Kicking Off 2010 – Lessons About Travel

How fast time flies!  March is already here with its promise of warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours and cherry blossoms.  Business is kicking off 2010 with many exciting opportunities and my family is growing with the impending arrival of our third son in a few weeks.

A great sunrise over St. Barth

Already 2010 has been full of excitement on all fronts.  I’ve travelled to Pennsylvania, Chicago, San Antonio, Paris, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Charles for work and vacation in a short 2 months and already have enough miles to maintain status on United Airlines until 2012.  Treadmill 10-Ks, ice-covered 10-milers and frozen 5-Ks, hours on the trainer, stationary and mountain bikes, pools without heaters and warm ocean water have all helped me build a great base for this triathlon season.  I’ve surrounded myself with my wife, children, parents, brothers and close friends and taken every opportunity to spend time with them.  All in all, I’ve set the stage for a great year.

Despite a few injuries to my knees and ankles, I’m ready to kickoff the season with the National Half-Marathon on March 20th.  I’ve never done a half-marathon, come to think of it, I’ve never done a 10-K in any formal race.  Less than a year ago I couldn’t run a single mile and now I’m considering running 13.1 of them in a row.  Up until last year I’d find any and all excuses not to run including bad ankles, bad knees, shin splints and many others I’ve already forgotten.  Since then, I’ve run a few hundred miles and even had to buy my second pair of running shoes.  My swimming has improved and though my biking fitness isn’t up to speed because of bad weather conditions (just a few record snow storms in the East coast) I’m quite excited for the season to start.

The 2010 snow storm(s) made training outside a bit difficult at times

In addition to a promising triathlon season, this year will most definitely challenge my balance between family, work and sports.  In late April we are expecting our third son and have started planning changes for living with three boys in the house.  Anyone that has children or lives around them knows what a wonderful challenge they can be and how they can easily take up every minute of your available time and more.

2010 will be incredibly busy and exciting and holds much promise.  As I plan out for the year I am trying to take in some lessons from 2009, one of which is how to balance travel, training and family.

The last time I wrote I was still in Europe finalizing a large project and pacing myself for a strong finish.  I’m glad to say that we did finish the project well but more importantly, that I had paced myself well enough to return home and be fresh for my family and training.  In fact, after putting the kids to bed the evening I arrived from France I jumped on the bike for an hour session and it felt great!

The one major thing that I learned upon coming back is that life on the home front goes-on with and without you.  This is an important lesson and I’ll explain.

Catching yet another airplane

Life and everyone in it develops a routine whether it’s how you pick up a cup of coffee on the way to work, take breaks while at the office, or schedule your workout regimen.  But the most important routines are  established at home and children quite often find comfort in it.  When one leaves as I did on a multi-week business trip, or as some do in the military for many months life at home continues and so does its routine.  School pick up and drop-off times are established, sports and activities schedules are set, bed time routines are comfortable.  While we, those who leave our families behind adapt to our new environment, those that are left behind adapt to your absence.  Though being away is hard for everyone, it is often returning home that can be challenging.

Don’t impose your routine

When I came back from Europe, there were many things that I wanted to include in our family routines taken from France.  For example, I frankly prefer dinners later; perhaps not 9PM like the French do but certainly later than the 5:30 or 6PM that Americans often adopt.  Though I haven’t necessarily given up on getting my family to eat a bit later, this doesn’t come overnight.  Change always takes time and I have a tendency to want things my way quite rapidly which isn’t always wise.  Believe it or not, your family gets used to you being gone and they need time to get used to you being home.  Be careful not to impose your routine and try to adapt to theirs.

Don’t try to “catch-up”

A mistake I’ve made in the past is to try to cram a week’s worth of time with my children in a short weekend.  As I’ve learned the hard way, your family doesn’t always feel like they have to move around their schedule to accommodate your need to catch-up, and kids in particular are fine with restoring a routine just as if you’d never left.  It’s important as the returning traveller to blend into the existing routine, to make yourself available but not necessarily try to change things.  That was a lesson learned over time which I need to make sure to apply this year.

Stay flexible

Though the snow made it hard to train, it also gave us a chance to spend some time as a family

Flexibility is important in any aspect of one’s life and particularly for travellers.  Though this point might be slightly contradictory to the previous one, children aren’t necessarily the most consistent or predictable creatures and your best-laid plans will often succumb to their whims.  I try to plan my training carefully around the family schedule.  Swimming early in the morning before people awake, bike riding during kids naps or quiet time, running after dinner, etc…  The problem is that the unexpected will happen and I can guarantee that it WILL wreck your training or other plans.  As your bike is ready, your outfit is on, water bottles and gels packed and you look forward to a 3 hour bike ride, a child will inevitable come and tell you that they wish you’d stay and play with them.  Though the priority is obvious, the choice is at times painful.  So be ready for your family to wreck havoc in your training, whether they want to play, are sick or whatever the reason might be, your training will suffer.  Of course work will do the same.  Last minute proposals, late night conference calls, etc… all this things will impact your balance.  The only attitude to have is to remain flexible and expect changes, you’ll be better off knowing that things will change.

There's never enough time for family and friends so I always make the most of that little time we have together

I’m sure I’ll add to these lessons over time, but remember that just because you return from traveling, everyone else doesn’t necessarily feel that their lives should change because of it.  They had to adapt while you were gone, respect the fact that they don’t necessarily want to adapt when you return.  Instead, it is up to you to adapt to their needs.

I’ve learned a lot in 2009 and it was truly a break-out year for me in terms of physical fitness, business acumen, career development and life balance.  I am truly looking forward to 2010 and its challenges, to share some lessons learned from this winter’s activities and talk about this balancing act between family, business and sports.

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