Your power to choose your direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation – Stephen Covey
2019 has just ended so it’s that time of year again where I sit down to reflect on the year that’s past and look forward to the year that’s coming.
We’ve also just entered a brand new decade; a decade that is bound to be full of new surprises, experiences, and of course, challenges.
What a whirlwind adventure the last 10 years have been and I hope that the next decade is one full of growth, change and learning for all of you.
So without further ado, let’s get into the review.
2019 was a year marked by change, transition and a clear calling for reinvention. It was my most challenging year of life so far for many reasons.
Change is part of the essence of living a fruitful life, and it’s important to periodically evolve and reinvent ourselves. Life exists in cycles and after spending the last 10 years finishing university, travelling for self-discovery, and then living the Founder life and setting up a business, I’m ready to reinvent and jump into a new challenge.
Sam and I have spent the last 3 years working hard to bring Podstel to a stable, and comfortable place here in Romania, but now we find ourselves at a crossroads. We don’t see ourselves staying in Romania in the long term and want to move back to the UK in the next two years, so the big question for 2020 is what do we do with Podstel here in Bucharest?
In many ways, life is fun and comfortable living in Romania, but there’s a little voice pecking away inside my head that knows fine well how complementary comfort is with stagnation and that embracing change is the essence of growth.
So that’s the knot of confusion that I’ve been dealing with towards the end of 2019. Change is inevitable and I’ve already decided that I’ll move on, but several questions still remain: Where do I go? How do I change? How do I take what we’ve learned and continue to grow Podstel elsewhere?
I’ve attempted to answer these questions below, but first here’s a summary of what went on in each Quarter of 2019.
Quarter 1 (January 2019 – March 2019)
I travelled a lot in Quarter 1. I attended a hostel meet up in Rome held by Steve and Linda of Beehive Hostel. I went to the Annual Hostelworld Conference at the end of January to represent Podstel and picked up our awards for the Best Hostel in Romania and 5th Best Hostel in the World for Solo Male Travellers.
In March, just before attending the Hostelskills Conference in Prague, I helped organise and run an informal hostel and travel influencer meet up in Olomouc at Long Story Short Hostel & Cafe with my good friend Eva. Outside of travel, upon a recommendation from a friend, I also applied to join a mastermind group called Lifestyle Engineers – a community of 20-50 year-olds from all kinds of backgrounds focused on sharing, learning and growing. I was accepted into the community and it’s been great to get to make new friends and even host some of the members of the community here in Bucharest.
Quarter 2 (April 2019 – June 2019)
I spent the majority of Quarter 2 planning for and walking my 4th Camino. I walked the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago. I ended up walking 1,200km over 30 days, taking time to read, journal and reflect on the past year. It was a wonderful experience and I go into more details about what I learned from the walk below.
Quarter 3 (July 2019 – September 2019)
After the Camino I came back and a lot of things changed. The management team at Podstel took a complete swing with several members of our team leaving and a new team forming. I joined the gym and stumbled upon a new love for Pilates which has become a consistent part of my weekly schedule. I also bought a touring bike after deciding on the Camino that instead of taking my usual walking holiday I’d instead bike 5,000km across Europe in May 2020. I also took time to travel around Romania, hiking with friends and in the middle of September hosted our 3rd Annual Gathering at Podstel, which turned out to be a lot of fun with 30 or so good friends joining from all over Europe.
Quarter 4 (October 2019 – December 2019)
After the gathering, I travelled to Jordan for a much-needed break after what was an intense Summer at Podstel. Upon returning I visited Malta for a Leadership conference, and in November I headed to London for 10 days for the World Travel Market conference, as well as time spent catching up with friends. My biggest breakthrough for Quarter 4 was solidifying core values for myself after years of making decisions based on my emotions and how I feel in the moment. Finally, I spent the first weeks of December in Germany with Julia, followed by my first Christmas in 4 years with family in the Lake District. I was back in Bucharest to end 2019 and welcome the new decade.
