Earlier this year, I visited one of our company’s locations to deliver training and leadership workshops. As always, I was excited to get into some real conversations and learn with and from my colleagues.
On my first day there, however, the office was half-empty because many people in our Americas region enjoy the flexibility of working from a home office. I couldn’t help but to think, “Was it really worth coming here? Was this well-invested time and money for our organization?”
Then I wondered further: how would one decide whether a trip belonged in the “waste of time” bucket, meaning you’d never do again, or in the much more satisfying “worth it” bucket? Both buckets mean we wake up at 4 am, leave families behind, endure crazy security procedures and return to an even fuller inbox
And in the end, both “buckets” feel okay after a glass of wine.
However, having developed an intolerance for ineffectiveness and waste in any form, I needed to get to the bottom of it and decided right then and there to explore three questions:
- Is this a “waste of time” bucket trip?
If yes, then before future trips, I’d need to understand the underlying reasons so I could either influence the situation in a way that would allow me to say NO to the travel or, preferably, to influence events in a way would turn things around and make the trip meaningful.
- Does this trip belong to the “worth it” bucket
If yes, I’d want to know how to identify such worth quickly so I could focus well and be intentional about the rest of the trip.
- Is there a way to know in advance, which trips will be worth the time and effort?
As I was waiting for my next colleague to arrive, I pulled out my phone and opened Google.
Quickly researching “successful business trip,” I realized that most articles related to the topic are linked to two perspectives.
The first focuses on the comfort of the traveler. That may matter to some people, but I see myself more like George Clooney in “Up in the Air”; I’m not looking for tips on how to “survive” travel. I find a level of discomfort productive. Knowing that even the best travel plans may and often do go wrong keeps me flexible.
The other perspective relates to tips on how to make a good impression, how to present yourself and how to deliver your material. All important stuff but not particularly relevant to what I wanted to crack.
The question of how to decide whether your business trip is worth it and meaningful seemed open.
Then I wondered: what is a business trip, really?
The Oxford Dictionary states that a business trip is: “A visit made to a place for work purposes, typically one involving a journey of some distance.” This was starting to be more interesting. I especially liked the word “purpose.” What is my work purpose? Or even better, what is MY purpose?
I grabbed my notepad to remind myself why I was doing what I was doing.
“I bring the human angle to unleash greatness,” I wrote.
Right. It was starting to make sense, allowing me to refocus on the upcoming next meeting. The bigger point, the bigger learning from this exercise, is that knowing your purpose helps to bring clarity.
I feel grateful that early on in my career I had the opportunity and capacity to understand the benefits of defining my purpose in clear words. This clarity has given me resilience and perspective, and has brought meaning to various situations I’ve found myself in, both professional and personal.
Knowing my purpose lets me quickly navigate and adapt my role in varied environments. I can pinpoint how I can be effective, be of service and add value while disregarding things that don’t matter and accepting what I can’t influence.
This process of checking what I’m doing against what really matters is now automated to such extent that I don’t have to pull out my notepad or reflect for more than a few seconds. I can quickly get on track.
During this business trip, the one that sent me in search of clarity, I decided to consciously observe how I evaluated all I was doing through the lens of my purpose, and then to note the benefits. This thought of “purpose” ran through the back of my mind while in the rest of the meetings, delivering workshops and engaging with colleagues.
After returning home, and pouring a glass of wine, I pulled out my notes for reflection. Here’s a summary of what I was able to achieve by this simple, conscious focus on my purpose, my “why”:
- I easily connected with people
- I was more relaxed and confident
- I entered deeper levels of conversation faster
- I added more value in the form of solutions
- I focused longer without burning much energy
- I disregarded disturbances
- I adapted to changing conditions with less effort
I also asked my colleagues about their experiences with this “focused” me.
Based on their feedback, I helped them to:
- See new perspectives
- Find different ways to open new career paths
- Accept situations
- Take a “load” off their shoulders
- Create a safe zone for sharing
- Feel inspired
Behind each of those points is a person who chose to share their feedback with me.
I am honored!
And because I had the chance through what could have been “wasted time” to unleash the greatness of one leader, one professional, and potentially many other people, they, too, may carry that impact further into the world.
That’s okay. This is who I am. I’m sharing what’s meaningful to me. Each colleague’s statement shows that I was well aligned with my purpose.
“Not bad for a two-day-long business trip,” I thought to myself as I sipped a great Cabernet that evening. Then I answered the three original questions:
- Was this a “waste of time” bucket trip?
No, mine was not. Your trip need not be a waste of time either. Just remind yourself of your purpose, and your focus and perspective will direct you to efforts that will make your trip meaningful.
- Did this trip belong in the “worth it” bucket?
Yes, and now I, and you, have a technique for quickly seeing how to make a trip meaningful.
- Is there a way to know in advance which trips will be worth your time and effort?
Again, yes. Just remind yourself of your purpose and consider how you might fulfill that purpose during the trip.
Knowing what matters most to you is crucial. It’s what knowing your purpose is all about.
Knowing your purpose can guide you in evaluating the success of a business trip just as well as it can help you evaluate the success of your entire year in business—or the success of anything else you choose to focus on.
Knowing your deep motivations brings personal satisfaction, and your company benefits from increased long-term productivity because you perform better when you have clarity. It’s simple mathematics, something business books call “win-win.”
And if that’s so, why do so few people invest time into deepening their self-awareness? Why do so few go beyond ticking the box to confirm that “I went through that training already”?
Hmm. Ready to re-think?
Or better: Ready to think?
I’d love to know.
Dana, really appreciate the approach you are taking to make all of us think just a little bit more and to realize just how important it is to constantly challenge ourselves to be better. And even though you are away from us on any business trip, I know you are making an impact on everyone you touch.
Thank you, Pete! Being away from my family brings the moments of clarity and great perspective of what really matters.
I like the “bring the human angle to unleash greatness”. It reflected in your writing which invites us to put deeper thought on our purpose in everything we do. Keep it up and thanks for sharing!
I am glad my post resonated with you. Defining your purpose is a very personal journey. Aligning your actions with your purpose is not always the easiest route. However, it can certainly be rewarding – just like your comment 🙂
Dana, I love that you are in a place where you look beneath the surface for deeper meaning. After hundreds of business trips in my life, I think 2 bits are most impactful on the measure of success.
1) A clear purpose and intention for the trip – for myself and those I am spending time with.
2) My ability to be present to the space I am in. Sometimes that has meant setting aside the planned agenda and going down a very different path – the most relevant path. We are not static – we are dynamic, so the plans we put together a month or even a week ago, may not be the most relevant in the moment. Creating the space for everyone to be present is the most important factor, in my mind, of a business trip being successful!
Thank you, Jean, for sharing your wisdom! I can relate well to your points. I noted down to be “purposeful, present and fluid” in the same time. What a nice challenge for my next week’s trip. 🙂