7 Points to Ponder Before Accepting a Jet-Setting Job

If your idea of porn is scrolling through Condé Nast articles, or your idea of scrapbooking is cutting out clippings from AFAR Magazine to file into a binder, believe me, I get you. You’re my people. I’ve suffered from an incurable sense of wanderlust for as long as I can remember.

Sitting in Mrs. Hopper’s dimly lit sixth grade classroom, shades drawn, motivational posters sprinkled across the cinder block walls, my eyes were glued to the screen of that mammoth of a TV on a rolling cart (do you guys remember when TVs weren’t flat? Weird, right?). We were watching a video about Holland, and I was hypnotized by the sway of the tulips in the wind, the whirling sails of the windmills, and the Lisa Frank-esque colors splashed across the houses lining quaint cobblestone streets. I was seduced by the “other,” thrilled by the different, and lured into a lifelong love affair with exploring cultures, languages, foods, and customs that differed so radically from the familiar suburban surroundings where I was raised. I vowed then and there that Holland would be the first of many countries I would visit in my lifetime (it wasn’t).

It’s no wonder that this insatiable desire to travel ended up leading me to job opportunities that would support my addiction. You know what they say: find a way to get paid for doing what you love. Right? Well, maybe. In my 10 years in the workforce, there have been instances when doing something I loved for a living turned out to be the fastest way to ruin something I loved. This is why I’ve never pursued a career as a chef (cooking soothes me–why introduce the stresses of a job into such a sacrosanct experience?), or as a full-time writer (it could also be because no publisher has ever serendipitously tripped over my hobby blog to suddenly exclaim, “WHO is this shockingly undiscovered mind mecca of a wordsmith, blessing us all with her indelible grasp of the subtle struggles of humanity, and dusting our minds’ eyes with the shimmering wisdom in her words??!!” I mean, OBVIOUSLY, that’s what they would say, right…?)

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Given that writing is free, cooking is cheap, and traveling is neither, it made sense that I jumped at the chance to take a travel-based job and absorb all the glorious perks that came with it. There are certainly many benefits to being in a travel-based career. You get to visit new places on the company’s dime, meal and entertainment expenses are covered, and you can rack up an abundance of airline and hotel points. If you’re certain that you are the exact type of person who is built for life on the road, in the air, and atop the rails, feel free to skip this post and re-read the article on work dresses that travel well.

If you’re on the fence about whether a travel-based career is right for you, here are seven questions to ask yourself. Sure, nothing is ever as romantic as it seems, but that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bath water. In order to fully reap the benefits of a travel-based job, you must first do what you can to preserve the passion that led you to it in the first place. These questions and your answers to them can help you identify any potential hang-ups that could threaten to leave you more exhausted than exhilarated by the demands of travel.

1 – “How often am I expected to travel?”

Eventually, I came to find out that the industry standard for travel frequency for my position was 1-2 weeks per month, 9 months per year. In my first year, I traveled 2-3 weeks per month, 11 months per year, twice the industry norm. It didn’t exactly foster a reasonable expectation of long-term sustainability. Severe burnout at the end of my first year led me to set an ironclad policy for my second: no back-to-back trips, no trips two weeks in a row, no exceptions. If I was going to be able to do this job without collapsing, I had to learn to acknowledge my limits and set boundaries to protect them. Get a clear idea of how much travel is expected, and how much autonomy you have in making your own schedule.

2 – “Am I predominantly introverted or extroverted?”

(If you’re a raging extrovert, you can probably skip to Question 3.) This shocks a lot of people, because I’m neither shy nor socially awkward (unless I’m on a first date), but I am highly introverted. I get my energy stores from being alone, mulling over my thoughts, processing the events of the day, and basking in silence. I find small talk cumbersome. I have zero FOMO. Networking events are my worst nightmare.

