I’ve been doing an Annual Review for several years now in the back of my journal in private, but I decided that I’d like to make this year’s review public, primarily to give myself accountability for the coming year but also to document my raw thoughts, learnings and struggles with the hope that others can benefit from my journey.
Ever since I was little I’ve loved writing and it’s definitely become the most effective way to organise, interpret and process my thoughts and experiences. We have many thoughts on a daily basis, but if we don’t write them down, they are quickly forgotten. The biggest advantage of the annual review is that it captures your state of mind an exact moment in time, which makes it a great tool for self-development, tracking progress, and creating incremental improvements in your life.
Reflection On 2017
Without a doubt, 2017 was a year of change and the steepest learning curve of my life. The key theme was spending the majority of the year running my first business, Podstel. Starting a business, I came to realise, is a lot more complicated than it sounds. Admittedly, I entered the process with complete naivety, not understanding the magnitude of hours, responsibility and issues I was taking on. In hindsight, I can only be grateful for that naivety, because it’s precisely this way of thinking that encouraged me to take the leap in the first place.
Let’s reflect in more detail on the key moments of 2017.
Wow, what a year! It crazy to reflect and realise how different life was just over a year ago. I was living in an apartment in Leipzig with Sam & Jason, running a beta version of Podstel, hosting friends & travellers, while just about covering the rent and expenses by Airbnbing one of our rooms out. Fast forward to today, 14 months on, we have a solid team, good systems in place, and we’re finishing the first year running a Podstel as the highest rated hostel in Romania according to Hostelworld ratings.
By no means has this been an easy task – it’s been an incredibly turbulent and chaotic year. When we started out in November 2016, there was a mountain of work to be done so we decided to coup up into one of the small dorm rooms at the top of the building and live on site at Podstel for what turned out to be 9 solid months. When we started, we were way out of our depth. There were no systems in place so most our early days we’re spent reacting to issues as they popped up, trying our best to work out how to sail the ship with no direction. There were no schedules, plans, KPIs, or any procedures to follow. We did everything from ordering supplies, dealing with complaints, cleaning the toilets, social media, finances – you name it, we did it. 18 hour days were usual, not to mention most nights of the week struggling to get a solid sleep, because of unforeseen problems with guests during the night.
We’ve come to realise that there is no substitute for action. We thought we had it all planned out, but when we actually begun the process of running our first Podstel, things turned out to be a lot different. The beautiful thing about jumping in and taking action on a new project is that there’s no time to plan and ponder – time is of the essence and your focus pivots to keeping your business above water. You have no choice but to find a way to change and adapt, because if you don’t, that inevitable point of constriction catches up with you, your resources wither and your dream begins to die.
2017 was centered around the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, which roughly translates as ‘continuous improvement’. Whether it was putting new systems in place, running events, or trying out new methodologies to give our guests a great time, we built our business by using this philosophy – think of a new idea, be bold and put it out there and test it in its basic form, gather feedback, apply changes and improve. Repeat the cycle.
Through the application of Kaizen, we’ve managed to build better systems that have increased the effectiveness and efficiency of our business. We’ve employed staff and gradually removed ourselves from the day-to-day operations, in order to focus more on building the business. Now, instead of running the day to day, myself and the leadership team are concerned with learning how to lead & delegate, while also working on the systemisation and automation so that we can scale, and take the Podstel model to new destinations around the world.
Finally, in October 2017, Jason and I were invited to Berlin for the 4th HostelSkills Conference to speak about what we’d learned in our first year running Podstel. This was a very significant moment for our team. Not only did Jason give an excellent presentation, but being on stage presenting our ideas and philosophies about hospitality signified how far we’ve come in a short space of time.
That’s an incredibly brief summary of our Podstel experience. There’s a lot more detail and learnings that I’ll cover in a post in the near future.
