I never envisioned taking a sabbatical. If it were not for my wife pushing and then seizing the initiative, I doubt I ever would have considered much less acted on taking more than a month away from my work.
With stubborn reluctance, I pushed away from my desk, packed my Macbook Air (for pictures of course), grabbed some clothes and embarked upon a journey that would take us to Australia, New Zealand, and a number of the French Polynesian Islands, followed by a week in Hawaii with family to recover from the first month of travels. It turns out the experience was remarkable on many levels.
Instead of sharing a few thousand digital images (anyone remember when the use of film required us to be much more discriminating with our choice of images?), here are some insights and observations from our travels.
Insights and Observations from a Month Spent Traveling:
-Perspective is the Key to Understanding. I am an absolute addict for museums of any sort. Both in Australia and New Zealand, the museums are outstanding in presentation and information. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about both the foundations of these countries and the historic and geologic histories and indigenous populations of the lands. While we all intuitively grasp that where you come from shapes your view on the world, the differences become meaningful when you study the roots of other cultures.
-Perspective, Part 2: It may come as a shock to many, but the world does not see things through American eyes. People in every country view world events and challenges through their own cultural and personal filters. It behooves all of us in business and life to take time to ask questions and listen and learn to understand how and why people see situations before striving to impose our own views on them.
-Commitment to Honoring Heroes. In both Australia and New Zealand I observed and sensed an intense high regard for those who have sacrificed or placed themselves in harm’s way for their countries. While every nation does this to some degree, the commitment to honoring and maintaining the collective memory of the sacrifices of others seemed to be at a uniquely high level in these countries. The Australian War Memorial was both somber and remarkable and the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand is home to a staggeringly powerful exhibit of the Gallipoli Campaign—a major event and disaster in the stories of these nations.
-New Zealand is practically pest free. And no, I am not talking about that person playing music through his earphones loud enough for everyone on the train to hear and sing along with, but rather, the creepy crawly, biting kind. The big controversy around Picton, New Zealand is how to wipe out the invasive species of pine trees that we would all admire here in the Midwest. Each of these unwelcome trees are carefully monitored with their own GPS location as local authorities monitor initiatives to eradicate the trees with a slow acting and carefully controlled poison.
-Coming to Grips with Painful Past Mistakes. A bit more serious than the absence of flying and crawling creatures in New Zealand is the work in Australia to educate citizens about the historic mistreatment of indigenous peoples. The museums have elevated the education and preservation of native cultures to the level of mission. While I do not have insight into whether the efforts are meaningful or impactful for current day indigenous citizens, the education efforts are visible almost everywhere you turn.
-Sydney, Australia is Truly One of the World’s Great Cities. From the stunning harbor to the remarkable architecture to the clean streets of this city, it looks on the surface to be a model of effective civil government. While I heard undercurrents of the challenges with politics, bureaucrats and taxes, our short immersion suggests this may be the modern city that works, supplanting my own hometown of Chicago, which used to work. Today, Chicago is a city in complete and utter turmoil characterized by armed conflict and a runaway financial disaster. It was refreshing to remember what a great city feels and acts like.
-Yes the World is Fascinated with American Political Theater. The typical question within the first 60-seconds of meeting someone in a different country was: “Is it possible that Donald Trump could win?” Everyone is watching this ultimate reality show—all with fascination, some with excitement and a few watching closely in horror.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
I am back, refreshed, recharged and forever changed just a bit by the exposure to other people and places. And yes, once again, I learned that my better half is always right.
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