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‘We Should Push Ourselves Into the Unknown More Often’


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Seasoned hotel executive Paul Cunningham says change is good for the soul — and for career growth.

Paul Cunningham

To further professional growth, it’s important to recognise when you need a change. A step into the unknown, outside of your comfort zone, is good for the soul.

After almost two decades working with a large hospitality company, I felt the need to move on and put myself under a bit more pressure — so I left the company, and the industry.

In my new role at a property development company in Hong Kong, I have learnt more in the past 12 months than I have in the last 10 years. Taking the first step into the unknown requires courage, but once you do, it can be very rewarding.

At first, I found myself in a very different world — I went from working for an operator to working for an owner — and this was a little unnerving and definitely out my zone of comfort. Fear of failing is normal, but I took the time to step back, take stock of my new environment, and started to engage with the various stakeholders to understand the culture and the challenges.

Once you gain a bit of confidence and support, then you can apply your previous experience to various challenges. This requires a paradigm shift and a “moving of the mind.” As leaders, we should push ourselves into the unknown more often. This will better prepare us for the future because change is happening all around us, all the time.

The most valuable lesson for me so far is the realisation that there is a brave new world that exists beyond the hospitality industry. Having spent half my life in one industry, it’s sometimes difficult not to be a little narrow-minded. I’ve since learnt that a new environment can be one that is completely “switched-on” and thrives at a different pace. What seemed inaccessible before, now appears to offer a lot. I’ve learnt that the most difficult part is making that decision to take the next step.

I’ve also learnt that when you dig deep and apply what you know in a different environment it can pay dividends. Being strategic and open to new concepts and business models has unlocked a part of me that I knew existed, but never utilised. Self-discovery can be quite a journey.

Based in Hong Kong, Paul Cunningham is general manager, hospitality portfolio management, at New World Development Co. Ltd.

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