I’ve been traveling quite a bit and people always ask me if I can relate to the movie Up In The Air. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it basically follows the travels of this guy who helps companies across the country layoff people. He flies thousands and thousands of miles a year. His home looks like an empty suite that is provided for relocating employees. He isn’t close to his family at all.
That’s not me. When I’m on the road, I am doing interesting things. I am not out for weeks on end either. Other than the whole traveling part (flying, uncomfortable hotels and eating out), when I get to my destination, time goes way too fast and I always find I enjoyed myself. That’s just the nature of my job.
I think people ask me about Up In The Air because I fly more than they do. I fly more than 99% of people probably. Sure, I’ve got a system, preferred seats, cheats and tricks but in the end, I sit in coach like the rest of you and snack on peanuts and ginger ale. I save my miles to go visit my sister or go on vacation, not purchase first class upgrades.
Airplanes can be some of the more depressing places though. Last week, I sat next to a guy who looked like he had to stay an extra day on the road without a change of clothes. I looked at his left hand and I saw a tan line where a wedding ring used to be. I hear conversations with mothers on the phone with their kids as they are shutting the door saying they’ll promise to be back quicker than last time.
That’s why I end up writing on planes. It is easy for me to focus on what is in front of me, to set a challenge for myself and then knock it out. When I told the folks at #HREvolution that I wrote six posts in a four hour plane ride, I wasn’t joking.
But today, I sat across the aisle from perhaps the worst case I’ve seen in a long time. A guy in his late 30’s or early 40’s who was overweight and sweating the entire plane ride. He typed on his Blackberry non-stop until the doors closed. As soon as we were able open up our laptops, he did so and furiously typed for our entire five hour plane ride on what looked to be the third or fourth revision of what seemed to be a million page document.
He was well dressed with a monogrammed Brooks Brothers shirt and cuff links that I could have traded for an iPad. For food, he ordered a Red Bull, Pringles and a package of Peanut M&M’s. And between the eating of junk food and the furious typing came the most unpleasant thing: occasional cursing under his breathe about what he was working on.
I was scared for the guy. Between all of those factors is a man in crisis. He was not in control of his whole person. He could easily die in an airplane (just not the way most people think).
I don’t know the back story or anything else about the guy. What kind of life is this? The guy that is on the nonstop from Philadelphia to Portland and feels it necessary to not just work on the plane but to wear himself down with stress and food that will kill him.
We always talk about work/life balance from the perspective of what companies control and how it impacts working mothers. How about this guy? Does this guy’s company want him to be stressed out, working on this document and digging his grave in the process or is this his own doing? Does he need a different company or does he just need to be educated about his choices?
If I die in an airplane, it is going to be the old fashioned way. This whole thing about stressing yourself to death? That doesn’t work for me.