This question will largely matter in regard to what it is you do for work when you travel. If you’re introverted, but spend most of your travel work day at an office or in front of a computer, this may be a winning combination for you. I was in sales, which meant I spent all day in a revolving door of pitching products to potential customers, and chatting with sales reps in the car between sales calls. Easy breezy for a bonafide extrovert, but by the end of the day, my brain and barometer for social interaction were, more often than not, completely fried. As such, often the thought of going out to enjoy the city’s social scene and cultural offerings paled in comparison to putting on pajama pants and binge watching Game of Thrones.

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3 – “Am I comfortable going out and doing things by myself?”

I actually don’t mind doing things in public by myself. In Chicago, I saw Jim Gaffigan by myself. In Sedona, I ate dinner at a romantic resort overlooking the desert by myself. In Denver, I saw Deadpool, ate quail, and ordered an entire bottle of wine at an Alamo Drafthouse by myself.

I had a blast doing all of those things, but unless you’re one of those rare people who is instant friends with nearly everyone you meet, life on the road can get a bit lonely. Most museums and other cultural experiences are closed in the evening, which limits your choices to dinner, concerts, and movies. Can you eat in a restaurant by yourself, enjoying the ambiance instead of staring at your phone the entire time? Do you feel weird not having someone to laugh with at a movie? Are you secure enough to dance by yourself while checking out a local band?

The downside to this is that even the most introverted among us still need close human connection, and eventually I started to realize that my travel schedule fostered a perpetual rotation of isolation. After being on the job for about six months, I started to find that I’d be too tired to hang out with my friends when I’d get home. After catching up on sleep, I’d have to do errands, laundry, bills, and pack again for the next trip, where I’d go out to eat alone, go to the movies alone, etc. It was getting difficult to maintain close connections. It was while I was out to dinner for the 100th time by myself at a restaurant in Portland, when I realized how sad I felt to be eating alone again. For someone who likes doing things alone, that was a pretty big sign to me that maybe I didn’t have the best social temperament to spend that much of my time constantly surrounded by people but connecting with none.

4 – “What am I sacrificing at home to be on the road?”

Your answer to Question 1 is important to take into account when examining what you’re leaving behind. Will you be able to maintain your life and your relationships at home with the ratio of time you will be expected to be away? Are you newly married, trying to settle into a new life with your spouse? Do you have kids who have soccer games, school plays, and science fairs? Are you single and trying to meet someone in your city and don’t want to be in a virtual long-distance relationship? Do you have close friends you’re used to seeing on a regular basis? Do you have a pet to whom you are the primary caregiver and companion? Do you miss being able to say yes to a spontaneous night out, or reading bedtime stories to your kids before they go to sleep?

I’ve always been more wings than roots, so it took quite a bit of time away from home before I started to feel really uprooted from my life, but it did eventually happen. I distinctly remember one time, having to schedule a hang out with one of my best friends, who also traveled for work, six weeks in advance. My dog started being less obedient, responsive, and attentive whenever I was home, either because he was mad I was gone so much, or because the dynamic of our connection was changing. And dating? Challenging. To be fair, I’ve always found it challenging on my best day under the best circumstances, but working a budding relationship into the priority wheel of my already dwindling friendships, connections, and social circles made me dizzy. I really started to miss the life and the relationships I had built and was building at home, and for the first time ever, I started to view my suitcase as a sign of restriction instead of freedom.

5 – “What kind of sleeper am I?”

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If you’re one of those blessed humans who blacks out the minute your head hits the pillow, and can sleep soundly through the night in spite of hotel doors slamming, sirens in the streets below, insufficient light blockage by hotel curtains, and the inconsistent firmness levels of mattresses and hotel pillows, skip this section and know that I hate you. I’m a horribly light sleeper. In my bedroom at home, my windows have dimming film, my curtains are blackout curtains, there’s a sound machine across the room, and bottles of lavender and melatonin stored in my bedside table.

