I’m a road warrior. My father was a road warrior. I’ve done travel horribly at times. I’ve killed it (and me) on the road, and I have the story to prove it.
THE BACK STORY
As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, lots of my friends thought I was lucky to be a Buckley. On the outside, it looked pretty good – my dad was a prominent figure in the community as well as an avid business traveler, and our family was well known as “hard workers,” a value my dad had pounded into me since I was old enough to do my first chores.
This hard work had its payoffs – I learned the art of public speaking at a very early age and I could play the piano well enough to perform in front of hundreds and even thousands of people. What people didn’t know was the huge weight this (being a Buckley) was to carry everywhere I went. It was a perk that came with a ton of responsibility.
Until I left for college, this was normal life for me – I knew much of our position was due to the fact we were hard workers, and we were willing to make the sacrifices in order to achieve – consistently.
But in early August 1988, everything changed when my parents dropped me off in Lynchburg, Virginia, at Liberty University. The name of the university was fitting because absolutely no one knew who I was or what it meant to be a “Buckley,” which was challenging and liberating at the same time.
This was a defining moment: for the first time in my life, I was free to choose my path. That sense of freedom ignited a drive in me to achieve my own results on my own terms, and this helped to shape the rest of my life.
The two most important lessons I learned in college were to build relationships to connect with people and to work not just hard, but smart. I watched, asked questions, and learned how to navigate from high achievers and top performers. This paid off – I was elected junior class president and student body vice president my senior year.
This success carried on through my 20s and 30s. I was learning how to maximize my time and outperform most people. My friends saw me as someone who viewed sleep as optional and a necessary evil. I worked out but also ate whatever I wanted. I ate fast, walked fast, talked fast, and even drove fast. Just get it done at all costs was my life theme.
I started traveling at this early time in my life. I would travel for research. I would travel to speak all over the country. I didn’t have a care in the world, as most in their 20s have a feeling of invincibility. The late nights, bad food, and lack of proper rest were difficult for “everyone else” who didn’t have my drive and energy level.
When I worked from my personal strengths, I felt the only thing that could stop me was not having enough time. I pushed so hard. My desire to show others I could make it on my own led me to take on almost any and every challenge that came my way, which soon would prove to have disastrous effects on my life.
SOMETHING IS WRONG
Decades later, my lifestyle was that of a professional business traveler. I was eating the best of the king’s food and drinking the best of the king’s wine, but in February of 2011, my body started kicking back with some unusual symptoms.
On my 40th birthday, my wife gave me the gift of a one-way ticket to the doctor for a full panel of tests. (She’s generous like that.)
Not knowing what to do with me, they ran extensive tests. The good news was they couldn’t find anything wrong. The bad news was they couldn’t find anything wrong.
But I knew in my heart that something was definitely wrong … and then I willingly chose to ignore that feeling. I had too much to do and not enough time to do it in, so I went back to business (travel, that is) as usual. I hit the road harder, and my early inner warning signal was quickly ignored. I showed them. Like so many other business travelers, I lived by this quote:
IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING, YOU’LL FIND A WAY. IF YOU DON’T, YOU’LL FIND AN EXCUSE. -JIM ROHN
If you’re like me and willing to justify avoiding something you really don’t want to do, then you’ll understand what I did next. The truth was I didn’t want to stop and rest. My identity was in my drive and in producing results. If I stopped, I thought I would lose ground and ultimately lose.
I hate losing.
I pushed even harder, traveling an insane number of miles for business. I increased my pace and responsibility. I lived in the moment and was willing to sacrifice everything—including my health and family.
THE COST OF THE RESULTS
Then it happened.
I hit the wall, and this time it hit back, and I didn’t get up quickly. In March of 2015, my business travel life finally began to catch up with me. All my Energizer Bunny energy was gone.
Everything that came naturally to me began to take more energy, and I began to crash— and crash hard. It didn’t happen all of a sudden, but my pace (which was one of my marks of success) and my stress levels were ultimately the cause of my demise.
I found myself unable to get up in the morning like I always had; the hours before everyone arose were “my time,” and I had never missed using them. I started sleeping as much as I could on the road. My breathing was off. My face was constantly flushed. I would get body aches that felt like the flu … without the flu. Headaches led to migraines. My mind would shut down to the point I couldn’t concentrate or even read. It was brutal on my pride and on me.
And I wasn’t the only one affected.
My wife got more than her fill of this madness. She already felt like a single mother when I was away, and now I was completely useless to her when I was home—I was one more person she had to take care of. C’mon, Buckley.
Those were dark days in our home filled with confusion, resentment, and hopelessness. The hard-driving me was becoming a thing of the past. But how? I was only 45 years old! Although I still felt like I was getting more done than most people, it was not at my pace or at my energy level.
