"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I'm wise, so I'm changing myself."
Well. It has been a while…
The last time I was able to sit down and put thoughts on paper was almost a year ago – May 4th 2021 to be exact. I have been wanting and waiting to talk about the reasons why.
After several months of unemployment and some life changes, I finally returned to work last year in February, and I was so looking forward to doing so. Talking to many colleagues in the industry that had returned before me, or who had not been laid off at all, I certainly had an idea of what to expect, but I was so happy to be back in business it didn’t matter at all to me how tough it was going to be.
A year later, I know whatever I was expecting was nothing compared to what it actually has been.
Let’s be clear on the fact that I have no intention of talking about my job from this past year. All this has nothing to do with the workplace, the company or the team I most recently joined. It has to do with the job I used to love so much and that has unfortunately become an impossible challenge.
I never thought I would say this, especially when I started blogging about hospitality in 2020. Only two years have gone by, but so many things have changed.
And for those of you who know me, or who read my blog, you know I never like to make generic conclusions and speak for others, so as usual I am simply going to share my very own experience… an experience that has shifted my priorities and that has redefined the future of my career.
A couple of colleagues/friends of mine, who were by my side during this process and whom I shared my struggles with, have confided they had been feeling the same way for quite some time, but for lack of courage or for fear of change, they had not acted on it. So when I went through with my transition, they were inspired by what I did and how I did it.
I hope I can do the same for others and give some reassurance and perspective.
The end of 2020/beginning of 2021 was the moment we started noticing the business was slowly picking up again in the destinations that were able to cope quickly and still provide a spot for a vacation. To nobody's surprise, resorts were amongst the first to come back, I just don't think anybody expected how strong and how fast they were coming back.
When I joined the ski resort in February of 2021, I was right away shocked to see how “back to normal” everything looked in Vail. Except for a few limitations, tourism looked pretty much like business as usual. Lodging, restaurants, shops, slopes, everything was surprisingly busy, running at max allowed occupancy and turning business away only due to regulations. At first I thought how great it was to see that, but it all quickly became overwhelming. The demand was consistently huge, it kept growing and growing as restrictions were getting lifted and things were becoming more under control; the industry couldn't cope with it due to lack of staffing and to the need to protect the employees and the guests; some travelers were understanding, some were not; the staff turnover was the highest I’ve ever seen; the game of what company offers higher pay and can steal your people one day to another was endless; the complaints from the employees who were tired, overworked and underpaid, and who did not feel safe were a daily business; long and stressful days and weeks - sometimes with extended stretches and no days off - were just the norm.
No time to rest, no time to enjoy with our family and friends, no time to take care ourselves, no time to embrace the place where we live. Only work.
No opportunity to learn new things, to help others grow, to improve and advance, to make an impact. Only the struggle of surviving every day. Go to work, stay afloat, go home, repeat.
That was the story of my year.
It was an extremely hard time, made of constant internal conflict: on one side I knew I was responsible for getting myself in that situation, and I had been so excited to go back to work that I felt my complaints were illegitimate and unnecessary. I kept looking back at myself thinking “Why are you so weak, you’re better than that, you can cope with it.”
On the other end, I was consistently stressed, mentally and physically tired, and haunted by feelings of guilt for my private life. On that perspective, I kept looking back and thinking “Are you ok with never having time for yourself and the people who matter to you, who are you doing this for, is it worth it?”
But then I would turn back again and think “Look how many people are still out of a job, you are lucky to have one, to have an income, and to be able to work through these hard times and through an issue that is still very much part of our lives. Stop complaining, toughen up and be grateful for what you have!”
And then again I would feel guilty towards the important people in my life, I was unhappy, I was miserable. I would vent my stress and sorrow on the ones who were close to me, I was becoming very difficult to be with.
I kept telling myself “It’s a moment, it will pass soon, just power thru”. But the reality was, the moment was not going to pass any time soon, things were not going to change quickly, and I couldn’t keep going the way I was going for much longer.
I wasn’t sleeping much, I was not able to relax and unplug, I was constantly on my phone checking emails, answering work calls. Even on those rare days off, I was always ON. To top all this off, my health started deteriorating. Two surgeries and multiple tests and doctor’s visits later, I was still in bad shape. It was time to free myself.
When I realized something had to change, it quickly became undeniable that work was the number one thing that needed to change. And when I started considering leaving my position, I had to put on the table a pretty big number of factors.
LEAVING A JOB WITHOUT ANOTHER JOB.
The obvious dilemma number one was leaving a job without having another one lined up. I am not someone who can afford to be jobless and income-less, I need to work and to bring home a salary. Besides - even if I could - I value my financial independence and I enjoy working and keeping engaged. People find it extremely hard to quit a position when they don’t have the certainty of a new one, which is very understandable, however that leaves us with no choice but staying in a situation that makes us unhappy. There’s gotta be something else that we can do to remove ourselves from that. Being unemployed would never be an option for me. So my first important step was to understand what those options were.
