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I’m going to go dark in this article so I’m warning you upfront – reader beware!
No harsh-rated language but going to hit on some very personal topics we’ve never really done a deep dive in especially for this topic so I wanted to be very clear where we’re headed.
The reason I want to cover this dark topic is that it’s so real and nobody really talks about it especially in the context of business travel. But we are right now.
I met Charles about a decade ago when my business travel days were really intensifying and I was going at an unsustainable pace.
Let me paint a picture of exactly where we were for this unexpected heart-to-heart conversation. Charles and I were sitting at a bar at a high-end restaurant attached to this incredible hotel. We were eating a steak dinner and watching the game.
Like most conversations, you jostle for conversational position until you find common ground and everything gets easier from that point on (and that’s exactly happened between the two of us).
The conversation moved from sports to work to where we lived and we hit it off. It wasn’t forced conversation and we had a lot in common which is rare for two guys especially on the road.
We also were drinking. A lot and for hours. You know, the kind of place where you open up more due to the secret sauce. And that’s exactly what it became for Charles.
Secret sauce meaning he shared secrets that were dark.
Now, when I say dark I don’t mean evil or criminal, at least in his case, I mean, nobody else knew and you can tell he was relieved to get these secrets out.
So, do you wanna know Charles’ secrets? We’ll get to that soon enough but I wanted to set the stage for where we’re headed.
I meet far more Charles’s through the decades of travel than you could possibly imagine.
I’ve learned the reason many open up to me is for the following reasons:
- I ask questions
- I listen to their answers
- I’m honest
- I try not to rush them
- I don’t judge
- I try to give hope
That’s it – simple but not easy communication and emotional intelligence skills.
As a result, I’ve found a common theme within these conversations through the years about the dark side of business travel.
Now, this is important: not a single road warrior I’ve met had any intention of ever going to the dark side of business travel. In fact, many will admit early on, they judged big time “the sins of the sinner” if you will when hearing of others bad road choices.
They told me they swore to themselves they would “never go there”…
But eventually, they became “that guy” or “that girl” which is the way it almost always works.
And I’m not here to judge because I’ve personally experienced the dark side of business travel.
The caution here is listening and learning not dismissing and judging.
Did you catch that last line?
The caution here is listening and learning not dismissing and judging.
Every person’s situation is different on the road. Some travel in teams, others travel to a location, and are with reps almost the entire trip. Then there are those who are solo artists, completely by themselves except during their meetings, presentations, etc.
As a result, the dark side can appear differently in different situations and choices.
These choices create the opportunity for a downward spiral, meaning that once you start, it’s easy to get sucked into the spiral and keep going down and down which can tend to get darker and darker.
My hope in discussing this is that by being willing to talk about some tough subjects, we can identify potential choices we’re making right now and can make some changes before it’s too late and there are serious consequences.
So, let’s discuss the five downward spiral choices into the dark side of business travel.
Let’s go back to Charles’ story. He was a sharp, good looking, athletic, and influential VP who had everything you could want: huge home, fancy cars, gorgeous wife, cute kids, and you can continue the ongoing list of wants…
The more Charles talked and knew I was listening, understood, and actually cared, the more he shared.
And the reality is nobody would ever guess he would be dealing with these secrets.
It was like I become his priest that night at the hotel bar. So much pain, so much guilt and regret he was carrying inside of him on every single business trip like a half-ton carry-on suitcase.
What I learned from Charles now that I reflect years later and meeting so many other Charles’s and even Cheryls, is a common theme, thread if you will, from where they started to where they are right now.
Each of these downward spiral choices can stand alone but many are tied together in some way which you’ll see.
Five Downward Spiral Choices Into the Dark Side of Business Travel
ONE – The Choice to Become the Road Grinch
This is for the seasoned road warrior and time on the road just takes your heart three sizes down like the original grinch.
It starts for those of us who look up at the flight board or wake up in the morning in a hotel and forget what city you’re going to or in at the moment.
All the food begins to taste the same.
You just go through the motions and everything begins to annoy you.
You’ve met this guy. I seem to find him often at the airport when I’m ready to board or at the airport or hotel bar.
Everything is negative. Every aspect of the road:
- Airport / Airline / Flight
- Rental car or Rideshare
- The food
There are two specific characteristics of the Road Grinch:
- You Become Callous
You’ve lost all capacity to care. You have little to no understanding or compassion for anything or anyone.
People are no longer human to you, only annoyances.
