This is the first in a two-month series of blog posts on the time I will be spending outside of the United States. Desirée and I are on a journey to see parts of the world that I never thought I would have an opportunity to see. And, while it is a major blessing, it is one that comes along with great responsibility. As I am overseas, I will be navigating the tail end of a hiring process, maintaining my professional development business, and blogging more frequently than I have over the past month.
That’s enough about the plans though. Let’s catch you all up on this first day. I’ve spent about the past twenty-six hours on the move from Durham to London and I am currently on a two-hour train ride to Cardiff, Wales. Yesterday morning, my younger sister Aja dropped Desirée and me off at the Durham Transit Station where we caught the Megabus to Washington, D.C. In the District, we grabbed some food before heading to Dulles to catch an Icelandair flight to London, by way of Reykjavik. Of course, once we landed at Heathrow we had to go through Customs (consistently my least favorite part of international travel) and now I’m on this train ready to eat. Outside of a happy hour beer and wings special I was able to grab in D.C. and a personal pizza at IAD, I haven’t had a meal in the aforementioned 26 hours (if you want to call those meals). I’ll be diving into a plate of fish n’ chips the moment we arrive in Cardiff and set our luggage down.
In the hour since I stepped through Customs, I have noticed one thing: the English take better care of their public transit than we do, at least in the form of trains. From the Heathrow Express to the Great Western Railroad that I’m riding now, the comfort and cleanliness exceeds the standards set by any major rail system in the United States that I’ve ridden, be it Amtrak or a citywide transit rail. And, on top of comfortable seats, they have “trollies” (handcarts) of food that well dressed customer service associates push down the aisles offering snacks. I feel like I’m one of the three black kids on the Hogwarts Express right now, as I enjoy my crisps (look up the lingo). Since they took notes from our democracy, maybe we could borrow a few from their transportation experts. Just a thought…
*Fast forward a few hours*
OK, now that I’ve eaten, I can go ahead and write about what I didn’t feel like pulling together on an empty stomach: communicating overseas. I have a few tips and, while I’m no certified expert, I’ve done this enough to know what has worked for me and will likely work for most American travelers.
1) Not to come off as elitist but, if you’re traveling internationally frequently, I strongly suggest investing in an iPhone. Under most circumstances, I wouldn’t consider an iPhone an investment and, in a traditional sense, it never will be because it doesn’t appreciate but, when it comes to traveling, it’s a cost-effective way to stay in touch with others. Yes, I know that the sticker shock associated with iPhones is a real thing but you don’t need the newest edition to take advantage of the international benefits that come along with an iPhone. Because Desirée and I won’t have a consistent income while overseas, we needed to cut as many expenses as possible and one of those expenses was our phone bill while we were away. What’s cool is, between iMessage, FaceTime (video or audio), and What’s App, I can call or text everyone in my phone as long as I have a WiFi connection (another cool thing about transit here: there is a connection not only in each airport and train station but on the trains). So, though I’m not paying Verizon for these two months, I am still able to check in with friends and family in a way that doesn’t involve Facebook.
2) Social media is an awesome way to stay in touch. Though I’m on Facebook a lot less than I used to be, I still have strong presences on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Social media serves a couple purposes for me: a) It allows me to maintain my brand and brand awareness while away and b) it lets me let people know I’m both alive and well without having to regularly reach out to those who know I’m away. All in all, it’s an easy way of maintaining an engaged community of followers.
3) E-mail is a must for me because communication is not a one way street. While Stateside, I have a few publications, such as the New York Times, and newsletters, such as Morning Brew and Blavity News, that I subscribe to. Not reading these is simply not an option for me, as a young professional who other young professionals come to for paid advice. Additionally, I have clients with whom I still must work. This afternoon (morning EST), I received an e-mail from one young lady who recently earned her master’s degree and needs work done on her résumé. Though I’m not overseas to work too much, I have people who rely on me to help them succeed and, because I care about the successes of those I work with, I’m glad to correspond via e-mail until she has dynamic document that allows her to take the next step in her career.
Those are the good things about e-mail. The terrible side of it is when you get behind in checking it. While I haven’t go through and cleaned it up yet today, I know I’ve gotten an ungodly number of e-mails over the past thirty hours. Now, imagine those days when I don’t check it. Most people I know have gotten the inevitable point of e-mail fatigue where they just stop checking for a couple days or even a week. Finally facing that e-mail inbox, overflowing with newsletters, advertisements, and actual important communication is a challenge to say the least. My goal, while here, is to try to avoid that from getting out of hadn’t and missing no more than two days in a row.
4) You cannot go wrong with good old fashioned snail mail. I’ve got family members who have never left North Carolina. I’ve got friends who cannot legally leave North Carolina. I know some people who just don’t know how to make it fit into their lives. But, to all of these people, my postcard or letter will serve as a peek at a part of the world they may never see. I am my grandma’s eyes over here. I am my incarcerated homeboy’s international experience. The postcards I send out are pictures of a world I had only seen on television before this moment but they are reminders that, if I’m here, they can make it too if they want. Or, if they can’t, it’s letting them know that I wish I could bring them with me.
Communication is key to the human experience and, while here, I will communicate with those I care about, either through direct means or more general ones. Make sure that, when you decide to make the trek across the pond, you have a plan on how to communicate (and let those who you plan on communicating with know the plan).
Make exploring the world a priority.
Subject line: CRITICAL AND TIME SENSITIVE
Message body: Can someone cut on the coffee machine and start brewing a cup that will be hot when I walk in 30 minutes from now? I’m running late and need a cup before my first meeting. Please reply all.
