How I Shocked My Wife with the Not Forgotten Journal
One of the hardest things about the road for me personally is the loss of time and connection with the love of life, my wife Susan.
We enjoy being around each other – from playing sports to going for a walk and just talking and laughing.
The road steals that from us and cannot ever give it back.
It’s a reality she’s accepted through the years but it didn’t come easy. My contact with her on the road was as absent as my presence. I was lousy at it for a long time. I’m just being vulnerable here.
In my role as a business travel performance expert, I hear the good, the bad, the ugly, and the brutal unfiltered truth.
Too many men have wrecked their marriages and heck, most of their relationships as a result of the road.
Too many women are not only burned out by the road, but also by additionally taking care of home life back home before they leave, while they’re gone, and picking up any collateral damage when coming home.
I have nothing but the highest respect for traveling mothers – truly unsung heroes.
I’ve had my share of senseless and needless fights before leaving. In my interview with Megan Bearce in my podcast episode #024 she says “it’s easier to leave mad than sad.”
My biggest blowout came not from an argument, but by a hurtful thing I did, or in this case, did NOT do coming home from a trip.
Here’s the backstory for context…
I was coming off a brutal stretch including international travel and back-to-back trade shows where I was up early for C-suite breakfast meetings and had late evenings for corporate parties and customer dinners. My wife and I were basically competing by text who was more tired. She was raising my kids as a single mom in my absence, which remember, was a brutal stretch.
When I came around the corner and pulled into my driveway, I only saw my wife’s arms and my youngest child at the time as a one-year-old as the “Running Man Baby.”
I’d like to say that I grabbed my baby, kissed my wife, embraced my kids, and gave my wife the night off for me to clean the house and take care of the kids.
But what I did… walked right by my beautiful and exhausted wife, heard my kids say “Daddy’s home!” and all I said was an agitated, “Daddy’s tired,” and went to lay down on the couch in the family room. Who does that? I woke up to a beautifully angry wife who had tears in her eyes and let me know with a soft, strong tone: “Something needs to change.”
I realized I had become a Check-In Guy. My family always had to adjust to my exhaustion and my check-in schedule when I was on the road. I had become “That Guy” I swore I’d never become as a husband, father, and even friend. This became my “Wake-up Call” that didn’t come from a hotel but a call that was the result of my unawareness and selfishness.
I still had a choice – I could heed the call or ignore the call.
Too many business travelers not only ignore the call, they minimize the call, justify their actions with the call and go on to do their business (travel that is) as usual.
I knew I needed to change and it was the start of the Six Energy Habit – Connect.
This change didn’t happen overnight – or over one business trip, but a series of months.
It took what I learned as the three elements of Connect:
1. Connect Intentionally – on purpose
2. Connect Thoughtfully – reflective
3. Connect Creatively – memorable
To be honest, I found it easier to begin to do some creative things for my kids – I have a creative side so this was an easy and quick win for me. But I had a ton of ground to make up for with my wife and just didn’t know what to do that could “Move the Relational Needle” with the amount of neglect I had done.
I had created so much distance while I was gone, and then so much tension when I came home – I had such high and unrealistic expectations on the house being clean, everyone adjusting their schedule to dad’s exhaustion or work that still needed to be done. Instead of helping I was criticizing and critiquing – this is coming from the guy who was gone most of the week to a functioning single mom when I was gone.
Can you see the pain that I caused?
I desperately needed to find something meaningful for my wife – something that showed her that she was not forgotten while I was on the road – that I thought of, loved, missed, needed, and deeply appreciated her.
One day for one of my road downtime activities, I was in a Barnes-n-Noble looking at books, and I noticed the Journal section. In my curiosity, I saw one that was really cool and thought I’d get it and figure out what to do with it at some point.
I knew I could use it for my wife in some intentional, thoughtful, and creative way. I was on a flight doing what I call Think Space, dedicated time to process my thoughts. I decided I would figure out a way to utilize this beautiful journal.
Then it hit me – what if I wrote something, anything in this journal every day I was on the road to let her know she was not forgotten.
And there the idea for the NFJ (Not Forgotten Journal) was born.
What I did:
- Reserved a couple of minutes every day on the road to write in the journal
- Planned ahead – I used Think Space for ideas on what to write
- Chose one of the following to write about:
- Memory – funny / serious – song, scent, location, picture, food
- Feeling – missing home, lonely
Full Disclosure – the journal I chose had a TON of pages in it which felt like it was never going to end
The response – I finished it on June 21st and gave it to my wife the very next day.
- You don’t have to wait until you blow it. You should do something now
- It was harder and easier than I thought – harder because I put a lot of pressure on myself and it was a super big journal, and easier because it only took a couple of minutes per road day
- When I couldn’t think of what to say/write, I looked at a picture of my wife and asked myself “what would she need to hear from me?
- Having ideas to stimulate the creativity was huge – I needed the primer for the days I was in a hurry or just not feeling creative
- This was not about me – so when I didn’t feel like it, I had to remind myself “this is for her, not me, and I cannot wait for her to read this page.”
Suggested Next Steps
- Experiment with the NFJ concept – what would this look like for you to apply and work in your situation
- Buy a NFJ journal
- Keep it a secret – take the pressure off of yourself
This isn’t going to be a quick win overnight. But I challenge you to consider upping your connect game on the road and giving the NFJ a real shot.
Hopefully hearing the NFJ story between me and my wife inspired you.
You can do this too!
So, wherever you are, do something, anything, just not nothing to master the business travel life.