How it all began…


From the book Zen and the Art of Moto Taxi Survival:

When I stepped out into the blinding glare of a Roissy morning, little did I know I’d feel like a different person, by the time I got to my hotel. I was a senior web manager with one of Europe’s top technology companies, overseeing a team of 20+ associates, running projects that spanned the enterprise in 25 countries on 5 continents worldwide. When I wasn’t on conference calls with Japan, China, Korea, or Singapore, I was coordinating marketing activities with colleagues throughout Europe, Latin America, and ANZ. I was on-call pretty much 24/7, my days often started around 4:30 a.m., and the action could keep coming till around 10:00 p.m. A 40-hour work week was a nice thought, usually reserved for lulls when my European colleagues were on vacation for the month of August. That dreary spring day was nowhere near August, and there was work to be done.

I’d flown to Charles de Gaulle International Airport on the red-eye, hoping to get a jump on my meeting schedule before my American colleagues arrived the next day. This was my third business trip of the year, and it was barely March. It was also my second trip to the Paris area in less than a month. And another was in the early planning stages.

Groan. 

You might think this was a great thing. Who wouldn’t love going to Paris – let alone three times a year?

Well, I, for one.

Looking back, it seems odd that I would feel the way I did. After working for a global corporation based in Paris, France, for four years, I’ve been stateside since March, 2014. How time flies. And how different my life is now, compared to then.

When I tell my current coworkers about my last job — when I tell current coworkers about my last job, actually — they almost always tell me how envious they are of my past opportunity. The chance to travel, the chance to spend time in Paris… What could be wrong with that?

See, here’s the thing — traveling to Paris for fun and pleasure is a very different experience than traveling there for business. You’re not there to enjoy the cuisine and take long, langorous walks by the Seine. You’re going there for work.  And when you’re working in an environment where people normally fly around the world as a matter of course, it doesn’t actually seem like that big a deal. Everybody does it. A lot. It’s just part of your life. It’s just part of your regular day. Talking to people all over the planet and flying to and from to visit them, is just what you do for your work.

Looking back, the contrast between my “grounded” life now, and my life in a global corporate environment seems like night and day. They really are two different things, and “going global” doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I’m one of those people who really took to it. I lived in Europe for several years, back in the late 1980s (before the Berlin Wall came down and East and West reunified throughout Europe), and I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic a number of times, since then. I actually grew up in a very global village — literally. We had one stoplight in town, just down the block from the little grocery store, but because there was an international agency headquartered there, you could walk down the street and encounter people from anywhere and everywhere in the world.

So, “doing the global thing” came naturally to me.

However, having to haul myself all over creation in back-to-back trips, left something to be desired.

I discuss this a lot more in the book.

Strange to think it was a year ago…


Not quite as romantic as you'd like to think...

The usual view from my hotel room. Not quite as romantic as you’d expect.

… that I landed in Paris and hopped on that moto taxi to my hotel.

It’s strange to think I used to go to Paris a lot, period.

But I did. And I have to say I’m glad I didn’t have to go this year.

Over the period of 2010-2014, I made annual “pilgrimages” to Paris for work. Politically, it was required, because company headquarters were in the Paris area, and it was important to be introduced to the “right people” — and be seen talking to those right people.

Now, sitting in my US home, surrounded by five feet of snow on the ground, it’s wild to think back about how usual it was, just to pick up and go. You got your marching orders from management, you looked at your calendar, you looked at the calendars of the people you were supposed to meet with… you made your reservations, arranged for coverage at home, and you flew to France and back. You just did it.

It was never easy — for plenty of reasons I describe in my book (don’t worry, I’ll describe them here on this blog, too, as the weeks and months go on). But you had to go… or you’d get lost in the shuffle of transatlantic office politics.

So I — and a lot of people I worked with — went.  For a few days. For a week. Sometimes several weeks. Considering how slowly decisions got made, and how easy it was for plans to go off the rails if you weren’t watching closely, it would have made more sense, at times, to go for a few months. But if you’ve got a family to support, with kids in school or other domestic responsibilities, that’s not terribly feasible.

