When I write this, I have just arrived in my new hometown for the next four months, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Slowly I am getting used to being in one place for more than two consecutive weeks after having spent the past few months travelling over three continents to twelve countries with more than 200 hours on at least forty flights.
It still blows my mind that within 24 hours you can go almost anywhere in the world by plane. Flying is an incredible concept. 300 people moving at two hundred miles per hour at 38,000 feet and quite frankly you feel no different to when you sit at your kitchen table having breakfast. With the evolution of low cost and local airlines we can now reach all corners of the world much easier than ever before and enjoy the true beauty of our planet.
My father, now retired, spends his time backpacking through Mongolia or exploring the rain forests of Paraguay. He has, since I was young, nurtured my appetite for discovering new places. I have him to thank for my status as a globetrotter three times over and for the blessed state of having friends all over the world.
Most of you probably agree with me that travelling is fantastic. Yet, it can sometimes also be challenging and stressful as you are thrown between time zones, have to stay on top of itineraries and means of transport and find your way through unfamiliar territory, often hampered by lack of local language skills.
The other night, sitting on the back of a moto taxi, taking me to my little house in one of the suburbs of Kigali for my third sleep in my new home, I felt exhausted. It had been one of those days when everything had gone wrong. I was sweaty and covered in red dust and all of I sudden I wondered why I bother travelling at all.
It travelling really worth it? Why do I keep doing it?
I immediately started smiling because the answer bounced back to me in an instant.
Every trip changes you. Big or small. You never come back from a trip quite the same as before you left.
If I would ask you to tell me about your past year – what stories would spring to your mind? It is almost never the days you spent in the office. Or the hours you spent in the gym. It is the travelling you did. The people you met. The extraordinary experiences you had that you didn’t expect.
You would tell me about the exhilarating feeling of freedom when you finally summited mount Kilimanjaro. Or when you shared the strongest caipirinha you have ever tasted with a stranger in a bar on Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro.
In my case, I would tell you the story about when a 50-kg strong Rwandan farmer carried me on his back over a muddy river so the new Converse of this slightly desperate mzungu (read: me) wouldn’t be ruined. Needless to say – I had an audience of 30 locals laughing and cheering wholeheartedly.
These memories make up that we are. They shape our identity. They make us smile. Most importantly, they make us feel alive.
Early 2012 I decided to take a break everything that defined me; my job, my home in London, my friends, to go and explore the unknown. The desire had been burning for a long time but I had always found excuses:
Yeah, I would love to go but …
… what about debt? … what about my job? … what about my boyfriend? Since I took the step I can honestly say I haven’t looked back.
Most people I know who waited to travel the world never did it. Conversely, plenty of people who took time to live or study in a different country back to build very successful careers later in life. In my humble opinion, travelling is the most precious investment you can make in your own development.
So… how can travelling improve your career and leadership skills?
I believe there are a number of skills you can develop whilst travelling that can be very useful at work.
- Travelling helps you to become comfortable with pushing your boundaries outside of your comfort zone
- You learn to be flexible and adapt to new environments
- You learn the importance of listening to others; in fact this can sometimes be key to survival!
- You learn to find your way when you are lost
I would say that travelling new places makes you a wiser you.
“If you move through the world guided by your intellect only, then you walk on one leg. If you move through the world with compassion only, then you walk on one leg. If you move through the world with both intellect and compassion you have wisdom“.
Let intelligence and compassion inspire your leadership by becoming more adventurous!
Leaders are people who think new thoughts. Intelligence and compassion are both key to build a character of strong leadership.
One of the most inspiring leaders I admire is Jacquiline Novogratz, who founded The Next Generation Leadership programs at the Rockefeller Foundation and the Acumen Fund and has appeared on TED several times.
She writes about her passion for leadership in her book The Blue Sweater:
“People who see themselves as outsiders have had to learn how to navigate the dominant culture to be successful. Ultimately becoming attuned to how others act and make decisions is a key skill that all emerging leaders need to possess”.
You have probably heard all about how your actions become your habits, and your habits will ultimately shape your character. If you become comfortable operating in environments where you might look different or are not familiar the local language and customs, you learn how you can flex your style to be able to lead and influence in an effective manner. Leadership is all about influence.
Life is a result of intentional habits. So I decided to let the things that are most important to me guide me through life, not only during my youth. Travelling is not only for young people. Travelling is for the rest of your life. It is an investment that will change you forever.
Discover the beauty of the world and learn from it at the same time!
Rarely have I learnt so much about myself and about life as whilst travelling. It was in South Africa I became familiar with Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu, explained by Desmond Tutu, means that you can’t be human all by yourself. We are all connected and what you do affects the whole world.
To me, Ubuntu is the acceptance of others as parts of the sum total of each of us. Travelling allows you to feel more connected to your fellow human beings in a deep and lasting way, like little else can. What can be more essential when it comes to leadership?
Travelling has taught me what is means to be human and how to lead from the heart. I doubt that I had been able to gain those valuable lessons any other way.
Some people would say I am a hopeless wanderer but I would say I am just smitten by wanderlust.