Unlike many people I used to really like work trips. I loved the opportunity to get out into the field and help people in person, and I liked staying in hotels and eating restaurant food that I could put on an expense report. Lee also likes my work trips, because he can eat whatever he wants and watch whatever he wants on TV. The dog was a bit of a concern. The only time I have been gone from him was the week I spent with Kyrston after Oliver was born and we expected that he would be displeased. He definitely knew something was up while I was packing and when Lee came back from going to the airport this is what he found…
While the puppy was bummed, I was having a great time. I had a little bit of trouble with my second flight and ultimately they had to move us to another plane. This put me an hour late into the airport, but that gave me an opportunity to catch a ride with my boss’s boss and it was great getting to know him better. Normally I rent my own car, but we were flying into Boston and I hate driving there. Although I had plenty of rides all week, next time I will probably just rent my own in case of something like this. Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather be delayed for mechanical issue than the alternative, but these things happen, and coordinating with other folks can be problematic in those situations.
Not driving did give me a chance to look around and being back in New England was strange. It was exactly five years and three days since we rolled out of New England for our new life, and four since I accepted the buyout. Things looked very similar (New England isn’t really about rapid change) and the closer we got to the office I had worked out of for 15 years the more I was hit by waves of nostalgia. Going into the office the next morning was even weirder. In this case the structure of the building was the same, but inside was very different. Different groups, lots of new people, and folks moving to different positions was very disorienting. On the plus side many, many people I knew were still there and over the next three days I got to see most of them.
It was more than gratifying that people remembered me, and when the front desk guard called me by name and welcomed me back I was more than gratified. Apparently a list of people coming to the workshop had circulated and people recognized my name. I was happy to see the manager of the cafeteria was the same person and the head of our cleaning staff remembered me as well. My take on life is to be extra nice to the people who have the hardest jobs, and it was really sweet when they went out of their way to tell me they were glad I was back.
In addition, throughout the week I literally kept bumping into people I knew from before. Several people came up and gave me big hugs and many others went out of their way to tell me they were happy I was back. Again, super humbling in a good way, and honestly surprising. Five years is a long time, and people’s memories are short. It was nice to know I made a positive impression on some folks. Throughout my career many people helped me and I tried as much as possible to help people younger than me. In particular, I always encouraged young women to stretch themselves and take on difficult tasks, Because I had started with the company as a secretary, I was a living example that with hard work you could climb the ranks and encouraged any who were interested to take those next steps. Twice during that week, women walked up to me and in front of other people talked about how much I had taught them over the years and it really meant a lot to me. They recounted specific moments I had an impact and honestly there isn’t much in life that is better than knowing you made a positive difference for someone. It reinforced for me that I had absolutely made the right decision to return and the entire week was incredibly special.
Remembering things was a little odd as many, many times information that was pushed somewhere in deep storage in my brain came rearing to the front. Fifteen years holds a ton of knowledge and it was all in there somewhere just not easily accessible. We would be talking about something and wham! I would be hit with a series of images and information. It would take me a moment to catch up (think pulling a file from an accessory drive on your computer) and then that info would be there. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t remember everything, but I remember enough which was a huge relief. One of the main reasons they hired me was my historical knowledge, and it would have been a bit problematic if that was all gone.
I also was a little worried about my skills being rusty but thankfully that came back to me as well. It helped that I was running a workshop, which is one of my absolute favorite things to do. A Kaizen workshop is essentially pulling people into a room who actually do the work and talking to them about ways to make their process better. Even though every person in my group was new to me, we quickly got into the event and the team was fantastic. I had several young women from Mexico in my group and they were terrific. On occasion language was a bit of a barrier, but in those cases I let them work through difficult concepts in their native Spanish and then switch back to English to catch the rest of us up. I didn’t care how we got to the big idea as long as we had them, and ultimately my team came up with 75 new ideas to improve the process. It was a ton of fun for everyone and folks made work relationships that would last a long time.
Here’s some pictures of the event. Because the information is proprietary I blurred some things out, but you get the idea. I LOVE sticky notes and we got to use plenty of those lol.
Three main things I do as I lead these sessions and so far they have always made them successful:
- Don’t let any one person take over the room. Usually the quietest person has the best information so go out of your way to make sure everyone is heard. Manage the “big personality” people by validating their contribution and have them help you encourage others to speak.
- Encourage everyone to take a turn leading. Nothing is more boring than sitting and watching one person speak for several days. Plus, it’s not about what I know, it’s about discovering what they know. After I get people comfortable I sit as much as possible or stand in the back to avoid pulling focus. I will only jump in when things seem stalled or to move things along, but as much as possible I let the subject matter experts take the lead.
- Pay attention to the small things. Is it too hot? Are you having enough breaks? And make sure people eat regularly. The environment matters and as much as possible encourage people to have fun. Be passionate about the subject matter and be truly interested in what people have to say. Get folks out of their chairs and up and moving especially in the afternoon when things always slow down. Push the pace when it’s appropriate and back off when it’s not. If you have a group of engaged people there is no limit to what you can accomplish.
Thankfully the team was making me look good, because during the three days we had lots of visitors. This is a high level project with lots of exposure and managers were in and out throughout the event. Thankfully things seemed fine, because they usually would watch for awhile and then wander off. I even had my fellow team members come in a few times and watch me work. At first I was nervous because I felt rusty but by the second day I didn’t even notice.
Speaking of team mates our evening dinners were fantastic. I met several of my peers for the first time in person and we had a great time eating at night. I don’t mind talking about work some, but love when you can get to know people on a personal level as well, and our conversation flowed with lots of laughter. The entire experience was fantastic and I was happier in a work situation than I have been in a really long time.
The only downside was there no Oliver. I really missed him and was one of those obnoxious Grandmas who show pictures. He turned four months while I was gone and I was sad I missed it, but didn’t regret being where I was. This was the feeling that I had been missing. I know working isn’t always like this, and I still don’t like the politics but these moments are really important to me. I am so glad that I made the choice I did, and I am really happy to be back. Yes, I love my puppy, my daughters, my grandson, and my husband (those are in no particular order by the way), but I also loved doing this and many of these people. For some reason when we started full timing I felt it was an either or decision. I know now that it is simply not the case.
I do NOT regret taking a break and getting some outside perspective, because I grew as a person and I appreciate these moments so much more now. That being said I would encourage anyone thinking of quitting a job they love to become a full timer to really think that through. If you are like me hopefully you can find a way to have both. Yes, there are compromises, but there will always be compromises regardless of your situation. I do not know one person who travels without thought of care of other things. Whether it is family obligations, money restrictions, or personal preferences of your travel partner no one I know travels the country with no constraints. The trick is to balance those constraints with what you love and hopefully find a way to make it all work together. The jury is still out on how this works long term for Lee and I, but for right now I will definitely be grateful for it!
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