Highlights & Milestones
•500 words a day – I stuck to my promise and daily ritual of writing 500 words every single day of 2019. Some days were painful and incredibly difficult. Sometimes the words came out sloppily, but I realised that writing well means accepting crappy writing too, and that consistency is much more important than perfection.
•4 years no drinking – I hit 4 years without touching alcohol in April 2019. Although this is an Annual Review, quitting alcohol back in 2015 was single-handedly the biggest and most beneficial change I’ve made to my life in the last decade. By quitting I opened up space for hobbies like writing, sports, and the most underrated benefit of all – getting good quality sleep.
•Personal Values – This was one of my biggest breakthroughs of 2019. After reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey I was compelled to take action. For the first time in my life, I sat down and took time to work out my core values after coming to the realisation that I’ve spent most my life making decisions based on my emotions and how I feel in the moment. I’ll write more about that below, but I feel very rooted in what I’ve discovered from taking a couple of months to think about I stand for and what values are closest to my heart.
•Walking the Camino Via de la Plata – I walked the Camino Via de la Plata, walking about 1,200km over 30 days. I documented and journaled the journey, learning a lot about myself along the way through the inevitable struggle of a long-distance trek, including the decision to embrace a new chapter in life.
•Pilates – After coming home from the Camino I started the gym. It was my first time at the gym in about 10 years and after stumbling in on a Pilates Class and trying it for the first time, I loved it, and have been going consistently since. My life is filled with active sports so pilates has it’s own space and has become an important ritual for relaxing and unwinding.
•Podstel Annual Gathering #3 – We hosted our 3rd Annual Gathering at Podstel. We opted for a more intimate gathering this year, inviting about 30 friends. It was a beautiful 5 days, and amongst healthy food, outings in Bucharest, a day at the Thermes, we also travelled to Brasov and walked up Mt. Tampa and had excellent views over the city.
•Cycling – After returning from the Camino one of the big changes I decided to make was that I was going to cut back on running and get more into cycling. Although I haven’t had any injuries yet (touch wood), the logic for the change is preventative, and my knees will thank me at 50. I bought a new touring bike and I decided that in May 2020 I am going to cycle 5,000km across Europe (more on that below).
•Trail Running in Petra – This was one of my most memorable experiences of the year. Instead of visiting Petra the conventional way, I planned my own route and decided to go off track for a 30km trail run through Bedouin villages to the top of Aaron’s Mountain at 1,350m. It was a fantastic experience, and at times I felt like I was running on Mars, with no one about, asides from friendly locals inviting me into their house for a tea.
I spoke in the summary that this year was marked by a need for change. I think most change is influenced by confusion and before setting off on the Camino I felt like change was due. I took the walk and the following months to take time to think about where I want to go in the next 5 years and came to the conclusion that I love business, hospitality and helping people, so I want to use the next years to improve my leadership and management skills.
I feel good about this direction, so for 2020, I am laser-focused on learning more about business, leadership and the hospitality industry, as well as helping other people start their own business through teaching and mentorship.
Fitness-wise, it’s been a solid year. I ran a lot, including running a new personal best in the Vienna Half Marathon at 1 hour 24 minutes dead on. With the Camino and various hiking trips in Romania, I made the most of the mountains, and on one walk even had the chance to have a friendly head-on encounter with a brown bear and luckily he didn’t happen to be hungry at the time.
I made two positive investments in health in 2019. First I bought a Garmin watch to track all kinds of different metrics, which was a great purchase. It tracks all kinds of things like sleep, heart rate, stress, as well as activities and it’s been a game-changer for me. Secondly, I decided to join the gym, which led to a new unexpected found love for pilates. I’m attending classes consistently and even though I’m terribly inflexible and coordinately challenged, I have a lot of fun and have adopted a child-like attitude towards the practice.
