Business trip a welcome respite

I used to think that business travel was glamorous. This was back when it was called taking a "business trip," when '80s TV shows featured beautiful, cosmopolitan people in power suits.

Before I chose medicine as my career, I imagined myself striding through the airport purposefully, designer briefcase in hand. I would do impressive and important paperwork on the plane, wow clients and colleagues at my destination, eat gourmet meals and stay at fabulous hotels courtesy of a generous expense account. Oh, and I'd also be able to take a few hours, or maybe even an extra day or two, to see the sites and soak up some local culture while I was away. I'd come home minty-fresh with gifts for my family.

I understand things differently now, after witnessing the real-life drama of my friends' careers involving travel. I understand the jet-lag, plane delays, bad weather, business dinners with strangers, lost luggage and missing the kids. And now, with the possibility of remote work and Zoom meetings, physically traveling for work can seem downright anguishing.

I do know that there can be perks of traveling and entertaining for business: airline miles, desirable locales, show tickets and fancy restaurants, for instance. But I remember gushing with jealousy to a woman who needed to travel overseas for client meetings. Imagine my surprise when she told me she "could just as easily be in a Ramada in Schaumburg" for the amount of glamour the trips afforded her. I get it now.

So I'm not implying that the conference I attended last week was a business trip. It's just that "business," or in my case, medicine, allowed me to go somewhere else and spend a few days with colleagues. It gave me license to relax and learn. Today I am sitting in gratitude for the good fortune that allowed me to put myself in a different location and learn in my field.

Florida was kind with its weather; it felt good to leave the fog and icy drizzle of Chicago behind. I traveled with a dear friend and colleague. I met up with past associates and mentors, learned from their career paths, laughed with them over wine, promised to send notes and keep in touch.

I rested. I did have the luxury of seeing the sites and soaking up some of the culture in between lectures. I ate well.

I hadn't wanted to go to this conference; I felt guilty for the indulgence of time off and fees paid. Somehow calling it a "business trip" made it seem less hedonistic to me - gave it more heft and credibility. But I understand the difficulty of a trip for business, and my trip was not that. Businesspeople live the exhausting reality of traveling for their livelihood.

In contrast, my trip was but a gift, inspired by my job, for me. I am very grateful.

- Kelly Abate is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].