Redefining work – Three months in on my journey towards a new life

Three months already? Unbelievable. That flew by. Now that we have found our new home, a big first leg in this journey has been covered. It feels a bit corny to say but I had trouble sleeping some nights this month because I was so buzzing with ideas, energy and endorphins. This feels miles away from the low-point with which it all started. I was dangerously close to burning myself out and now as I am taking a moment to pause, look back and reflect on what happened between then and now, it feels slightly surreal. In this post, I reflect on how my life has changed and share with you some of the things I am working on these days.

So hang on, what did I do?

I quit a well-paid global job in a leading biopharma company without a “next challenge”, an offer or a concrete plan in mind, just the will to find a house by the sea, take some time off and see what evolves. I took a leap and trusted that things will turn out fine and so far, that’s what they have done.

You may call this naive, or you may call it wise – I am still undecided as to how to label it or whether it needs a label at all. Some say “that was very courageous of you” and funnily enough I do in hindsight not recall having had to muster a lot of courage to come up with the decision. I don’t want to play it all down but for me it was just a matter of “I really need to get out of here” and then asking “ok, if I go out, then why not go out-out?” Of course, one key factor was also the unwavering support from my husband who wanted me to be happy again and would have done almost anything to help.

Am I courageous? Well, with plastic spiders that’s easy! Seriously, abandoning the “safety” of the corporate world did not need a lot of courage – it just felt like the best option at the time

How did this “plan” come about?

I had first toyed around with the thought during a holiday in Ireland with a friend, sharing with her my frustrations and saying that I could just leave my job if I wanted to. Somewhere in my mind that thought lodged and grew roots. There had been things that annoyed me already before the summer break and before long, I found myself in a situation that was no longer bearable for me. I came to the painful realisation that for the first time ever in my career (or in my adult life, for that matter) I was no longer able nor willing to “overcome a struggle” and “rise to the challenge”. That was when I started drawing with crayons because I felt I needed some kind of vent to cope with my emotions. One of the first things I drew was a house by the sea. So there you go, this and knowing we have some savings in the bank was all I needed to mentally say good-bye to the hamsterwheel. From there it was not courage but rather listening to my heart which guided me through the weeks that followed. Once I had spoken my truth (and thanks to a compassionate HR colleague and the understanding of my employer) it was all pretty easy.

The role of coaching and exploring

In a conversation with my coach Claudia the other day a realisation materialised: What if having faith in life, the universe and in others is not the result of things turning out favourably for you, but a prerequisite? The more I contemplate this thought, the more examples I find where this holds true. Ok, but can you simply say “now I trust”? Probably not. It takes getting used to, it takes practice to let go. This is where mindfulness comes in as an entry-point to a new perspective.

My classmates at Les Enfants Terribles, learning about new leadership by dancing during module 4 of our education program in Berlin

In addition to the education program for good new work which will continue until end of March, I have been dedicating a lot of time to finding and formulating my purpose (the word is a bit overused these days so I felt myself slightly cringe as I wrote it down just now). What I mean by that is finding out what what my unique “gift” is and how I want to share this to generate value in the world and make a difference.
I am grateful for the coaching I have been getting inside and out of the LET community because this invited me to explore different paths. Actually, I think the whole “purpose quest” story deserves its own article, so I will leave it at that for now and get to that another time.

I cannot not work – simple as that

The first couple of days I felt like I was being lazy. And not in a good way. I was not able to just relax and read a book; there was this urge to do something, which is why the house-hunt came in handy. So deeply engrained is this work-ethics of mine that I felt guilty for putting my feet up. And that’s the thing, it’s not my work ethics; it’s in fact the one of my parents, or of the protestant church or however far you want to trace it back. In any case it means there is this longing to be useful and not “waste time”. And as this seems to be impossible to overcome, instead of trying to fight it, what I found helps is a new definition of what counts as work.

Taking a walk in the morning and pausing to watch the sun rise in the winter sky. That’s also work.

Slowly but surely, a new definition of work is forming inside me

The new definition of work I am establishing also entails to meditate regularly, practice yoga, or go for a long walk on a Tuesday morning if I feel like it. Also the many casual conversations I have with inspiring people over coffee, lunch, video calls and strolls are work and so is writing this blog. I am not getting paid for any of this right now but does that mean that it’s not work? I began to respect the fact that I need proper downtime in order to be creative and that I cannot schedule or force my writing – inspiration and flow just come as they please and I have no choice but to be ok with that, so I am.

Regular yoga is still part of my life: Phoebe and I kicked off Adriene’s yoga journey called “HOME” at the beginning of the month

Another source of energy for me have been the interactions with the #humansfirst community. I first learned about this through Garry Turner and now I join the weekly calls whenever I can and enjoy the warm and down-to-earth atmosphere there, the humble wisdom and thought-provoking questions. Very often follow-up conversations happen on a 1:1 basis after the calls so this is a great resource of peer-to-peer (or rather human-to-human) support. If you like the sound of that, come and join us at 13:00 CET every Monday on http://bit.ly/HFHangoutUKEMEA

Old school friends and new encouters

On the bread-earning front, opportunities are already presenting themselves. I am not applying for or seeking a job; instead, opportunities just come to me – exactly as I hoped they would. Right now I am curious to find out what’s out there and try different things but I don’t want to commit to anything too early or throw myself all-in before the house project is further advanced.

Plus, I like the variety of what my life looks like now so I hope to be able to enjoy this a little while longer, holding this space. I am in touch with like-minded people at a global consultancy firm which unlike many others in this line of business values making a positive impact in the world higher than maximising its profits. I am also enjoying the interactions with my friend Jelena who owns a brandnew startup fittingly called “happy people” based in my old home town in the greater Frankfurt area.

Jelena and I during a workshop we co-facilitated

Creating ripples gives me goosebumps

Together with like-minded spirits Siiri and Kristina I co-founded a MeetUp group in Zurich as a platform for peer-to-peer support around human-centered ways of working – with a stunning turnout. We were over the moon when after three days we already had more than 80 members on board! That means that we’re touching a relevant topic and I personally take a lot of motivation out of the prospect of helping colleagues to shape a better future. These are moments when I believe that I do not have to work in a large company to make a difference – the powerful ripple effect of people moving in the same direction with shared values can also be created from the “outside”.

For the first time in my life, I have been invited as guest in a podcast. Looking forward to it! The host is an inspiring lady by the name of Mila who I met in the #humansfirst community.

What’s more, I was asked to write an article on the future of work for UK-based online magazine “HR Zone” that is scheduled to be published in springtime.

And then there is social media and this blog. When I started with regular articles in the beginning of December, my LinkedIn posts got seen by roughly a thousand people, now the number has been rising above 3’900 lately. I am chuffed to bits and goosebumpy (is that even a word?) when I think about the feedback I have been getting from people who say they find my content inspiring and encouraging. Even former coworkers who do not leave a “like” reaction or a comment tell me they are touched by the posts or just give me a spontaneous hug.

Acknowledging that we’re all bonkers, just in different ways

Like my buddy Bea said when I was complaining about a figure in a film that I found annoying. Me: “Good film, but that girl is bonkers” – Bea: “Aren’t we all?” And right she is. 🙂

The last thing the world needs now is one more cocky bastard (all genders included) who thinks they know it all and speaks from a soap box. I want to be candid, humble, guided by my values and able to laugh about my own shortcomings.

Right now my life feels very exciting but I know that there will also be struggles. I will not put two layers of makeup on and pretend that everything is a breeze when it isn’t. But for now, I am very grateful for what is and what it feels like to be alive.

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