Unless you take everyone with you. It could be fun. Provided everyone is up for it.

In any case, that’s a rare phenomenon — especially in the States. I can’t think of many Americans who would gladly pull up roots, even for a few months, and go abroad. It sounds good on the surface, but when you get into the reality of things — the different language, the different customs, the scarcity of luxuries we take for granted here — it gets a lot less appealing.

In any case, it’s Monday morning, and I’ll be heading off to work in a little bit. My life is remarkably staid and steady, these days, the bad weather notwithstanding, and my regular routine is… well… regular. I have a much better commute now, than a 7-hour flight to France, and I’m living pretty much the same way that most folks around me do.

But a year ago, this time, that was not the case at all.

And it’s kind of cool to look back on it and remember (from a safe distance) just how out of the ordinary it was.

Winter’s here – let’s run away to Paris!


paris-weather-feb52015

Doesn’t it look nice? (Source: Weather.com – http://www.weather.com/weather/5day/l/FRXX0076:1:FR)

 

I used to have to travel to France for work on a regular basis. Usually in the beginning of the year, when organizational changes had been announced at Paris HQ, and I needed to get some “face time” with my new French colleagues.

I know… life is hard. “Having” to travel to France for work is a wonderful problem to have.

Unless it’s in the winter, when the weather starts to turn really bad at home.

Just look outside. If you’re in the northeastern U.S., like I am, things aren’t looking all that great. There’s friggin’ snow everywhere, with more on the way. Right now, it’s coming down in soggy little “blops” that won’t be much fun to clean up before I leave for work, later this morning. I hear snow plows driving by my house. It’s still dark outside. This doesn’t look promising.

Sign of the times – 2015
(Source: WBUR http://www.wbur.org/2015/02/02/boston-snow-stats)

I wouldn’t mind being in Paris, right about now. It’s 39 degrees (F)  and sunny. It seems is unfair that I’m stuck here in below-freezing temps. Within a few days, though, that will change on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s going to warm up even more, but it’s going to get cloudy. And while Paris can be quite beautiful even on the most overcast of days, cloudy skies are still cloudy.

No matter how attractive your destination, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, it’s not much fun. And if you’re going for work, rather than pleasure, it’s even less entertaining. You take the red-eye, show up jet-lagged and disoriented, and all the romance in the world is pretty much lost on you. The sights aren’t nearly as exotic, and even the most beautiful language starts to sound like gravel. Firing on two out of six cylinders after 7 hours in a flying tuna can, surrounded by all sorts of folks, doesn’t make for great sight-seeing or epicurean delight. Jet lag will suck the joy out of anything and everything – including Paris.

Plus, leaving your family at home to fend for themselves in multiple snowstorms and power outages… that’s not much fun. For those who make enough money to hire maintenance companies or plow guys to keep their property snow-and-ice-free, it’s one thing. And for those who have a bunch of family members who are ready, willing, and able to clean up, it’s not necessarily so terrible. But if you’re the one who normally cleans up after the latest storm, leaving the country on business can be stressful for everyone.

You can check in with your family upon arrival at CDG, only to learn that Mother Nature has dropped 24″ of white stuff on them… and for the rest of your trip, you hear all about what you’re missing. You put in 18-hour days, covering your duties on two continents, coordinating efforts across the Atlantic, eventually giving up on the idea of sleep until after you get home, walking through your days in a daze.

And when you return after nearly a week away, you come back to a driveway that’s been partially cleared and then frozen over (and possibly with another inch or two of snow on top of the hardened slush)… outside stairs that need to be aggressively salted… and a roof that hasn’t been properly raked. The icing on that cake is your cabin-feverish family members, who may or may not harbor resentments over your “working vacation” in Paris, and who may or may not absolutely love the souvenirs you brought back.

Of course, the proper cleanup must commence, the errands need to be done, the chores must be caught up with, and family ties need to be refreshed — while you’re trying to bounce back from the second round of jet lag… fighting off a cold you picked up on the flight back.

Winter’s here… and Paris has nice(r) weather…

Actually, it might make more sense to stay home.