A POTENTIAL CHANGE IN CAREER
The ideal solution was to find another role and push through until something else would come along.
When facing transitions, I find it extremely important to have some direction. I don’t think it’s necessary to have absolute clarity on what you want to do you, however some vision is necessary. Therefore if you have no idea, take the time to figure that out before you move in any direction.
I definitely had an idea of what I did not want, so that was a good start.
I knew for sure I no longer wanted to work in operations. I knew for sure I was tired of the expectation of being on 24/7. And I hate saying this, but I also knew I no longer wanted to have a team and to be responsible for other people. With those points in mind, a pretty big change was shaping, perhaps a total career shift? That was a scary thought, but we shouldn’t be afraid to consider all options. That was a scary thought for me mainly because outside of the hotel business I felt like I didn't know how to do anything else, and that would mean throwing away the last 17 years and starting from scratch. But I quickly remembered what I learned in hospitality can easily translate to other industries, and what I know will make me successful in other roles. We shouldn’t be afraid of drastic change, but we should also keep in mind change does not have to be drastic.
The direction I eventually landed on is to look for a role outside of the hotel business, but still hospitality related, in a different capacity. That’s what I am working on at the moment.
FOCUSING ON YOURSELF
Something dreadful for me when making that decision, was being ok with a selfish choice that would benefit me, but that would detriment the others. I get attached to the people I work with, and that work for me, and leaving them always feels wrong. In this particular situation the feeling of guilt was even stronger, as it was a difficult moment for everybody – very busy, not enough staff, need for guidance and moral support. Leaving sounded like disappointing everybody.
But in the biggest scheme of things, we have to realize that there is nothing wrong with being selfish every once in a while, and wanting to do something for ourselves. We are never going to regret a choice that allows us to be happier and to focus on our own growth.
When you lead a team – especially a big one – there will always be an aspect of dedicating your entire self to them. I felt like I always needed to put myself and my needs to the side, to make sure the team was happy and supported. I always enjoyed that element of my job, and never felt it as a burden, however with time I realized it prevented me from the opportunity to focus on my own learning process, and I no longer could develop myself as a professional. I reached the point where I chose to disappoint the others and be selfish - for once, I wanted to dedicate myself to myself. And I don’t regret doing that.
THE FEAR OF TALKING TO YOUR BOSS
Hand in hand with that, was the guilt towards my bosses and the company. One of my most appreciated qualities as an employee is the loyalty I have for the organization I work for, and the strong sense of responsibility for the assignment I take on. I felt extremely uneasy about telling my superiors I had decided to resign, and I was so afraid of letting them down.
But again, I needed to go through with it and not worry about what others were going to think, and at that point I realized the only way to do it was to be honest with them. It was the right thing to do to let them know what was going on - after all - what would be the benefit for them in keeping an employee who is no longer happy and motivated? What is the point in having a leader who is not in the right head space, and who isn’t going to be the right support for the team? After all, as my GM said when I talked to him “not every job is the right fit” and it’s better to recognize it if that’s the case.
When you lay down your cards and you are honest then you have done your part, and it’s no longer up to you. At that point, if you work for intelligent and sensitive leaders, they will respect your decision, they will show support and compassion, and avoid judgment.
But be prepared also for the opposite result, you could find yourself in an uncomfortable conversation, and get all that sense of disappointment that has been daunting you coming from the other side. You could walk away feeling like you should not have done that. If that is the case, don’t loose perspective on why you are doing what you are doing: you're going through with it because it is the best move for you, and if other people are not supportive and intelligent enough to understand it, it’s their problem, not yours.
It's definitely dreading, but walking out of those conversations gives you that huge sense of relief you haven't felt in months and that you have been looking for. Don’t forget that is exactly why you are doing it.
My former GM Joseph Violi, who has been helpful and supportive through this process, told me something on the phone one day that I won’t forget. He said: “Silvia, you should only be loyal to the people who are loyal to you”.
A TEMPORARY STEP BACK IN ORDER TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD
Going back to quitting a job without another one lined up, that was obviously another important point to consider. I was entertaining some options, but considering the changes I was going through, I did not feel like it was the right timing to start something significant. I wanted to be very intentional about what my next step was going to be, and to make sure I was not going to waste my time (and the company’s time) by taking another role that was not right for me.
So I decided to take a big step back professionally and financially, and to start a temporary and easy job that on one side would allow me to continue working and earning, but that on the other side was responsibility and stress free, and that came with an easy schedule and all the free time to figure out my next step.
I am still working for the same company, but I hold a transitory role, until I know what is right for me.
So this is what I am currently doing, I am taking a few months “off” if you will, to ensure I research properly what is next in my life, personally and professionally. Now I am more relaxed, rested and healthy, working towards a bigger goal. Now when I am off I am actually off, I have a great work and life balance and I am enjoying being able to do things in life that are not work related.
And so that’s why I am back, writing again.