Unfortunately, there’s no way around it: travel is tiring, even when you’re doing it for fun. When you’re doing it for work, you need to make extra sure you’re well rested so you can wake up and hit the ground running at the top of your game. Plus, what’s the point of having a job with travel perks if you’re too tired at the end of the day to go out and explore the city? Sleep isn’t optional. We need it to survive. Staying well rested prevents sickness, lowers stress, and helps maintain a healthy weight. The best we light sleepers can do is to manipulate our nightly surroundings as much in our favor as possible, say our prayers, and hope for the best.

6 – “How often/easily do I get sick?”

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Do you get motion sick? Better stock up on Alka Seltzer. Prone to colds? Get used to dumping hydrogen peroxide in your ears. Against getting flu shots? Eat your vegetables, take your vitamins, don’t touch anything, and wash your hands a lot. Airplanes are basically flying cesspools of air and surface bacteria. Thousands of people have inhabited your hotel room before you. You’ll be shaking hands with a lot of strangers. When you’re traveling, you’re less likely to hydrate properly, sleep well, exercise, and maintain healthy eating habits. Good health takes discipline all the time, but it requires a lot of extra effort on the road.

If your immune system still needs some fine tuning, consider how much more costly and complicated it is to call out sick in a travel-based job. You’re not just missing a day at the office; you’re likely canceling a (possibly non-refundable) flight, as well as a (hopefully not prepaid) hotel room, not to mention missing the opportunity to further grow whatever market you were scheduled to visit. If you’re not dedicated to staying on top of your health, you’re putting yourself in precarious (job) position.

7 – “How much will I actually be making for my time?”

Jobs that require a lot of travel have big price tags for a reason. Psychological studies show that people consider their work day to have started when they leave the house, and consider it to have concluded when they get home. Mentally, we lump in the commute with our workday, simply because it is time away from our lives. When you travel for work, your commute is constant, and sometimes, when you divide the hours spent away from your life by the amount of money you make, it doesn’t end up being worth it. Ask yourself what kind of compensation you’d expect for the actual work you do on the road, then ask yourself what compensation you’d expect for the inconvenience of having to be away from home to accomplish that work. After you’ve done that, take into consideration any extra expenses you’ll occur by being away, like pet care, day care, or help with house cleaning, grocery shopping, or errands. If the bottom line adds up to you, great. If not, consider looking for a higher paying job at home that will fund your travel hobby in your free time.

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Fortunately, the travel bug is impossible to squash, and my love of new places hasn’t waned. I learned quite a bit from my jet-setting job, and enjoyed the new places I was able to visit because of it. If you’re ready to take the plunge into a jet-setting job, many adventures await you, and I salute you! May it never lose its sparkle for you. My goal for 2017 was that anytime I set foot on a plane, it would be for fun, not for work, and for the first time in a long time… I’m really looking forward to packing a suitcase again.

 


 

A Look at Love, Loss, and the Lessons they Brought with Them

Today (well, yesterday, as I write past midnight) marks the one year anniversary of one of the most painful days I can remember, which unfortunately also happened to fall during the most difficult season of life I’ve ever had to weather. 364 days ago, I would never in 364 million years have imagined that this day would not only pass by without a single tear, but that its most predominant and pervasive emotional undertone would be one of utter gratitude. I can hardly believe it, but this infernal little milestone has given me so much joy with the realization of all that is so delightfully different. Party hat? On. Champagne? Popped. Heart? Mended. Spirit? Skipping about in the proverbial rainstorm of a glitter-spitting confetti cannon.