Diet wise, this is where I slacked the most. Up until the Camino I ate well, cooking myself, predominately 80% whole food and plant-based, with meat from time to time. But when I got on the Camino my diet went pear-shaped. Since I was often tired I ate based on how I felt, so I would grab what was most convenient. My biggest problem was chocolate – definitely a habit coming straight out of my childhood. I’d buy a bar a day and scoff it down and feel guilty afterwards. When I got back from the Camino my daily sugar fix continued, and this combined with being busy meant that oftentimes I would be exhausted by the end of the day and didn’t feel like cooking so would opt to eat out instead.
I also started to experience increased digestive and gut problems and noticed that my mood and energy was volatile, so I decided to start tracking my diet to see whether particular foods were affecting my mood and gut. I’ve been tracking my diet and mood for 3 months now and it’s yielded some very interesting patterns and I want to spend the first quarter of 2020 getting my diet back in a healthy place while working on cutting down my sugar craving habit.
Finally, my braces will also be coming off in April 2020 after 1.5 years of having them on which I am excited about. After being sceptical for many years about getting braces, making the leap to get them at 28 years old was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I spent so many years unnecessarily worrying about my crooked teeth and bad bite, holding back a full smile. Being able to embrace a full smile (even now with braces on) without any hesitation is priceless. It goes to show how the brain enjoys tricking us into thinking that things are going to be worse than they actually turn out to be. Indeed, I’ve learned here that the mind likes to stifle change, and its mechanism to do that is through fear. But as we experience and go through life, we learn that most of the fear has no substance in the end, and is futile. The problem though, is that we only get to discover this truth once we’ve gone through an experience and get the chance to reflect and look back, realising that there was nothing to worry about in the first place.
I wrote in my last Annual Review that I wanted to spend 2019 doubling down on relationships with good friends focusing on depth rather than width. I put a lot of energy into doing this. I spent less time at Podstel and more time with my friends in Bucharest. I went on more adventures with Sam and other friends, and gave myself one day a week (coined the ‘holy day’) where I would relax, recharge and take time to connect with friends and family. I also created a Relationship Database to keep in touch with all my friends from around the world. It may sound over the top but keeping up with so many people is difficult for my brain, so having a database that helps organise relationships proven key so that I can spend more time connecting and less time thinking about who I need to contact.
I spent my first Christmas at home in 4 years. I come from a very lively, wacky and out there family to say the least, so it’s always a good fun adventure going home. In summary, I had a fantastic Christmas and got to catch up with all my family, as well as childhood friends and old school teachers.
However, being back in the Lake District solidified the thought that I don’t want to move back in the near future. It’s a quiet, relaxing and gorgeous place to go visit and to catch up with friends/family, but I love the hustle, bustle and the opportunities that come with living in a city.
As I wrote in the summary, my tentative plan is to move back to the UK in the next couple of years. I like the idea of moving back to London, but after visiting Manchester after many years away, I love the culture and could easily see myself living in the North of England, however that all depends on what projects and opportunities take shape over the next years.
It was certainly a volatile year of ups and downs for Podstel. This has been a year that can be defined by ‘change followed by stabilisation’. After employing two managers, both left in October to pursue their own passions and interests. Jason, one of Podstel’s founding partners also left which of course came with its own stresses and complications. The majority of this happened in Quarter 3, but by mid Quarter 4 we were back on track with a solid new team in place.
Rob, another British fella who was a music teacher for many years, joined the team. He started out volunteering and quickly showed great promise and has gone on to manage both Podstels after less than 1 year being with the team. He’s brought Podstel a long way, and has done a great job building a strong team, creating a very fun, pleasant and family-like environment for the team and guests who stay with us.
Going forward we find ourselves in a very interesting space with Podstel. We’ve created two business that now sustain themselves and learned a great deal about hospitality, business and leadership in the process.
The problem is we don’t see ourselves staying in Romania for the longer term. This has always been the case, and when we began our Podstel journey here in Bucharest we were clear that Romania was a chapter and that we’d spend 5 years learning as much as we can about business and then move on.