And research shows, dehumanizing people is a sign of business travel burnout. You’ll know this is you when you start to become numb and your feelings are a thing of the past.
- You Become Cynical
You’re cynical of other people and seemingly all people who don’t share your view of business travel.
You’re cynical of the world. Nothing is good. Nothing is right.
Warning! It’s easy to get sucked into Cynical Sam or Cynical Samantha. This is true for me especially when I’m frustrated, tired, or hungry. And I’m easy prey for Cynical Sam or Cynical Samantha if I’m all three!
Here’s the Caution: you become poison for all those around you and you don’t even know it and/or don’t even care. All the more proof you’re now the callous and cynical Road Grinch! You’re also more likely to continue the downward spiral because you just don’t care anymore.
TWO – The Choice to Experiment
This choice can be a hazard, especially for a new business traveler.
It’s amazing the opportunities to try about anything on the road depending on what city you’re in, who you’re with, and if you’re looking for a stress release.
It’s like we’re back in high school easily giving in to peer pressure or we’re invincible once again. Remember those days of old?
But now, after all, we are Road WARRIORS, right?!
This one is a challenge because the company card can definitely become an encourager or an enabler. After all, it’s not YOUR money! Or someone offers to treat you. Can’t offend them now.
- You’re with co-workers or a client who smokes and you try it or pick smoking back up when you gave it up years ago
- You’re in Vegas for work and you try gambling
- You try this beer, then this type of wine, then this liquor
Warning! This is where you easily become “that guy” or “that girl” who got drunk at the corporate event or customer dinner. Or pushed it too far and now you become the story you regret and can never seem to live down. I’ve seen too many a rookie road warrior learn the hard way when choosing to experiment.
Here’s the Caution: Experimenting in and of itself isn’t wrong. It’s good to try new things depending on what the new things are of course and the potential consequences. Just realize where this could lead.
THREE – The Choice to Develop Bad Habits
Now we’re taking the opportunity to experiment and making it darker.
What used to be a simple experiment has now become part of your road routine:
- The occasional DRINK becomes I gotta have my drink
- The occasional SMOKE becomes I’m now taking regular smoke breaks every day, multiple times a day
- The occasional GAMBLE just because it was in front of me now becomes gambling on anything and everything
- The occasional curiosity with PORN becomes your new road thing every night before bed
I’ve found that many a road warrior who is a closet drinker, smoker, gambler, and porn viewer has a much bigger problem on their hands and they’re officially deep into the dark side of business travel.
The challenge is we don’t personally see when our experiment becomes our vice. Others do but we don’t. And if they have the courage to bring it up, what’s the proof that it’s an issue and habit? We get defensive and downplay our bad habits.
Warning! Bad habits are enabled on the road due to the availability, temptation, and seclusion.
Caution: Learning to ask if our habits are bringing us energy or simply a stress release. This is a hard question and requires honesty on our motives but separates existing road warriors from elite road warriors.
FOUR – The Choice to Feed Addictions
The downward spiral continues from the experiment (or just picking up again what you tried or did years ago) to a road habit to a full-blown addiction.
You’ve fed this tiny little experimental puppy and now it’s a trained killer dog who will defend himself to the death and do anything to get what he wants.
- I HAVE to find cigarettes.
- I GOTTA have a drink and now.
- I’m VIEWING porn all the time.
And the road is a perfect place for two things:
- Developing and feeding that addiction
- Hiding that addiction
I’m not an addiction specialist by any means, but I notice others are walking a fine line between a bad habit that is close to or full-on addiction.
It alters their entire business trip. They “have to have it” and need to “stop now to get it” no matter how it affects you or your business results.
I have literally witnessed guys viewing porn on their phones at the airport gate.
I’ve cleaned up messes from others whose addiction reared its ugly head on business trips.
Of course, they have absolutely no clue how much control this “said addiction” has on them and their full-time job has become the role of a defense attorney.
Not a fan of newly-developed Denny Defense.
Warning! This is a scary place to be and often, a road warrior never wants or can leave the road because the road enables their addiction although they rarely admit it.
Here’s the Caution: Steer clear of the addict on the road unless it’s you and then get help before it has serious consequences for you.
FIVE – The Choice to Make Bad Moral Decisions
This one can be subjective depending upon your values. I hear often how road warriors will justify their moral decisions. Basically put, their convincing themselves what they want and are planning to do is okay so they can move forward with their actions.
