From high school dropout to investment banker – that's my story. Why do I want to share it with you? It's simple: because it was an incredible journey, and I want to show you that you can achieve anything you want, no matter where you come from or which social class you were born into. You might be at the very beginning of your personal journey, and I hope these lines help you get a sense of how it could unfold.
The book is divided into two parts. In Part 1, I recount my life so far, from being a high school dropout who rebelled against everything and everyone and for whom learning itself made no sense, to becoming a chimney sweep who discovered his passion for personal growth and ultimately became an investment banker.
In Part 2, I describe my personal principles and experiences that should help you define your own goals and achieve the seemingly impossible aspirations you always dream about.
You may be considering skipping the first part and diving straight into the second part of the book. However, to put my principles into the proper context and, above all, to enable you to fully understand them, I strongly recommend reading my story first. It lays the groundwork for my principles and ensures that you can recognize the bigger picture and grasp its depth. Plus, you'd simply be missing out on a fantastic story – happy reading!
The Hamburg Chamber of Crafts building glistened golden in the morning sun. Lost in thought, I stood there, my gaze fixed on it – a beautiful sight. I said goodbye to my family and walked through the impressive entrance door. In the reception hall, I was politely greeted by a young lady who took my jacket and warmly welcomed me. Then, I climbed the ornate stairs up to the upper floor, where there was already a lively buzz. Interviews were recorded, seats assigned, and drinks distributed. I took a quick glance at my wristwatch: ten-fifteen A.M. Just 15 more minutes. I was nervous – after all, I was about to give a speech in front of more than 400 people. I had never spoken to so many people, let alone presented something, but today was a special day. I grabbed a glass of champagne and mingled with the crowd. After a few minutes of small talk with interesting new acquaintances, I checked the time again: ten twenty-eight A.M. Hastily, I grabbed another glass of champagne, downed it in one gulp, and walked through the large hall toward the stage…
PART 1 – School Dropout, Chimney Sweep, Investment Banker
CHAPTER 1 – How on earth do you become a chimney sweep?
Hello! My name is Kevin Schwarzinger, and I am one of you: just an ordinary guy from Vienna who grew up in a working-class family and was raised without a father. I had a beautiful, but simple childhood. I spent my summer vacations on a farm instead of taking exclusive flights to far-off countries, and I lived in a small apartment in public housing rather than a big single-family home with a marvelous garden. Until my teenage years, I played as a goalkeeper for a soccer team, and my favorite hobby was playing all kinds of computer games. I spent days and nights battling terrifying monsters, racing daring car chases, and fighting for survival in a hail of bullets. "Reading" was a foreign concept to me for a long time, and I mostly engaged in rather unproductive activities.
I experienced mixed feelings about starting school. I attended an all-day school and initially had little understanding of why I had to spend almost twice as long in school each day as the other children. However, even back then, there was a particularly open and interactive learning system in place, giving students plenty of freedom. I had always been a free spirit and a rebel, so I enjoyed this type of learning a lot. I completed elementary school without any problems and secured a spot at high school.
Looking forward to exciting subjects like chemistry and physics, I eagerly anticipated the new school level. I imagined great and dangerous experiments, flames, explosions, and noise as part of everyday life there. However, when I arrived, disillusionment quickly set in. In math, we suddenly learned more about letters than numbers, in physics, we had to solve calculations, and in chemistry, there were no chemicals in sight. When I asked my teacher when I would need to calculate the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle later in life, I received no answer or explanation. I quickly lost interest and joy in school and, even worse, my enthusiasm for learning. My grades were mediocre; my behavior was disastrous. Many parent conferences, warnings, and entries in the class register followed.
Somehow, I still managed to get into a secondary school focusing on "programming." Since I spent all day playing computer games anyway, I might as well learn how to program them. It would be fun, and from what I had heard, programmers were paid well. The problem was that programming involved very complex material. The subject required thinking" outside the box" and demonstrating initiative and independence – qualities that had been systematically trained out of me over the past four years.
As I entered my teenage years, girls, parties, and hanging out became more interesting to me than the computer games I had previously been so engrossed in. I rarely showed up at school, if at all, and my final report card gave me a "failing" grade in every subject. After repeating the school year and failing again, my mother intervened and got me an apprenticeship as a chimney sweep.
