I’m writing this post from an upscale hotel suite, at the end of a day that started with a lovely restaurant breakfast where I didn’t think about what things cost before ordering them. A pretty average work travel day.
But like most work days generally, it passed like a whirlwind, and if I had a moment to think, I spent that moment focusing on the things about work that I can’t wait to be done with rather than appreciating the awesome stuff that I get to experience as perks of working.
Can you relate? Fundamentally, none of us would pursue an early exit from work or an alternative approach to work if we were satisfied with the status quo. So it’s easy to get into a cycle of hating on work without also appreciating the non-monetary perks it provides us. Because work is too demanding these days, no doubt, and all signs point to that trend continuing to get worse.
But both things can be true. It’s absolutely possible to be in a big old rush to get the heck out of our working lives while still appreciating the fun stuff that comes with work, whatever those perks might be for each of us. And once we come to terms with those perks going away for good in the near future, we can appreciate them even more while we still have them.
Choosing How to See Things
Work travel is something I write about here a lot because it’s a big part of my current life. And no matter how glamorous or exciting it might seem to those who don’t do it all the time, work travel is a drag. Despite the perks come with it, it’s still time spent getting up early for flights and going to bed late after endless meetings and dinners. It’s time when I can’t control what I do in my off hours like I can at home… if I even get off hours. It’s an imposition even when it’s fun.
Or at least that’s one way to see it.
The other way to see it is as this amazing time in life that won’t likely repeat itself when I get to play dress-up of sorts, and pretend to be a person who isn’t trying to optimize spending at all moments. A person who spends money on things I would never choose to spend on. A person accustomed to certain luxuries.
And while taking that view doesn’t make it any easier to be cheerful when the alarm goes off at 4 am before a flight, reminding myself of how cool certain aspects of it are makes it much easier to keep doing it month after month.
My Biggest Perk: Status Travel
Thanks to traveling a lot for work, I have Marriott platinum status (which now means I also have SPG platinum — wohoo!) and get hotel room upgrades fairly regularly. Right now that means I have a very nice room with a living room, half bath (no joke), a big bedroom and a master bath bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. I don’t get hotel upgrades like this one very often, but nonetheless, I wouldn’t be the first business travel to get used to this if I let that happen. To start thinking I deserve rooms like this.
I don’t get upgraded as often when I fly as I do with hotels, but it’s always nice to get bumped up to first class, and I’m happy to take advantage of the free food and drinks United gives 1K level members even when we’re in the back of the plane.
It would be easy to think of this stuff as, “Well, it’s the least they could do.” After all, I give a lot of business to the hotels and airlines every year, and it’s absolutely in their best interest to maintain my loyalty. But I’m trying hard not to get that attitude, because I know: all of this goes away soon. We’ll certainly still fly and stay in hotels after we quit, but very shortly thereafter, we’ll lose our status and the perks that go with it.
Second Biggest Perk: Making Decisions on Convenience, Not Cost
I’ve discovered that, somewhere along the line, I grew a second brain. I’ve always had the brain that is price-conscious, and that weighs the convenience factor against the value it provides. But somewhere in the midst of all this work travel, a second brain sprouted that doesn’t think that way, or at least not to the same extent. This second brain still has pricing limitations in mind, but within a much different set of parameters. This brain is thinking with a different type of pragmatism: the kind that says there’s not much time, and so convenient choices are the best choices.
It’s this second brain that says, “It would be marvelous and cost-effective to take a train from the airport into the city, but that will burn hours I don’t have.” The first brain would say, “But that cab is so much money. It’s not worth it.” And if it’s our money, our default is to agree with the first brain (sometimes to a fault, like when we have more money than time). But when it’s for work, and the timelines are so much more compressed, then the second brain wins.
And it’s not even remotely true that I throw money around while traveling for work. I am price-conscious when selecting flights and hotels, and I don’t go to fancy restaurants just because someone else is paying. But if I have a meeting, I need breakfast, and there’s a restaurant that’s right here in front of me, the second brain reminds me that I don’t have time to worry about whether this is the cheapest option. I just go with what’s easiest and takes the least time.
