Career Advise for FIRE aspirants

I like to write sometimes about my work. First, because it is an exciting job, and second, because there are countless lessons I gathered on my path to the top.

As some readers will already know, I am a General Manager in a hotel, currently in Thailand. Most recently I was able to secure a new contract, which will (hopefully) turn me into an Area General Manager being in charge of up to 5 hotels. While I am not the smartest and certainly not the best hotelier out there, I reached this stage in my life after working less than 8 years in the hotel industry.

I moved up in positions quickly, from carrying luggage in a Novotel in South Korea to become an area executive for one of the largest and most powerful business company (and family) in Thailand. Therefore, I think I can share some of my knowledge about how to get there with my readers. Bear in mind, this is my personal experience and it might contradict with many, if not most things you will hear from your parents, advisers or coaches.

But before I go ahead, let me tell you first why it matters and why it is important if you are on your path to FIRE.

Your career is the single, most powerful tool to reach FIRE

You can get rich with stocks. You can get rich with a business. You can get rich with a lottery. But for most, building up a successful career is the single, most important step to reach FIRE quickly.

As I mentioned in a previous article, your career is a very important asset. This is simply because the more money you earn, the more you can save and invest. It really makes a difference whether you put aside 100 EUR a month, or whether you are able to put 2000 EUR every month into your stock account without worrying of paying your bills.

This single reason should be motivation enough to pursue a quick and rewarding position. But this is easier said than done, so here some food for thought on how to make it happen:

Forget the term “work-life balance”

The myth of a happy life with a healthy balance between the amount of time you spend at your work and with private things is a major career-killer. If you want to make it to the top, you have no choice but to really put EVERYTHING into your job. This goes far beyond your job description, as you need to really try to understand as much as you can about every aspect not only of your job but of everything that is related to it. Knowledge is the key to success. The more you know, the better-informed decisions you will be able to make and the faster you will be able to take on more responsibilities. Learning requires a lot of time and you should be willing to devote yourself to it.

Embrace what others fear – responsibility and loneliness

In all the years I have experienced this countless times. Smart, great team players who would not advance in their careers because of the fear to take on more responsibility. The excuses are always the same: I am not smart enough yet, I don’t know how to do this or that, I am not sure if this is the right thing for me…

There were much smarter and better people around me when I got my promotions along the way, but the big difference between us was always that I couldn’t wait to take on larger roles and to rush into taking charge of things bigger than me. Most of the time, I even didn’t know exactly what I would have to do once I get the promotion or the new job description. I just knew that I want to do it and I was super-confident that there is nothing that I couldn’t learn.

There is a downside to it. It will make you feel lonely sometimes. Because what most regular people enjoy about their job is the camaraderie and the feeling of belonging to a group. However, the more you move up, the smaller your group is becoming and once you are on the top, you are indeed quite alone.

Sure, you can still have great relations with your teams, but there is no way around it: Your agenda, your perspective, and your responsibilities will always set limits and restraints. And sometimes you might be forced to do things that your teams and even you won’t like, but which are necessary to help your company move forward. When you keep moving to the top, you are forced to keep the big picture in mind and to do what it takes to help your company grow. This will more than often not align with the interest of someone in your team.

There is a Chinese proverb: 高处不胜寒.
It says literally that “It’s cold at the top of a mountain”. It certainly is true for people in high positions. I would often sit alone during lunch or dinner while my teams would enjoy eating in groups at the canteen. Not that I couldn’t share the canteen food with them, but simply because I had so many things to think about and decisions to make, that I would often spend the time thinking about the right or wrong thing to do, even during the precious time that is supposed to be my lunch break.

It’s hard to balance. It’s hard to have a family who accepts you coming home late every single day, to never plan vacations and to move around the world whenever the next opportunity pops up. I am lucky enough to have a very understanding wife, but I know plenty of people who fail on that part. It’s a hard price to pay.

