My work travel year is coming to an end next week with a quick trip to North Carolina – the 106th business flight of 2013 by the time I get home. Sparkling water to hydrate, turkey wraps of every description, airport barbecue and mediocre $14 hamburgers. Coffee. Always coffee.
I was stranded for the night twice this year (Detroit and Memphis) – the latter’s highlight being picked up by a visibly intoxicated hotel van driver who was kind enough to roll through the Popeye’s drive-through for me at 11pm at the only restaurant within miles of my flea bag hotel in what can be best described as an African American Gentlemen’s Club district.
I tipped him $5 and you would have thought the old dude won the lottery. I was dubious when I got into his van but he seemed to be a high functioning alcoholic and I assumed muscle memory would get us safely from the airport to the motel. My friend cursed the most original and inventive spew for two solid minutes after we almost crashed into a Toyota, weaving bigotry and misogyny into slurred Mamet poetry.
Business travelers won’t easily admit to this but the Road is somewhat addictive. When I haven’t been on a plane for a couple of weeks I get twitchy and restless. I check the Delta airlines phone app every few hours, looking for an unexpected future itinerary, a first class upgrade or my miles summary. Being in motion from place to place, adventure to adventure, gig to gig is a natural high despite (or perhaps because of) the challenges of modern travel.
This week on a late flight to Omaha, after a grumpy four hour layover because of some mechanical paperwork nonsense, I got an extraordinary gift. Approaching from the northeast across Lake Michigan on a clear night, we passed over metro Chicago. I have seen more than most of the US and the world, and this was a stunning wonder to behold, the city meeting the dark lake and stretched out for as far as the eye could see. While most of my fellow window seaters fooled about with iphones to capture the moment digitally, I simply watched the inky black of the lake, with the city shining like something from a science fiction movie.
Consultants often talk about the view from 30,000 feet and how much simpler and more clear solutions are when viewed from a distance. We do it to bring attention to the fact that the client has flown us in for our expertise and wisdom, and that our recommendations want to be heeded because we are headed to the airport later. So Listen up Children.
From the sky America looks so vast and bountiful it is difficult to accept that there are shortages and inequity below. It is an easy worldview but ultimately false – the world we live in has complexity, nuance, and challenge.
As I have worked with client organizations this year on complex fundraising and leadership challenges I have spent less time with 30,0000 foot thinking. We can all get stuck in the weeds from time to time but excellence lies in the details, in the specifics and the strategies, in the close relationships and interpersonal dynamics.
There is no magic to fundraising, just good hard work and strategic thinking, adjustments to the plan as you go, and boldness in asking.
By digging deeply with projects, by investing time, energy and expertise to problem solving and creative solutions, by putting volunteers at the center of our philanthropy, the work this year has been strong and impactful. It has been a blast and I am grateful for this opportunity to work with our clients and the adventures of the past couple of years.
And then it is off to the airport for a turkey wrap and an anxious eye to the First Class upgrade board.
I hate to fly coach.