Habitual Being

One thing about being on the road as much as I have been for most of this year is that living in hotel rooms allows you to reflect on many things. For example, you get to examine your values and priorities and whether your transient life style is really a choice or just a kind of habit you’ve developed over the course of your career. I have been a consultant since 1969 and have traveled a lot over the past 28 years. You get some idea of how nutty we road warriors can be when you consider we feel pride when we get to the highest level frequent flyer status or become “Million Milers”. That is kind of like winning a prize for being the best prisoner on the block. I computed once that I have probably spent a total of a year or two of my life in airports or in the air.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not ‘crying’ about any of this. I love my work and I even love to travel, although flying used to be a lot more fun before 9/11. Today it is a chore that I accept as part of the price I pay to enjoy the work I do and see the world while serving my multinational clients. What interests me, however, is the question of whether I am really choosing this work lifestyle or whether it is a habit—a way of being in the world that, while easily justified and/or rationalized, is far from ‘normal’ and that takes a toll on me in terms of traveler stress and missed opportunities to develop roots and enjoy the pleasures of home.

I think that a lot of our ways of being in the world are habits. Each time we say “that is just the way I am” or “that’s just the way it is”, I suspect we are arguing for our comfortable and familiar way of being in the world. Obviously, this isn’t a problem if we are conscious that we have a choice. For example, when we meet people who are recently retired and they are feeling some loss or discontent, it might be seen as a kind of ‘withdrawal’ symptom. Likewise, when we think about the future, we could talk about ‘letting go’ of old habits, patterns and familiar ways of being. The point is that we are not limited to any particular way of being.

It is important to distinguish between ‘way of being’ and ‘doing’. Most of our lives are spent learning to do whatever it is we do and mostly to do it well. We take ‘being’ for granted or accept it as some kind of inherent aspect of who we are. For most of us, it takes a crisis, or in the case of addictions and habits, an occurrence of ‘hitting bottom’ before we realize that nothing is ‘fixed’ or permanent about the ‘way we are’—we always, at every moment, have the capacity to reinvent ourselves and transform or alter our relationship to everything we are doing and everything we are perceiving in our lives. To do so may be the biggest and most exciting opportunity and challenge as we grow older and transition from one phase of our lives to another.

For the next month or so, I am embarking on an inquiry into the question of could I ‘be’ satisfied and happy if I broke the travel habit. At this moment, just staying home seems beyond my imagination since I have never not traveled in the past three decades. As I write, I wonder how many other aspects of my life are subject to revision and reinvention if I were to look at them as habits and not as characteristics of who I am. I could look at how I relate to others, including my children. I might look at how I stay in communication with people from my past. I think there is a long list of ‘self-judgments’ that, on examination, have more to do with my way of being than with a particular behavior. It is kind of exciting to take on ‘myself as a project’ and the possibility of who I am. I might not even recognize me in a year or two. Now that would be interesting…