I hear all too often from many a road warrior, “I only do this (insert dark side behavior) on the road.” And that somehow makes it right?!
Again, I’m not the judge but you can often and quickly tell when someone is telling this story if they’re trying to convince you while they’re still trying to convince themselves.
The biggest dark side of business travel moral decision I hear is:
- Cheating on a spouse or significant other
This could be with a co-worker, road mistress, one-night stand.
This may be a one-time action or the start of a relationship.
- This could be strip clubs when it’s against your morals or would dishonor a spouse or significant other
- This could be massage parlors (full body if you know what I mean)
- This could be prostitutes
- Risky behavior that can have serious relational and even criminal consequences
But it doesn’t stop just there. Another choice could be driving under the influence. We would seemingly never do it at home but on the road, we seem to justify this decision.
And I get it, in the past, I’ve put myself in that same foolish decision before assuming I could do a risk analysis after two double vodka tonics and a bottle of wine.
The point here is not the debate of what is a moral decision or not, although I personally believe if you’re a Christian and follower of Christ, those answers are crystal clear. The point is we all have a moral compass that can get tested and we know if we should cross it or if we’re coming close to crossing it.
Again, they’re easy to justify at the moment:
- I was okay to drive and nothing happened.
- I didn’t touch.
- It was only a kiss.
- Clothes were still on.
- We didn’t go ALL the way.
- It was a one-night stand and it will never happen again.
- My wife would be fine with it (although she doesn’t exactly know)
Let’s circle back to Charles’ story… he became so successful, so empowered, and so isolated, nobody dared question him or his expense reports. He knew how to play the game and justify anything. “It was for the customer, the client really wanted to try this or do this…” (of course it was almost always Charles’ idea).
Charles started his downward spiral with experimenting, which led to habits, which led to addiction, which led to bad moral decisions. He became callous, cynical, and eventually reckless yet you would never know it on the outside.
Charles had all five downward spiral choices into the dark side of business travel.
But here’s the irony: what you saw on the outside was only half of the story. Charles was also on his 2nd marriage, unhappy, and addicted to porn. He was estranged from his kids and had so many regrets.
He claimed he was up working late but couldn’t stop scrolling porn sites which led to other risky behavior such as massages and prostitutes.
But all we saw on the outside if Charles was the essence of success. Or so we thought…
Warning! The power of freedom and the power of choice on the road is a fast track to the five downward spiral choices into the dark side of business travel and Charles is living proof.
We all want to become like him in his success but no clue of the cost of his success and his hidden dark side of failures.
Here’s the Caution: Bad moral decisions are absolutely devastating to the road warrior. There is increased opportunity for regret due to isolation as a road warrior and we must understand the environment of the road.
Let me leave you with one question and one word:
One Word: Integrity
Our integrity matters no matter where we are but especially on the road.
The road has so many great opportunities and gifts but with the good lies the opportunity for bad and we need to be aware of the downward spirals that can lead us into the dark side of business travel and this is when your integrity matters the most.
One Question: Someone may never know of your choices but what does a secret do to our heart/soul?
It absolutely haunted Charles and I will never forget that night as he poured out his heart and soul with the secrets of his lack of integrity.
It is possible to live a life of integrity on the road and I challenge you to do it.
- Know when you’re becoming a Road Grinch who is callous and cynical.
- Know when an experiment should end.
- Know when you’re developing bad habits.
- Know when your bad habit owns you and you’re addicted.
- Know when you’re facing a bad moral decision.
And choose integrity on the road. Protect your heart and soul to become an elite road warrior.
This was challenging due to the darkness the road can create in the life of a road warrior. My hope is the content was both enlightening and challenging. This just may be one of those articles you remember when you’re in the midst of one of the five downward spiral choices into the dark side of business travel and you respond in a positive way in that moment.
The three focus areas of Elite Road Warrior Group come into play once again:
- Work – we leverage business travel for these downward spiral choices
- Health – we could compromise our own health for these downward spiral choices
- Home Life – we could damage and devastate those we love back home with these downward spiral choices whether they ever find out or not
- Be honest with yourself and own up to your dark side
- Find someone to tell (close friend/counselor)
- Know Thyself – put boundaries in place on the road and have someone hold you accountable.
I don’t want to leave you hanging, so tune into my next podcast, where I will be interviewing with psychologist Dr. Nick Howard. Make sure you catch that episode to hear from a professional and subject matter expert on what to do if you’re heading into or already in the dark side of business travel.
You Got This!
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