Podstel Annual Gathering
This was without doubt my favourite memory of 2017. To celebrate our first year running Podstel, we decided to throw a big gathering in September. We invited close friends, many of whom we met in our 5 years travelling with the Podstel project, as well as our favourite guests to come and celebrate with us at Podstel Bucharest. It turned out to be a big success with 50 friends joining us from 20 nations. We spent the week celebrating with food, social events, live music, workshops and even a group hike to the Transylvanian mountains.
There was a great sense of community throughout the week, new friendships, and above all the memories that were created that will stick in my mind for many years to come. I want to thank everyone who joined for bringing their own unique personality to the event – I’m forever grateful, and same again next year.
I love running; I do it primarily for leisure, and I find it a great way to meditate and find flow. I’ve always wanted to run at least one marathon in my life for the mental challenge with myself. So in July I signed up for the Bucharest Marathon set to take place in October, under the naive impression that it would be straightforward preparation. I somehow convinced myself that asides from running a business and trying to take care of my life, I also had enough time to train. How wrong I turned out to be. The months went on and the training didn’t happen. Although I stuck to my usual 4 ‘leisurely’ runs a week, I had certainly not trained anywhere near enough to run a marathon. The big race day beckoned, and more and more doubt crept into my mind. The night before the marathon, after speaking to a good friend who was an accomplished marathon runner, I decided that I would run it. I was well aware of the repercussions, but said to myself that I would simply do my best, and pull out if there was any chance of a major injury occurring during the race.
I was already confident that I could finish half a marathon, as I’d already done several before, so my strategy was to run at ¾ of my usual pace, and see how far it would take me. Everything went swimmingly for the first half of the race. Knees were good. Energy levels superb. Muscles no pain. Hydration levels check. But then, at 28kms, came the biggest wall of my life. However, regardless of the pain I was about to experience, I was more than half way through the race, and already committed in my mind that I was finishing the marathon. The last 14km’s were hell and the most painful kilometres I’ve ever experienced. There were many instances I thought about quitting; my body had given up and my mind was pretty much dragging my body to the finish line.
Luckily, during the last 10kms I was joined by Sam, Jason and a boom box for some much needed motivation for the end of the race. In the last 400m’s they somehow encouraged me to do a sprint finish, putting in all that I could. To me demise, running my heart out down the last 100m’s feeling like I was being shot in the back of the knees several times by a sniper was not a fun feeling.
Anyways, I made it, and finished the race in 4 hours. I couldn’t walk or do anything but sleep for the next 12 hours, but luckily my body repaired well and I didn’t have any injuries. In hindsight, it was silly to run a marathon without the proper preparation but I’m glad I did it, because the lesson of persistence and the curriculum I received in the last 14kms will stick with me for the rest of my life. Next time I do a marathon, I promise I’ll prepare properly.
Travel has become a big part of my life over the last 5 years, and despite the demands of running my first business, I made a pact to myself that it would continue to be. In 2017 I travelled about 2 months of the year to 9 countries, including my first trip to Africa. I spent time in Israel, Morocco, Belgium, Germany, England, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy.
The difference this year was that many of the trips I made were business related. I attended the Hostelworld conference in Dublin in January, TBEX in Isreal (definitely my favourite destination of the year) in March, and HostelSkills in Berlin in October.
Asides from business related trips, I took off a month for my annual introspective travel journey, which involves going on an adventure, usually some form of a pilgrimage, with the sole purpose of reading, writing and reflection. This year I decided to walk my second Camino. For those of you that aren’t aware of the Camino, it’s a famous pilgrimage across Spain leading to Santiago de Compostela. There are many routes that a pilgrim can take, and this year I decided to walk the Portuguese way – a 300km journey from Porto to Santiago.
It was a memorable journey. In addition to walking, and enjoying nature, I read and wrote a lot. I came to realise that I find a lot of solace in using travel as a form of therapy/introspection/self-development (particularly walking in nature) and will continue to explore this, and carry out more of these kinds of trips in the future.
Things That Went Well
Now that I’ve written about my key moments from 2017, I want to reflect on what went well in 2017.
