I’m traveling for work today. It’s the first time in over two years, and I’m nervous.
It feels like a lot to fly across the country and present myself to other humans in a professional capacity. I have had butterflies all week, and my coping mechanism is to over prepare. I spent the last few days brainstorming ideas, scribbling down scenarios, and agonizing over outfits. That last one has proven to be the thorniest issue. I just don’t know what the pandemic has done to business casual. I imagine the suit has evolved out of our lexicon completely and wonder how we are now to present ourselves to strike that perfect balance between effortless and put-together. It won’t surprise me to see people in stylish joggers, and I’m all about it, but it widens the spectrum of possible wardrobe options, which is stressful.
Beyond the fashion woes is the added complexity of flying six hours in a mask (ew) and needing to get tested before entering this event. It’s fine, but those actions carry an energy of having to prove myself worthy of entering the premises. I need to receive the blessing of the PCR gods to gain access to the event I traveled across a continent to attend.
There’s the wrinkle that, in an effort to make my life less complicated, I’ve cut grains, sugar, and coffee from my diet. This trip will be a weeklong foray into feeding myself from a hotel happy hour bistro after becoming wholly accustomed to complete culinary autonomy. Soothingly, there is an In’n’Out burger nearby and I will not hesitate to subsist off protein style double doubles. A girl could do worse!
And there’s the first-day-back jitters of seeing my teammates. Some of them I’ve met before, and it will be a nice little reunion. Others I’ve known for years simply as faces in a box on a Zoom screen. As we come together for the first time, what will we talk about? What is the proper response to that simple inquiry: “How are you?”
How am I? It’s not a question that’s supposed to be a gotcha, and yet.
Where do I even begin? It’s a weird state, simultaneously contracted into a micro moment of simplified reality – oh, I’m fine, thanks! Fractally, it’s also an invitation to explore the depths of our shared human experience. “Gosh, yeah, busy! I’ve finished my first book and I’m doing keto to clear a long-standing gut thing. Marco and I are engaged and living in a house that I bought! I recently went to every ladies consignment store in a ten-mile radius, wondering what has happened to the blazers – where did they all go? And I continue to experience almost-daily reminders of the deep grief of losing my mother. How about you? How are you doing?”
In that instant of coming together when we are sizing each other up once again, we also must think quickly on our feet and remember who to be. We have to remember what they know, how long it’s been, and what’s worth sharing. Social media is complicit in the weirdness, because we watch each other’s lives through little boxes, seeing what we want people to see. We could allocate a full hour to catch-ups if we really wanted to know and bridge the gap of separation perpetuated by full-time distributed remote work. We could offer special bracelets that indicate whether we’re hoping for a true moment of connection or if a “I’m well, thanks!” will suffice. Me? I want the stories. I want the answer to the question, “how are you being?”
Business travel used to carry this expectation of sterile professionalism. It was tasteful hotels and meeting rooms that buzzed with bright fluorescents. If you know me, you know that I was good at that, to a point. I could handle only so much good posture and jargon before ripping my pantsuit to shreds and howling at the moon to release the tourniquet of forced propriety.
My prediction, as we take baby steps into the new world of being together again, is the gurgling outpouring of humanity. I think we’ll cry in public more. It will be harder to maintain any semblance of steely exterior. Itll be easy to feel overwhelmed and when others see our tears they’ll think “finally” and shed some of their own, relieved to have the permission.
I think we’re coming together as a hybrid of our former work selves and the humans who have gone a bit feral from time away. We won’t be able to maintain our distance. We’ll be too hungry to connect, empathize, relate in ways we haven’t, and in ways that our bodies crave. We’ll tear down exhibit booths to build bonfires that we gather around to share tales of our pandemic puppies, hand sanitizer, and homeschooling.
Or maybe not.
That’s why I’m nervous about this trip. I’m fearful of being put back into a sterile box of handshakes and how-do-you-dos that requires us to check our human creative essence with the receptionist at the front desk. I won’t do it.
I’m showing up fully. I’ll be a human, and give everyone else the permission to be human, too.
See you out there.