Don’t stand in your own way!

When I was 15, I was meant to learn the craft of typography. Not because I was especially creative or my spelling outstanding. None of that. No. It was because my uncle owned a print shop. So there I was waiting for destiny to take its course when the unexpected happened…

Photo by nichiiro on Unsplash

My uncle didn’t have a desk for me. Nowhere to sit. To make things worse, I had made it very clear to my mum that my career as a full time student was most definitely coming to an end. So my family carefully assessed my talents and concluded that I wasn’t shy to speak and my counting was reasonably ok. And those were, at the time, the perfect ingredients for a successful career in finance. That is how it all started in 1988.

Fast forward 30 years and I finally quit the industry. What had happened?

I am sorry to disappoint you. No magic involved. No bravery. Nor have I made a big difference to anyone. No one other than myself.

To my own surprise, people reacted to my change. Most of them very positively. That must have been tough. You are so brave. Others just stood there and shook their head. But that’s ok.

It turns out that some people who feel stuck in their job cannot find a way out. Some of you in here might even know what I am talking about. What you see then is an obstacle too big to overcome. Is it real? It sure ist, but only in your head.

So what does it take to move on?

What does it take to make this one step?

What does it take to cross that invisible line?

Let me share with you my own story of how I managed not to stand in my own way!

I am from Liechtenstein and «No! I don’t own a bank. I run a coffee truck and I am an apprentice baker.»

I will spare you the details of my CV, which contains a number of employers in the finance industry, a few promotions, 10 days of military service in the Swiss Army and some time abroad. Eventually, my family and I returned back home to Liechtenstein a couple of years ago. That is when the foundation of my career, or even my entire life, started to shake.

In his great book «DO PAUSE», the author Robert Poynton calls change «an emotion and not a list».

How does that sound to you? An emotion, not a list. Is that encouraging or rather scary? We have all been trained to tick off to-do lists. Few of us have ever been rewarded for being «truly emotional»!

So how do we reach that emotional «change state»? Think of it as an expedition with an unknown outcome and lots of challenges and difficulties along the way. You need to be very well prepared.

We start off with believing that NOW is a good moment for change. That is already the hardest part based on my own experience. Some of the men in here might remember getting married or becoming a father… timing is never perfect.

We then need to create space to allow for new experiences to take place, and ultimately, we have to stay open to grab at least one of the many opportunities for change as they present themselves.

So why does timing matter?

We all tend to save the best for last. Why do fireworks designers put the big burst at the end? Why do we eat dessert last? Why do we wait for retirement to realize a dream?

This phenomenon in psychology is called the “peak-end bias», which means that what we remember is different from what we experience, but that is not what I am trying to get into.

What is more important is that by focusing solely on a particular moment in the future, you are likely to miss out on quite a bit in the here and now.

Last year, I lost my father whom I hadn’t seen nor spoken to in more than 20 years. When I learned that he wasn’t doing well, I decided to fly to Brazil for the two of us to reconnect. It was the right thing to do, just NOT RIGHT THEN. As you can imagine, I had a few things to get done first. But in 4 months, I was supposed to have enough time. Within a month he died.

Instead of worrying about regrets in life, NOW is as good a moment to start MOVING as it would be in 4 months’ time.

In order to actually move we need space. Now most of us in this part of the world are reasonably free to move when it comes to our physical space. But what about time? Do YOU feel free of how to make best use of your time? Are 24 hours a day or 7 days a week enough to get everything done? Is time even all about getting things done?

Two and a half years ago, when I was still in a finance role, I decided to reduce my workload in the office to 4 days a week. However, I didn’t just want to take a day off every week. So I kept working more or less full time, I just earned less. At the same time, I reserved myself a very special privilege. I could take a day, a week or even more time off to take full advantage of the right opportunity for a new experience. And so I did.

But how do we recognize the «right opportunity»? All I can say is that «once you have seen it, you can’t unsee it!». «Once you have seen it, you can’t unsee it!» Once you step outside of your comfort zone and realize the magic that this can do to you, you feel… now this is important: you don’t know, but you feel, when the next opportunity knocks on your door. Let me give you an example:

A friend of mine told me about a weeklong fool’s workshop in France. He asked me: «Do you want to come with me?»

A fool’s workshop? South of France? 900 km drive?

Nice weather? Good wine? Good food? Sure!

