I started the New Year with a new experience: a business trip to Ghana, Africa. It was my first opportunity to visit the continent, and I was excited and a little scared. When I told people about my pending trip, I found that those who had never visited Africa had similar feelings. I was excited about the adventure of visiting a new land: being in a completely different culture with different people and seeing the world differently as a result. This kind of learning experience is stimulating for me, but learning doesn't happen unless people feel safe. I wanted to minimize "bad" experiences and maximize good experiences. So, I decided to practice what I teach: I anticipated and managed the risks.
In addition to excitement, my family, friends, and I were also fearful of the unknown. There are so many pre-conceived notions based upon news stories and history. Since I didn't have my own experiences to refer to, I asked others for reliable information. As with any risk assessment, it's crucial to surround yourself with people who can identify and understand the risks. For this trip, I categorized risks into three categories: Safety, Health, and Travel.
Fortunately, I had access to experienced people who helped me mitigate risks. My safety was my primary concern and once I had a comfort level with that, then I focused on my health. People were curious about how many shots I had to get: five.
I prepared physically by asking the right questions so I had protective clothing, safe foods, and travel documentation. After that, it was up to me to consume safe food and water and to protect myself from mosquito bites to avoid malaria, which I am happy to report that I did.
After safety and health, my greatest concern was performing well for my client to get valuable results, so I arrive one day early to allow for travel delays and recovery from jet lag. This also allowed me to meet with my client in person to do final preparations for our 2 ½ day scoping and scheduling workshop that I was responsible for planning and facilitating. Arriving a day early prevented a lot of stress I would have had over things out of my control like travel snafus. I was able to focus mentally on my work instead of worrying about making it to the meeting on time.
People who had been to Africa told me that I may have some culture shock on my first trip because they had experienced it themselves. I mentally and emotionally prepared myself by expecting cultural differences, so rather than "shock" I had observations that sparked curiosity and wonderment. This was the learning experience I intentionally cultivated.
Being a world away, I set up technology to stay in touch, more so for the emotional comfort of my family and friends yet I appreciated it as well. It was fun sharing my experiences with loved ones and helped me stayed connected with them over my eight day trip.
My African experience was great in every way. Part of that was luck (no travel delays) and the other part was preparation.
You too can create great experiences no matter where you go or what you do. Know your risks and prepare for them physically, mentally, and emotionally. Manage your own expectations and attitudes as well as take care of yourself. Be present, enjoy the journey, and put on a learning lens.
Set yourself up for success this year and always.