Don’t be scared to do mistakes – and find the right boss to coach you

When you take on more responsibilities quickly, mistakes are unavoidable. Actually, it really doesn’t matter whether your progress slowly or quickly. Mistakes will happen anyway. While you certainly should always try to keep the mistakes at a minimum level, the single most important thing is to learn from every mistake you do. You can try to do this on your own, but it’s much more efficient and will work more quickly if you have the right supervisor to teach you.

I had supervisors who would scream at me. Supervisors who wouldn’t say a word. And supervisors who were moody or simply idiots. I didn’t care about any of that, as long as I could learn anything from them. As long as the learning curve is going up, I would stick with this supervisor no matter what. But as soon as I would notice that a particular supervisor got nothing to teach me or wouldn’t make the effort to support me, I moved. One month of not learning something new can throw you back several months in your career progress, so just really make sure to keep on learning and to have the right people around you to help you grow.

Learn how to communicate and how to build trust

Whatever you know, whatever your skill is and whatever you can do, it won’t matter if you don’t get the chance to show it off, it won’t matter if you don’t get your team behind it and it won’t matter if you don’t learn how to present it to those who judge you on it.

Learning to speak, to listen, to present, to negotiate, to evaluate, to correct, to teach and to scold… it is probably the single most critical skill for any leader. Developing emotional intelligence, learning to read characters and being able to quickly adapt to any person that you encounter along the way is crucial to develop your career.

Because while you got to be used to be lonely sometimes, any business depends on other people. We build products and services with people, we work with other people and we sell our products and services to people. It’s all about people. A manager and/or leader who can’t communicate this properly will have a hard time being successful. And you need success to move up.

Forget this crap about manager/leader comparisons

There was a time when people would discuss the differences between managers and leaders. In most cases, managers were the bad guys and leaders were the good guys. I also used to do these comparisons to evaluate my bosses.

It’s all a bunch of crap.

Truth is, that you need to learn when you have to manage and when you have to lead. No matter your job, you will always have budget restraints, relations between employees and business partners to consider and of course responsibilities towards your business owners. You have to effectively manage the resources you receive to make the best out of it, and this includes the people who work for you.

So you go to take the lead when you get a chance for it, but you also need to manage when it’s required. There is no black and white here, it’s all a grey area and in most cases, it’s not about what you do but how you communicate it that will make the difference whether it’s perceived as a management or leadership decision.

Focus on your skills, not your dreams

I was once reading this quote:

“Who you are, who you want to be, and who you can be are 3 different things”. We all had a dream about who we want to be someday. We all have skills that we learned along the way. We all have weaknesses. And we all have the potential to learn new skills.

However, while I admire people who have no talent for a particular profession, but who nevertheless spend years to improve themselves to chase their dreams, from a FIRE-aspirant perspective it’s simply not the right thing to do.

It would be smarter instead to focus on skills and qualities about yourself which are among your key-strengths and to try to find a matching profession based on those skills. While your parents and teachers will preach you to find a job that you love, I say that you should find a job that you can become the best at. The love will come along together with the success that you will experience.

It’s a little bit like marriage. You don’t necessarily choose the most attractive partner you can find, but the one who you can’t imagine living without. That’s at least how I see it.

And I am not alone on this one. Marc Cuban i.e. is preaching the same, emphasizing that following your passions is simply a piece of bad advice, calling it one of the great lies of life.

Soooo… what now?

I have frankly tons of more things I would like to share but I will save it for another post. I know that some of these points might not match with many voices out there, but please don’t forget that this is specifically for people who would like to achieve FIRE as quickly as possible.

To reach FIRE quickly, you need to push up your career as far as you can so you can increase your income. This will enable you to increase your savings and investments, in ways that most people can’t imagine. Saving 40-50% of your income is just easy if your income is three or four (or more) times higher than the average Joe.

FIRE is not for everyone and there is no easy way to get there. Like with everything in life, to reach something as challenging as FIRE, you really need to work hard on it and sacrifice a few things you might hold dear. So the question is, how badly do you really want it?

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