Retro with myself: How is the new life coming together?

It’s been a while since my last more personal post and a lot has been shifting, moving, evolving since then. We moved into our new home at the beginning of May and are now the proud owners and inhabitants of an old country house situated in a tiny village in a very rural area in northern Germany. Simultaneously to settling in here, I started working as a self-employed facilitator and coach. That gives me many new things to get to terms with: a new location, a new way of living and working, a new job and of course how all this affects not only myself but also my partnership.
The first couple of months in this new life were dotted with surprises, setbacks, and aha-moments. There were frustrations, there was joy, peace, and gratitude.
So, I thought I’d take some time today, sit down with a pot of tea and invite myself to take stock of what my new life feels like and which insights I gathered along the way in the past couple of months.

What I enjoy – What I struggle with – What I learned so far

What I enjoy about the new life

  • Our house and garden
    I am happy with how our house has turned out: It feels very cosy and has character, it has our handwriting about it in its interior design. And it has proven in the past months to be the perfect size for the two of us so we can unite work and leisure under one roof in dedicated areas. I am sitting in my own office now, with a view of our garden and can hear the birds chirping outside. For years, I had longed for having a garden and finally that wish came true. I do enjoy the gardening, although it does give us quite a handful to do. I am growing a bit of veg (carrots, turnips, tomatoes, leeks, spinach, spring onions) and a couple of herbs. It’s good to roll up the sleeves and get stuck in – I like the hand-felt sense of achievement that I get from weeding, trimming a hedge or planting stuff. And of course, home-grown produce always tastes delicious not least because they have to for all the effort that went into them.
  • The surroundings and leisure opportunities
    From our house, we have a couple of beautiful beaches within 30 minutes driving distance to the north, east and south. With its soft rolling hills and open fields dotted with hedges, this corner of the world is also ideal for cycling.
    There are two cities reasonably close by also within 20-30 minutes: Flensburg and Schleswig, both have genuinely nice parts and are good for shopping.  There is a lot to discover: Viking heritage sites, fjords – it’s not far from here to the northern sea, and of course there is Denmark really close by.
  • My new work
    On that front, a lot has changed from my corporate job to what I do today and how I do it. Broadly speaking, my work can be split up into paid and unpaid work and both is equally important for me. The paid work is as a facilitator and coach and currently I am part of a self-organised team working on a leadership development program for and with a large energy provider here in Germany. In addition to that I work as a coach for individuals. Most workshops and conversations are taking place online which is awesome because it saves me travel time. Funnily enough, we’ve had feedback from participants that they also prefer online over face-to-face which I would never have thought possible six months ago, considering that we do really “deep” work with them.
    Paid engagements currently take up about 30% of my time and that’s how I wanted it to be so that I still have plenty of space and energy for other things. Also, the 30% is enough to get by financially. Of course, my income is nowhere near what I earned in Switzerland and that is ok for me.
    I love how I can fully play to my passion and my strengths in the work that I do nowadays, and I can be my real self at work. My work gives me as much energy as it takes, and I am learning new skills along the way. I enjoy talking with people and inspiring them and I have never been able to do so much of that ever before in my life. On top of that, I get appreciative feedback from my clients and colleagues for what I do and how I do it, which makes it even more rewarding.
    I am booked well into October and what comes after that I will see when I get there. I have no doubts that the next engagements will come, and I would also not mind having a couple of quieter months.
    Now for the currently unpaid work: This has different facets. For one, I am on a mission to bring more creativity into business with the ACB journey – this is a joint project with an artist from Berlin and a play and change enthusiast from Graz, Austria. We are in the process of creating an experiential learning and development program which brings in techniques from art and from play to equip leaders with the mindset, skillset and confidence needed to be successful in a complex, ever-changing world. Creativity is not a “nice to have” – it’s a pivotal skill for the future and there’s clearly a lack of it in today’s business world, that is streamlined for efficiency and thinking/acting inside “boxes”.
    As another side hustle, I am helping my friend Jelena with her HR start-up hppypple (pronounced “happy people”). This work might grow and evolve over time.
    And lastly, an important part of my work is learning and communicating, exchanging with colleagues, and learning from each other. I dedicate time every day to browse LinkedIn and participate in discussions or establish connections around the topics that are close to my heart. I am also taking advantage of learning opportunities in online courses and workshops, of which I have never seen as many as today.
  • Being physically active:
    I still practice yoga nearly every day and I enjoy my sessions, usually in the morning. They help set me up for the day and make me feel alive, strong, and present. I also like venturing out with my bicycle and I like playing table tennis. Klaus and I are now applying for a membership in the local club, so this shall become a regular activity which I am looking forward to. And then of course gardening can also get quite physical depending on the activity 😊

What I struggle with

  • Not taking enough advantage of what lies behind the doorstep:
    Funnily enough, both Klaus and I we do not really venture out that much on daytrips and excursions. There would be so much to see and do in this corner of the earth and yet, we have a tendency to stay in and around the house most of the time. Tending to all that needs doing there instead, or working on our paid or unpaid engagements. We blocked Wednesday afternoons for activities, but we hardly ever take them. There is either “more important” stuff that gets in the way (tending to the garden, a client with an urgent request, an appointment that doesn’t find a place elsewhere in the diary) or we have the time but then we find we’re not in the mood for an outdoor activity. I find this odd because I know how much we both enjoy things like that. When we have visitors, it’s different: They are keen on getting around, of course, and I/we go with them. Now here’s an interesting question: Why aren’t we doing for ourselves what we do with friends?
    I would like to see this change. We should make discovering this beautiful region a priority and protect this priority against “invasion” from other things we could do instead. We don’t have to stick to that one day in the week and pour all our expectations in it, though. Maybe we can come up with a rough plan for the week ahead each Sunday evening?

