We’ve lit the wood burning stove for the first time, signaling the inevitable arrival of late fall. We’ve been blessed with beautiful weather and happy guests. It’s been our busiest season ever, with occupancy somewhere around 80% for the season. People seem to love Piemonte, and seem interested in returning again and again to a region in Italy rich with beauty and authenticity.
Now is the time introspection, for looking back and feeling satisfied at a job well done. To enjoy the every day again. We work so hard during the season that we barely think; we just act and react, making sure that people are happy, that the rooms are ready, the bread’s baking and that nothing major is broken. But now we have the chance to pat ourselves on the back with a good bottle of Barbaresco and some veal stew, bubbling on the stufa.
We’ve learned a great deal in these seven seasons of innkeeping, about ourselves and others, about what are limits are and about what we can do better. Neither of us came to this with any real knowledge or experience with the jobs at hand; we learned as we went, and took our guests with us in the process. Nothing we did in the past prepared us for this, yet all of of it did, if that makes any sense at all. My years in interior design meant I knew how to decorate the rooms, Micha’s executive background helped us to develop the concept. Our language abilities helped us communicate with people from different countries, and my love of cooking translated into luxurious breakfasts and cooking classes. Micha’s passion for Piemontese wine grew and his knowledge base expanded with every wine tour he gave. And we both have tried our hands at things we never would have even considered before: plastering, chain saw work, grouting, tiling, learning Italian.
It hasn’t always been easy. But of course, something is rarely fulfilling and easy because there’s always a learning curve to climb. In the end, we’ve become innkeepers, and have succeeded to not only change career paths in upper-midlife but also do it in the place we wanted to be, regardless of the challenges placed in our way.
We knew there were other options, and that failure was potentially one of them. But when we bought this place, we committed all of our resources to it – financial, emotional, psychological, physical – and we refused to believe that it wouldn’t work. There were no guarantees. We were willing to do whatever it took to make it a success. There were days, weeks, months – many of them – when I wanted to sell it. Many. But when those scary, dark, anxiety-ridden phases came, we talked and talked. About other options. About the fact that we were here by choice. About how we were always free to make other decisions, but in the end we came to the conclusion that if there would be a time to give this place up, we wanted it to be from a place of personal success, not because we were running away from a professional failure.
We believed in each other and knew how committed we were. We literally created this B&B into a success out of sheer will and determination, not because it’s so easy to open an inn in an unknown region of foreign country during our generation’s worst global recession.
In reality, our sense of timing could not have been worse. Our money was in dollars, and from the day we bought the property, the value of that particular currency eroded and eroded until I couldn’t even look at the exchange rate anymore without getting sick. In 2009, it didn’t seem like anyone at all would be coming to Europe on holidays, not after the disastrous housing bubble that started in December 2008. But we hung on, making tough decisions about what we would be able to do and what we wouldn’t. Those decisions made us stronger in the end. We’ve work ten times harder than we ever had in our lives to make this place work.
It’s helped to make us wiser.
When people ask me, as they often do, what the best time is to take the plunge, to give it all up and to live your “dream”, I tell them two things. First of all, there is no good time. Second of all, it’s not a dream, it’s a choice, with a whole set of its own consequences and benefits.
Better to be clear about that from the outset.
It’s not like stress and problems disappear just because you’ve chosen to change your life. The things that went on before still happen, but take a different, more obvious form so that you can, and sometimes must, examine them more carefully. You learn things you never thought you could, and if you do them well enough and hard enough and with enough love and determination, you master them.
Which leads me back to the end of our season. I can smell the wood burning in the stove Micha just lit; it was a nut or fruit wood, I can tell by the sweetness in the air. Max will be meandering over to the stove before long, wanting to take full advantage of the dizzying heat before we go for our afternoon romp in the vineyards. Vineyards that are spiked with rows of red and gold and olive.
Take stock. I hope that you find yourself on the path on which you want to be. Look at what you’ve learned, think about where you’d like to go. And be happy with what you have, with what you’ve learned, regardless how humble it might seem or how small the steps. A well lived life is built from small, determined steps.
It’s the perfect time of year to do that, you know, to pat yourself on the back.