Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three is a simple device to help anyone consider if any travel they are going to do is as sustainable as it could be. I'm not speaking about the means of transportation, that's a snarly question and depends entirely on where you are going and what means of transportation is available.

Wright Brother's first airplane (google images)
The Rule of Three helps you decide if you should travel in the first place.

Brace yourselves.

Will the trip honestly, truly and without stretching for rationalizations answer a deep Personal need, and/or a deep Professional need and has a Truly Significant Purpose?

If you can answer yes to two of the above queries, and there is a Truly Significant Purpose, then it's alright to go. If you have to wiggle around to sort of convince yourself there is a reason besides the Truly Significant Purpose, then really, you shouldn't go. Or you can go to Step Two, but read about Step One first.

google images
Step One is a process of discernment that lets you consider the potential travel in an honest way in the context of your life. The road to rationalizations is an easy one, one we use every day. An honest scrutiny is a tough one and might lead you to saying 'No' to something you would ordinarily say yes to.

Significant Purpose? Are you sure? Habit is a nasty way of convincing yourself that something is important when in fact saying NO is the right thing to do? How is this trip going to significantly add to your personal or professional objectives. Will you be reaping something that couldn't be achieved another way?

Personal? Is there going to be something in the trip you are planning that will meet a deep personal objective that you've had on your mind for a long time, or will it allow you to have some time free from daily demands, a respite? Can you add two days onto your time and sail the Baltic Sea, or can you get to that Science Museum you've always wanted to go to but never gave yourself the extra 10 hours it would take? Or could you add two days, stay in the quiet hotel and get that paper written while enjoying some Parisian coffee and pastries? A working respite. Is there a family component? Or friends? Maybe your family really doesn't want to go see Granny but you do. Instead of loading the whole gang on an airplane to drop in for a day or two before heading to where you all really want to go, adding days and flying miles onto the trip, why not visit Granny alone while on a business trip? 

This seems kind of professional, doesn't it? (google image)

 Professional? Man oh Man, this one is so easy to rationalize it isn't funny. Someone (maybe yourself) tells you that you need to travel to this place or that place to meet this group, or settle this issue, or give a paper, or listen to a paper or buy something. We don't question it, it's part of the job or maybe part of a budget and you don't want to lose that funding for next year. Or is it. Is it habit? Can it be accomplished in another way, by a conference call or Skype, or can someone already there in the company do the task? Can you bunch up travel so that in one larger trip you can consolidate flying miles? Sometimes No is the correct answer, especially if it gets in the way of important Personal or Private Needs that are happening at home.

(google images)

I confess we went to Spain last year for two weeks and the Rule of Three was tough for me to use. I don't have a professional life beyond looking for visual images that inspire my art work or writing. Had to say no to that category. Personal? No family in Spain and no friends to drop in on. However, I hadn't traveled on a real vacation for  nearly 20 years. I've had a few trips back to Toronto to see family and so forth, but nothing that involved beer and views and great food and sleeping in. So my answer to Personal was beginning to sound like a Yes. Then I thought about Steve and my family and how I was ready to put them all through the meat grinder. Empty nest, man across the table I recognized but was regularly surprised to see....

Casablanca movie, at the airport, saying goodbye. Steve and I were saying "Hello!" (google images)
Truly Significant Purpose = To be in a better relationship with my marriage. I really, really needed a time away from the house and kids and cats. I don't exactly recall how Spain became the answer but it did and it was great and it is unlikely that this will happen again.As I read this over and over, I keep coming up guilty. Couldn't we have had a marriage recharge somewhere local? Well, yes. But I'm 52, haven't traveled for years and I wanted some memories and fun and adventure and damn it, I'm worth it once every 20 years.

(google images)
 For Steve, the scrutiny was different. He works a tension filled job and time away in a place that was intellectually stimulating and 'other' was becoming essential. Yes to Personal. Spain is filled with fabulous architecture and cultural history. Steve the architect and Spain = good fit. The Alhambra is one of those places any decent architect and cultural historian should see up close. Yes to personal Professional development. Truly Significant Purpose = sanity and marriage renovation.

Step Two:
Steve recently  had to go to Germany for work. Personal? Not truly but it turned out he was able to see some things related to his lectures. But that happened without prior planning and so in the course of the Rule of Three, doesn't count. Professional? Not at first. Truly Significant Purpose? Initially the answer from up high wasn't satisfactory. He was expected to go and schmooze, whatever. What was his problem? Steve pushed back and eventually the people planning the trip connected him to some people and places that will have positive gains for several years. Truly Significant Purpose = long term exchange programs for students and faculty, plus funding (maybe).

Sometimes the Rule of Three just won't work. If you have to travel home for a funeral or wedding, or if a job related journey just won't allow for anything else to fit in, OK. But if you keep trying to apply the Rule of Three, eventually, most of your travel will...

(google images)
...begin to look more sustainable, more thoughtful and perhaps even lessen a bit? Or maybe the proposed journey just doesn't need to happen if the single need is shallow. What would happen if you said NO? Or maybe the methods of interacting with colleagues far away will improve due to increased demands of quality and ease of reliability. Says the woman who only recently figured out Skype but my kids are in town so no one wants to play.

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