So there I was, 16 years old and without a high school diploma, about to start my trial week as a chimney sweep. I vividly remember my first day: it was five forty-five A.M. on a hot summer day in June. The entrance gate of my new company loomed before me in Vienna's 8th district. It was precisely what I had always wanted to avoid. I didn't want to be a tradesman. I didn't want to have to get up early, be constantly exposed to wind and weather, do physically demanding work, and come home dirty from head to toe at the end of the day. But the trial period went well – the job seemed fine, and at the end of the week, I was invited to the boss's office. We engaged in some small talk and discussed my experiences at work so far. Eventually, he looked deep into my eyes and asked me in a calm but firm voice, "So? Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life?" I stood there and couldn't help but smile. At the time, I didn't know why, but somehow, I couldn't resist. I said, "Yes, I think so" – and with that, a new chapter in my life began.
In September 2008, my chimney sweep apprenticeship finally began. Once a week, there was traditional classroom instruction at the vocational school, where the theoretical basics of the chimney sweep trade were taught. The transition from a higher school to a vocational school was easy for me, mainly because I could apply what I learned the next day at work. To my surprise, the training was technically demanding and included knowledge of physics and chemistry, fire protection, as well as heating and combustion technology.
The best part of my new, exciting environment was my instructor and mentor. His name was Martin. He had high expectations of me and regularly surprised me with spontaneous test assignments. It was a kind of competition where he asked a multitude of questions on various subject areas. However, he was never too proud to explain everything to me in the smallest detail. Martin tried to push the limits of my knowledge a little bit further every day and came up with more detailed and complex topics. In return, I became more and more motivated, and it started to become fun. In the mornings on my way to work, I was already thinking about questions like: How far will I get today before reaching my professional limits? What did I learn yesterday? What can I do better today? Basically, Martin was just a cool guy. He rode a motorcycle, practiced martial arts, and regularly participated in triathlons. For me, he was a role model, someone I could look up to, with a seemingly inexhaustible wealth of expertise and life experience.
This combination of knowledge that I could directly apply in practice and the regular challenges at work motivated me incredibly. I had the urge to continuously improve and learn new things. This brought out a completely new side of me. I began to develop myself, from a directionless teenager who didn't care about anything and didn't want to take responsibility for anything, to a young person with a perspective and goals for the future.
At the time, I didn't realize it, but Martin was more than just my boss: he was my mentor. He was the one who set the course for my moral compass, conveyed values such as quality, punctuality, and reliability, and laid the foundation for me to write my own success story a few years later.
My training lasted three years, and as with everything in life, there were ups and downs. After a successful first year, I reached another critical, adolescent phase. I began to skip school again, drank far too much alcohol every weekend, and tried to chase quick money with poker and gambling. However, the most challenging times in life often bring about the most beautiful moments and experiences. During this turbulent time, I met Angelika. I didn't know it back then, but this encounter would change everything. She not only made me a better person but also helped me realize my full potential and to drop my bad habits. She was simply the missing puzzle piece in my life. Today, I can say with certainty that she is the love of my life and my soulmate. Ultimately, I set myself the goal of making the most out of my final exam certificate in the third and final year of my apprenticeship and finish with a grade point average (GPA) of 1.0. Who knew what I might need such a certificate for in the future?
This is where the »coincidences« began. Because, if something seemingly random happened on my journey, it often turned out to be a key event in retrospect. Keep an eye out for these moments in the text – I've marked them with chevrons (»«). You'll see how many »coincidences« there were and how often they built upon each other.
It all started with one of my classmates at the time. When I returned to school with my good intentions of wanting to achieve only top performances this year, I naturally told the whole class about it. Everyone knew about it, and I was under more pressure to achieve my goal. This is where my classmate came in, who immediately jumped up and shouted at me: "Pah, you'll never make it!" That was all I needed. After a few minutes of heated discussion, I said: "Okay, want to bet?" The colleague agreed and set 50 euros for our bet. At that time, that was a lot of money for me. Ambitious as I was, I took his hand, and we sealed the bet with a firm handshake.
