I am about to head out on two due diligence trips. Next week I will be in Central America stopping in Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Then in January I am headed back to Asia (Thailand & India) and Ghana in West Africa. I am going to check up on both existing partnerships and delve into new ones and, as usual, it is a tight schedule. When I tell friends I am going, especially those that don’t have the opportunity as I do, I often get asked, “What is it like being there?” For me, this is a difficult question to answer without sounding flip or dismissive.
Certainly travelling to different places and cultures on a compressed timetable is exhausting. At the same time, it is always exhilarating. I am fascinated by it all, no matter how often I go. However, the concept of “being there” has always meant something else to me, and, frankly, it has little to do with travel. For me, “being there” can be defined as the moment when something happens that so completely absorbs one that you become oblivious to all else. “Being there” means that you are so focused that time slows. Peripheral vision narrows, but focus intensifies. So do odors and the sense of touch. Without thinking or trying, senses heighten. It even seems like you can taste the moment. Total concentration is not necessary. It just happens. Whether it was the first time my future bride told me she loved me, or the birth of my two boys, this is the phenomena I call “being there.”
It could be in the bean fields of northern Nicaragua, or a Mayan farming village outside Mexico City, the remarkable shoreline of the Ganges as it meanders past Varanasi or the bustle of a metropolis like Mumbai, the home of a friend in Patna, or by the Atlantic staring at the infamous Johnstown slave prison (in Accra) that was the embarkation point for the slave ships of the 17th and 18th century headed to the New World. Or, it could be sitting here at my desk while I am trying to write a coherent thought. Being there is more about what is going on in my head than it is about place. Sure, the two are inextricably connected but without the mindset, the place has less meaning.
Achieving that sense of awareness that “being there” evokes is intoxicating. It alters preconceived ideas. Energy flows unimpeded. Physical challenges which are numerous while on the road dissipate. When your head clears and the background noise recedes, when the clock slows and your senses go into overdrive, the rhythms of the world sync. Then and only then does one begin to feel what it is like be there.
Being there is key to my job and important for my personal psyche. It opens up pathways to understanding the diversity of culture and the awareness of how work really gets done. It bridges gaps in understanding and, remarkably, lowers defensive barriers others may raise to make sure I am no threat. It informs me in both a business and personal way about the social impact enterprises I am there to evaluate and the people with whom I am considering working. Being there physically and being there mentally is what it is all about. It does not matter where you are.