I dislike traveling on business. Increasingly so since I reached the antediluvian age of 60. (Can I really be that old? Why do I still relate to myself as a teenager?)
Nevertheless, there are some wonderful rewards to travel that don’t come immediately to mind when thinking of the normative business day on the road. One of these is the opportunity to meet new and startling people who can broaden your outlook on life and educate you in unexpected ways. I have actually found this joy to be diminishing as people increasingly bury their heads in the virtual world of their omnipresent contraptions. (Note my Inc. column of last year, “The Zombiefication of Business Travelers”)
But I was reminded of the sweet illumination that is available to the quotidian, workaday business traveler (with just a little planning) when I was in Houston, Texas a couple of weeks ago. I had two hours between appointments and my last meeting was right off the campus of the University of St. Thomas in downtown Houston, where the Rothko Chapel is located. So I grabbed the opportunity to spend over an hour in this remarkable place–a unique artistic and religious haven I had long wanted to see.
For those who have never heard of the Rothko Chapel, it is the final major work of expressionist painter Mark Rothko (before his suicide in 1970) and consists of 14 huge black (with subtle color hues) paintings. These works are displayed in an octagon shaped brick building, also designed by Rothko, in collaboration with Phillip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry, to create a cohesive artistic and spiritual experience.
It just knocked me out with its affect. It was enormously energizing and thought-provoking. Yet I probably would not have gone to the Rothko Chapel, despite my interest, save for the circumstance of a convenient client meeting nearby.
Folksinger Harry Chapin recorded a lovely song in 1972 titled “Greyhound.” It’s about a man ruminating on his life and on traveling and it concludes with this line: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.” So even with business travel.
I don’t know about you, but traveling sometimes can bring out an almost overpowering neediness in me. If you are like me on the road, you are often hungry, lonely, and tired. It’s so easy to want to fill an aching void with escapisms like excessive eating, alcohol, or thoughts of meaningless sex. At the end of a brutal, emotionally and physically draining day, a merciful oblivion may seem compelling. Yet such things also empty one of meaning and focus by proffering an ersatz grace, which in reality offers a vitiation of your true and soulful center. It’s just easy to say fuck it and fall into the arms of a seemingly blissful respite, which is in reality an existential dulling.
It can seem like just another chore to prioritize a renewing mindfulness into our travel day. But experiencing the multifaria of art, nature, music, theater, etc. in their many regional incarnations (like the Rothko Chapel) is a true grace that that can be a special gift to the traveling entrepreneur, at least with a little preliminary planning and a good GPS.
Healthy entrepreneurship is a vocation. At its best it is a pathway to a good and meaningful life in equal proportion to its ability to, hopefully, create a living in the world. It should be no less a noble spiritual vocation than the calling of a priest or social worker.
The geographical accidents and cultural opportunities of our sometimes peripatetic business process can facilitate growth and new thinking, if it is baked into our travel planning. Mindful travel locations are infinite, be they art museums, symphonies, historical battlefields, theaters, or even baseball parks. (I’ve always wanted to see Camden Yards in Baltimore and Wrigley Field in Chicago.) They can be the Grand Ole Opry or the St. Louis Zoo or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Each new landing-place has the possibility to be an oasis of growth, insight, knowledge, and new thinking.
Novelist Henry Miller once wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Thank you, Henry.