“It’s not you, it’s me…” Or at least that’s how the email may as well have started. Monday morning began with an email letting all employees know that operations had ceased… effective immediately. What. The. Actual. Eff. I’ve never empathized with Carrie’s post-it break up more in my life.
So, I wanted to live the millennial dream? So, I chose this virtual job, sold most of my things and moved back home in order to be able to work while I travel? With one simple email, the bubble was burst. Now what?
I spent the rest of the day soul-searching on the streets of Barcelona (cue world’s tiniest violin), suspended somewhere between disbelief, shock, and fear. I must find the silver lining. There must be a lesson to be learned. Isn’t that what all of the great coming-of-age novels preach to us?
Today, in particular, was a great day for some eat-pray-love style “me time”. After all, Julia Roberts isn’t the only one who can have life-affirming moments while stuffing her face with foreign delicacies.
Pushing past the initial anxiety and concern (or rather, bottling it up for later when I look at my bank account), I decided to focus on how much a career can emulate travel. Or rather, since I’m stuck abroad while I try to figure out my next steps, what can travel teach us about our careers?
Do it once, but do it well. Travel makes you more efficient:
Preparing before an outing has become one of my favorite parts of traveling. I plan routes on a map, research where the locals hang out for more authentic experiences, and find the best off-the-beaten-path restaurants.
When I apply this same attitude to work, I become a preparation machine – organizing emails, prioritizing tasks and checking off items from my to-do list like a champ. Not only will shifting your paradigm lead to greater efficiency, but it will also lead to higher quality work, which leads to greater client satisfaction. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Laser focus and productivity at work can also lead to true detachment outside of the office. With more free time, what will you choose to explore during your post-work hours?
Don’t be so stubborn. There is more than one way to do something:
All that preparation I just humble-bragged about? Yeah, well I forgot to check what time the metro closed, and that left my wife and I completely stranded in Beijing in the middle of the night. We were left with no metro, not a cab in sight and no way to communicate with anyone.
Luckily, we remembered that we had a card with our temporary address translated into Chinese, so the bike-taxi driver that we managed to find was able to take us to our apartment (guardian angels were working overtime that night!).
The point is, there can be multiple, sometimes unexpected, solutions to a problem. If something isn’t working, it’s worth taking the time to think through alternatives.
The dumbest question is the one left unasked. It’s ok to ask for help:
My wife is a fluent Spanish speaker, yet sometimes she cannot understand the words used in Spain, as they are different to the Spanish she grew up speaking with her Mexican family. Her solution? To ask.
Occasionally, someone will give her a bewildered look, as if you to say, “You obviously speak Spanish, but you seriously don’t know what that means?” Yet, she still asks. More often than not, the other person will kindly explain the meaning of the word or phrase in question, and we all go on with our day.
The same applies to work-oriented problems. At the end of the day, the only person left in the dark, suffering from unclear communication, is you. Throw embarrassment to the wayside and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or a different explanation. You’ll be amazed how much faster you can find a solution, or how much better you can do your work, when you truly understand what is wanted of you.
When, not “if”. When things go wrong (and they will), don’t panic:
I’ve yet to meet another traveler who doesn’t have a horror story about missed flights, lost luggage, stolen wallets, or visa problems. Whether you’re caught in the middle of a torrential downpour or are lost in a city where no one speaks your language, try not to panic. Panic won’t make an umbrella and matching rain boots magically appear, nor make you suddenly become fluent in French.
Travel mishaps have helped me develop a three-step process that I also employ at work. When something goes wrong, 1) take a mindful pause, 2) breathe, and 3) act proactively.
These steps also help deal with the minutiae of daily life like getting caught in bad traffic on the way to work, dealing with challenging personalities and oh, I don’t know, waking up to sudden unemployment.
Like travel, I don’t necessarily know where my career path will take me. Sometimes you just need to wander with the best intentions, take the time to reflect about what you want in life, then update your resume and hope for the best!