Have you met Michal?
The second How It Is To Be You video stars him, his beautiful family and the paper mill that is his passion and calling.
This is the story of a man that has made a very brave and conscious decision to follow his heart and see his son grow up by quitting his managerial job at the main bank of the Czech Republic and start a paper mill from scratch.
If you haven’t seen the video yet; here it is:
Who is Michal?
Michal is 39 years old and lives in Zdislana, a tiny village near the city of Liberec in the Czech Republic. He lives there with his beautiful wife Slavka, his 2-year-old son Elias and their 2 dogs.
Whilst traveling the world in his early twenties, Michal accidentally stumbled onto the art of paper making when he was in Israel and needed to make some extra money because he’d spend everything on the trip and a Hebrew language course (he’s not Jewish but just felt like doing the course). He told me that he knew from the very first moment he stepped into the paper mill that this was what he wanted to do and become.
Coming back from his travels, life, and perhaps a post-communist society that values steady jobs and careers, led him to the banking sector. He liked it, and his career took off fast.
His time at the bank was double-edged. On the one hand, he really liked it and is grateful for all the skills he’s learned. Without them, he could probably not have made the paper mill as successful as it now is. Also, it allowed him to pay for those first 18 months when the paper mill wasn’t yet breaking even.
On the other hand, he wasn’t really happy there either. Like so many other people in the corporate world (myself included), he often felt like he was just performing one big act. Always smiling and being nice to people he didn’t like and knowing some of his colleagues only pretended to be nice because they needed him on their side in whatever political business game they were playing. It even went so far that when he decided to quit the bank for the paper mill (which was 2 years ago), some colleagues wouldn’t even greet him in the street anymore…
Sad, but, definitely a sign that he’d made the right decision!
The final decision to indeed become a full-time papermaker in the paper mill that Michal and Slavka already build right next to their house was triggered by the birth of Elias. Michal really wanted to be there with him and see him grow up.
But with a mortgage to pay and a kid to feed, it’s a rather big risk to leave everything that feels secure behind and chase your dream. And as you can imagine, getting to that point wasn’t easy. But…the mill was already build, he’d been dreaming about this for 15 years and all in all it was just the right time to do it.
Interestingly, there were 2 types of reactions to this decision from the outside world; some people called him nuts for leaving his secure job with the car, the laptop and golf weekends. Other people called him brave and shared their own dreams of doing something like that themselves (though there was a little jealousy here and there too).
Michal has been running the paper mill full-time for 2 years now, selling paper, hosting workshops and explaining the runnings of it to interested tourists. Like most entrepreneurial ventures the beginning wasn’t easy at all, but they’re now doing really good and are even working on building a larger mill a bit further in town and raising funds to build a paper mill in Kenya as part of a development project.
Michal’s indeed not very different from any other entrepreneur; he has many to do’s on his list but he’s doing good. He’s doing what he loves. He meets interesting and inspiring people on a daily basis. He’s making more than enough money. He’s spending a lot of quality time with his family. He’s himself, always.
Overall, he’s a very happy man!
How Michal and I met
After spending 2,5 months in Berlin (and a week in Barcelona), I felt ready for some silence, hiking and undisturbed working in the countryside of the Czech Republic (because I was on my way to Prague). So I fired up AirBnB, plugged in my filters et voilá, the paper mill popped up.
Sometimes, it really is that simple!
As I was there all on my own, I of course had to shoot the whole thing on my own too. And as the art of film making is still very new for me, I was rather curious how it would go and how I would feel.
Luckily Michal had been filmed before so knew the tricks of the trade and what images I would be interested in. Also, he brought Elias along for the shoot which was a great joy! A bit shy and hesitant at first but opened up completely after I let him play with the buttons on my camera and made silly faces and sounds at and with him 🙂
The lessons I learned from Michal
- Follow your heart no matter the consequences
Though Michal really enjoyed his time and work at the bank (up to a certain point at least), it was not where his heart was.
But…the reality of taking the leap and giving up a job that you know, that is considered admirable and ‘normal’ and most of all comes with a high level of security is huge. Really huge!
But as Michal says, choosing to follow your heart will be the best decision you’ll ever make. Ultimately, money will come, your relationships will improve and you’ll feel a whole lot happier. Not because the universe just rewards you for being brave (it’s definitely not that easy, see point 2), but because you live your life to the fullest.
- Living your dream is hard, you’ll need to invest time, money and a lot of love
As romantic as it might look, running a paper mill in the beautiful countryside of the Czech Republic is just like any other entrepreneurial venture. There are business models to be figured out, clients to be found, deadlines to be met and overall many many hours to be spent just doing the work.
It’s not the decision to actually do it that is the hardest; it’s the doing it in itself. It’s showing up every day even when no leads or clients do. It’s testing out things like Facebook ads and getting insecure and frustrated by seeing zero results from them. It’s the joy of a big order in the morning and the depression of the loss of a client in the evening. It’s entrepreneurship!
Btw, living your dream doesn’t automatically mean that you need to be an entrepreneur of course!
- To be able to be yourself is what is most important
Michal says that he smiles when he wants to smile and doesn’t when he doesn’t feel like it. He goes on by saying he’d happily throw people out of the mill if they didn’t behave according to his conditions (though luckily, he only attracts really nice and friendly people). In other words, he can be who he is at that point in time. Unlike his time at the bank where he had to wear a suit no matter what, keep on smiling and saying yes and being nice to the people he knew were just using him. It’s the freedom to be himself, no matter what that’s important to him (and I couldn’t agree more!).
Frequently Asked Questions
- How ‘hand-made’ is the paper really?
As handmade as you can get it! All the equipment can be manually operated if needed (though it’s only the machine that shreds bark or jeans into pulp now runs on electricity).
- Who does Michal sell the paper to?
There are many individual clients but Michal also makes things like wedding invitations for party planners, vouchers for restaurants and golf clubs and stationary for businesses.
- What if I would like to buy some paper or do a workshop?
The easiest is to check out Michal’s website: www.rucni-papirna.cz and contact Michal from there.
More questions? Or comments? I would love to see comments! Leave them in the comment section below or contact me on linda[at]howitistobeyou[dot]com.