There was a time, not so long ago, that the idea of flying overseas on business seemed like the most exotic thing in the world. The truth, of course, is anything but exotic. But what it does do is make me realise how much I appreciate being able to see my children virtually every morning and evening. The over-used term ‘work-life balance’ never feels more applicable than at times like this.
It’s after midnight local time, and I’m typing this post in a fairly typical business hotel less than ten minutes from the airport. Looking out from my fourth floor window earlier I could see the highway, a car park, some half-built office blocks and some distant wisps of smoke coming from a couple of factories. I’m in Brussels – but it could easily be Milan, Zurich or any number of European industrial cities.
Where I am isn’t important – it’s where I’m not that is.
Flying out for an all-day meeting tomorrow means I said goodbye to my three children this morning, knowing that I wouldn’t see them for 48 hours. In the way that kids do, they barely registered my departure: Kara was asleep, Toby barely looked up from CBeebies as he wafted a perfunctory wave in my general direction and Isaac sighed and said “But you told me that last night!” before at least offering up a hug. Clearly it’s a bigger deal to me than it is to them. But it is a big deal – the first night I have spent away from them for several months.
I’m lucky that I travel relatively little for work, and infrequently outside the UK. And although I’m working in excess of 60-65 hours a week at the moment, I have a large degree of control over when I work, which means that I get to see the kids (albeit briefly) most mornings, and I can come home early enough to have the pleasure of helping put them to bed most nights. I can then work later in the evening as required. That flexibility means a lot to me.
Instead, here’s what I swapped it for this evening:
Drive to Heathrow in rush hour traffic. Eat overpriced food at Terminal 1. Shuffle on to a plane with a load of other businesspeople – many of them hot and tired, some decidedly grumpy. Endure a less than comfortable flight which might as well have been on a rollercoaster, it was so bumpy. (The pilot abandoned our first approach amidst buffeting winds and basically decided to just fly through it the second time as the contents of my stomach attempted to propel themselves through the top of my skull and then back again.) Arrive at the hotel after 10pm. Have a couple of beers with work colleagues. Retreat back to room. Write seven emails. Write blog post. Sleep will be at about 1.30am if I’m lucky, and I’ll be up again by 6am.
I’d have had a better night’s sleep at home, and I’d have seen Heather and the kids.
The upsides? A couple of bottles of Leffe. And I got to use my iPhone as a boarding pass (in the form of an on-screen QR code). That was cool. Scant consolation, though.
Contrary to what I may often say, I quite like my job. But I love my family more. And the one thing that going on the occasional business trip does is remind me that, no matter how urgent the latest work emergency may seem, it’s not what matters the most. Work versus life really is a matter of balance.