Many of us have a heart-wrenching COVID-19 travel story. Some narratives involved personal journeys. Others were work-related. Quite a few included both. Some pandemic trips never happened. Perhaps yours is still planned on your bucket list of international adventures to come. But other excursions finally happened in the past year during 2023’s year of “revenge travel.”
Allow me to tell you my COVID-19 travel story, which includes four attempts at a trip to Australia, a wedding, an in-person cyber conference in Sydney, a new co-author friend, planning insights, lessons learned, and writing a best-selling book on ransomware stories, Cyber Mayday and the Day After.
To mix things up a bit for this particular blog, I am reusing some of the images from the PowerPoint slides (and corresponding notes) that I presented at a NASCIO Midyear Conference back in 2022.
The topic at that time was what leadership lessons I have learned from situations outside of work.
I have a question for you: Where have you always wanted to visit?
Ever since I was a boy, I’ve always dreamed of traveling to a far off land, of the trip of a lifetime to …
Australia! The Land Down Under (or, as many call it, Oz). The home to exotic animals, the rugged outback and fireworks over the Sydney Opera House as the world ushers in a new year.
So when my Australian niece Sarah announced that she was engaged in 2019, my mind starting racing. Was this it? My justification to spend BIG on a trip of a lifetime?
I got to work finding the best deals on airfares, hotels, rentals cars, tours and more. Yes, it was expensive for my entire family, but it would be worth every penny.
And beyond the wedding, there were very important priorities for the trip. The first was scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. So my son Paul, son-in-law Josh and I went to Florida to get certified over the Christmas holiday break to be ready. Second was giving a cybersecurity conference keynote speech in Sydney.
But then — you guessed it — a very bad thing happened, something that had not happened in over 100 years: a global pandemic. COVID-19 rocked our world.
My family was beyond disappointed — I was devastated. The wedding went on without us, and I rescheduled our trip for 2021. But guess what happened to those plans? Honestly, I felt like a failure.
But then, something changed!
Shamane Tan, a cybersecurity superstar in Australia, asked me if I could do the conference keynote virtually. We went back and forth on many cybersecurity topics.
The presentation was a huge success with hundreds of people from five continents attending live.
I thought the story would end there, but that new professional relationship with Shamane continued. She contacted me in July 2020 with a new opportunity. Shamane asked me: What if? What if we write a book together on some cybersecurity topic for a global audience?
I was surprised, but honored. We started exploring ideas, looking at good options and talking with publishers. After several months, we decided to write about true ransomware stories through the eyes of C-Suite leaders, and not just leaders in technology. The good, the bad and the ugly, along with best practices from all over the world.
In November 2021, after 15 months of back and forth, writing early in the morning, late at night and on weekends, our book, Cyber Mayday and the Day After, was published by Wiley. Our project was a success, becoming a best seller on Amazon for several weeks.
So what did I learn from this adventure? What surprising leadership lessons can we apply to all of us?
First: If (and/or when) your top plan fails, watch out for new opportunities to emerge. Be open — what new doors are opening now?
This is really hard, especially if you are intellectually, emotionally and financially involved with Plan A. But perhaps a new door will open up. My book opportunity with Shamane may not have happened if we had physically gone to Australia.
Second, online communication and new relationships can often reach a broader audience and have a wider, global impact. Our virtual conference had more than three times the attendees than the planned live event. And after the trip to Australia was canceled, working with Shamane on the virtual cyber event led to a wider audience and future opportunities — like writing the book and more collaboration.
Looking back, my paradise lost led to a book gained.
Third, after we perform our basic duties well, we must break out of the box surrounding our position description. Think broader. Engagements that build skills as a communicator, relationship manager, strategist and motivator often evolve from relationships developed outside your organization or even your current sphere of influence. Could a side hustle become the new you?
And in case you are wondering, yes! Australia was still on my bucket list. This past Christmas holiday, my family was able to finally travel to Australia.
We did the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb, toured the Sydney Opera House, visited extended family, went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, spent New Year’s Eve on a boat in Sydney Harbor and much more.
One of my best memories was meeting with Shamane (and her husband) in person for the first time. Here is a video from Sydney:
I am so thankful for professional colleagues all over the world in the cyber industry. Shamane Tan has been more than a great co-author. She is a global thought leader in cybersecurity who has become a good friend. I bounce professional ideas to her for feedback.
You can interact with both of us and the Cyber Mayday and the Day After content at our LinkedIn page here: https://www.linkedin.com/company/cyber-mayday-and-the-day-after/.
But on a personal level, I also want to encourage readers to think globally and act locally regarding cybersecurity, technology and AI. You never know what, when, where or how a good idea or decision you make will have international impact and open up new opportunities both professionally and personally.
Don’t let obstacles, even big things like a global pandemic, stop you from moving forward with what you believe in. Who knows, could an idea you have change the future in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe or the U.S.? Partner with others outside your current professional circle.
And go for it.