The Sensational Shift with Susan Bernstein, MBA, PhD
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Are You a Traveler or a Tourist in Your Work?

You’re dedicated. You give your all. You work hard at your job, right?

So it’s annoying when there’s a person in your organization who sees things so differently than you do.


Like you always finish things — and they leave loose ends. Or you keep meetings small — and they invite the whole crew.

Your differences aren’t the end of the world. But they can make you feel worlds apart. And unappreciated.

Maybe one of you is a tourist, and the other is a traveler.

You’re in the same world, but you engage in it differently.

Hang in here with me, while I share one way to make sense of your differences, so you can appreciate them more.

I’ll start with a weird question:

If you could take off on a two-week vacation in one city or region, which of these two options would you prefer?

Would you like to be a Tourist?

Maybe you’re the kind of person who likes to have someone else plan your itinerary for you, so you ensure you see all the big attractions. If a city has a bus tour, you’re almost certain to hop on it. That’s easier than driving or learning the transit in a new city. You just kick back and let someone show you around.

Your safety is important, so you tend to stick to the well-traveled routes. Getting off the beaten path could be risky. You love to take pictures at famous landmarks, and post them on Facebook. You love your high quality creature comforts, like super luxurious linens. So you stay at hotel chains you recognize. You’re polite, so you usually buy souvenirs for family and friends back home. Mostly, you want to kick back and relax when it comes to planning, so you put that job in someone else’s hands.

Or, do you prefer to be a Traveler?

When you journey away from home, you have a general destination in mind, but you don’t plan too much. It’s important to you to invoke your sense of adventure. You’re content to wander around a new city or region, often without a map. You have an innate sense of direction. You like trying unusual restaurants, and serendipitously discovering sights that aren’t even in the guidebook. You sometimes forget to take pictures, because you’re so absorbed in the moment.

You crave experiences that you can’t plan, like bumping into interesting locals and being invited into their home and having a deep conversation about how the local economy works. For you, a big attraction of travel is testing out your own capabilities and shifting your views of other people and cultures.

It’s said that how you do one thing is how you do everything…

So, whether you’re more of a traveler or more of a tourist on vacation, you probably adopt the same role at work.

In the workplace, Tourists want to see the sights. And they want to do that safely. They tend to like things planned out. Rotation programs are ideal for tourists, because they imply a planned “itinerary” of stops every few months or years. Tourists at work often rely on big, prestigious brand names (like from the Fortune 500) or schools (such as Harvard or Stanford), trusting their cachet and networks will convey them to the next role. They tend to be methodical and pay attention to details. Tourists highly value the security of a steady paycheck.

In contrast, Travelers at work have a strong sense of adventure. They’re intuitively pushing the envelope to test out their abilities. They love variety and opportunities for personal and professional growth, even that means they sometimes take big risks. They tend to be creative and expressive. While money is important, travelers value meaning and impact as much bigger motivators in their careers.

It’s fine to be either a Tourist or a Traveler at work. Realistically, you probably have some blend of both. And you’ll probably change the role you play at different stages of your life. At the beginning of your career, when you’re young, you may be more of a traveler. But then, when you have a mortgage and a family, you might need to play it safer, and act more like a tourist.

With this traveler and tourist distinction, which one describes you better? And that person at work who drives you crazy? Which archetype do they fit better?

We need both in the workplace.

But unless they can appreciate each other, travelers and tourists will clash.

But for a tourist type, the traveler can seem too brash and bold.

And for a traveler type, the tourist can seem too stuffy and conservative.

Let’s go back and look at a difference. What if you’re a tourist who always finishes what you start? A traveler who leaves loose

ends on a project may drive you up the walls.

Or you’re a super efficient traveler who keeps meetings small — and you’re baffled by the tourist who needs to solicit as much feedback as possible, so you invite the whole crew.

Regardless of which role you play, how do you keep from throttling the person who frustrates you?
You stay focused on the shared destination. What’s your team goal? Where are you going together?

Maybe you’re building a cool new app to monitor your car’s systems. Remind the people of the outcome you both want and the deadline. And then give them loads of leeway to accomplish it their way. If you have a concern, ask how their approach achieves the endgame on time.

So if you’re nervous about loose ends, instead of fuming to the traveler that “you just wander around and never finish

things,” ask how having that outstanding issue or deliverable is going to impact the program. You might say something like: “Hey, I notice that the specifications for the icons are still open. How does that impact us as we move to an August 31 completion?”

Open up dialogues and stay focused on outcomes, instead of attacking people and their quirky personalities.

Because really, you’re all in this adventure together.

Is it time for you to make a big shift in your work? If you’re intrigued by the idea of making a big career move, but have fears, doubts, or questions, apply for a complimentary career consultation with me.

If you have questions about whether 1:1 coaching with me is a fit for you, feel free to reach out to me at and I’ll get back to you right away with a helpful reply.

One Response to “Are You a Traveler or a Tourist in Your Work?”

  1. Lily says:

    OMG I fucking love this post. Everything about it. It’s real, deeply heartfelt, raw in some ways, and utterly accessible and RELATABLE. God, thank you.

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