We’ve been in Romania 3 years now and have managed to bring both Podstels to a good place. We’ve set up a comfortable life here and it’s a great city to live in. But now, with only 2 years remaining, we’re considering next steps. We’re open to taking what we’ve learned and relocating Podstel to the West. Or possibly even trying new hospitality concepts in the UK. It’s hard to know right what path we’ll take, but we love hospitality and want to continue to learn as much as we can while we’re here in Bucharest.
Ultimately we will either manage Podstel remotely from the UK (which of course could be a difficult task) or sell our businesses and move to the UK with the aim to set up a hospitality business there. We’re exploring all possible directions in 2020 so more to come about this soon.
Lifestyle – Travel, Hobbies, Passions
It was a busy year for travel, hobbies and pursuing new an old passions. I travelled significantly in 2019, visiting Germany several times, UK twice, Spain for the Camino, Italy, Malta, Jordan, Ireland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Bulgaria and Moldova. Other than the Camino, most of my travel was for a conference or event.
However, climate change has become a big issue for me, and in 2020 I want to cut down on the amount of travelling I do by plane, and rather than travelling simply for pleasure, only travelling by plane if absolutely necessary or if there is a broader purpose to the trip.
Having bought a touring bike, I am keen to spend time travelling closer to home, getting out on my bike to raise awareness for climate change, bringing my hobbies of travel, sport, adventure, journalling together, which I talk more about below in the future section.
Towards the end of Quarter 3, I burned out after an intense summer at Podstel after so many stressful changes taking place. For a couple of months I lost my way and love for Podstel, and wasn’t motivated anymore to do much with the business. I isolated myself, and anxiety crept in and I began to question what I was doing in Romania. Although I don’t wish anxiety upon anyone, I think a degree of anxiety is important. Confusion marks the start of any possibility to change and this period made me realise that I had fallen into a comfortable and relatively stagnant state here in Romania.
I realised anxiety popping up was a calling for reinvention and that I needed to change and evolve. I took time out to think about my next five years, while solidifying my values for the first time in my life (more on that below) and came to the conclusion that I want to move back to the UK, taking all that I’ve learned here in Romania and building something meaningful at home.
In turn, I’ve also realised that reinvention requires a complete shift in mindset. Having set my path out to level up in business and leadership and move back to the UK, I am excited about learning as much as I can in 2020, while setting out the foundations for a move home.
I find it difficult to switch off. I think a lot (more about the future than the past) and my mind feels like it’s always in motion. The problem is that the more I spend in my mind, the less I experience the moment. Also, when I am not in my mind, I will naturally gravitate to something else, unintentionally avoiding the present moment. Perhaps I’ll read something on my phone, I’ll listen to a podcast or I’ll check Instagram in a never-ending need to be occupied, doing and to be always ON as if activity and doing equals progress.
I know that relaxing is incredibly important and the way I currently live isn’t productive but I’ve struggled over the years to actually give myself time to relax and to be mindful. Having said that, little things like attending regular Pilates classes has made me realise the importance of relaxing and mindfulness. Having realised the benefits of mindfulness, I am curious to explore other mindfulness techniques like meditation and therapy to explore the deeper meaning behind my desire to always be doing.
As I wrote in in my health reflections above, consistency in my diet has been something I’ve contended with in 2019. It’s easy to eat well well when I’m feeling good, and I look forward to cooking. It becomes a more difficult challenge when I am tired, stressed or worn out. Emotional eating habits kick in and I’ll resort back to some of my childhood patterns like scoffing chocolate. This mostly came up when I was walking the Camino, and thereon when I returned. Not only would I try my best to find my daily sugar fix, but I’d eat out much more often than usual simply because I didn’t have the passion to cook.
I have much to address and a lot to learn about mindful eating in 2020. I eat large portions and since I’m often in a rush to be doing, I don’t focus on what am I’m eating and see a plate of food as something that I need to finish as quickly as possible. I am also a ‘picker’ and love to snack on whatever I can find in the fridge between meals.
Finally, I know fine well that I don’t sleep well if I eat before bed, so becoming more disciplined with an intermittent fasting pattern linked to my childhood eating times of 8am for breakfast, 12pm for lunch and 5pm for dinner, giving the digestive system a break by not eating again till the next morning is something I am looking forward to doing more of.