Driven by the betting agreement, I changed my behavior and attitude toward school. I actually began to study for exams and made summaries for each topic, which would later prove to be extremely valuable. Additionally, I realized that I could have a relatively significant impact on my grade with little effort. With three days of preparation time, a "Very good" was achievable instead of "Good" or "Satisfactory." During this time, something started brewing inside me. The small successes in the exams contributed to my beginning to imagine bigger goals. Eventually, so much stuff was buzzing around in my head that I started writing down these goals. I divided them into two categories, "personal" and "professional," and wrote them on a huge sheet of paper. I was in a real flow state. In the "professional" category, I listed, for example:
Graduate vocational school with a 1.0 grade point average
Take the master exam
Acquire my own chimney sweep business
Earn €5,000 per month
I also wrote down some personal goals:
Get a motorcycle license
Travel the world
Places I absolutely want to see:
Rio de Janeiro
The Great Wall of China
When I came to my senses after my writing frenzy, I had created a huge poster with things I wanted to experience and milestones I wanted to achieve. In the lower third, I drew a thick line across the entire poster and wrote "To-dos" underneath. There, I noted exactly what I had to do now to achieve the goals. Thus, my first vision board with concrete action instructions was complete. I hung it at eye level above my desk. There, I could see it every day and kept my goals in mind. I had no idea what a vision board even was back then, but I could feel that it would help me stay focused and direct my thoughts to the right things.
CHAPTER 2 – Successfully Mastered: Never learn again
I graduated from vocational school with a 1.0 GPA. Of course, I never received the 50 euros I had won, but that wasn't the point anymore. Instead, I had gained something that money couldn't buy: My burning desire had been ignited, and the idea of becoming a chimney sweep master had come to my mind. Why shouldn't I continue if I had already dealt with the subject matter so extensively? I did some research and found out that a one-year training course with a three-part examination had to be completed. So I decided to enroll in the master school while still in training. This was quite unusual. When I called the training institute and spoke to the lady responsible for the master exams, she immediately declined. She said I couldn't register if I hadn't even completed my apprenticeship yet and could call again when I had successfully passed the journeyman exam. My euphoria gave way to feelings of dejection and disappointment. Firstly, the number of people for the master courses was severely limited. If I now had to wait until I had taken my final exam, the likelihood was high that no place would be available. Secondly, the courses only took place every two to three years. I didn't want to wait that long. Who knew what would happen during that time? Maybe I wouldn't feel like starting to learn again.
After indulging in self-pity and thinking about how unfair the world was, I told myself that this couldn't be it. I wanted to do this training, and a formality like the time of registration wouldn't stop me. I didn't accept the »no« – another crucial moment inthe further course of my life.
On my journey, it often happened that the path seemed to be blocked. All too often, I heard statements like "No, that's not possible" or "No, not now" or "No, not like that." Like the »coincidences«, such moments were often crucial for my development. In the text, I also marked them with chevrons (»). Don't let a »no« stop you – there's always a way!
Determined to be in this course at the beginning of the following year, I called my vocational school teacher, who was a member of the professional association and explained the situation to him. After a brief conversation, it was clear to me that I had been wrongly rejected at the training institute and that the journeyman exam only had to be taken by the start of the course. That was the glimmer of hope I had been looking for. With strengthened self-confidence and the reference of an association member in my pocket, I called the training institute again and made my point clear. Two hours later, I had my training place.
The chimney sweep master exam consists of a technical part, which is related to the chimney sweep profession, and an entrepreneurial part, which is more general. The technical exam is taken in written, oral, and practical forms. The written part consists of seven modules, each allotted one hour, and thus lasts for seven hours. The oral part is based on a catalog of 60 questions, with 80 minutes allotted for answering them. The practical part takes place over two days and lasts a total of 13 hours. The general entrepreneurial part is divided into a written exam lasting five hours and an oral part that takes 20 minutes. In total, the examination lasts 26 hours and 40 minutes. To obtain admission to this exam, a preparatory course must be completed beforehand – the training place I fought so hard for was a place in this very course. It lasts nine months and started for me in February 2012. During this time, evening school must be attended two to four times a week for four hours each. In total, the course amounts to approximately another 120 hours of preparation, excluding self-study. As if all this wasn't challenging enough, there was still an elephant in the room…