I went back to the doctor, this time with a completely different attitude: one of humility and openness. Over the next few weeks, I underwent extensive medical tests that were exhausting, stressful, and expensive. But I needed to know and understand what was going on in my body.
This time, the doctors knew something was wrong, but they just weren’t sure what to do next. I was encouraged to learn that nothing major was wrong since my family tree included a legacy of heart disease and cancer. I was relieved, yet still tired most of the time and unable to run races, work out, and push it like I always had any time I’d wanted to in the past.
I was officially concerned and worried. I knew I had so much more in me … but not the energy to produce the results I wanted, and especially not in the acceptable (to me) turnaround time I was used to.
I’d hit a wall and needed a new fuel. I’d been using cheap gas and not doing the maintenance needed on a high-performance car. I was treating my Ferrari like a cheap, beat-up old Camry work car. Repair work had consisted of “do the minimum and get me back on the road.” I needed to quickly learn how to maintain this gift of a car for the long haul.
Years and then decades of doing it “my way” had wrecked my body. Pushing this hard without really taking care of my body had finally caught up to me. The cost of getting the results “my way” was forcing me to pay a price I didn’t want to pay … and oh, I would pay for a long time.
Everything was going to have to change. I needed to do things differently. My health and family literally depended on it.
Over the next few months, I was diagnosed with HPA Axis Dysfunction. Translation: I was running my body into the ground. My stress and pace had damaged my nervous and endocrine systems, which produced my energy. Something had to change, or it would literally shut down my body.
To be honest, this really scared me. I was the sole financial provider for my family. I was literally forced to change. I also didn’t have all the answers, but I knew it would not be a quick fix (if fixable at all). This was not the place I wanted to be in, but my focus was now on getting myself healthy.
Everyone who knew me or met me was completely shocked that I had “energy issues” because I was still so active and intense. But now, my energy was a commodity that needed to be spent on the things that really matter.
I actually view this diagnosis as a rare gift. It forced me to get focused on how to manage and increase my energy so I could maximize my results both on the road and at home.
UNDER THE HOOD
Once I was grounded (literally), I was forced to begin asking deeper questions, the answers to which were very revealing to me. Those close to me were ready to confront me in a loving way to lead me to the truth about myself.
There was this underlying stress to always perform, to always be at my best, and to “be on.” There were all these expectations that I ultimately realized were self-imposed. Others saw my results or my on-stage persona, not the off-stage toll it was taking on me.
Why did I feel the need to push all the time? What had once been my secret sauce had become my poison.
I asked myself, “What do I actually do when I rest? I’m always doing something. I don’t know how to be still or just be with others. This is not right.” I felt lonely, empty, drained, discouraged, confused, paralyzed, and humbled. And I wasn’t even in touch with my feelings!
I didn’t hear of high performers on the road getting sleep, taking breaks, and having downtime. I didn’t know how to refuel myself with all I was asking and taking from myself. I deeply lacked true rest, the very thing that would heal my body, mind, and soul.
Finally, I began to really look at myself as I was, not as I thought I had to be. Yes, there were expectations, but who had set them? I realized I had let others set my expectations for myself, and it was exhausting.
RESTED, REFUELED, AND RE-ENGAGED ON THE ROAD
Slowly, every part of me was beginning to heal. I was on a strict rest and supplement protocol that was brutal yet necessary. Through non-traditional medicine and a holistic practitioner named Treva Thompson of Living Tree Health and Wellness, I began to see hope, and my body literally regained life and energy.
Ironically, my character was deepened along with my faith during this journey, which is still ongoing, and the key has been self-awareness. I’ve learned to really listen to my body. What does it need right now? For a driven, high performer, this is a DRASTIC change of operation for me. But it’s necessary and it has literally saved and changed my life.
There are many of you road warriors out there who are like me. Some part of my story is your story. You’re somewhere along my journey. My hope is you find enlightenment, encouragement, and hope in knowing there is someone else out there like you.
I get you. I am you, road warrior.
I’m back on the road and now live a completely different road lifestyle. I no longer view a trip as a vacation but as my vocation. I’m the “one of these guys is not like the other” when traveling. And I love it. There are enough of those guys out there and I’m on a mission to challenge and inspire more to stop going off-road on the road.
As a result, the Six Energy Habits of The Elite Road Warrior came to life literally to save my road life and put me back at my best in a way that is sustainable and life-giving not draining.
I’ve learned the hard way how to leverage the road to transform my work, my health, and my home life while on business travel.
I’m thankful I did not completely lose my health and my family driving so hard for so long on the road and was allowed to not only recover but also help other road warriors along the way.
Disclaimer: This content is directly taken from the book, Elite Road Warrior: Six Energy Habits to Master the Business Travel Life. Used by permission.