Air travel gives us lots of options to catch up, but it’s also an option to look back.
I just had lunch with a colleague who shared with me that he was traveling 95% of the time. I didn’t bother asking if that was based on calendar days, workdays, or hours. At 95% does it really matter? He said he was OK with it because the Wi-Fi on most planes gives him the chance to stay connected; he just wished the connection was faster so that he could get more done.
“…air travel is still unique since it largely eliminates inbound interruption and the time is entirely yours to control.”
Whatever your Road warrior status one thing is certain; business travel takes its toll and it takes up time. So, while there are many resources to help you mitigate the effects of living on top of Everest, I’m going to assume that right now there isn’t much you can do about the amount of time you travel. But air travel is still unique since it largely eliminates inbound interruption and the time is entirely yours to control. So the question I’d like to help you answer is how could you make the best of the time afforded by that unique opportunity?
For me the answer came in the most unexpected and unwelcome of ways.
Fankfurt F&%# Up
When my daughter was just seven weeks old we took her on a trip to a wedding in Germany. If you’ve ever traveled with an infant you know the logistics involved, especially when it’s your first child and you’ve barely figured out how to strap her into a car seat.
We had packed enough equipment to make an expedition across the Sahara look ill prepared. Most important I had my camera bag; an Olympus OM with a dozen assorted lenses and filters and a camcorder, which contained the video of our daughter’s first seven weeks. This was old-school, no smart phone, no cloud backups.
The flight landed in Frankfurt where we had a tight connection by train to Bonn. The plane ran late but German trains never do. So we rushed through the airport to the train station with minutes to spare. However, the escalator and the elevator to the train platform four flights down were both out of commission.
I gathered up everything and made trips up and down the stairs as my daughter and her mom waited for the train. When we were finally on board we both let out a collective sigh of relief as the train pulled away. That’s when I asked the dreaded questions I already knew the answer to, “Have you seen the camcorder?”
I got one of those you’re-kidding-me-right? looks from my wife,
I scoured our luggage hoping I had shoved it in one of the pockets. But it soon became clear that the camcorder was nowhere to be found. In my haste I had left in the baggage cart.
I was devastated. The camcorder, and, most importantly, the video it contained of my daughter’s first seven weeks were gone–forever.
The only thing I could do to stop beating myself up was to start writing as much as I could remember about those first seven weeks on the long plane flight home. With the memories and the emotions fresh in my mind it flowed effortlessly.
Little did I know that was only the beginning.
For the next 16 years I’d use the time in every airport and on nearly every plane to keep that diary up to date. I recorded every memory, every sensation, every feeling and raw emotion. It started off as my penance but it ended up as something extraordinary, a diary of her life and my journey through it.
“…it’s all there at an emotional resolution that could never have been captured by any camera, no matter how many megapixels.”
As best I can tell I must have flown about four million miles in the time it took to write that diary. I stopped around the time she was sixteen. But here’s the thing, I know that I’d ever have found the time to write it other than on those plane flights. Few of us have a routine that affords us the luxury to stop and contemplate and think for hours on end on a weekly basis. What was otherwise a mindless commute between points A and B had instead become an opportunity to reflect and record her life through her eyes and mine. Four years later when my son came along I did the same for him.
When I go back and look at those diaries I discover a world I would otherwise have long since forgotten. From first steps to first dates, it’s all there at an emotional resolution that could never have been captured by any camera, no matter how many megapix. 70,000 words, a full-length book that came to be in time that would otherwise have been mostly wasted.
It’s YOUR Time
So what do you do with your time on top of Everest; Spreadsheets, email, surf 50 channels of satellite TV? How do you make those millions of miles count? Because that time is yours to choose to do with as you like. In my case a few careless moments lead to the realization that air travel is still one of the rare opportunities to sit back, reflect, and capture the fleeting memories that we can otherwise never recapture.
Something to think about the next time you’re watching clouds float by wondering why the onboard WiFi is so slow.
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.