10 August 2009

40 by 40 Update: #2 Get Another Job

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

2. Get Another Job - COMPLETED
Running Tally: $0.00 for charity.

I was ecstatic when I started in the travel biz. I got a job working for a local travel agency where I was the low man on the totem pole, but I didn't care. I loved every minute of my work day. I couldn't stop talking about how much I loved my job. When we were up in New York for Thanksgiving I looked at John and said "I wish I was at work."

So why did I last for only a year? The reasons are legion. One of them was an incompatibility with the firm that hired me. Even though I was the lowest man on the totem pole and had the salary to prove it, I was asked to do things that were far above what a "junior agent" would be required to do. At first I didn't mind. I put in hundreds of extra hours planning the design for a new website and writing huge amounts of content. But it was fun, and I was getting to set the style and tone for the business. When the man who hired me quit, I was de facto manager for while. When his replacement didn't know how to do her job, I was de facto manager again. When she quit, the owner asked me to take on a managerial role--but get this--for no additional salary. Even then I might not have minded if I had any sense that the business was going to move forward in a direction that I thought made sense. But that wasn't going to happen.

I could have looked for other work in the travel business but by that time the economy was in the toilet and travel seemed even less lucrative than it had a year earlier. Plus, the odd thing about travel is that unless you are working for REALLY high end clients, the harder you work the less you make. Yes, that is right. Even if they charge a planning fee, agents still have to rely on the rather measly commissions that suppliers pay--and they generally make NOTHING on airline tickets unless they charge you a fee. The reality is there is a whole group of middle class and upper middle class travelers who are tired of trying to weed through all of the junk on the Internet and have gone back to using travel agents. Unfortunately, they have brought their bargain hunt mentality with them. That might sound fair, but what it means is that they are unwilling to tolerate a mark-up. So the agent has to work harder and spend more time to find a "deal" that the customer is willing to pay for. And the net result for the agent is that they get even less money despite the increase in work. And even then customers sometimes balk and want to walk away and "get it cheaper online." It would be like working with a Real Estate agent who finds you your dream house, negotiates the price, fills out the paper work, and then you say "I don't need you anymore, I can get the house 3% cheaper if I finish this up myself."

Unless you do a huge volume on things like cruises and (shudder) Sandals, the only way to make money in the business is to have really high end clients who are willing to spend big money on travel. It sounds terrible, but that expensive $10,000 trip to Disney that you bought with your home equity loan is small beans and ain't going to do much to pay the agent's mortgage, or even pay for groceries.

So, realizing that it was unlikely that I was going to tap into enough big spenders to make anything other than chump change, I decided it was time to get out. As much as I loved the world of travel planning I want to actually retire someday on more than just Social Security.

And now I am working back in the land of urban planning and making a decent living again.

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