Getting to spend this time with a second brain that makes decisions based on convenience over cost is an interesting experience, and one that will end soon, along with the travel perks. What’s been perhaps more interesting of all is how seamlessly I can switch from one brain to the other, making a choice with our personal funds in one thought, and then making a very different calculation for a work travel choice with barely a second between. But very soon I’ll need to bid adieu to brain two when we leave work, have more time than money, and need to prioritize cost above most everything.
What Are Your Work Perks?
We well know that not everyone has fancypants airline or hotel status, but most people get some non-monetary benefit from work. We’ve had friends who’ve gotten tickets to events sometimes, or discounts on things they needed for home. Maybe it’s use of a company phone or computer that saves you from having to purchase those things (waving my hand in the air over here!). Or getting to attend company events with food and drink.
What often seems to happen is we are excited about those perks at first, but then over time they stop feeling like perks, and just feel like background noise. Like my work phone — I’ve had a fully paid phone for years now, and the easiest view would just be to say, “They expect me to be reachable, so they should pay for my phone.” (And they should, because they do!) But this perk goes way beyond this. First, I have an iPhone, which I can’t imagine paying for myself. Second, I haven’t researched cell carriers or rate plans in maybe a decade. Third, I never think about how much data I’ve used or question whether I should try to find wifi before doing certain things on the phone. The real perk, beyond just whatever the phone would cost me otherwise, is having the luxury not to think about all the things that most people have to think about when it comes to phones. That’s been pretty great! But again, it ends soon.
In your work life, are there any perks you’ve had that you’ve forgotten are even perks? Can you remind yourself what they are and ask yourself if they provide any harder-to-see perks, like my being freed from ever thinking about cell plans and data usage?
Preparing to Say Goodbye
We know what a privilege it will ultimately be to leave work on our own terms, and not to have it decided for us, like happens for most people when they ultimately retire, either because of poor health or because they lose a job and can’t find another (ahem, ageism). And a big part of leaving on our own terms is the ability to mentally prepare ourselves to say goodbye to it all.
What I didn’t say earlier was that, when I saw what a nice hotel room I had gotten, I didn’t just shrug and think Cool, and move on. I took pictures of it, I danced around it, I danced around it some more, and then I invited a friend who lives in the area to come hang out in it instead of going out. Because I wanted to soak it up as much as possible.
Every time I get upgraded on a flight now, I make a point to remind myself that I’m not a person who flies first class, but just that I got super lucky and am getting to pretend to live a different life from my real one. I’m not perfect at this thinking, and especially when sitting in economy, I’ll completely fess up to feeling like a person who deserves to at least sit toward the front where there’s a teensy bit more leg room. But I’m focusing on changing that mindset, and am making a point of sending out a little thank you from my knees to the airplane gods whenever I’m in economy plus.
More than anything, knowing that our future lives won’t include a lot of the things we enjoy now — the travel perks, the second brain that makes decisions based on convenience first, the freedom from worrying about mundane things like cell phone plans — has shined a bright light onto the perks themselves and made us both appreciate them more.
And when we remind ourselves to appreciate these perks — big and small — several important things happen:
We get a nice gratitude buzz — Gratitude is good for us, after all, and it has a powerful way of kicking out those negative ways of looking at things, like focusing on what a drag travel can be. So much more pleasant to focus on the positive Hey, cool, I get some extra leg room and a free snack box! How lucky am I?
We take clearer mental pictures — Knowing something has a short expiration date is a great reminder to make the conscious effort to remember and appreciate it, so we have clear memories to look back on.
We re-evaluate our retirement budget — A very few of the perks we get through work have reminded us that time is sometimes worth more than money (thanks, second brain!), and we’ve adjusted our retirement spending plan accordingly.
What are the work perks that you will miss the most? Or if you’re already retired, that you do miss? Any surprises in there? I had almost forgotten that my cell phone is a perk, but I am appreciating it so much more since reminding myself.