Subject line: Conference Preparation
Message body: Hey team. Hope everyone had a great weekend. Let’s get together on Thursday and discuss how we want to proceed as relates to our organization’s presentation at the national conference. Please bring notes and come prepared to bounce ideas off others and to have them bounced off you. Thanks.
Which of these e-mails is urgent? Which is important?
We often get so caught up in the urgent that we miss out on the important. We get kept late at work for the immediate and don’t make it home in time to see the impactful. I heard a quote recently (unfortunately I can’t recall where from to cite the source) that said, in essence, “Urgent things shout. Important things whisper.” A traditional job is going to ride you until you get your work done. A traditional spouse is going to let things disengage slowly until the two of you are distant. The job’s shout drowned out the spouse’s whisper.
We have to start listening to and appreciating the whispers again. Everyone can hear the shouts but the whispers are meant for a select audience. When your instinct tells you something, that’s a whisper. When your spirit lights up when you see a job posting that speaks to your calling, that’s a whisper. When your spouse takes your plate to the sink, that’s a whisper. How often do we acknowledge the whispers?
I’m not saying that work isn’t important. It is. But, sometimes, before dropping everything, ask yourself, “Can it wait?” And, leaders, before asking people to drop everything for you, ask yourselves, “Can it wait? Is this thing that’s urgent in my eyes truly important or am I just being impatient?”
Oh, and don’t be afraid to tell folks that something can wait (respectfully, of course). Not only will it help you, but it will remind them that time is valuable and not something to be abused.
Make prioritization a priority. (Haha!)
When I was in undergrad, I intellectually stimulated almost every day. Sure, there were the Saturday nights when the most intellectual discussion was how fast can we finish the beers at the track team’s party (shoutout to the homie Devon Smith), but regular days consisted of my group tossing around ideas about how we would take over the world while either eating in the cafe, working off our cafe eating in the gym, or making sure we still had access to the cafe/gym next semester by sitting in the library to keep our scholarship dollars rolling in.
I miss those days — the days when we dreamt and planned more than we worked ourselves into an apathetic torpor. Whether the goal was entrepreneurship or figuring out how we would climb the corporate ladder or improving the quality of life for others, we used our minds in an unconventionally imaginative fashion. Their iron sharpened mine and mine theirs.
I still talk to (but rarely see) many from my circle, as many of us have gotten bogged down in the mundane and monotonous movement from Monday to Friday, only to pray on Friday for the weekend to move in the slowest motion possible and, conversely, for Monday morning to prey on us as hard as we pray on Monday for Friday. This is week in and week out. We do it for the bills and the insurance, the 401(k) matches and the paid days of sick leave, benefits which ultimately catalyze the very mental health days that we end up taking and retirement we long for (because I am convinced that I will never truly want to retire from a passion but I’ll be in a hurry to leave a job). Security holds many of us hostage, which is ironic, because our “security” only secures the prison we have chosen for ourselves.
Instead of security, we should reach for risk, which lies in having those around you keep you sharp and hungry and thinking outside of the box that would become a cell were you to think inside of it. To keep from being a prisoner of habit, you must have friends with whom you can toss ideas around over a glass of bourbon on the rocks or a good game of Spades. Those who remind you that you are not the smartest person in the room. A circle whose skill sets don’t mirror yours but, instead, complement them. People who specialize in various fields so that, when one of their clients/friends needs help in your field, you’re going to be the first to get the referral.
Today, I charge you to reconnect with an old friend who once inspired you. Whether they pushed you to strengthen yourself spiritually, financially, physically, professionally, or otherwise, give them a call or shoot them a text. See when you all can get together for coffee or lunch or a drink after work. If they’re in a different city, find a time when you all can meet somewhere just to catch up. While I love technology, there is something magical about tossing ideas across an actual table and working through a problem face to face. In short, allow their iron to sharpen yours and do the same for them. It’s the only way you’ll get out of this stagnant stupor that “security” supplies.
Make sharpening your sword a priority.
The Dos and Don’ts of Email Signatures
Everyone has different rules on e-mail signatures. Personally, I have a quote but that’s because I’m in fundrasing at a school and since every dollar counts, I close all e-mails saying with “Very few burdens are heavy if everyone lifts.” ~ Sy Wise. Take this post with a grain of salt but definitely take this post and put it to use. By the way, I like the hyphen between the “e” and the “mail” but this isn’t my article.
Existential Office E-Mails by Jessie Gaynor
This one is just humorous but sometimes you need a bit of levity to make the work week go by a bit quicker.
Steal These 16 Mental-Health Secrets of Famous Geniuses by Ari Notis
Mental health is a hot topic now because we know how much it has to do with longevity, physical health, depression, and everything else in life. These tips are kind of important. Above all else, young professionals, we must protect our safe spaces.
If you receive an e-mail and it requires you to take action, read the e-mail in its entirety for understanding. Then, if you have questions, read it a second time. If you’re still not getting it (and there is nothing wrong with not getting something), then you ask. But if it is evident that you skimmed an e-mail and then reach out to me for clarification, I will reply to your e-mail by forwarding the initial e-mail with the words “See highlighted,” and highlight the part you failed to read thoroughly the first two times.
Sorry, not sorry.
Make common sense a priority.
Communication is the most important part of life. What many fail to realize is that communication is a two way street. Listening and comprehension is, in my opinion, the most important part of communication. But when you must relay your perspective (the third-most important part of communication), do so intentionally and effectively. Don’t expect anyone to know what you expect until you’ve explained what you want. If you say you want a cheeseburger, don’t assume that because you had a flame-broiled burger at Burger King last week McDonald’s will make it the same way.
Just my three cents.
Make professional development a priority.