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Understandably, time-lapse-Me is gazing forward from the passenger seat of a 2015 DeLorean with a pretty hefty helping of shock and awe. Luckily, it’s served next to a pretty strongly seasoned side of perspective, so as I reflect back on the emotional war zone of the past two years, I can’t help but hone in on some of the most valuable lessons I’ve collected during my travels through grief. Here are a few travel-sized truths I’ve learned crawling my way through the veritable mine field of life:

TIME IS A COVER, BUT NOT A CURE

People say all kinds of things when they don’t know what to say. Comforting someone who is grieving can leave a lot of people feeling helpless, understandably so. As such, dealing with a significant loss tends to set you up for a barrage of adages that, well-intentioned though they may be, you’d sometimes rather just do without. The one I had trouble swallowing was, “time heals all wounds.” If we’re talking about paper cuts and sprained ankles, sure, but the significant loss of an important human being (or in my case, several), doesn’t just leave a scar. It flat out reshapes your whole world, and at some point, you have to start fighting tooth and nail to accept that things will never again be the same. That sense of loss doesn’t ever go away. It just evolves. The way you miss someone’s presence in your life will change as your life changes, but you will carry it with you, always noticing the empty space that only they could fill.

The fundamental flaw in the mindset behind “time heals all wounds” is that it puts something other than you in the driver’s seat. Time is not a healer. Time is a passive entity that will go on passing you by whether you’re okay with it or not. It doesn’t have an opinion on your life, nor does it have any regard for or investment in how well you are operating within its parameters. Time doesn’t heal anything. Time doesn’t accomplish anything. Time is just something that passes sleepily but resolutely by, while YOU actively invest in your own healing… And actively invest you must. Recovery does not happen on its own. Time is a shovel that disinterestedly dumps dirt on top of your problems and buries them further out of sight with each passing year, but believe me when I tell you that time buries problems in very shallow graves. At some point, you have to get down and dirty with your hurt, anger, fear, or loss and stare it squarely in the face. You have to take the broken bricks of your life and figure out which pieces need to be thrown out, and which need to be rebuilt. At some point, the dust will settle. At some point, you will crawl out from under the rubble. Wipe your eyes, grab your wheelbarrow, plaster your trowel, and get to slinging bricks.

YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, BUT YOU’RE NOT ALONE

The hard truth is that we will all experience genuine suffering at some point in each of our lives. A perhaps even harder truth is that each of our suffering will be just that: “each.” Separate. Individual. Apart. No one can go down into the pit with you. Not really. No other human being has your heart in their chest. No other human being can feel your feels. No other human being had the exact same relationship you had with the person you lost. There are going to be times that you feel utterly alone, even if you have others alongside you wiping your tears or even suffering the same loss. In a sense, you are. No one can do your grieving for you. You are going to have to brave the feels,  hug the hurt, cry the tears, bear the ache, and go down to the bottom of the pit all on your own. I promise, promise, promise you, though, that the pit does have a bottom. It really does. And all of those people who love you, sit with you, cry with you, and comfort you? They will be ready and waiting with helping hands and open arms when you start to claw your way back up.

WELL-BEING DOESN’T EXIST IN A VACUUM

health+pillarsMan cannot live on bread and anti-depressants alone. The more studies we run and the more data we collect, the more we learn that our health is wholly integrative. You cannot neglect certain aspects of your health and still be a healthy person. Toxicity in one will poison another. Cultivate well-being in your body, heart, mind, spirit, activities, and relationships. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Eat real, nutritious food. Learn something new. Spend time with friends. Mediate. Reconnect with relatives. Read a book. Get therapy. Take your medication. Talk through conflicts. Punch a hard bag. Help a stranger. Get acupuncture. Laugh. Focus on a new project at work. At the end of the day, the only real gift you have to offer the world and to your loved ones, is yourself. Fight for yourself, and for your opportunity to contribute, by cultivating a well-rounded sense of well-being. When it comes to your health, a rising tide raises all boats.

#4 – THE HARVEST IS YOURS

“Everything happens for a reason.” (Speaking of trite adages that make my head explode…) In the sense that we live in a world that operates on the fundamental principles of cause and effect, yes I suppose everything does happen for a reason, and yes, sometimes that reason may be the hand of God or the workings of the universe. But sometimes that reason is that you made a bad decision. Sometimes that reason is that someone else was careless, or worse, cruel, when it came to your heart. Sometimes that reason is that someone ran a red light and t-boned your loved one in the middle of an intersection. Sometimes that reason is that someone with a hate-fueled heart decided to hang, hunt, shank, or shoot people just because he could. Sometimes that reason is because diseases outpace our medical advancements, and cancer is just the worst.

