Time flies when you’re having fun, or so the saying goes. For the travel industry 2020 could be described as many things; fun is probably not one of them. At times the days dragged by in a ground-hog-day-like time loop of sameness (especially during lockdown or stand down). Now it feels like we’re heading to the end of 2020 at warp speed.
But what are we racing towards? Unlike Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors waking up at the end of the Ground Hog Day movie to a new day (and thankfully a new song), sadly we’re unlikely to experience a magical reset to “normal” when we wake up on 1 January 2021.
But here’s the thing, when Phil finally woke up on February 3 to his new day, it was as a better man. Phil may have been repeating the same day of the year, but he went into each of these as a new day, with the knowledge he gained from each of those long Ground Hog Days he’d experienced before. Likewise, we will enter 2021, unlike 2020, with the benefit of what we’ve experienced and learnt during this crazy year.
One of things many of us have learnt from this crazy year is how much we humans crave certainty. We’ve lived through a year that could be defined by the word “uncertain”, with many of us feeling out of control at times. The people who are faring best are those who’ve been able to keep their focus on what they can control, limited as that may be at times. Stephen Covey, who wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, uses two circles to illustrate this approach, a large circle containing all our concerns and within that, a much smaller circle containing what we can influence. Within the circle of what we can influence we can also draw a smaller circle containing those things we can directly control.
Many of us spend a lot of our time in the outer circle of concern worrying about things we have no control or influence over, rather than concentrating on the inner areas of influence where we have some control. For example, we have no control over whether someone on the bus has the virus (concern), but we can socially distance, wash our hands and wear a mask (control). We cannot control something that has happened in the past, for example spilling our coffee a moment ago (concern), but we can control how we react to it right now.
Whilst our circle of control may remain smaller than normal, it’s important for us to try and focus our attention there. Small things matter; controlling what and how much social media we absorb, creating routines, getting enough sleep, building in exercise, eating nutritious food, drinking enough water, and connecting with people that have a positive influence on our lives and our state of mind.
As you head into the new year, think about the people in your life that you’d like to connect with more regularly in 2021. From a work and career perspective think about those people that encourage your development and support you to be your best, your personal cheer squads, your sounding boards, and your mentors.
Mentors can come into our lives in many ways; friends we admire, colleagues we respect, supportive bosses we’ve worked for – people we’ve met through our networks and in our personal lives.
We can also find our mentors through formal mentoring programs. Fortunately for the travel industry we have the Travel Industry Mentor Program (TIME), an industry specific program that draws on mentors from senior roles right across the industry. Through a rigorous matching process, mentees (those looking for a mentor) are allocated a mentor based on the best match of a mentor’s experience and skillset to the stated needs of the mentee.
A formal mentor’s role is to hold you accountable, offer challenging ideas and new ways of thinking and to inspire, as well as help build self-confidence through encouragement and constructive feedback; all whilst working in a safe, confidential, structured environment.
Finding new ways of thinking has been a catch-cry for our industry in 2020, whether it’s looking at a new role, new direction, pivoting your business or working through what your career might look like in the new world order. Going through this process with a mentor by your side can help you to gain clarity and direction.
Gaining clarity and focus have been some of the benefits of the program so far for Ben Ogden, a 33-year-old Senior Events Manager at CWT Meetings and Events who started working with his TIME mentor in August 2020.
Ben who has worked in the travel industry for 10 years and will graduate from the program in 2021, has some advice for other would-be mentees: “Don’t let the process be overwhelming, you don’t have to know exactly what it is you want, it’s nice to have some idea and maybe an idea of how you want to get there, but the mentors they’re a great sounding board of advice, because they’ve probably lived through it,” Ben says.
“They’re not going to steer the ship for you, but they will [be] a lighthouse,” he adds. “For me I’ve got the most value out of having clarity and being able to understand and compartmentalise goals as opposed to having an overarching very high-level idea of things,” Ben continues. “It’s helped me to focus,” he says.