Learnings & Realisations
Thoughts on Travel
I long believed that I had to be on the move, visiting new places and experiencing novel things to grow. I went through a phase of long-term travel from 2012 – 2016 but in 2019 I’ve learned that although a lot of growth and development can derive from travel, there’s also a lot to be said from staying put in one place. I’ve come to realise for myself that having a meaningful experience is simply a subjective thought in the mind, and that instead of jetting off to an exotic faraway place, you can have a meaningful experience right outside of your own front door.
Mindlessly travelling for the sake of new experiences has become an empty hole and is no different from acquiring possessions and material consumption. I now see travel as another form of seeking pleasure; a downward spiral if approached in this consumption like manner. So from now on I don’t want to just travel for the sake of travelling.
I want to use 2020 as an opportunity to travel more mindfully. And what I mean by more mindful travel is opting to only travel if the trip has a bigger purpose beyond simply travelling for my own pleasure and excitement.
From Outwards to Inwards
The majority of my 20s have been about exploration, self-discovery, and attempting to find truth in the external world through the people I meet and the experiences I have. Although I’ve learned a lot from all the travel I’ve done in the last decade and the people I’ve met, I’ve realised that there’s an even larger, deeper, vast internal world that I want to explore.
Being such an active person, constantly doing comes at the expense of not finding the time to relax and spend time with myself. But if we never spend mindful time with ourselves, how can we expect to get to know ourselves? We think we get to know ourselves through the external world, but it’s not the case. Experiences can tell us a lot, but the deep truths and traumas lie are within, and can only be accessed if we are willing to go look inwards.
So instead of continuously seeking new experiences, 2020 will be about mindfulness and taking time out to relax to travel inwards in an attempt to get to know myself from the inside out, not outside in.
In 2019 I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The key learning that came out of this book was to become more value-driven rather than making decisions based upon my emotions and how I feel in the moment.
I hadn’t realised that for most of my life I’ve been making decisions based on my current emotional state rather than my values. I hadn’t taken the time to think about my values, let alone make decisions based on those values.
Values are rooted in our truth, and are a much more stable reflection of what we stand for when compared to the volatility of emotions and how one feels in the moment. In October 2019, I took a couple of months to think deeply about what values I stand for, and came up with 12 values that are close to my heart. Instead of making decisions based on my emotional state, which of course is prone to change, I try my best to make decisions based on my values. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve found that at least having a set of values, and being conscious about those values, creates the possibility for a pathway of awareness and is a step in the right direction to a more congruent and consistent way of life.
If there’s one thing that’s constant and guaranteed in life, it’s that there’s no escaping change. We can resist change but we’ll pay the price for that through lack of growth, stagnation and complacency.
I see life as a series of reinventions, kind of like a game with different levels. We hit that point where we’ve come to a plateau in what we are doing and we’re presented with an opportunity to change, learn and explore a new way of being. Of course, positive reinvention is not always guaranteed and that step forward may actually turn out to be a step backwards, but the intention to change at least gives up a chance.
When reflecting on the last decade, it’s clear to see that I’ve travelled through 3 distinct reinvention periods. I started out as a university student completing my studies in Business Management. But then came a new opportunity to reinvent when I graduated, and I decided to travel to explore myself. And upon exploring myself, I was presented with a chance to reinvent again and started a business. Now, after spending 3 years as a founder building a startup and bringing the business to a sustainable place I am faced with a chance to change and reinvent once again.
I realised in 2019 that I am no longer a founder and that I need to reinvent and level up my skillset to the next level of the game. For me, that means starting new businesses and doubling down on learning as much as I can about business, leadership and management so that I can apply my skillset to use business as a force of good with, while also teaching and helping other people to do the same.
Looking Forward to 2020
From the middle of May 2020 I will fulfil a childhood dream and cycle across Europe. I’ll start at John O’Groats at the top of the UK, and cycle all the way back to Bucharest. The journey will be 5,000km in total and will take about 2 months to complete.