You can make all of the smartest possible choices about what seeds to plant in the soil of your life, but just as birds might drop seeds from their beaks, or neighbors may trek in their own seeds from neighboring farms, the world will always find a way to plant things in your life that you neither chose nor wanted. We live in a world where the choices of others can impact our lives. We love in relationships where people we trust have the opportunity to hurt us. We exist in societies where fear, discrimination, and conflict can sometimes reign supreme. We can’t always always control what sort of seeds other people or circumstances plant in our lives… but we can control what we choose to harvest.

A toxic relationship that grew in your life might tell you that you don’t deserve to be treated well. Cut it down. Don’t eat that. Dealing with the trauma of disease and death might try to make you believe that it’s not worth loving anyone for fear of loss. Uproot it. One bad crop doesn’t mean you have to starve. A hate crime might steal your sense of safety, or an assault might make you question your worth and your value. Burn it to the ground and call the neighborhood watch to help protect your farm. Don’t harvest those seeds into your life. Let them die where they fell. That power is yours.

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#5 – CELEBRATE

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Whenever, however, over whatever you can. Let yourself mourn, grieve, and hurt, by all means, for as long and as hard as you need. But if something makes you happy for a second, snatch it up. If you feel a sliver of sun on your face, soak it up. Don’t martyr yourself or condemn yourself to incessant eternal suffering. The human condition is a complicated one, and we are capable of feeling more than one emotion at a time. Feelings of grief mean that you had a loved one who was significant, special, and meaningful. Celebrate that you loved someone so deserving of being missed. Recovering from a harmful experience requires a lot of strength. Celebrate identifying toxic seeds that needed uprooting from your life and having the courage to uproot them. Celebrate your friends who have helped you through difficult times. Celebrate every little thing you’ve done to plant positive thoughts and worthwhile people into your life, and celebrate the harvest you will be able to reap because of those choices you’re making for yourself now. Celebrate the stubborn miracle of an ever-opening heart, in a world where it is all too easy to close it up. As Jack Gilbert once wrote, “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Go on, then.

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Dear Millennial Bashers, We Need to Talk…

I appreciate your candor. I do. And I appreciate your desire for a better world. Who wouldn’t?
 
But here’s the thing: can we please take a chill pill with all the Millennial bashing? You are insulting me, every single one of my friends, and millions of people who, every day, are inspiring new innovations, medical advancements, broadened perspectives, sociological progression, and vehicles for charitable giving.
 
We live in a time when the potential to be blasted by media propaganda has multiplied exponentially in our lifetime, but just because a message is loud, it doesn’t mean it’s correct. There is much more to this generation than disrespect and laziness, which by the way, has existed in every generation since the beginning of time, thanks to human nature. If baby boomers had had the same technological prevalence of social sharing and reality TV, it would have been just as easy to think that they were as terrible a generation as you think we are (and many people still do). They did, after all, usher in the highest-ever national prevalence rates of divorce, debt, and sexually transmitted diseases in our nation’s history (perhaps our elders should be apologizing to us for that)… It’s just that no one had YouTube, Facebook, or WordPress to exploitatively parade their massive missteps. They had to rely on the circulation rates of (what were those things called again? Oh right…) newspapers.
 
Let’s take a moment to talk facts instead of suppositions, shall we? According to White House Economic Advisors (I strongly recommend a full reading of this report), Millennials “are the most diverse and educated generation to date.” We “value family, community, and creativity in [our] work” (we care about what we do and how we do it)… “are not just virtually connected via social networks” (yes, we know how to build real relationships)… “invest in human capital more than previous generations” (thereby increasing our contribution to national prosperity)… “are more likely to study social sciences and applied fields” (because we care about others and want to help fix problems)… “made important decisions about [our] educational and career paths during a time of great economic uncertainty” (with the unemployment rate double what it was for our parents, prompting us to respond with vast innovations in the workforce)… and “have more labor market equality than previous generations” (a torch proudly passed to us by our mothers and grandmothers, which we refuse to drop).
 
