… from overachiever to disbeliever
„You’ll never please everyone. Find those who like the real you and invite them closer.“Mo Gawdat, Solve for Happy
I spent more than 13 years trying to fit into a system that I now decided to leave. I was good at it, just like you probably are. I was successful. This change of direction did not happen from one day to the next, I grew into it over the course of 6-7 years.
This is part two of the story, part one (i.e. steps 1-5) can be found here.
6. Fast-forward to the end: What would be your regrets?
When you hear or read about what people say at the end of their lives, these touching stories about the regrets people have – they often have to do with not having spent enough quality time with friends and family, having worn a mask instead of being yourself, having taken life far too seriously. We have all seen these books and read these articles and they’re all similar. None of the people they interviewed on their deathbed claims they would have liked to work a little bit harder in hindsight. Nobody says they regret not having taken more time to perfect that one crucial presentation or stayed in the office longer hours. Having worked in the area of oncology for a couple of years, I knew full well that deadly diseases do not ask who you are or what you’ve got on your bank account and how high up the pecking order in your company you are. So I was standing in a bookshop in Basel’s busy main train station with one of these books in my hands when I first asked myself: “What keeps you from embracing this wisdom and learning from it? Why do you not let these words touch your heart and change your plans? Maybe because it’s other people’s insights not yours? Maybe you need to see for yourself?” Although I did not act straight away, a seed had been planted. I knew I would not want to have these regrets. A while later, I read “The crossroads between should and must” by Elle Luna and that gave me confidence that if you are determined to find it, there is always a way to follow your true calling.
7. Enjoy the good times
My job in regional HR was bliss: I got to work with people from a lot of different countries; together we developed and introduced a new methodology that helped leaders to think more strategically about capabilities the organization needs in the future. We co-created this together with the countries, tested it and then made it available throughout the region. I doubled as communication liaison for the CHRO for a buzzing couple of months and generally had a good time, I was in a flow state. Leadership was interested in what we did but not in a micro-managing way. I felt trusted and supported and generally helpful. I got to try new things in abundance and I thoroughly enjoyed not having the Damocles’ sword of sales figures dangling over my head any more. The other thing I did not miss was having “somebody reporting into me”. I had always treated my team members pretty much like peers anyway (apart from needing to keep some things secret and going through the sometimes annoying performance management process), so why would I miss that reporting line when I had such a supportive and knowledgeable bunch of people around me to work with? I enjoyed not having to tell anyone that their bonus would be a bit higher/lower this year and not having to argue about why that was the case.
8. Decode the myths and contradictions of the matrix
That was about the time when I got to know my friends at Les Enfants Terribles (LET) in Berlin. I went on a short 2.5 day program in May 2018 called “timeout for good new work” and I immediately felt like I was in the right place. It was a bit like coming home. The attitude these people have, the convictions about how work should be – that was unlike anything I had heard before and it resonated in me like a super mega subwoofer. They brought up questions like: Can organizations serve people instead of the other way round? Why do we have these pyramidal hierarchies and is there an alternative to them that does not end in total chaos? Does there always have to be endless financial growth at the expense of people and the planet? What is it that you really, really want in life?
While I was beginning to ponder these questions, I also listened to the audiobook of “Solve for Happy” by Mo Gawdat. With surgical precision and a lot of kindness, he unpicks the illusions and myths of our modern society. For instance the notion that hard work makes you happy, eventually. Or the fears we have about not being good enough, not being liked by others or losing control when in fact, control is a total illusion in itself. I started reflecting, reading and listening to more publications in that direction. I felt I was onto something here. So I signed up for the 10 months educational program at LET in Berlin. My boss in HR at the time supported me fully in this and I am very grateful for that. She maybe would have liked to go on a program like that herself. My ambition evolved: I was now aiming for changing the system I was part of and help make the company future-fit and more people-centric.
9. Lower the stakes by coming up with a plan B
My plan A was to change the system from within. Long story short: That did not work out. 🙂 Why? Well, for me it turned out to be too painful, because I was not patient enough and not the best at stakeholder-management (or “interpersonal chess”) either. I wanted to try stuff, change stuff – not in two years from now but now.
I am glad that I had a plan B to revert to. Plan B was to leave the company and the corporate world, on good terms. In fact, plan B seemed in the end a lot more attractive than Plan A. I could have stayed on in another job inside that company but I politely turned down that offer. Why? I had taken the time to map out my Plan B, think through the consequences.
I asked myself: What could happen in the worst case, what would I do then? What could happen in the best case? Talked it through with my husband, knowing that the truth would likely fall somewhere in between. After a week or so, I felt we both would be happier with plan B than if I now took on a job that was only 30-40% of what I am passionate about. That kind of compromise would have been worse (not only for me, but also for the company) than making a clean cut. Plus, I felt incredibly tired and I really needed a break; I was on the brink of burning myself out. So I needed to listen to my gut and leave. Maybe I was in the right place but two years too early. Who knows – maybe we will find each other again under different circumstances.
10. Let yourself be inspired by positive examples and get a good coach
Along my journey and particularly in the past 12 months, I got to know amazing, inspiring people that care about similar matters: human-centric ways of working, conscious leadership, mindfulness, agile mindset. I have seen so many examples of how if you follow your heart and believe in yourself and in others, things magically fall into place. If you stay true to your calling and are curious and open for possibilities, you can’t go wrong.
My mission in life is to inspire others and spark positive change in the world. And it feels liberating and fundamentally right that I am able to dedicate a lot more time to that now than ever before in my life. My plan B includes taking a break of 6-12 months without “work as we know it”.
We will find ourselves a house by the sea. We want to make a dream come true that my husband and I have been having since we first met and that we had then put on hold for over a decade because of the career. Now that the career is put to one side, life is about us again. Back to nature. I will write more, I will learn more and explore opportunities and then see what unfolds.
Here’s a shout out to some of the people who helped and encouraged me and/or inspired me along my journey. Thanks for being you!
My wonderful husband Klaus Karp, my mum Christa Sinz, my dad Gerhard Hess, Gabi Hess, Jelena Klingenberg, Martina Müller, Eva Röder and Albert Röder, Alexa Urspruch, Anna von Bismarck, Claudia Dannehl, Kathi Stirnemann, Henrik Behrends, Aldona Jurek, Julie Puype, Jean-Luc Delay, Christine Seifert, Christina Müller, Randal Potter, Rochelle Chopamba, Mayuko Seto, Silvia Bäckström, Faezeh Rad, Imran Rehman, Manuel Funk, Amrei Andrasch, Fra Mega, Siiri Musten, Claudia Thali, Nikolina Fuduric, Christoph Frey, Katja Rieger, Luea Ritter, Joanna Gröning, Marion King, Gerhild Vollherbst, Marlies Hebler, Bea Giersig, Christian Dechert, Julie Wiedemann, Roberto Isberner, David Hirsch, Sebastian Siebert, Annkathrin Friedrich, Christiane Nake, Doreen Döring, Dianah Barqawi, Kristina Müller, Cornell Thomas, Garry Turner