Part IV: Finally changing my life

Changing my life

This is Part IV of a little mini series where I try to share with you how I came from trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations to setting my own rules and started to not only breathe but live. If you are interested you can also read Part I , Part II and Part III.

Making that change in life

In the last part I told you how a therapist put my distorted views into perspective and the internal struggle I had to overcome in order to finally being able to say that I wanted to change my life and truly believe that I am not a prisoner of my current circumstances.

The talk with my parents was in November and in early January I went to my boss and we had a meeting about my contract, which would have ended in March. He named the meeting “permanent contract”. His opening statement, before I even had the time to sit down was that he would be able to get a permanent contract for me asking the executive board for an exemption from the company wide “hiring and prolongation ban”. Ending his introduction by:’ that is if you even want to stay here’

I told him No, but …

My aspiration is to start a full-time master degree, but I could only do that if I wouldn’t have to pay back the study fees which the company paid for my bachelor degree.

After putting this proposal through various committees I signed a follow-up contract until June so that there was time to find and train a replacement and then I was free!

Leaving my old life behind and still not knowing what would come then

I felt so good and relieved and free after that only interrupted at times by worries about getting accepted at a university and of course the financing, because even though I had put aside some money during my three years of working there I would still need some more to get me completely through my masters degree.

I eventually came up with the conclusion that in order to cut out the stress of having to rely on my dad I will do this on my own and finance myself. I think it took me about eight or nine moths to come to this revelation. To stop blaming myself for having started the dual study programme so that he wasn’t obliged to finance me further, even though he did not finance my first education. Being pissed at my brother for being how he is and that he is able to live with the pressure of having his support cut off. Being pissed at both my parents for financing my brother a flat in the very town where both of them live. Whilst I waited to move out from home until I had finished my apprenticeship and had serious moolah at my disposition so that I could finance my own way of living.

But I overcame all those shitty, negative thoughts and decided that it would be best for my own mental health and overall well-being to continue my path as an independent woman.

I first told my stepmum that I will not ask my dad for financial support and she encouraged me to tell him, saying that he would be positively surprised and proud of me. When I did tell him he was really baffled, mind you the inner battles that I fought over this matter was something he and no one really knew of, so his last status was that I wanted to sue him for the money…

Now I am sitting at my desk in my new home in a small university town and I am still proud of my decision to quit my previous job, but university turned out a bit harder than I thought, but I will leave an exploration of those struggles and doubts for another post.

Changing my life in the sense that I finally took ownership of my own decisions and stopped blaming the circumstances is what I believe to have made me a grown-up. And even though it took me nearly five years of struggle I am proud to be able to say that I am where I am because of me and the work I have put and will continue to put  into myself and my relationship with myself and the world.

Have any of you made similar life changing decisions and did it take you so long to come to these decisions as well?

Picture by me feel free to use it as your wallpaper
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Part III: The process of reclaiming my life

mistakes

This is Part III of a little mini series where I try to share with you how I came from trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations to setting my own rules and started to not only breathe but live. If you are interested you can also read Part I and Part II.

I was now at a point in life were I didn’t like the career path I had taken, which also consumed nearly all of my free-time as it was a dual studies programme where I went to evening classes after a day at the office and I had almost no friends in the city I lived in, all my old friends were far away as well and keeping up seemed impossible. So I was stressed out and terribly lonely. I wrote about how horrible I felt in the second part.

Finally asking for help

Then one day I called the therapist, a friend if mine had recommended me, on my way home from work. I still remember as if it were yesterday it was a beautiful sunny day even though it was cold. She was hesitant at first but somewhere during the call, tears started running down my cheeks and I even walked well past my apartment because I just wanted to get all my shit out of my system and tell this woman who was hopefully able to help me. I was very grateful when she took me on as a client and even more grateful to my now defunct grandmother and my dad that they helped me out financially with her bills, because she only took on private clients and didn’t take insurance.

I half-heartedly tried to look for a therapist before, but the one’s that take insurance had waiting lists for up to 9 months and I didn’t have the energy to call and get my name on such a list. Even tha task of choosing where to call seemed overwhelming as they had weird office hours and I would have needed to snug out of work to make the call.

I began to see my therapist on a regular basis, in the beginning I think it was weekly which quickly changed to bi-weekly sessions.

With her help I began to see again that there was a way out of my imagined misery and that I didn’t have to stay in this same job forever and that I am not a failure just because I didn’t finish the bachelor degree in the provisioned time and that having your bachelor degree at 24 and already three years of working experience is actually an asset and that I shouldn’t put myself down for not having gone to a normal university.

She did this through various techniques, but the one that helped me the most were drawing a time bar and scheduling rewards whenever I passed a milestone. The list with the milestones and the linked rewards I put into my wardrobe so that I could see it everyday.

As I described in the last part I was often feeling very sad and was lacking energy, I pressured my therapist hard into giving me a diagnosis, because I am the person who needs a name for everything, be it inanimate objects, conditions, feelings or people, in order to deal with it. Further on we had a case of suicide in our family and this came from a depression expressed in an irrational fear of poverty. I was therefore very aware that depression is a real and severe disease. As it happened in my father’s part of the family he was also aware of this and was as supportive as he could be. That meant a lot to me for a) the financial aspect and b) for the fact that he recognised and accepted that I had an illness for which I could not be blamed.

