A week from now, I’ll be on a flight to Cuba.
I have wanted to go to Cuba for at least three years now, probably more.
There are a lot of really appealing things about it for me – the grittiness, the richness of the culture, the sultriness, the sadness, the heat… and all of those things have always been there. But when I really try to pinpoint the origination of my desire, there is instead another moment that stands out in my mind – the earliest memory I have – when I once offhandedly told my project manager, at a previous job (before I was a project manager myself): “I really want to go to Cuba.” And, because this is how she was, she laughed. And then said to me, because this too is how she was: “you can’t.”
She really wasn’t a good project manager. Most of us, unfortunately, aren’t.
Even though this was about Cuba and not the project, that exchange right there illustrates the real problem with project managers – this adherence to The Rules As Written; this complete subscription to The Letter of The Law. The rejection of anything outside of it, even at the risk of destroying passion and ideas.
Of course, it was technically illegal to go to Cuba at that point. And yeah, technically, it still sort of is. But technically it also sort of isn’t anymore, and so now is a great time, if you really want to, to go. So even though, technically, Americans still “can’t” go, I am.
I hope that by going, I can eradicate that association with “Cuba” from my mind. And I hope that by going, I can get that much farther from that world – from her, from all project managers, from the world of project management as it exists, with all that exhaustive and exhausting Process. I hope that by going, I can carve out even more space for a manager to be a manager without being the manager who dashes unconventional thoughts. That I’ll find validation with doing so many other things that so many other people are pointing to and saying people “can’t.”
Because this isn’t, of course, just about Cuba. Travel never really is.
There’s an odd thing with travel – the way that it amplifies personalities, the way that our aspirations and anxieties emerge. The way we choose places, the things they come to represent, the things we ask of them, the way we go.
There are personalities and persona in travel:
The turn-key traveler, the one who follows guidebooks to a tee. The one who will Google “one week in wherever” and then actually use the itineraries, leaving no review or recommendation unturned and, above all, never straying off the beaten path.
The relaxation traveler, who is probably the most easy-going person you could ever hope to travel with. A little spot, a little sun, and a little quiet, and they’re set.
The luxury traveler; the braggart traveler. The one who has to stay at the best places, the one who finds themselves doing “once in a lifetime things” more than once in more places than one.
The adventurist. The humanitarian. The hobbyist.
And then the traveler who wants to sink into the real life of a place, who wants to walk the neighborhood streets, eat the street food, ride motorbikes, chase dogs. And this one, this is me.
And my point here is that not everyone uses travel to reconcile the same needs. Some of us are searching for romance, some of us want adventure, some want relaxation. Some want to check a box; some want a place without a box to check. But most all of us are looking for reassurance or soothing that we’ve long felt denied; we target a place we think will offer it.
And some of us, we want a place to tell us, because others aren’t:
Nah, girl. You different, but you ain’t wrong.
So I’m going. I am not going to the National Capital Building or the Museum of the Revolution. And no, I do not need the beach.
I want to walk the streets and be gritty and feel out of place but so deeply delighted. And when this has been exhausted, I’ll sit down to some food and a drink. And here, I guess I’ll want a cigar and any kind of pour not cut with syrup, even though the former is probably not so widespread as we think and the latter most certainly is.
Just let me really be here. Just grant me this validation of “being able to;” reassurance and real proof that one can do the sort of things they think they can.