“There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home”
Before I became a Life Coach here in Baton Rouge, I made my living in the nursery industry— I grew trees for a living—Lots of them. Heck, I lived for it; it was the most fun I had ever had. Tree growers visit each other to learn new techniques, traveling around the world to see how others cultivated and grow their trees and are always on the look out for new varieties to introduce into America, (now that is the real home run!) We would travel almost anywhere to find a new tree… a new bloom or new color. It was just common sense to see what the other growers were doing around the world.
On one of those trips, five years or so back, I decided to travel from France where I had friends, but had seen the nurseries, to Ukraine, where my German nursery buddies had said some fabulous trees were being grown. Besides, I always wanted to see Yalta (call me a history geek). Getting a ticket? easy enough. Visa? didn’t need one. Ukrainian money? right at the airport in France…Cell phone? (Hey, I still have a business to run and can’t be completely out of touch) Now the trouble began.
The young Ukrainian clerk in the phone store looked up at me and sputtered a series of syllables in my general direction. She had been fiddling with my brand new ‘Ukrainian’ phone for 15 minutes now, the phone I bought for about half again more than I would have paid here in the US. However, she couldn’t get it to work. Explanation is hidden in the language; at least until I deciphered the Ukrainian ‘gobbledygook’ she continued to spew out as if I understood it.
I was imagining missing the afternoon farm tour… and my new host for dinner (which happened). I was growing frustrated, in case you hadn’t noticed.
“Ya ne rozumiyu,” I replied, for at least the twelfth time. It meant, “I don’t understand.” One of the only Ukrainian phrases I was taught by my host. The 1950’s smile she had given me the first few times I said it was soon replaced with an aching impatience. She frowned at me, then at the phone, and sighed. She pulled out a Post-It Note, scrawls some Ukrainian on it, handed it to me along with my dysfunctional phone and slowly directed me to another store in the mall to fix it. She had to repeat these instructions three times before I understood them. This was the fourth cell phone store I was being sent to. As it turned out, there are a lot of bureaucratic procedures involved with activating a cell phone in Ukraine, the details of which were obviously sailing clear over my head. And since none of the clerks spoke English, they all reached a breaking point, lost patience and sent me down to road to be somebody else’s problem.
The process took close to three hours… and it was still not over. The cell phone nightmare continued on and on.
I didn’t resolve my cell phone issue that day. I finally found an elderly gentleman in the ‘mall’ who spoke English and was kind enough to come translate for me — yes, I walked around a Ukrainian mall (sort of an open air business district) randomly approaching people to find someone to translate for me.(Ukrainians are generally very friendly folk)— It turned out that Ukraine required an identification number to activate any cell phone bought within the country, the equivalent of having a Social Security Number in the US to buy a cell phone. There’s a formal process that’s required, and if you’re a foreigner and don’t happen to work for a Ukrainian company, then you’re out of luck, (unless you can get a friend to come in and register your phone under their name). As you can tell, I did not have any Ukrainian friends with me. So almost four hours after arriving, I left the mall, having paid too much for a phone I couldn’t use…And then got lost going back to my hotel. Ever tried to read Cyrillic street signs? Might as well be Greek! All I could remember was that the hotel was across the street from that big statue of Lenin.
That was my first day in Ukraine (not counting the flight delay in Kiev, but that’s another story), and I would be lying if I said days like this were rare. They don’t happen that often, but they have occurred with enough regularity that the seething frustration, the awkward self-consciousness, the mental exhaustion, and the unavoidable sense of isolation have become all too familiar.
Now here comes the Life Coaching part of the blog, because with any lifestyle, there are joys and frustrations. It’s not all a bowl of cherries. You sacrifice some things to get others. Don’t worry; I’m not here to complain about every trying moment I came across in my travels. There have been so many more good days than bad that I would not take back a single life decision I’ve made seeing places and people around the world.
Now I earn a living writing and coaching people. It seems important to me to paint a realistic picture of what that lifestyle entails, the highs along with the lows. I should let you know that perhaps the biggest difference between that lifestyle and my current, more bucolic one, is simply that the highs are higher and the lows lower, thus reorienting what one values in their life.
The evening after the Ukrainian cell phone fiasco, after I finally found my way back to my hotel at dusk, I went and sat in my room by myself. Without TV (well, it was Russian language TV), without Wifi in the hotel, No movies, No friends (not like I’d be able to call them from Ukraine anyway), and nothing to do. I went back and laid in bed for most of the evening. (Well, until dinner, but that is another story too) Physically and mentally drained…and miserable.
Bad Days & Good Days….
There’s nothing new about a bad day. We all have them. And we all have our own strategies to unravel and manage our negative emotions. Sometimes we call up a friend and unload with them, or we call up mom or dad and look for a little reassurance. Maybe we put on a movie with our significant other and just forget about everything for a few hours, or maybe we hit the gym or work it out on a long jog.
But traveling or working on the road, even as a life coach, you usually don’t have a friend to have beers with, you can’t call a parent to lean on for some support, you don’t have a movie to watch or someone to curl up with, no gym membership, no track. Often you have to take the brunt of your emotions alone, with nothing to distract you from them.
It’s challenging, but it makes you stronger, more mentally hardy, more balanced. When you do eventually bounce back, and you always do, life feels easier. Those joyous experiences you feel in contrast to the dark and lonely ones become that much better. Actually, I’ve found that the glaring contrast between highs and lows redefines what those joyous moments really are all about.
There’s a curiously enigmatic effect on one’s emotional life: the extreme highs and novelty of experience render certain “exciting” activities to often feel meaningless, and the extreme lows of isolation and frustration make many “regular” activities feel exciting and fulfilling. Those dark times of loneliness, depression, frustration and isolation make other routine daily events of life—events which you and everyone else takes for granted—that much better, that much more significant.
Which I guess is what the paradox settles down to: a devaluing of superficial pleasures and a greater appreciation for simple, authentic ones. I appreciate every day spent with those who mean everything to me. A quiet bourbon on a patio with the dog. Watching a football game with friends. Going to a birthday party or a barbecue. These are the events I look forward to now and get excited about, days and weeks ahead of time; that’s probably the way it should be!
“it’s just common sense“
Frank Hopkins is a certified Professional Coach (CPC) and certified by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). He is a certified Master Practitioner (ELI-MP) of the iPEC proprietary assessment tool, the Energy Leadership Index and offers seminars on Energy Leadership. He maintains memberships in the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Institute of Coaching (ICPA).