How many of the 50 states have you visited?
[This post originally appeared as a LinkedIn article on 12 October 2022.]
[This is the first of a two-part series on being an American doing business in a modern global economy.]
ON A LATE NIGHT IN OCTOBER 2009, I drove over the Mississippi River into St. Louis staring at the Gateway Arch brightly lit up in the distance. From the back seat, my 8-year-old son woke up, saw the Arch, and groggily asked, "Daddy, is that the ...?" I replied, "Yes, that's the Gateway Arch."
He said, "So ... Number 50! Yay!" And then fell back asleep.
He knew that arriving in St. Louis would mean crossing the state line from Illinois into Missouri, and he knew that this was the last state on my list. At that point, I had officially visited all 50 of the United States (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico).
It had never been a personal goal to achieve this milestone, but after a cross-country rode trip two months prior had left me at 48 (only Kentucky and Missouri remained), it actually became a family affair. My kids even started counting how many states they had visited. So when it came time to relocate us from Virginia to Seattle, we chose the path that would take us through my last two states.
I later discovered that very few of my friends and colleagues had even come close to visiting all 50 states. As I thought about my own journey, I realized that it takes quite a few turns in a person's life path to do this. Heck, even truck drivers, pilots, professional athletes, Presidential candidates, and touring musicians don't typically hit ALL 50 states. Unless you specifically set out to do it as a passion project, apparently it is quite a rare feat.
Why am I sharing this on a professional platform like LinkedIn?
This experience gave me a true appreciation for how diverse the US truly is. Geographically, culturally, economically, legally, politically, religiously, etc. We may tout ourselves as a *United* States and as a single cohesive country, but our history shows that we are far from it.
It gave me a first-hand appreciation for how VAST this country is. You can research the statistics and study the maps, but I actually DROVE through all 50 states and, let me tell you, it takes quite some time to cross all of those many many miles.
When I started sharing my experience with others, I was struck by how few Americans--even otherwise world-traveling business professionals--had never explored even a fraction of their home country. That is a shame on so many levels, because it is a truly awe-inspiring place. I'm not talking about just the popular tourist destinations, but rather ALL of it, including--and especially--some of the "roads less traveled".
As modern technology shrinks our planet and allows EVERY business to be a GLOBAL business, almost all of us need to expand the lens through which we view our work.
For years, the shipping industry has allowed us to send goods to customers in far-away places. However, more recently we have extended our supply chains, our partner networks, our media exposure, and, post-pandemic, even our workforces. Even our colleagues in otherwise fairly localized fields like tax, law, and healthcare have had to adjust their approach to their crafts.
If we have all learned even a single lesson from spending two years under the lockdown of a global pandemic, it is this: ISOLATION SUCKS. Even more so in our modern globally connected economy.
Therefore, perhaps part of our professional development should include physically leaving our sheltered cocoons and actually visiting other places? I would argue that for Americans, a great place to start would be with our own huge, diverse, fascinating, and beautiful United States. All 50 of them!