I want to make this journey different to the rest of the journeys I’ve done in the past. I want it to be a collective adventure involving people. Instead of cycling from destination to destination, I’ll cycle through people, documenting the stories of those that I am fortunate to meet along the way. I’d also like people to join the journey so I will be sharing my live location each day and encouraging those in the vicinity to hop on their bike and join the adventure.
More importantly, I want the journey to have a collective and bigger purpose than simply having an adventure so I’ve decided to cycle for climate change, making a pact to raise money to plant 1 tree for every kilometre I ride. That’ll be 5,000 trees in total and I’d love others to get involved in the journey so that we can raise even more money and plant more trees.
There’s still a lot of planning that needs to be done in regards to this adventure, but I am already well underway. I have bought my bike plus all the equipment I’ll need and training has commenced. If you’d like to get involved in the journey and want to meet up along the way, feel free to get in touch.
5 Year Anniversary for No Alcohol
On April 11th 2020 it will be my 5 year anniversary since I decided to quit drinking. 5 years has passed so quickly, and I still vividly remember the day in Timisoara, Romania, nursing possibly one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had, when I decided to quit. I don’t know how I will be celebrating April 11th 2020, but it definitely won’t be with an alcoholic drink.
On another note, although I know everyone has their own way of dealing with addiction, I want to offer my help as a soundboard to people out there who are struggling with addiction. If you feel like you’re alone and have nobody to talk to like I once did please don’t be afraid to reach out – I’m here to listen.
The major theme for 2020 is mindfulness and taking more time to relax, rest and get to know and understand myself by actually being with myself. With this in mind, I am curious to explore the following:
•Pilates – I’ll continue to practice regular pilates/yoga and attend 2-3 classes a week in addition to all the other sports and exercise I do.
•Meditation – As a constant doer, I’ve not put a huge emphasis on meditation, so I am interested to experiment and give it another shot.
•Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – Many friends have recommended regular therapy as hugely beneficial, so I want to find a therapist to explore the deeper depths of my mind.
•Reading – I want to master a consistent reading habit. Instead of shoving it till the end of the day and something that I do once I am ready for bed, I want to use the short free bursts of time I have throughout the day to pick up a book instead of picking up my phone for something mindless.
•Simplify – I have already decided to simplify my wardrobe and have already given away most of my clothes leaving only the essentials. I’ll work to simplify other aspects of my life like exercise, diet, routine.
2020 will be a transition year for Podstel. Having already decided that I want to go back to the UK, much of the year will be working out what business opportunity is next, and what we will do with the businesses we’ve established here in Romania.
On a personal level, going forward I am eager to learn as much as I can about business and leadership. Even after running my own business for 3 years I still feel like a beginner and I’ve already bought a load of basic business books and gone back to learning the fundamentals. I’ll also attend various courses, workshops, events and conferences, and I’m on the lookout for new mentors and partners in business.
I am looking to make the move back to the UK in 2021 so this is going to be an interesting year full of change, transition and reinvention.
And that’s a wrap for 2019. It’s time to enter a new decade, but what a year it’s been full of new friends, experiences, struggles and more valuable lessons learned.
My time here in Romania is limited to the next two years and my future in the UK is yet to be decided. Although I don’t know the intricacies of where I am heading, both literally and metaphorically, after being away from home for 7 years I feel like I am nearly ready to return.
In summary, I look forward to 2020 being a year full of mindfulness, change and reinvention. A year of looking inwards, learning, reading, focus, value-driven decision making, while learning as much as I can about business and leadership with a beginner’s mindset.
Thanks for reading and I hope that reading this Annual Review spurs you to write your own.
All the best, and here’s to a happy 2020,
2nd January 2020
About the Author
Hello everyone, I’m Dan – a 29-year-old social entrepreneur and writer from the north of England, living in Bucharest, Romania.
With a love for entrepreneurship, hospitality and people, my mission in life is to use business as a force for good and to teach other people to do the same.
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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