I've been revisiting some articles and books on keeping up family-life-work-travel alignment during heavy travel periods. One of these, The Mormon Way of Doing Business, suggested bringing family members on business trips whenever the situation allows. That way you cut down on the away time from family and you also work a more normal schedule while you are gone. Like a lot of travelers, I tend to work long, long, long days when I’m on the road and then come home exhausted and irritable. Having a family member on the trip helps compel you to do the right thing and call it a day at about dinner time. Then you get more time to unwind, to relax, and to bump accidentally into all those creative insights and solutions that you never seem to discover when you’re working at full speed.
This last week, I ended up with a travel schedule putting me on the road for 8 out of 10 straight days. My itinerary lined me up to get all over the place: Sacramento, Denver, Seattle, Portland, and Chicago. It was a tough schedule and I knew it would take a lot out of me. But it occurred to me that I might also have a rare opportunity to have Wendy join me on one leg of the trip.
I ended this week in Chicago and, in order to make the meetings and visits and flights all work, I knew I’d be staying over on Friday night and coming come Saturday morning. Wendy has never been to Chicago and one of her very best friends from her college years lives there now with a husband and three daughters. Without telling Wendy, I bought her a separate plane ticket to join me on the trip. I’d work all day while she visited her friend, and then we could all spend time together at night.
Wendy was thrilled by the news. But as the date got closer, I started to get uneasy. It’s been two decades since Wendy was in college with her friend and they've only seen each other a few times since then. What if this visit went horribly wrong? What if they got together and found that it was horribly awkward? Then the trip would be ruined. And, much worse than that, would be the depressing realization that a long-standing friendship had secretly withered years before.
As it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. I came back to the hotel from my truly wonderful day at work and Wendy was as happy as ever. She said it had been like they were never apart. It just “clicked” like it always had. On Friday night, we went on a wonderful double date with Wendy’s friend and her husband. We walked a long way in the snow, stopping to look at architecture and historical sites. We bought fancy, overpriced burgers from a restaurant way too hip for us. And we just thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.
I thought all night about friendship and how wonderful it is. I didn't know then that Joseph Smith had once said that “friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism”. But even without having yet run into that quote, I was filled with a profound awareness of how absent true friendships are in my own life. I’m naturally a friendly person and I think I’m pretty friendly to almost everyone. But I carefully avoid investing in genuine friendships anymore, and I don’t know why. It’s probably mostly just because I’m tired and already stretched thin.
I work a lot. I’m in school. My family is my highest priority. And being a Mormon is like having an additional part-time job; it takes a lot of your time! But despite all of that, I know I could have done a better job over the years in being a true friend to other people and in fostering better and more enduring friendships.
Marlin Jensen, one of my favorite General Authorities from the Mormon Church spoke in 1999 about this:
There is a particular challenge we face as Latter-day Saints in establishing and maintaining friendships. Because our commitment to marriage, family, and the Church is so strong, we often feel challenged by constraints of time and energy in reaching out in friendship to others beyond that core group... How selfish we can be. How unwilling to be inconvenienced, to give, to bless and be blessed. What kind of parents or neighbors or servants of the Lord Jesus Christ can we be without being a friend?
I’m immensely grateful that I got to spend some of my time in Chicago with Wendy. We got to see wonderful things and eat amazing food. I was able to better manage my work hours and not overstretch my mind and spirit during my travel days. And, of course, her company was completely enjoyable in its own right.
As a side note, while bringing Wendy along for this segment of my heavy travel provided the emotional and spiritual balance I so often miss when I’m on the road, it didn’t do much to help with my struggle to stay physically balanced when I travel. We did walk around quite a lot. But we also ate massive amounts of incredibly delicious and calorie-rich Chicago fares like pizza, burgers, popcorn, and pastrami.