  • Allowing myself to be unproductive:
    This is probably connected to the point above: I sometimes feel like something inside me is not fully giving myself permission to be happy, light-hearted, and unproductive. There is this deeply engrained belief that only a productive life is a good life, that you need to do something useful, that you should not be lazy or selfish. I already wrote about this “urge to work” in one of my earlier articles and back then I thought a helpful way of dealing with this is to just redefine work and include recreation activities and downtime into my definition of work. Now, nearly eight months later – this learning process has become more prominent again; probably because there is less to do. I have some downtime and I find myself filling it with little bits and bobs, from household chores to gardening to spending time online scrolling through social media and hopping from one interesting thing to the next and later on I feel bad about this for not having used my time wisely. I know that feeling bad about myself is not particularly helpful or wise. So, what to do? I think I need to give myself permission to be carefree, unproductive, and outright useless whenever I want to. Being useless needs to become ok, so that I can get off that guilt-trip altogether. Re-writing my beliefs will require some inner work and I feel it’s time now to get to that properly. What I did back in January was “first aid” – I put a band aid on and that was sufficient for that time and now I would like to go deeper and heal. That way I will have choices: I can be productive when I want to, or I can decide to be completely unproductive for two hours or a day or a week without feeling guilty about it. That sounds liberating!

  • Not having friends nearby (yet):
    Feeling connected to people, communicating with others, co-creating and sharing my world with people I feel close to – these are essential components for me in feeling alive and well. The good thing is that our neighbours are kind and approachable and we get along well with all of them – particularly Marcus, our gardening coach and fellow table tennis enthusiast.
    Thinking back, most of the friendships I have evolved through working in the same office or even the same team for a while. Now that I work alone and from home, I find it a lot easier to stay in touch with my friends and colleagues several hundred kilometres away than forming new friendships here. It takes a conscious effort and commitment if I really want to change this. The more I go out and the more people I engage with here in the real world, the more likely it will become to find friends. Now, clearly the pandemic isn’t exactly helping in this but still I think I should start engaging in cultural or fun activities in Flensburg or even here on the countryside where I’m likely to bump into like-minded people.

What I learned so far

  • How to plan far ahead on meals
    I am the cook in our household and the job requirements for this have gone up a notch since May. Due to the remote location of our house without an opportunity for grocery shopping in walking distance like we had before, there is a lot more planning needed for shopping and running errands due to the distances we need to cover. This means we have a good-sized larder, a huge freezer, two fridges and a shopping list that gets continuously updated so we don’t forget anything during the weekly trip to the shops. I have learned a lot about shopping wisely, e.g., how long which kinds of fruit and veg last and how to combine ingredients creatively to make the most of what’s left in stock.
  • How to enjoy the journey instead of getting somewhere fast
    In the past months, I have discovered for myself that travel can be much more than getting from A to B. As we live in the outermost corner of Germany, some 700 km away from my family, spontaneous visits are not possible. I could try and get there in one go by car or by train which would take 7 to 10 hours, respectively. The first time I went “down south”, I chose not to do this. Instead, I took an overnight break both on the way down and up again and used this time to visit friends or just to relax and treat myself to a quiet evening. That way, I arrived (at either end) more fresh and ready for what awaited me there. I did a similar thing for my first business trip in “the new profession” in June, going into Switzerland. Due to the restricted travel options, I built in a stop-over in Frankfurt and one additional night in Zurich and took the time to meet friends – a totally new way of traveling for me – and one I will maintain going forward.
  • We share the house with a ruthless killer
    Our cat Phoebe seems to be happier here than ever before. It was amazing to see how swiftly she changed her lifestyle from an indoor pet to a free-roaming tiger and it warms my heart to see her enjoying herself so much. Unfortunately, it did not take too long for her also to come home with prey. I was in shock when she brought back the first half-dead bird one morning and I felt flooded with a deep disappointment and anger about this behaviour as if some part (actually, a big part) of me had been convinced that my lovely, cuddly and gentle friend would not be able to kill birds or mice. How wrong had I been… That’s why we now equipped her with a bell around her neck to hopefully decrease the number of catches.

Does some of what I experienced sound familiar to you? Please share and let’s learn together. Thanks for having made time to read this, even if you choose not to comment or like. I hope you found this little inner retrospective enriching and I wish you an awesome rest of day or evening, wherever this finds you.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing your inner retro! I like the format of it, will definitely use this during my sabbatical. The point you raised about “feeling guilty to be unproductive” resonates with me strongly. In my case, I feel it’s both a personality trait (ESTJ are known to be quite active) and a “society expectation” belief that is deep engrained in me. Either way, it’s indeed a journey to learn more about oneself and challenge how we think /act / feel. Keep up the writing, I enjoy it!


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