It’s such a cliché, after all. The odd job man whose upgrade from Stansted to Alicante somehow extended to the CV enhancement of ‘Master Builder’, the guy who had successfully installed his own washing machine once deciding he really fancied himself as a plumber all along. So, dummy expat came to Spain and thought running a bar looked dead easy, as he had so much experience the other side of them, he cheerfully threw in his life savings to ‘live the dream’…. What an idiot!
God knows its easy to laugh now at the naivete and sheer nerve of some people who threw in good careers when the going was good some years back and decided to reinvent themselves in Spain, but you know what… some of them, some of us, actually did just that. People who had worked for other people all their lives came over to Spain and set up family businesses, went self-employed, either learned new skills fast or quickly learned the hard way that some things weren’t so easy.
The thing is, times are hard. And that means, most of the rubbish ones aren’t here any more. The people who are still running restaurants or selling villas or designing websites, in today’s economic environment, are the ones doing well at whatever they are doing. They might not have had a traditional career path leading to whatever is currently feeding their families, but they’ve adapted. They might have had to take completely new directions in life, they might have learned new skills, moved into new markets, they might be doing several things at once… They’re working hard, and doing whatever it takes.
And I respect them. No-one surviving in Spain these days has dropped out, sold out or down-shifted, not unless they brought considerable assets with them, and those examples get fewer and further between each year. They may have sacrificed traditional material and career security for less measurable quality of life factors, but they have worked, and continue to work, bloody hard for it. And if it doesn’t work out then yes, they might close the restaurant and start competing in property maintenance or equipment hire or catering… so what, the people already doing this don’t own the patch or the idea, this is entrepreneurialism at its finest, and when it works it works brilliantly.
You can’t help thinking that this is what many people have really left, or tried to leave, behind – the sneering so-called culture that mocks people for reinventing themselves, trying something new, not just having a dream but turning that into a plan and a lifestyle and taking calculated risks in pursuit of gains that really matter. Since moving to Spain I have met amongst the expat community some of the most interesting, creative, hardworking and entrepreneurial people I have ever encountered. A lot of them are still in trouble despite all those qualities, because times have never been so appallingly hard… but the expat entrepreneurs are going to be a big part of Spain’s recovery success story, I’d bet anything.