Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Great Escape: Business Travel

Currently, I'm on my third international business trip of 2009. On average, I do five or six international trips per year but it's hard to predict when they will happen. Sometimes they come in bunches. Sometimes they are spread out. They usually last one or two weeks but I try to keep them to one week whenever possible.

I've been asked if it would be better for our situation if I didn't travel as much or nearly as far or if I had a more normal job. The short answer is: No.

In Fox Searchlight's hilarious movie Thank You For Smoking, tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart) is asked how he can perform such an unethical job. His answer? "Everyone's got to pay the mortgage." My reasoning isn't as cynical as Naylor's nor do I think my job is in anyway unethical, but the logic isn't a long way from his. The job I do is what I do best. It is the best way for me to pay the mortgage. But there are also some hidden benefits that would not be available to me in a normal job.

On the downside, in my job, when I'm gone...I'm gone. I'm not in the next town over or the next county over or even the next timezone over. I'm usually a continent away. Currently, I'm in Korea and was in Singapore earlier in the week. Last month, I spent a week in China. This puts a lot of added pressure on Joy in dealing with the kids, especially Robbie. I know that she'd rather have me home at night when things are tough. I'm "escaping" the challenges while she is facing them alone. I don't like to admit this but if I'm given the choice between enduring a 13-hour flight or dealing with a sensory-induced temper tantrum, I'll take the flight any day. The flight only erodes my strength not my spirit.

In addition, I think my travel played a big role in my denial of the situation with Robbie. Since I wasn't around a lot, I didn't notice or appreciate the subtle changes that were affecting his behavior. I also didn't want to see them - which was easy to do when I was away or suffering from jet lag.

On the other hand, when I'm home...I'm home. I work from a home office. While my job can be fairly demanding on my time, including late into the night to support activities here in Asia, my office situation adds certain benefits. When I'm home, I'm available to help Joy. I can help in the mornings when things are getting rough or Robbie is experiencing a tough transition. I also get the opportunity to spend more time with the kids. For example, I go with Joy to drop the kids off at school nearly every day. It takes no more than ten minutes but I find it to be an important opportunity to be with them at a critical time. If I worked in a normal office, I'd be on the road at that time, likely sitting in traffic during my forty-five minute commute.

I'm also available for ARD meetings or other school meetings or anything required to help Robbie of any kind. If there's an issue and Joy is unavailable, I can take care of it. Since the school is less than two minutes from our house, anything required of me there represents a minor interruption to my day at most. Every once in a while, I'll even pick the kids up from school. The time is no longer than what it takes to have a cup of coffee in a normal office. I don't think I could do any of this in a normal office. Except for the most critical events, these things would require a commitment of well over an hour just in travel time to show up -- something I couldn't do very often.

At this point in my life, I think this work environment works perfectly for me. I'm fortunate that I work for a great company and have a fantastic boss who's sympathetic to our situation. It's certainly not something I abuse. I'm trading potential time at home during the evenings against the ability to be available at any time - just not when I'm 7000 miles away. I think that's a worthwhile trade.

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