A Clark University study showed that Millennials rate “contributing to society,” “correcting inequalities,” and “being a leader in the community” as higher priorities than baby boomers did when they were our age. 84% of us think we should be financially responsible for our elderly parents (keep insulting us and see if that number doesn’t change). On average, Millennials’ IQs are six points higher than people 20 years our senior. 84% of us make a charitable donation every year, in order of 1) children’s charities, 2) places of worship, and 3) health-related causes. 70% spend time volunteering in a given year. According to Angela White, CEO of philanthropic consulting firm JGA Associates, “[Millennials] view donating as time and money, and they like to know how their gifts make a difference.”
 
Yes, we believe in following our dreams, being happy, and living meaningful, adventurous, well-rounded lives. No, many of us won’t bite our tongues and put our heads down for the rest of our lives, just for a 9-to-5 job that makes us cranky, miserable, burnt out humans, simply because it sounds good on paper. It’s not because we’re lazy. It’s not that we don’t care about jobs or aren’t driven to be successful — it’s that we changed the entire economic infrastructure for how to make a living (you’re welcome), so that we don’t HAVE to depend on someone else’s dreams to EARN one (yes, we Millennials know the word “earn”).
 
And look, honestly… I get it. I grew up in the South. I believe in saying “please” and “thank you” and “ma’am” and “sir.” I think it’s rude to start eating before everyone has their meal. I’ve never seen an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Real Housewives in my life. I donate 10% of my income to a cause I believe in. I believe in equality for women (and everyone, for that matter), but I also believe that opening a door for a woman or helping her with her coat is a sign of respect and deference for the gender that you rely on for the continuation of our species.
 
But the truth is, I can’t think of a single Millennial I actually know who even remotely fits the broad, hyberbolic description in Alexis Bloomer’s speech, well-intentioned though it may be. Not to mention that insulting an entire generation could not be a more ironic example of the divisiveness of which we have all been so accused of causing. Paul Begala wrote, “it is as unfair to demonize an entire generation as it is to characterize an entire gender or race or religion.” In all fairness, he said this in an article where he was actually demonizing an entire generation, but the point is that messages like this create unnecessary categorization that really just serves as a vehicle to deliver blame. Blaming other people, after all, is much easier than recognizing that we all have to take personal and collective responsibility for the state of our country and our world.
 
We are a progressive and innovative generation, so yes, we do some things differently and we value some things differently. But the world is always changing, so on behalf of Millennials everywhere, may I suggest you all try to keep up. Maybe Alexis Bloomer looks around and finds herself surrounded by people who don’t donate, don’t volunteer, don’t have jobs, and don’t have manners, but basing this evaluation on the Bravo channel, or the scope of Kim Kardashian’s Twitter following, and then choosing to spew off a slew of one-dimensional, generation-bashing accusations, doesn’t make her evaluation accurate.
 
In fact, it makes her part of the issue, not the solution; insulting, not inspiring. If she wants to make a video with helpful suggestions on how we can budget to increase charitable giving? Fine. A video on finding ways to get more involved with developing our local communities? Great. A refresher course on basic manners and their value in society? ALL FOR IT (I actually may do that myself)… But her words felt like they were meant to tear down, not build up, and I don’t see how they contribute to the betterment of anyone, regardless their birth year.
 
She has her right to free speech (what a wonderful thing), as well as the opportunity to post it all over the Internet (for which she has Millennials to thank), but perhaps her time would have been more productively spent volunteering in the local soup kitchen she’s so convinced is Millennially-understaffed than recording a selfie video telling all of us that we don’t know how to productively spend OUR time.
 
#proudtobeamillennial
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