After my studies in the Netherlands and Sweden I came back to Germany, where I happen to be be born, to take on my first work experience. Having experienced teamwork and collaboration in basically every class I attended, being used to discussing diverse viewpoints with my multicultural classmates, having autonomy about what I did and being valued for the input I contributed, I expected to build on this, only now in a “professional” context.
The reality was quite different. Every decision or action that I was going to take had to pass my boss’s desk and needed to be confirmed. I had to sit in an office for 8 hours, because this was my written in my contract, despite if I had anything to do or not. This did not feel right to me, but as I was a ‘junior’ starting at the bottom of the hierarchy and being in my first work experience, I was unsure of how much I could tolerate. I felt not seen as a human being, more like a small part of a big machine. I was given orders and had to ‘perform’ without complaints. I asked myself how can I bring out my fullest potential if I do not find the conditions for that in my work environment? I started to wonder was every workplace like that?
Trading titles for meaning
My employment lasted around a year. The next work experience with similar conditions only four months. Not only were those times stressful, because I did not see any meaning in what I was doing, but they also made me depressive. Maybe worst of all was that not only I was suffering, but also my social group became smaller, since I did not have the energy to meet anyone. I did not want to talk about my experience. I felt ashamed. Everybody else seemed to have figured it out. Climbing the corporate ladder, earning big money, buying a house, maybe a sports car, starting a family, death.
To be honest, I had the same aspirations during my studies. My dream was to become a manager. Just that nothing on that journey felt good to me. The prestige, the money, the fancy titles and the power over other people, all of it seemed so empty to me when I had it. My heart was longing for something else. For meaning, for connection, for joy and for contribution, for making an impact. I wanted to be seen, but I did not want to make other people suffer for what I desired.
The way we work makes us sick
So I moved to back to Sweden. Not to run away from all that, but to take time to reflect on all what happened. When I found out that 84 % of the workforce is in a similar situation like me, I felt relief. I was not alone. At the same time I wondered, why did I not hear more stories from my friends about the conditions of their workplace? Have we accepted working conditions were people are yelled at regularly, are controlled like they could not take a step on their own, and which makes them depressive and at worst makes them think about ending their life, as normal?
I could not accept it. Mainly I asked myself why do I have such a different perspective on HOW we do business? Why could we not come together and find common ground. I felt like we were speaking a different language, unable to even hear what the other was trying to say.
I do not want my suffering to be meaningless. I want to help other people to break free from toxic environments and create an environment that is integer to what they believe in. This is why I started to blog at HumanBusiness.eu. I want my story to be heard. I want my suffering to be an inspiration for others. I want my experience to create awareness for how we work and organize work and to inquire together into what are alternatives to the current way of working.
The interview was recorded from the #humanatwork campaign initiated by the Reinvention Documentary.
My dream is to create work environments that put human well-being and development into the center of their business activities. Starting with their employees, continuing with their customers and even going beyond stakeholders. I dream of work environments that represent the authentic beliefs of its members. Workplaces where we can show up as human beings, where we are appreciated for who we are and can express our fullest potential in creative ways, where we connect on a deeper level and contribute to a cause that is meaningful to us.
Where is that place and how can I get there? These are questions that arise in me, but I know that the solution lies not in a shinny vision. The meaning, joy and happiness is found in the small steps that we take every day, which are guided by our dreams. The journey becomes the goal. At the same time we want to know where we are on this journey. Where are we right now and what is our next step? Important questions, but maybe more importantly, when does your journey start?
I am extremely grateful for the experiences I made. They gave me back a sense of meaning, a direction of what I want to do with my life – a purpose. A few days after I was let go, I said that this is the best thing that could happen to me. Isn’t it ironic that we learn the most from the experiences we wish we would never experience? I am also grateful for my former managers and I mean that from my heart. Not only mirrored they what I did not value and did not want to become, but their behavior was not wrong. It was just what they had learned, probably in their studies or from their supervisors, and this behavior was reinforced by the people they meet and interacted with. In other words, they found themselves in a system where their own values and beliefs were not questioned, but strengthened over time, because the system they are in are build on the same values.
Maybe I was the outsider, the one that did not fit in, simply because my values were different. That does not make my values right or their values wrong. They were just different, and that also explains why we could not come together. We were looking at the world with two different lenses. Our perception differed and when we looked at the same things, we interpreted them differently. There is nothing wrong with having certain values. We all have values, and certain combinations of them form our worldview. How we look at the world and perceive it. The challenge arises when we do not reflect and question our values from time to time, or when we are not even aware of our values. We take the world for granted, not realizing that we can change the glasses we have put on. I dreamed of being a successful manager with material wealth, driven by progress, rationality and achievement, in addition I now value personal well-being, human connection and planetary regeneration.
HumanBusiness is now inspiring people in organizations to become aware of their worldview and how this translates into the way they do business on a daily basis, writing and speaking about organizational evolution as well as facilitating organizational transformation towards an engaging, human-centric way of working that liberates human potential, organizational resilience and planetary regeneration.