When our categories fail us

by Steve Brock on December 14, 2010

Life doesn't always fit into nice neat categories...

At what age do we begin to segment our lives?

Maybe it’s when we start school and we now have a “home life” and a “school life.” All I know is that my life has way too many segments or categories. I realized that just this morning.

I got in last night around 10:30 p.m. from a business trip that involved 14 hours of travel for eight hours of meetings. Not atypical. And while I think about, talk about and write about meaningful travel seemingly all the time, do you know how much I thought about the subject on this particular trip? Uh, meaningful what?

I was in my work mode. Everything got filtered through that lens. At the heart of meaningful travel lies openness, being open to all the nuances and small wonders around us. And on this trip, I was about as open as a fist.

Virtually everything on this trip fell into the category of work. Make calls on the way to the airport. Work on my presentation and other documents on the plane. Meet with the client for dinner and discuss work. Come back to the hotel and catch up on work email. Dutifully call home but in a somewhat distracted manner. Wake up, pack up, have breakfast with colleagues then go to the client’s office for a full day of presentations and meetings. Drive to the airport and debrief on the meetings. Get on the plane and work. Drive home.

Sound familiar? Every one of us who travels for business will have slight variations depending on our jobs. But the general theme stays the same.

Thus, if you’d asked me last night as I pulled into my garage if this was a meaningful trip, I would have stared at you with dull, glazed eyes as if I’d never considered the subject. Because with this trip, I hadn’t.

But then I got home.

I dragged my bags upstairs trying not to wake anyone. I noticed my youngest son’s door was open and that he had strung Christmas lights, which were still on, around his room. I snuck in and watched him sleep, his face appearing at that moment the same as it did when he was a small child.

It’s an opportunity I have virtually every day, but I rarely avail myself of the chance to watch my sons sleep. But the sudden juxtaposition from being away and a head-down work mindset to seeing my child and all the wonder contained in that sleeping profile made me realize something.

This trip was indeed meaningful. It just didn’t fit my category of meaningful travel because the meaning didn’t show up in the travel itself. It wasn’t until I returned from a trip filled with nothing but business that I realized that the deeper meaning lay right before me, head on a pillow, always there but never fully appreciated.

Until now.

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