Although I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I cashed in some of my extra days at work and off we went. It turned out to be one of the most extraordinary weeks of my life. Never before had I cried or laughed as much as during those 5 days. It was life changing, but most of all, it was also my first serious conversation with myself in a very long time.

But why would you want to speak to yourself?

We tend to live a life where everything revolves around ourselves. There is so much «Me here, myself there and I everywhere »… that sometimes it just feels like too much!

I concluded for myself that those were actually my three biggest obstacles. I had to get beyond «me, myself and I» in order to MOVE ON and that is what I have come up with:

1. I no longer take myself too seriously. Not that I always did, but I am trying to make it a point.

2. I don’t let others define me on the basis of what I do. I accept my responsibilities as a husband and father, but other than that, I am who I want to be and that just evolves over time.

3. I don’t make it all about me. Instead, I focus on what I can contribute to others.

4. I don’t always aim for more. Better and deeper can be so much more rewarding, especially when it comes to relationships.

5. Last but not least, I just want to live a joyful life as there is more to it than just getting things done.

Once you accept that you are just one out of close to 8 billion, an ordinary human being, it takes a huge amount of pressure off, doesn’t it? Jonathan Kay, the 21st Century Fool, puts it like this: «We are all nothing, but how to do it with ease?»

Having overcome my obstacles «me, myself and I», what did I do with my new freedom? A world of opportunities suddenly opened up.

To cut a long story short, I spoke to my wife and explained to her that I had to move on professionally. Once she had signed off on our financial family budget for 2019, I pulled the trigger. I spoke to my family business partners, walked out of the office and never looked back. Let me show you what I have been up to ever since:

1. One of my best friends was deep into coffee. I sipped my first espresso less than 3 years ago. That was when he infected me with his coffee fever and… we bought a vintage truck and a state-of-the-art coffee machine and now jointly run a mobile café in Liechtenstein. So I am an entrepreneur and a barista now.

2. Another friend of mine is a banker turned actor. He inspired me to complement our mobile café with a theater stage to offer the full outdoor entertainment experience and… we launched and successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign to buy an old horse trailer and turn it into a mobile stage. It will host actors, musicians and authors and will be on tour later this year. So I am a stage director now.

3. I then ran into a finance guy turned baker in Zurich. He needed help with baking during the busy month of December. I was a passionate amateur baker out of work, so when he asked me: «When can you start? We work 7 days a week, you can sleep in the baker’s shop and there is a shower in the basement.», I said: Sure! And… I interned for 3 weeks and loved every moment of it. It was tough, physically and mentally, but we now bake some of the bread for our mobile café ourselves. So I am an apprentice baker now.

4. About 2 years ago, I had volunteered as a mentor on a platform called the Ideenkanal. Once again I had no idea what it was all about and what would be expected of me. One of the teams I was working with eventually set up their own company to produce and sell edible hemp products. And… they asked me if I knew someone who could help them with their finances. I put in my own name and now act as their CapitalMinister on a part-time basis. So I am part of a foody start-up now.

Things are falling into place rather unexpectedly… Key to all of this is that I am not just pursuing my own projects. I am not just doing my thing!

I am spending most of my time with people inspiring me and looking for inspiration, people willing to change and helping others make change, people looking after themselves and caring for others, people comfortable laughing about themselves and having fun with others. Most of those conversations aren’t planned. They happen accidentally or rather by lucky chance… but that is because I have created the space for that to be even possible.

So what’s next? I am still trying to find my rhythm in life. In the medium to long term, my intention is to create a space that brings people together, enabling new experiences and evolving into something the world (or at least Liechtenstein) hasn’t yet seen.

I have now walked you through 3 main points:

1. First of all, once you are ready for change, prepare the ground. Decide on timing, then create space and stay open.

2. Secondly, have a number of serious conversations with yourself. Stop making it all about you, yourself and you again. Make new experiences rather than asking for good advice or reading smart books.

3. Thirdly, there is a world of opportunities out there. Once you have seen it, you can’t unsee it.

Look, let me be very clear. This is not about me. Anyone could have done what I did. Lots of people do what I do now. But still, quite a few told me that they would do what I did if only they could.

If… only… you… could?!

Let’s start with the bad news. Nobody else is going to come and make your change for you. Just not happening!

The good news is: You are in control of your own change. Remember: «Change is emotional!» It is all happening within you.

There is no line on the ground, visible or invisible. I am not saying it is easy because it is not. But make sure you don’t stand in your own way!

Privileged to work with those who care enough.