I have kept journals since I was a kid, and the older I’ve become, the more journalling has become a sacred ritual. This year I increased the amount I journal dramatically. To be honest, it’s probably my form of escapism, or comfort, and a way to process all the difficulties I experienced starting Podstel. I’m very happy that I continue to find the time to journal, as well as maintaining my daily practice of finding time to celebrate the small things in my gratitude journal, which has been keeping me smiling for the last 2 years now.
My intense workload meant that I had to put in extra effort to look after my body, and manage my life, to avoid the inevitable tiredness that accrues from such a lifestyle. First of all, I became much more disciplined with my sleep schedule, making sure that I got a consistent 7 hours in each day. Believe it or not as someone running a hostel meeting guests who want to party every day, I’ve only been out once or twice this year past 12am. Since quitting alcohol almost 3 years ago, I no longer enjoy night clubs, and my priorities have changed dramatically. Instead I value early mornings, exercising, feeling healthy, alert and in tune with myself.
My Achilles heel of 2017 was sugar. It all makes sense too. When I was a kid, I’d finish school at 3:30pm, come home, and without fail a sugary reward would await me on the counter. I can only imagine what kind of impact conditioning like that has on the brain and habits. Anyways, in October I realised that processed foods, particularly those containing sugar (ice cream, chocolate etc) were a form of comfort and subtly detrimental to my health, making me feel tired and worn out, so I decided to cut out processed sugary foods completely.
Just like alcohol, I’m the kind of person where there’s no in between – I’m binary – and it was either quit or continue. Surprisingly, quitting turned out to be quite ok. There were many times when intense cravings popped up, but I’d use substitution and opt for fresh fruits instead. Like with alcohol, there came a point, at about the 2-month mark, when I stopped getting the cravings and thoughts, and resisting became progressively easier. I’m happy with where I’m going with my health right now. I love cooking and eating healthy nutritious meals with a lot of vegetables and fruits, and I’ll continue that theme into 2018.
I’ve always enjoyed reading when I found the time, but never made it a key priority. Most of the reading I did was out of necessity, but this year I made it a priority, dedicating at least 30 minutes in my day to read and learn. I bought a kindle in early 2017 and I dramatically increased the amount I read 100 fold. I take my kindle everywhere with me, and now, when I’m in between meeting or travelling, I pull it out and read. I’ve read about 30 books this year, and as a result, I’ve noticed a big improvement in the way I think, write and organise my thoughts.
I have lots of books to share with people who also own a kindle and love reading, so if you would like to read something from my shelf, then shoot me a message and I’d be more than happy to send you a few books over.
My 5 Favourite Books of this year were:
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
On Writing by Stephen King
Choice by Edith Egar
Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie
E-Myth Revisted by Michael E Gerber
Things That I Want To Work On For 2018
There are also some things that I want to work on and improve in 2018.
I was so focused and tunnelled in on getting Podstel off the ground in 2017 that I didn’t find as much time as I would’ve liked to nurture many of my relationships. Running a hostel means that I get to meet up to 30 new people a day. Indeed, I make lots of new friends but often on a very superficial level, as most people only stay a few days, and good quality relationships take time to nurture. I’ve met a lot of great people over the last years, many of whom I want to build strong relationships. So in 2018, rather than spending time building superficial relationships, I will spend more time focusing on developing quality relationships with people who I want to spend my life growing alongside.
The more I think about it, a more fulfilled life for me means slowing down. I grew up in a culture that taught the narrative that you have to work harder, longer, faster to be successful. I am well aware that I often work too much, often forgetting other things. But from my experiences in life so far, I have come to realise that working really hard all the time and forgetting to relax is a sure way to burnout. Going forward I am consciously focusing on finding more time to relax, unwind and build on my other hobbies and interests. My goal is to build a holistic life, and that means working smartly, by improving the effectiveness of the hours I work, and then making sure I give myself time to relax, unwind and focus on other interests outside of my primary work of Podstel.
