the time to engage. If we just take the time and try to see the path we are on—however heavy or less traveled it may be. If we take the time to embrace our surroundings we might find ourselves traveling within and interacting to the benefit of insight along the way. By doing so, we just might find those hidden gems of connection along our journey and yes, make our world a better place as a result, and in the end discover that we aren’t that different after all.
More to follow.
For other works by Joel Anderson: https://www.bebee.com/@joel-anderson
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author
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