As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a bus. The bus is taking me to Austria, where I’ll spend a couple of days visiting my friends before heading towards the expected white Christmas in Finland. My trip has started from Milan, where I attended an European International Business Academy Conference of current research related to my own research field. Now, having a good 5-hour ride for myself, I start reflecting on the past six months of research and my next steps in this process. So, in addition to a simple bus ride with a nice view over the Alps, I find myself being on a mental journey of some sort inspired by the things I see around me.
When my bus has reached the first mountains, crossing the border of Italy, I become aware of the slightly restless feeling. Not only is it due to the enormous mass of rock around me, but also for my thoughts trying to grasp the vastness of knowledge, approaches, interpretations, choices and possibilities surrounding the researcher of international business, not to say the person dealing with the globalized business world e.g. as an entrepreneur. I can relate to the kind of overwhelming feeling coming upon anyone who has ever started to contemplate on the direction and impact of one single person’s being and doing in relation to the whole universe. Questions arise: What is it that really matters in what we are and do? What is it that we want to capture during our ongoing journeys? Where do our journeys actually start and where do they end…?
We all – researchers, entrepreneurs, business professionals – hop on the bus somewhere along the way in time and history of our different journeys and processes, be it research, new venture creation or another process and another organizational context. When we are on the discovering journey in new surroundings, environments and “in between” somewhere still unknown, we may get overwhelmed by the choices we need to make and paths to take. And it is not uncommon to start doubting whether we ever should have taken that journey in the first place. Sometimes it is a lonely path we need to take and we may wonder if we ever find our way home.
Recently, in the middle of a loss of direction in my unfolding research journey, I stumbled upon the following thought by Eddie Vedder (End of the Road). Giving me the sense of perspective, I found it really a great way of approaching any ‘process’ one contemplates on:
“We won’t be the last, we won’t be the first. We come and go.”
It is a comforting and redirecting thought that I am not the first one on this road. Nor am I the last to stumble on these paths. There has been people before me struggling with the same issues as I am and they have found their unique, creative ways of being and doing regardless the final destination. Whatever the process may be, we can rest in the idea that the larger picture has existed all along, and we are here together, “coming and going”.
While allowing and embracing this sort of continuity and dynamism in the larger scale perspective of whatever journey we are on, we still need to value pausing and reflection regularly, and see where we are at the moment. Slowly internalizing the new views in the midst of our journey, be it intimidating or exciting, we give ourselves the chance to place the current into the continuum of past, present and future. Without ever stopping and reflecting back in relation to the current, we may go on with our journeys having little meaning to it.
After the first two hours of sitting in the bus, the driver parks us at an edge of a serpentine road, and we passengers are allowed get off to take pictures of the V-shaped valley that we have just climbed up from with the bus. With my earlier attempts to get a good picture of the marvelous mountains right next to me from the moving bus, through a dirty window, I only captured ridiculously insufficient shots of all the surrounding beauty. While having our 5-minute break in order to inhale some of the wintery valley scenery, I think of how we need pauses like that in other contexts as well. It is a concrete reminder to me that pausing and ”getting out of the box” often offers the much broader and interesting view of things.
Just like the bus in the Alps, we can take a pause in the middle of our journey for some “picture-taking” in whatever process we are in. Yet, snapshots of the current are also to be placed on the continuum of time. Firstly, we ought to pause regularly to take a clear shot of the surroundings for allowing details, light and color to develop with enough time. Then, it is well-justified to take a longer reflective pause for sitting down with people that have gone the particular road before and let him/her tell about their own narratives with all the historical context and content, possible successes and failures, or perhaps what are the future visions and prospective the other hold.
In our information age, we are often privileged to hear and see the journeys of others; we can learn of those before us and share the adventure with the ones on similar journeys. If again thinking of a bus ride through an exciting environment (such as the Alps in my case), we can consider our journeys in relation to our networks of people: when we sit in the bus as passengers of the same journey but on different sides of the bus, we will end up with multiple views and meanings of what we are seeing around us. So, like making sense of a piece of poem or a painting, we are collectively making sense of what we are experiencing and therefore creating shared meaning.
So, as much as we love our adventure, movement and dynamism in business or research, sometimes we need to hop off in order to take the clearer snapshots of our environments, events, actions, and behavior. Then, climbing back to the bus, we will continue our journeys a bit more inspired to reach the next (half-way) destination together with the other passengers. I’m certain that by becoming present with our surroundings and embracing the uncertainty, yet the familiarity of our journeys – extensive or brief – it will make us fall in love with this whole process thing. Appreciation of the beauty of our own and others’ unfolding stories of which only we ourselves are able to tell in the way we do, requires us to pause and look around. Often it is only a matter of slowing down, sometimes pausing completely for a second, and letting the (even intimidating) images and views sink in for a while to get a picture of clarity of the journey we are on. Stepping out of our mental busses, or “boxes”, may surprise us with the creative and meaningful ways we find forward.
And what would be a better time to do some pausing and reflection than this season of holidays and peaceful time of empty offices?