Now what? Life without our daily walking tours

I’m writing this post from my living room. I’m wearing what my husband calls my smartypants outfit which is basically the clothes that you love to wear at home but would never be caught dead in outside of the house. He calls it smartypants outfit because this is what I would wear for days when I was studying for my exams at university. I get that he was probably making fun of me when he came up with that (he had a special distaste for these REALLY ugly sweatpants that I happened to love and wore all the time) but I’ve embraced the term and this part of my personality that refuses to wear something uncomfortable at home. Life is too short, people!

I’m not studying today though. Today, I’m working from home as I do basically every day these days. My husband is sitting next to me, hammering away at his laptop, and every now and again we exchange a few words before we zoom in on work again.

What should we have for dinner tonight?

clickety-click

Do you think that plant needs watering?

Click clack click

We should probably repaint the living room, right?

Earlier this year we made a pretty drastic decision when we thought about ways to reduce the stress in our lives. I had become a person that I hardly recognized anymore: I was always crying, I couldn’t sleep due to worries about basically everything (when I finally did fall asleep I had vivid stress dreams where I was fighting with people) and I felt like I was stuck and couldn’t move. My husband stayed strong, for the two of us and our family, but I know he was hurting too because as soon as things slowed down a little bit and he could breathe again his body started to fail him. I can’t really write about this without risk sounding overly dramatic but in short, things were just not good.

After 4 years of growth beyond my wildest imagination and completely losing control of my life because of it, I just crashed into a wall. I didn’t break any bones but I was broken.

I’m always on the fence whether I should share stuff like this because it’s ingrained in me that it’s important for businesses to never show any weakness. That an owner of a business who’s seemingly at the verge of a nervous breakdown doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in its customers. I’m sure that’s true to some extent but I’ve never really done any of this by the book. Which, I’m sure, has been a part of both my success and failures.

I actually think we should talk more about the things we’re going through in our lives. Both because talking instead of bottling things up helps us process and also because it helps us shatter this illusion that everyone’s life but ours is perfect. We’re all battling something and as soon as you realize that you don’t feel so alone with your problems anymore. If more small business owners talked about how hard this life can be, maybe more of us would take precautions to avoid burning out.

After much deliberation and sleeping on it for weeks, we came to the conclusion that the best thing we could do for us and our business was to stop offering our daily walking tours. So we did and we did our last tour on October 23rd.

This was not in any way an easy decision. The most difficult thing by far was saying goodbye to our staff that we had grown to love and who I felt great responsibility for. Even though I didn’t doubt that this was the right thing to do for us, saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Thankfully the amazing women who worked for us showed us a lot of understanding and compassion which I’ll forever be grateful for. I’m also happy to say that they’re all working on new and exciting things now and that they seem genuinely happy.

The daily walking tour was also our main revenue stream so we were not only making organizational changes to our business that we needed to figure out but taking a big financial hit too. So I don’t find it strange at all that not everyone has understood this decision.

So what has changed? Was turning our business upside down the right decision after all?

As hard and agonizing all of this was, I’m 1000% sure that we made the right decision for us at this moment. Everything has changed.

I’ve spent the last few months focusing on my own well being. Of course, my family, friends and my business matter to me too but like they say before takeoff on any flight: you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help others. And that’s what I’ve done.

I’ve sought outside help to deal with my issues and I’ve put more emphasis on living a simpler more healthier lifestyle. I’ve spent a lot of time at the gym and I go to a wonderful yoga class once a week that is more about living a balanced life than who’s the most flexible. I read more and I’ve just finished knitting a sweater after almost not touching the knitting needles, something that brought me a lot of joy in the past, for a long long time.

I feel stronger and more confident than I’ve felt in years and I keep trying to challenge myself to get out of the prison that was my comfort zone. I still feel some anxiety here and there but the difference between now and just a few months ago is that it doesn’t stop me from doing things anymore.

I’m just happier.

Work-wise, we now also have time to figure out things that we were always too busy to do before. We’ve got time to think about what kind of service we want to offer our guests and I’ve been writing more again. There are still not enough hours in the day but I don’t beat myself up about with a studded stick like before but just rather accept it and try again when I do find the time. We live by simple rules during work hours: our guests come first and everything else second. Basically what it means is that we take care of e-mails and bookings first and then I can focus my time on everything else that it takes to make a business successful.

Another big change is that now that we’re only doing private walking tours, and we can control our schedule better around them, I’m now personally doing more tours than I did before. At some point, I developed pretty severe anxiety towards our tours and had almost stopped doing them because of that. I was also very busy but I was mostly just terrified of people figuring out that I was a fraud. Which I’m not but I felt that way. Anxiety is not rational.

Last weekend I did 3 tours in 4 days and loved every minute of it. It reminded me why the first year of me doing the tours was one of the best years of my life – I had found a way to get paid for something enjoyed so much that it didn’t feel like work. I was maybe a bit naive back then in my views about how much work it too much work and know better now but I’m nevertheless looking forward to rediscovering that joy.

When we didn’t have any staff anymore (except for Ásta who is still on maternity leave) there was no reason for us to keep our office and we moved our HQ to our home on November 1st to save some money. Which is why I’m sitting on our sofa in old sweatpants and something that once resembled a tank top writing this post. To be fair, that’s been my preferred way to write since long before all of these changes occurred.

Working from home doesn’t come without its challenges but I feel we’ll figure it out. I just have to remind myself to comb my hair in the morning and don’t get too comfortable in the smartypants outfit. Because no one and I mean no one, except my family, should ever see me in this monstrosity.

Right now, we mostly rely on the money we earn when you book your tours through us to keep us afloat although we also earn some money from our private walking tours. It’s a big risk and there’s a chance that putting our faith in this part of our business will be our demise. I was faced with the exact same challenge when I first started this business, though, and I had no way to know whether this idea of offering a walking tour, something that really wasn’t being offered back then, would be successful or not. There are no guarantees in business.

I have enough faith in us as people and as a business that I’m for the first time in a long time not worried. Things will happen exactly the way they’re supposed to happen and all I can do is to work hard and hope for the best. But not too hard, because I’m not making the same mistakes again.

What I’m learning with age is that life is not a linear process. We all have our ups and downs and lessons to learn and it’s how you deal with adversity that defines you. The lessons I needed to learn was that I’m not superhuman and that this culture of sacrificing everything, including your mental and physical health, for the hustle is not only unsustainable but also dangerous. It doesn’t matter how much money you collect under your pillow, even though this was never really about money, if you kill yourself doing it. Life is now, not later when you finish everything on your todo list.

Only time will tell how the business will fare. I’m putting my faith in us and our guests. Trust, as opposed to worries and pessimism, has always worked to my advantage.

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