When I first accepted my position at work, I was told that I would need to travel for training and then on occasion for meetings. Although the new job was exciting and I looked forward to it, the idea of traveling for weeks at a time sent my anxiety into overdrive. I had never actually traveled for business before this job. Further, I had never traveled alone since being married. Most terrifying of all, I had never traveled to a city I had never been to (Kansas City for the first three trips) or driven an unfamiliar rental car en route to a hotel I had never stayed at — to meet 35 people I had never met. Boarding the plane for that first workshop week was rough. Yes, it was only five days, as my company requires weekends spent at home for liability purposes. Still, that was five days away from all of the comforts of home, learning a job I had never done before.
The first week took a lot of courage. What if I was totally in over my head? What if I got lost in the airport?* What if I forgot my laptop charger, or my makeup remover or something else? What if the other trainees were total jerks? I packed for all four seasons, any number of natural disasters, a selection of pens and notepads that could stock Office Depot and everything but the kitchen sink.
*Sidenote: The Kansas City airport is approximately the size of a shoe box. No worries there, as it turns out.
I can laugh now but at the time, these were huge hurdles to jump. By the middle of the three month training, I was navigating O’Hare International Airport with my laptop bag and a small carry-on with the bare necessities for the week, looking forward to seeing the group of trainees that had become some of my most treasured friends. By the last week of training, the clerk at the Enterprise Rental Car counter knew my name, which of my cohort were travel delayed coming in, and my preference for mid-sized SUVs.
This group of thirty five strangers from across the country had become a group of close friends. In fact, many of us still stay in touch today. We came from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, varying levels of education and experience — all bound by the common thread that was our employer. In many ways, this is like a church congregation. A body of people who have one thing, a love of God, in common. A group that can seem intimidating at first but that you find yourself loving and appreciating as time goes on. We didn’t always agree on everything and in fact, from time to time I think we all got irritated with each other, but we were on this ride together.
I’m sharing this insight into my life because two things happened last week that made me think back on the first week of training and how nervous I was to embark on that insane journey.
First, my husband and I were supposed to join a small group at our church. With the help of some of the staff, we were connected with a group. We went as far as the church parking lot before I was overcome with anxiety. I couldn’t even pinpoint what was making me uneasy — after all, I go to church every weekend and even attend classes that are no larger than the training cohort I traveled with just a few months ago. Why was this different? I still don’t know, but my patient and loving husband told me we could get more information on the group and try again next week.
The second thing that happened was a road trip with three of the other salesmen in my district. We live and work in another state than our offices, so we travel for sales meetings. To save the company money and to reduce our footprint, we carpool. Here we were, four folks from very different backgrounds, ranging in age from 32 to 74, bound by one common thread. I’ve spent time with each of them in the context of larger meetings or one-on-one, but never as a small group. Even though I know my co-workers, I felt a little awkward. What would we talk about? Would there be periods of silence? Road trip car games like when I was a kid?
As it turns out, we have a lot more in common than I expected. We had great conversation, true fellowship, and our four hour trip flew by. As the “new kid,” (and the only woman, and the youngest, and the least experienced in our field!) I was never made to feel uncomfortable or excluded.
I imagine that once I put my trust in God to pair us with the right small group at church, I’ll find the same sort of friendship. Too often, I’m quick to assume that everything will go wrong or that I won’t fit in. This last week was a testament to the power of letting God take me out of my comfort zone and just enjoying the ride.