Ben notes having a mentor through the pandemic is helpful. “[Going] through this process having that sounding board or something to help, to not ease your thoughts, but someone with that greater level of experience, that helps shape where you’re going to go to next, you know it’s not the end of the world type of thing, it’s helped in that way.”
But Ben says it’s not all about the pandemic. “A lot of our conversations haven’t been just purely on coronavirus or anything like that, it is all definitely personal development, professional development and that side. I’ve seen a lot of value in pushing my own boundaries and things that I was probably too comfortable with and then forcing myself out of the box,” he explains.
Jackie Wright, Manager of iTalk Travel Maitland also discovered the benefits of getting outside her comfort zone when she completed the TIME program in 2020. The 47-year-old who’s worked in the travel industry for 18 years noted: “you have got to be willing to challenge [yourself], got to be willing to put the time in and the effort in, but my god the rewards are just unbelievable,” she enthused.
“I loved our session, my first two sessions I was super nervous and then after that when I accepted it, then I loved them,” she said. “The sessions challenged me they definitely took me out of my comfort zone absolutely but so so worth it, even if you think you know everything you can always learn more and that’s what they [your mentor] do they make you learn without even knowing that your learning, and their contacts and that kind of thing. Just having someone on the end of the phone that understands as well, that understands the industry, … they just get it,” she continues. “Go in open to be pushed or prepared to be pushed because the rewards if you can do that, the rewards are just amazing. It changes you it changes how you think it changes how you view things,” says Jackie.
Ben describes the two-hour fortnightly sessions with his mentor, currently conducted over Zoom, as “extremely valuable”. “I often leave our two-hour session feeling quite inspired … sometimes it might be a bit overwhelming … but I generally have some kind of feeling at the end of it that I’m able to go and work on it or put something into action or have deeper thoughts on it later.”
“I often walk away and think about it for quite a long time afterwards and it just promotes the deeper thought overall,” Ben adds.
Jackie too has thought deeply about the outcomes of the actions she and her mentor worked on during the year; without her mentor she says she wouldn’t have been able to implement the changes she needed to make due to COVID’s impact on the industry. “If Kelley [Jackie’s mentor] hadn’t helped me with that, it was instrumental in basically turning my year around if I didn’t have her there to look at that and help me through it … the year could have been a very different outcome.”
Having a TIME mentor helped Aleks Popovic, Solutions Design Analyst at American Express Global Business Travel implement change this year too. The 39-year-old who has been in the industry for 20 years started his TIME journey in September 2019 and took on a new role in 2020. Talking about the change Alex says: “The push for me came from the mentoring sessions, giving me that focus and confidence to say you know what I think it’s time, I need to do this, and the opportunity is here now, and I need to take advantage of it whilst it’s here”.
Alex noted it wasn’t only the mentoring sessions that attracted him to the program. “Essentially for me TIME is a very good networking opportunity, meeting people from other parts of the industry, reconnecting with people that I possibly haven’t seen in a number of years or longer that I know are involved in the program and getting a bit of exposure to different things that you hear from people,” he says are beneficial aspects of the program.
Current TIME mentees and past graduates have ongoing access to senior industry leaders through the program’s regular networking and workshop components. Whilst COVID put a temporary halt to face-to-face networking, TIME continued to connect virtually and to provide practical support with a program of online workshops, covering a range of topics on business skills and personal development.
Having a mentor, attending workshops to develop business and personal skills and networking with those in our industry who can provide different perspectives and ideas are all ways that we can take back some control and expand our own circle of influence.
Jackie’s advice if you’re thinking about the TIME program for 2021: “Do it. Even if you get one thing out of it it’s worth it and it is a different perspective, these are people who have been within this industry for such a long time and their passion for the travel industry is amazing.” “I say do it,” she says.
Perhaps it might just be your escape from Ground Hog Day.
Would you like to know more about the TIME program and how a mentor could help you navigate 2021? Go to their website www.travelindustrymentor.com.au or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharon Stanley is a TIME Committee Member and mentor.