About being independent

I have been working now for about 27 years. I started in 1994 when I was 14. This was the legally allowed minimum age in Germany when teens were allowed to have part-time jobs at that time. And since I started, I never stopped.

Filling in shelves in supermarkets, fixing computers, tutoring math, working as a part-time instructor at our local martial arts gym, doing translations in German, Polish and Korean, teaching German and English. And when times got rough, I was working on construction sites, painting walls and fences or digging holes around houses. I also did two years of a vocational training in a bank and got certified as a martial arts stuntman. The day never seemed long enough to follow up on all my commitments, which continued throughout high school, university, and until I finally settled on the hotel industry.

When I started working in hotels in 2008 I was already 28 years old and just about to finish my Bachelor’s degree. I started with an internship, and then became a full-time employee.

I loved the job and the industry. Traveling the world, meeting people from all walks of life, and being paid to do that. I went to Korea, Japan, China, Scotland, back to Germany and finally to Thailand. I didn’t mind working 12-14 hours a day, often 6 to 7 days a week. I didn’t mind working when others had holidays, missing Christmas and New Years events. And I didn’t mind the low payment. All I wanted was to travel to exotic places and to be meeting people, learning about their stories, and solving the problems they had during their stays in “my” hotel.

This attitude and flexibility allowed me to promote quickly. By 2014 I was already 2nd in charge of a large hotel operation, and by 2017 I became a General Manager. Starting late and after only a little more than 8 years on the job.

Things are sometimes not what they seem

Becoming a General Manager was my dream. I wanted to be fully in charge. To make all the decisions. To be the one who can really make a difference and implement all the things that would make my hotel great.

But after becoming a General Manager, I became quickly disillusioned. Between the actual guest requests, the requirements of hotel owners, the corporate office, and the whims of the companies vice presidents and executives for operations, sales, marketing, finance, and all the other people involved, there is actually very little room to navigate.

I enjoyed being a GM for a very short time. Yes, the salary and benefits were finally coming closer to the actual effort, but I still didn’t feel to have the full freedom to do what I wanted and how I wanted. I still had to justify myself, had to restrain and to adjust my processes and ideas to what everyone else wanted. I used to think that the General Manager of the hotel has all the power to make a hotel truly great, but the reality is that a General Manager is barely performing a balancing act, holding up a house of cards that is constantly being pulled by different people from different directions, each of them with different agendas and varied interests. The job is truly not what I expected it to be.

Time to get real

That’s when I came to realize, that no matter how much I would push myself, how much effort I would put into my job, how much time I would dedicate trying to appease everyone who is higher in rank, I would never get to the point where I would consider myself to be free. Even IF I would pull off the impossible and become CEO of a hotel company, between shareholders, the board of directors, and majority stakeholders, I still wouldn’t be free to do things the way I want.

So there is only one solution. I need to do what I can to become financially independent, and then, only then, I will have the freedom to do things the way I want.

Starting my own business will be another key step, but given my current responsibilities towards my family, I need to be cautious. Every successful entrepreneur tells you how liberating it is to be your own boss, but having worked in a bank, I also know that more than 80% of businesses fail in the first year of operations. I can’t put my family through that.

So, I am working diligently, saving and investing. And in about 4 years from now I should get to the point that I can give real independence another try. I will be 45 by then. Maybe a little late. But the game is not over at half-time.

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