Less Planning, More Doing
I am an obsessed planner at heart. My anxious self likes to be in control of the future even though I consciously know I can’t control it. Excessive planning is a sneaky and subtle form of procrastination that can prevent one from doing the real work. But what I’ve noticed in the last year of running a business, that there’s so much more to be gained from taking action. In 2018 I will focus my attention on taking more action, noticing resistance and procrastination as it arises, and instead, putting in the real work, Kaizen style, despite not having all the answers and anxious feelings about the uncertainty of the future.
Priorities & Saying No
This year I worked on a lot of the wrong things that weren’t important, or said yes to many appointments/projects/demands that weren’t priorities. 80% of the things I did weren’t growing the business; they were simply maintaining the ship. Perhaps only 20% of the things I spent my time on were pushing the vision forward. I now recognise that effective prioritisation comes down to my ability to say NO, and not getting distracted by shiny unimportant things. I will focus on setting clearer priorities in 2018, and letting go of things that don’t push my personal and business vision forward.
Looking Forward to 2018
I am excited about the new year and there’s lots to look forward to. Here’s several things I will be focusing my time and energy on in the new year:
One of Podstel’s big aims for 2018 is that we’re looking to expand. A lot of this year has been spent documenting, and creating systems to automate Podstel. We feel like we’ve created a strong and unique service, and we want to take that to the next level by building a model that we can take to different destinations around the world. 2018 will therefore be spent creating all the necessary documents, and systems to do that, as well as taking action on securing our second destination.
Last year I underestimated the time it would take to establish the first Podstel. I said to myself that I would write and finish my first book in 2017 but that didn’t happen. I’m about 50% through the book and my aim is to have it finished by Summer 2018. Compared to this time last year, I am a lot more balanced with my life and work and feel very optimistic about this new project deadline. You can read more about the book visiting here: www.thezennomad.com/book
I’ve begun training for the Bucharest half-marathon in May. I am looking forward to beating my PB of 1 hour 38 minutes. A good friend will also join me for the race which makes me even more excited. Bring it on!
Like 2017, 2018 will be another big year of travel. In line with my vision to use travel as a means of self-development, I’m looking forward to heading out on another introspective trip this year. I’m currently undecided but I’ll either walk my 3rd Camino, taking the 900km Del Norte route along the northern Coastline of Spain, or I’m thinking about an Eastern Europe adventure, potentially by bicycle this time. That will all be clarified in the coming months.
What a year it’s been. It’s definitely been the most intense year of my life. Full of growth, setbacks and steep learning curves – and I’m grateful for every single piece of it. To sum up the year in one word I would use the word “Kaizen.” 2017 has been all about continuous improvement, and this philosophy has been a guiding principle for my life and will continue to be valuable going in to 2018.
In summary, in 2018 I will continue to go all out on purpose and mission, as this is where I believe my fulfilment in life derives from. I will slow down and find more time to make life simpler by relaxing, reading more, writing more, and doing the things I love. Finally, the main theme of 2018 is action, and doing, rather than procrastinating/planning.
That wraps up my Annual Review for 2017. Now it’s over to you. What’s in store for your 2018?
All the best, and happy New Year,
written by Daniel Beaumont, Saturday 30th December 2017
About the Author
Hello everyone, I’m Dan – a 28-year-old social entrepreneur and writer from the north of England, living in Bucharest, Romania. I’m currently writing my first book about my 4-year journey around the world seeking wisdom and life-lessons from everyday people I met hitchhiking and Couchsurfing.
I discovered that travel, if approached with the right mindset, can be life-changing, and a trip combining travel, purpose and introspection is a great way to learn, challenge oneself and change for the better. Now my mission in life is to share what I’ve learned to inspire others to embark on their own journey of self-discovery and use travel, entrepreneurship and technology as a means to make the world a better place.
I’m also the founder of Podstel – a vision to help humanity belong and grow by creating a worldwide network of ‘homes’ that bring locals and travellers together to share their stories, passions and skills. The first two Podstels are open and thriving in Bucharest, so if you’re passing through, be sure to come and say hi, or stay the night with us.
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