THE BLOG

Climbing the Corporate Ladder... and Falling Down

07/02/2014 03:35 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2014

There have been a few moments in my life, beautiful moments, where someone I've met tells me that what we talked about once, totally transformed their life. At first, I had no clue about what they were referring to. Today I know. What I usually get is a variation of the following: "You gave me the courage to do this, or do that. To change. To follow my heart, take responsibility for my life, or to take a big leap of faith."

When arguing that I did not give them the courage, they've found the courage themselves, they say: "But we just did what you did. You changed it all. You are SO courageous..."

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When someone describe me as courageous I always giggle a little inside. Me, courageous? They should have known.

Me, who has had days when I started to cry because I could not decide what to eat for lunch. Me, who easily hit the bed again and slept until the next day if something -- anything -- went wrong in my morning routine. I felt like such a failure.

I never looked at myself as courageous, and like most people I did what I had to because I had no choice. But what had happened?

Before this, I used to be a strong, effective, and smart girl. I was THE corporate girl. And wow, how I loved it. I loved my career. I loved climbing the corporate ladder. I loved the authority. I loved the energy. I loved working!

I loved it so much, that I forgot to love myself. And since I was too stubborn to listen when trying to tell myself to slow down, my body started telling me. First whispering a little by getting sick all the time, then yelling, and finally just silence... nothing. Total shut down. I was out.

It was a disastrous transformation. At the speed of light, I went from managing everything, to not be able to do anything. I felt useless. So, I went to bed. And I stayed there most of the time for almost a year.

The biggest problem at the time was that I was a true superwoman. But I did not acknowledge it at all. I never felt good enough. I never had. I always worked around the clock, but not once feeling that I'd hit the finish line. My boss once told me to slow down. He said that I over performed, giving it a 120 percent. The company did not need it. I left the meeting room thinking he was a fool. Did he not see that I never had time to deliver more than 80 percent quality? Which always made me frustrated.

What an expensive mismatch in perception that was. Those 40 percent of misperceived delivery almost cost me my life. Had I been born a man I would probably have had a heart attack instead of just collapsing.

Finally the day came when I stepped out of bed. I knew I had to take action. I could not wait for someone else to save me. I had to re-caliber, and upgrade myself from Kristine 1.0 to Kristine 2.0.

The first thing I needed to do was to leave the corporate world. It was heartbreaking, but it was truly necessary.

Today -- it is 15 years since this happened. I had never heard about the burnout syndrome. I did not know what hit me, but I for sure needed to do things differently. And that was really scary. Do you know that we have a natural resistance towards change that is so persistent that it actually makes us fool ourselves?

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The most courageous thing I did was probably this: To be brave enough to endure and embrace change. To accept that to be true to myself, I could NOT keep calm and carry on. I had to accept my limits, and I had to find my mission.

Having a mission -- consciously or not -- gives us the ballast we need for rougher seas. And the mission is yours. You might share it with someone else. But your mission is always YOUR mission. It might be to follow your dream of making a better world. Or being a better you.

Whatever. Big or small.

We need to be our own change makers. No one can be it for us.

To upgrade myself to Kristine 2.0 I knew this much:

I had to change it all. My belief systems. The way I looked at the world and myself. The way I behaved, reacted, and gave and received energy. When I finally decided to leave my original career path for pursuing a career as a visual artist, most people thought I was insane. They tried hard to advice me otherwise. What about your education? What about your career? You cannot do this.

But I could. I was just as ambitious as earlier, so it did not take long until I started climbing the ladder again. It was hard work. But this time I truly loved it. I could not really believe it, though. I remember calling my best friend, "This is sick!", I whispered, "I'm having lunch in Beverly Hills with a guy owning a gallery in LA".

We had lunch planning my 3rd exhibit in California. And that day, "sick" was the least I felt like...

Then, I jumped. Again...

Today, I am back in the corporate world. Why? "Did you not LOVE your art?" Yes, for sure. And I still do. But I also LOVE the corporate world. I love collaborating. I love the potential in people. And I love the power of teams. I one day realized that there is no either or... Both art and business is my language. I can do this. Because I am on a mission. There are things I have to do.

Now I am Kristine 3.0. It feels great!

Questions to reflect upon:

What version of yourself are you? The optimal? If so - lucky you! Especially if you are truly happy, content, and already live a meaningful life.

For all the rest of us, who regularly upgrade, the following reflections are worth giving some time.

Trust your instincts! You are a wise person, if you decide to go for something you have probably thought it through. In a variety of ways.

If you have a dream to follow, be picky with your audience. Most people are aiming for security, and they will "help" you doing the same. If you discuss your dream with them, they WILL probably argue against it.

What is the worst thing that can happen? If you decide to take a leap of faith, you still live in this world. There is always a way back. If you want to.

It's not worth it! To get sick or unhappy by working so hard. Working should be FUN! If you love what you do, and do what you love -- you won't even think about it as hard.

Usually it is not about making 180 degree turns. Sometime as little as a 1 percent adjustment is what it takes. Take one step at a time. You can do it!

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