This week, my wife and I leave for a month-long trip to Africa. The business will be a combination of business, exploration, and learning. We have spent over a year planning, developing relationships, and promoting of course. Finally, it has all come together and we are excited to experience the culture and the wildlife so different than our own.
While New York will always be our home, we are blessed with many such opportunities to see and learn more about the world beyond. It also comes with challenges, however, as we try to set aside our own cultural backgrounds, blend in and absorb native culture abroad. Those who love to travel and wish to do international business successfully must learn to be more of a global citizen. The best way to get there is to learn from those who already live a global existence.
YPO member Armand Arton leads an international life himself, keeping a business and professional foot in both Montreal and Dubai. After beginning a career in wealth management, Arton honored his family's transnational history by starting an Immigrant Investor program at Arton capital. He has developed the Passport Index, an interactive tool which helps travelers improve their global mobility.
I asked Arton how those with wanderlust can be better global citizens. Here are his suggestions.
- Write your own story.
Arton believes that you can either live life by default, or by design. "I like what Robin Sharma says: 'Life's your movie, write your script.' Whether it's family or finances, health or time, I don't allow myself to look at it as something that is holding me back." Everyone has limitations and constraints that can affect their lives, but each person can choose how to respond.
Spend some time working out your own personal constraints, change what you can, accept what you can't. As you plan your life, find ways to work around those constraints.
- Let your birthplace be an anchor, not a millstone.
"Four generations of my family were born in the wrong place, at the wrong time. From the Armenian genocide to living in the Soviet Bloc," Arton explains, "Four generations of migration took mental agility and hard work." Arton remembers driving long distances through Europe and crossing many international borders by land and sea. He hated the slow, difficult process of moving between countries, and remembers the discomfort of being at the mercy of unpredictable border guards. He says, "It has shaped my life ever since - I have always refused to be held accountable for the accidental geography of my birth."
Like Arton, you can carry with you the example of predecessors and mentors who overcame challenging circumstances and use those lessons to enhance your own freedom of movement.
- Learn languages and use them.
"I speak five languages. It was hard work getting to the stage I'm at, and my journey isn't over, but I wouldn't be where I am without them," he insists. English might still be an essential lingua franca for commerce and politics, but there are profound benefits to becoming bi- or multilingual. In addition to improving your own memory and cognition, communicating in another person's mother tongue shows respect and helps put them at ease - a huge asset you can use every day.
- Create a personal travel routine.
Recalling the discomforts of childhood travel, Arton understands why many people avoid international trips. While he points out that many improvements now make the process more comfortable, he also admits: "Until technologies like the Hyperloop do become mainstream we're still rolling with A380s, Dreamliners, and traditional passports."
To minimize inconvenience and discomfort, a true global citizen gets scientific about their travel routine to make life easier in the airport and abroad. "I always travel as lightly as possible, using my favorite Rimowa suitcase. You've got to experiment with what works best for you. Likewise, with airlines, find the ones that make travel a pleasure for you. And if your commercial preferences don't fly where you want to go, there are always services like Victor, 'the Uber of private jets' which I find is brilliant for getting where you want to be quickly and comfortably."
- Embrace the new.
Many workers around the globe are fearful of how technology and innovation may change their lives. Arton, however, finds the prospect exciting: "The advances of recent years mean it's now possible to be a global citizen from your desk, anywhere in the world." He believes those who act as global citizens have a responsibility to be first movers and adopt new innovations early - to take a risk on new ideas so that the best may become mainstream. Companies like ObjectTech, which may make passports redundant, or Hyperloop One, which is revolutionizing mass transport, rely on support from those who help shape the future.
- Spread your risk with international investment.
"We have an unprecedented opportunity to invest in rapidly growing markets all over the world. It means we can spread our risk like never before: I have offices in 15 different countries, and jurisdictions, which affords me a flexibility and adaptability that I now consider essential," enthuses Arton.
Gaining residency or citizenship in a second country can up new global investment opportunities: for example, some countries limit land purchase to those with the right to live in a certain place. Travel creates access to people, conversations, new ideas and financial innovations. Grasp these with both hands.
- Make philanthropy count along the way.
Arton says of his family: "We spend a lot of time traveling. Often we fly from glamorous destinations, like Dubai and St Moritz, to more dangerous ones across Africa and the Middle East. I complete around ten circumnavigations of the globe every year. It's a massive privilege, so it's crucial we ensure we have a lasting local impact too: my wife and I set up the Amal Project to help educate Syrian children in Jordan for exactly that reason."
As a global citizen, you are often a privileged guest and may have the opportunity to put down roots in many places. Strive to honor those opportunities by making a local, measurable, and positive impact in the places you visit around the world.
- Teach your children to value the world.
"The single best investment you can make is in your children's education," he insists. "They will inherit the world we're changing: they are our greatest responsibility. We must show them that the world is an extraordinary place, full of extraordinary people, and to give them a sense of wonder." Arton also emphasizes the need to teach them that they have an obligation to the globe and its people as a whole, not merely to the place they call home. "As truly global citizens living in today's world, this is the smartest thing we can do," he says.
Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.