Recently at work, I put together a slideshow for my boss who is moving to a new position. It was a travelogue of all the places we’ve been as a leadership team and set to music, like Born in the USA, Leavin’ on a Jet Plane, Travelin’ Man, and Thanks for the Memories. It was a lot of fun to make, and as I worked on it, I marveled at how truly lucky I have been to see so many wonderful places around the world and to have had the experience of doing business internationally. As a college student, I chose International Relations as my major because it allowed me to combine classes from several areas and still get the credits I needed to graduate. I can’t say that I was absolutely certain how I would use it, but I found the studies interesting and it made me better aware of what was happening in the world. Now, finally, at this stage of my career, I am really using what I studied and I love it. I enjoy my work a lot and feel grateful for that. Not that it’s easy – but it is a good kind of challenging with a lot of variety. And I’ve promised myself that I will never say “I have to go to Rome…”, I will always say “I get to go to Rome.” It’s a privilege and I need to remember that.
As I put the pictures together, I saw how the path paralleled all of the family health issues that were going on. Here I am in China, and that was when Jan was sick but dad was still OK. Now there’s Russia and by then, Dad was fighting his battle. Then India – dad was gone, but I shared my stories with mom and Jan. Australia – I remember being at the airport talking to mom before my flight, and she was reminiscing about their trip to Australia years ago for the Olympics. By the time I traveled to Rome a few months later, mom was gone. By the time I reached Dubai, Jan was, too. It has been the best of times, it has been the worst of times.
My dad liked to call me “Madame Executive” and I always felt a little embarrassed by that. I think he saw my job as more important than it really is, but making him proud made me happy. I didn’t mind being called by that title – to me, every time I heard it, I knew he was showing his pride. That was one of the big things I missed when he died – dad and I had always been able to relate over work accomplishments and he knew how to provide me feedback. Mom and I related in different arenas, like gardening, cooking, and child psychology. We had lots to talk about, but dad got the business me. When I went to China, he said “your company must think an awful lot of your abilities to send you there for business.” And I hadn’t thought of it that way, but hearing him say it made me extremely aware that I needed to be sure I didn’t let anyone down. When I went to Russia, he was not feeling well, and he told me that he was sure I would like it, although he’d never been. While I was there, I was thinking of all the things I wanted to share with him and and talk to him about things I knew he’d appreciate. He was a history teacher at heart and knew more about what happened at places we visited than anyone else. Traveling with dad was a learning experience.
I’ve made my way around the world in this job. It has been an incredible adventure, one that I feel lucky to have experienced. At the same time, I was running a race to keep up with all the things that were going on at home. I didn’t feel so lucky about all that, but it was a race I had to be in. My colleagues that have been a part of these travels have lived some of it along with me. They have shared my news and seen me deal with it. I have had some lovely words of support and sympathy from them. But as one put it to me last September “…it all just seems too much for one family to go through.” And I have to agree with him. It was too much.
When I think about the past few years, I remember the ups and the major downs, but I also have this lovely series of memories of being able to travel the world, to see things I never really thought I’d see and I feel, on balance, very lucky, indeed. It was the best of times, and the worst, too. I am grateful that my work was something that helped provide some much needed balance for me.
I’m off to Brazil next month – or maybe I should say “I get to go to Brazil next month”. I am looking forward to it!