Ten days ago I departed from Boston Logan airport. Today I’m returning. In between were speeches, workshops, vacation, and a little bit of insight into what I do and why I do it.
On this trip I spent time in Cleveland; New York; the glorious airport in Newark; Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah; and Burlington, Stowe, and Woodstock, Vermont.
I slept in a rustic lodge, a quaint old inn with a four-poster bed, a skyscraper, a generic Marriott, and a massive two-room suite in a pile of masonry that was once the Ohio Board of Education building.
I told Oracle developers not to use jargon, supplement manufacturers that health comes from habits and good food, and PR people that press releases are useless. (If you poke people in the eye with wit, logic, and proof, they actually like it.)
Five flights, a train trip, and long car rides were tolerable. Delays weren’t so charming. I sat for hours on the tarmac in Cleveland, scoffed at the trash and bad manners of travelers connecting in Newark, arrived in an unfamiliar state at 1:30 in the morning, got stuck for an hour in a cab waiting for an accident to clear in the midtown tunnel, and landed in the tiny Provo airport when the plane couldn’t wait out the thunderstorms in Salt Lake City.
I ate morels in Vermont, the world’s most dreadful sandwich in JFK airport (unavoidable), and a fantastic burger in Utah.
I got to spend 4 glorious days of this in the mountains in the company of no one but my wife, Kimberley, which was awesome. I spent 6 days in the company of travelers, audiences, and myself in hotel rooms, which was work.
I also got to see the carvings of a man obsessed with circuses;bike miles out into Lake Champlain on a narrow causeway; share stories with a guy my age, born in Cuba, and living out the American dream;dine with an old friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years; watch the world’s cutest 2-year old dragging a tiny Hello Kitty rollaboard through security with her dad; and connect with my brother who was randomly speaking in the same city I was.
And the mountains. Vermont was green and breathtaking with infinite views and waterfalls. Provo was unexpectedly dramatic with the sun setting behind snowy mountains.
I learned a few things.
I know there are plenty of road warriors and author/speakers who travel way more than me. When I was at Forrester I had lots of weeks like this. But this feels different. I’m in charge of my own schedule now. I can choose to knock myself silly by cramming trips together and sandwiching a vacation between — or not. When you’re your own boss, you know the cost and value of a trip like this, and if you decide it’s worth it, there’s no one to whine to. It was worth it.
I learned that if you’re watching what you eat, you can plan every meal on a trip like this — where you’ll eat it, when you’ll eat it, what kind of things you’ll eat — and avoid the stupid choices that stress on the road creates. I travel with carefully chosen snacks. My mantra regarding all the free or obligatory road food — the dreadful white-bread sandwiches, generic chocolate cake, and lame choices in airports and on planes — was this: “I didn’t come here to eat.” That allowed me to be sensible when it made sense, and to actually enjoy the peak food experiences that Kimberley and I deserved in Vermont.
I learned that if you’re trying to help and know what you’re talking about, people will always listen. I was nervous about these speeches and workshops, because Oracle developers, supplement manufacturers, and PR people aren’t my natural audiences. But everybody has to write, and everybody hates bullshit. So they listened, and dug into the workshop exercises in hopes of learning to be better.
When you’re under duress when traveling, you tighten up. So look around. The Cuban guy, the Hello Kitty tyke, and the mountains in Provo lifted my spirits and fed my soul. Even as my flight from Newark to Vermont departed very, very late, I got to see a dramatic show as lightning flashed within clouds half a mile outside the plane windows. It was scary. But it was also beautiful.
And I’m unexpectedly finding how much I like people. I’m an introvert inside the shell of a bombastic smartass. Individual interactions wear me out. But people and the ways they approach their challenges are fascinating. Somehow, what I do is no longer a job. It’s just a way to connect. Yes, I make money from the people who are interested in what I have to say, or need access to the talents I’ve developed in 35 years of work. But at the base of it, whether I’m giving a speech, answering a frustrated audience member, or writing a blog post, I’m just trying to connect with you around something that matters. And that seems worth doing.