Let's Quit And Go To Spain

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.

How to capitalize on your existing skills and start a new career doing something different.

We all get tired of our jobs from time to time, but most of us hang in there and continue going to work each day. Some people burn out and what is even more unfortunate, they stay at their jobs becoming less effective and more unhappy as the months and years roll by. Increasing number changes jobs and move on to a new firm, a new city and new challenges. Social scientists claim that this is no longer unusual and that today's worker will have an average of five or six major job changes in his or her working life. All right, so some job changing is normal. But what about those people who give up everything they have and jump into something entirely different and completely beyond their previous experience? Are they crazy? Are they successful? What makes them different and how and why do they do it? Recently I met a couple of teachers from England who, after nine years in the classroom, said, "Enough is enough. We quit!" What happened next is the stuff dreams and nightmares are made of. Andy Chappel and Pauline Elkin were teaching middle (elementary) school in England when they became dissatisfied with their careers, lifestyle and the English weather. One cold winter night having supper with another teaching couple, the conversation turned to job burn out and someone made this apparently ridiculous suggestion that they all move to Greece, buy a place and start a business. The more they thought about it, the better it sounded. However, a little checking soon disclosed that it is almost impossible to buy property or do business in Greece unless you are a Greek national. But by this time, the idea had sort of taken on a life of its own and no one wanted to stop. “Our biggest problem," Pauline explains, "was that we were teachers and we thought we didn't know how to do anything else and we certainly didn't want to do more teaching."

Now, this is where they were very wrong. Teachers have a wonderfully wide range of skills, but just like Andy and Pauline, they don't recognize them for what they are. In any event, out heroes decided to relocate in Spain. Pauline spoke the language, the weather was certainly better and as for what to actually do, well surely that would occur to them later.

With this much of a plan in mind, Andy and Pauline took a two-week vacation in Spain looking for a suitable spot. With much help, perseverance and visits to many bars, (the source of the best information in Spain), they found an old mill in the village of Benaojan, near the ancient city of Ronda. The site was lovely, the buildings dilapidated, the price too high and as for a business, well, why not turn it into an inn? The fact that none of the four had ever done anything like this didn't seem to matter at the time. Persuading the Texan owner to take back a mortgage, the four sold their houses and flats in England and Pauline and the husband of the other couple quit their jobs and moved to Spain to begin restoring the mill. The other two kept their jobs to pay for it all.

Now, this wouldn't be a true story nor as interesting if everything went smoothly and of course it didn't. The "about to become innkeepers" had set aside four months to get the property in shape and ready for that influx of guests. However, there were a few things they hadn't planned on. To begin with, they discovered the mill needed a new roof, new floors, new plumbing and had to be completely rewired. Now this was bad enough, but manana is a way of life in Spain and the four months were up before the work was done. By this time Andy had quit his job and was ready to leave England but the wife of the other couple was offered a better job and she and her husband wanted out of the deal. Not only that, they wanted three times their investment back!

At this point, the mill was looking more and more like a money pit into which funds flowed without end and the money had just run out. Luckily, Pauline's parents came to the rescue and a settlement was negotiated; Andy and Pauline terminated relations with their former friends; and Pauline's parents gained a new business interest. Three years later (when we discovered them) Andy and Pauline had turned the Molino del Santo into a small, charming and profitable inn. Situated in a river valley, the mill has a wonderful spring-fed swimming pool; an abundance of trees; lovely rooms; and views you wouldn't believe. The food is outstanding; the hosts congenial and helpful; and the atmosphere is relaxing and fun. We intended to stay one night and finally tore ourselves away after four days. Operating from March to November, the inn boasts an occupancy rate of 90 percent with the majority of their guests returning or recommending the Molino to others. Now how did they do it and are they really different from other people?

Let's look at their skills first. Even though they didn't recognize it at the time, they really had all the necessary skills. It was just that they had never applied them to this kind of venture before. As teachers they were used to organizing people and activities, planning, directing, delegating, controlling budgets and researching a topic and then applying their new knowledge. Andy has excellent social skills, a good head for business and a comprehensive knowledge and interest in the local flora, fauna and history. In addition, he has a wonderful sense of humor. In fact, staying at the inn is like living an episode of Fawlty Towers with Andy taking the part of John Cleese. Pauline's skills include a facility with the language; a genuine liking for people; a flair for decorating in the Spanish style; and great enthusiasm. They make a great team and as Andy points out, "Our success has given us a degree of self confidence we never had before."

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

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