For about ten years of my life I was on a flight at least once a week. Quick hops to visit a local office for a day or two, 18 hour long hauls to run a conference, several weeks in multiple locations to launch an ‘initiative’ across regions. Offsetting the number of visits I made to check up on off shored teams alone would require several forests of trees to be planted. I wouldn’t say I actively sought it out but I don’t remember ever saying no.
In those days I had a platinum card, flew entirely on air miles when travelling outside of work and knew my way to the lounge in most major airports. I had favourite hotels and, even worse, favourite rooms in those hotels. I was in one hotel so often they embroidered my name onto a pillow case which was, frankly, both weird and rather uncomfortable.
For six months, I effectively commuted between New York and London and all I remember is how much fun it was, the camaraderie of travelling with colleagues and a lot of late nights, long dinners and clubs playing 80s music. I don’t remember being pole axed with jet lag, unable to function after about 5pm or being depressed at the thought of returning to a lovely shiny hotel room rather than my own bed.
Last week, however, my current boss asked me to go to New York for a week. I suggested that, in fact, I didn’t need to go at all and that everything could be handled by phone. He considered my position and said that I was fooling no one but myself and that I needed to get on a flight. I agreed to go for three days and he reminded me that a working week was five days. Eventually we settled on four.
I got an evening flight and failed to get drunk either in the lounge beforehand or on the flight. I didn’t watch a movie or eat a meal; I read a book and went to sleep. When I arrived at the hotel it took me 20 minutes to work out how to turn off the lights so I could have yet more sleep. I arrived at the office at 7am the following day and was so exhausted by 6.30pm that I failed to phone the friend I’d arranged to meet for dinner and instead went back to the hotel and straight to bed.
In summary, of the four days I spent in New York I went out on one evening for dinner with colleagues. Not the sort of colleagues I went out with in the old days when dinner would be a prelude to bars and working out whose mini bar we were going to empty but the sort of colleagues with whom best behaviour is the only option and the conversation is entirely about work.
By the second day I was arriving in the office at 5am because I was in bed and asleep by 8pm at the latest and effectively stayed on UK time. I tried to go shopping one evening but my old haunts were full of children buying skin tight, multi-coloured leggings so I made my excuses and left. The jet lag when I arrived back in the UK was unbelievable.
I suspect that either investment banking is a young person’s game or that I have finally started to grow up and I’m not sure which possibility is more depressing.