Former Hawthorn Hawks Premiership ruckman Max Bailey recently completed a 7-month sojourn to Africa (to work at a charity in Tanzania for 5 months), Europe and America, and he has slotted back into life seamlessly and with vigour and purpose.
In chatting with him, I drew some striking parallels between my overseas experiences and his, particularly when it comes to the networks we left behind in Australia and how we kept them engaged, despite not being present.
If you’ll allow me briefly to indulge in a trip down my own memory lane, I recall sitting on the tarmac in Santiago, Chile, back in February of 2014, having just completed a 6-month wander through parts of Europe, North and South America.
Strangely, I couldn’t wait to touch down in Australia again and get cracking. I had interviews and coffees already lined up the Monday following our arrival back in Melbourne and I had spent the entire trip reading, writing, reflecting and trying to work out my path ahead.
I was energised, despite the fact that having the freedom that travel provides was about to be cut short swiftly and I was supposedly going to be ‘back to reality’.
But surely time away is time out?
It’s tempting to ponder how different (and indeed more stressful or desperate) Max’s and my life might have been had we not spent our time away being diligent in amongst the beach trips, treks, piña coladas and mid-afternoon naps to ‘recover from a lot of hiking’.
But for both of us, the priming of our relevant contacts well before our return had significant and immediate results.
For myself, two meetings were all I needed to secure a job with a former employer, while for Max, he had offers from four potential employers before the ink on the arrival stamp in his passport had even dried.
So what specifically did we do to keep the flames ignited?
It seems fairly flippant of me to suggest that all we did was kept a few close contacts, fired off a few emails before arriving and then sat back and waited for the offers to roll in while we got acquainted with the local beer(s).
However, it was a lot deeper than that and some of these relationships were in situ years ago. Between Max and myself, here’s what we did:
1. Leave on good terms
Ensure both your employer and your network knows why you are leaving for a trip. For Max, Richmond Tigers (where he was a Development Coach) knew that he wasn’t leaving out of spite or hatred of the organisation. He was transparent enough to state it was due to him desiring a different experience in life. The right employer will not only encourage you to go for however long you need but also be willing to assist you to get the most out of your experience so that if you choose to return to them, you are a more developed employee.
2. Have a complete LinkedIn profile
A LinkedIn profile is so much more than copying and pasting your resumé or playing history online and leaving it to organically bloom. It is a living, breathing repository of who you are and what value you will bring to a business or business partnership. Write posts, outline your past work-related responsibilities, achievements and skills as well as a chance to share the work of other people in your network.
Use LinkedIn’s inbuilt Social Selling Index to gauge how well your profile is performing. Just because you aren’t actively turning up for work, doesn’t mean that your profile shouldn’t either.
3. Set up a Facebook profile and/or fan page, Instagram account, WhatsApp group
Both Max and I set up some of these social media accounts and they were great tools to keep people informed of our whereabouts, achievements, journeys and to keep people aware you still exist. Many contacts even offered travel advice, which saved a lot of time. It also served as an automatic “I’m safe” status update which further reduced questions around safety, particularly in the 3rd world countries!
Also, check emails regularly and not just Facebook. Many potential employers will converse that way or through LinkedIn as it is more professional to do so.
4. Work on yourself and your self-awareness
This is a great time to address certain aspects of your life that are in question. Max followed the lead of one of his friends and undertook a volunteering mission in Tanzania as he saw the transformation in her upon her return. She had clarity of purpose, a battle plan and is now in a vastly different mental and emotional space.
Similar to my experiences on the road, Max read a lot of books (many recommended to him by his engaged network), kept a journal of his thoughts and ideas, and attempted to find out more things about himself through challenging circumstances overseas.
5. Be open to exploring opportunities and networks overseas
Through his connections at the AFL, he created opportunities to travel Europe and other parts of Africa to coach footy in places such as Kenya, Cape Town, Amsterdam, Austria and London. He now has experiences in non-footy playing countries that he otherwise would not have had, and those contacts in those countries now have a connection to Australia.
In fact, when I was in the Salt Flats in Bolivia – one of the more remote places I have been on this earth – I met a lady who now works for LinkedIn. You never know who you are going to sit next to in a 4×4 vehicle traversing a lithium-based terrain!
6. Do a little bit every day or even a couple of times a week
This process really doesn’t need to be onerous or time-consuming. Nor do you have to keep in contact with everyone who has a pulse. Max said that he knew that he would more than likely return to football in some capacity. As such, he kept a relevant group of about 10-12 people whom he held in high regard close and contacted them once every month or so to check in and share some of his experiences.
“The key was to keep in touch with them as people and not asking for employment,” Max said. “It helped keep me front of mind and when it was clear as to when I was coming back, it wasn’t me contacting them out of the blue for a favour.”
7. Organise first meetings for no longer than 3 days after arrival
We get it; you’ve just spent a reasonable amount of time away from home and are stoked to be back with friends and family and in familiar surroundings. You’re absolutely thrilled to be able to go to a fully-working toilet, and the last thing you can possibly think about is employment or suiting up. But the longer you leave it to “settle in” the more comfortable you will get, and that will mean you will lose any momentum that you have built up while overseas.
Be deliberate to reduce anxiety
While both Max and my times away from home were fairly lengthy, the same principles could be applied to any duration, really. It is all about being deliberate and believing that any relationship-building activities with benefit you.
Following the above steps helps make a traditionally gruelling struggle far more exciting, less stressful and totally manageable, and, if done right, will give you the energy to hit the ground running in an exciting career that you are passionate about.