For him that was a big step. I believe that still today he does not accept my migraines as an illness but thinks that I am hangover or just blowing out of proportion a tiny headache. As he is seldom ill I believe it has to do with privileges much like the white male privilege discussion in feminism today { see wikipedia or this great checklist } the dl to this is that you are blind to discrimination unless it happens to you.

The therapist eventually told me that I have a depressive mood and just a tiny case of it, so I did not need a lot of therapy and going through all my options with her and just putting things into a better perspective and not my screwed perfectionist one helped me a lot.

Involving the main player in my support network in the decision of quitting my job

When I made the decision to quit my job and go to grad school, I had an adult conversation with both my parents together, thank god the divorce is so much in the past that they are now able to talk normally again. My main worry was financing my Master not even in terms of school fees, because those were abolished in nearly all of Germany (cut to me getting accepted in the only state where they still exist…) but in terms of living and housing cost. I too had some irrational poverty fears, but my biggest problem was that I expected my dad to pay for my graduate degree as he didn’t have to pay for my undergrad. There is a whole other discussion of unequal treatment of siblings behind this, because my brother is getting financial help from my parents for his undergrad degree and they even pay for his flat although it’s in the same town as both my parents live in, but I am somewhat okay with this now.

So the discussion went as it always does, my mother even though she doesn’t make a lot of money offered me unconditional support and gave me a frame of how much she could spare to give to me and my father did what he does, he made demands, linking his financial support to conditions, never expressively naming those, wanting me to make a detailed plan of what I expect to be spending.

But in the end of the talk with my parents, some serious crying on my part he told me that of course he would support me and would even loan me money if I decided to pursue a degree at a fancy private uni with hefty fees.

Per se that is all not a bad thing, but at this point I hadn’t even started applying so I did not know in which city I would end up, if there were school fees, etc. Then the problem with all his demands and conditions is that he never remembers them if it does not fit his agenda. After some time I cautiously mentioned that I would feel better if I had a contract about the financing with him, because I didn’t want to be dependant on his moods and whatever he liked to remember of our agreement. He went ballistic , luckily my stepmother was there who suggested that it might not be such a bad idea to have something in writing, maybe just a quick e-mail so that nobody has to rely on their memories.

Dealing with my father was actually the part that was the hardest on me in all this months- if not even year-long process of deciding to quit my job and go back to school. I got nervous stomach pains just by thinking that I would be financially depended on my moody and effervescent dad. My brother tried to calm me down by saying that it’s not that bad and that dad threatens to cut his allowance every two weeks or so, but once he has made the standing order with the bank he doesn’t bother to actually cancel it and only threatens to do so. But I knew myself well enough then that only the threat of cutting my support would make me crazy and have me worrying about this which would result in not being able to concentrate on school work.

So what about my mistakes?

When I proposed the meeting between my parents I felt so grown.up and that I had learned from past mistakes, where my dad got really upset because he wasn’t involved in my job search for after high school and my mother always kept him out of decisions about mine and my brother’s educational paths. So I felt involving him in this major life decision would make this a discussion between adults. As I ended the discussion in tears I didn’t think that it went that well…

I also made some stupid mistakes like telling him that he was legally obligated to support me, never actually saying that I would sue him but not being very subtle about that I could. I don’t even know if that was really true. Parents are obliged to support a child through a first education and seeing that I had even completed two, the apprenticeship and my bachelor, I would have had to argue that the master’s degree is a consecutive one and it therefore forms one educational path.

So yeah, when I learnt from mistake from the past, which wasn’t even mine to begin with. Isn’t that the best way, learning from the mistakes of others and included my dad in the discussion. It turned out I acted like an entitled selfish brat who expects her daddy to pay for her education because he already did not have to pay for the bachelor. And as I felt so miserably during this time I blamed him for not pursuing a full-time degree in the first place.

More on how I overcame the selfish brat syndrome in the next and hopefully last post of this series. I just get so carried away when I write about this topic. I hope you were able to stay with me till the end, because this text became way longer than I expected it.

Next time I will tell you about how I put my idea of quitting into action.

picture courtesy of lelachi

Part II: The break-down

nervous-breakdown

This is Part II of a little mini series where I try to share with you how I came from trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations to setting my own rules and started to not only breathe but live. You can read Part I here.

So I didn’t like the apprenticeship that came with the dual study programme, neither did I like the study programme, but I felt that two years into the programme it would be silly to quit, also I am not a quitter and pretty stubborn. I had finally found a nice apartment, I saw the ad as I already had given up hope to find something reasonably priced in the area I wanted to move to, and sealed the deal only two hours after I had seen the apartment and had a quick chat with my mum 😉

Renovation was kind of stressful and I broke down crying on the first day, because I couldn’t start immediately as the contractors hadn’t finished putting in the new energy-efficient windows yet. Mind you I was still balancing work and studies. A dear friend of mine, with whom I originally wanted to move in together, until she crushed my dreams saying that she was going away for half a year to tutor at a Chinese university, helped me a lot during the renovation, as she is very handy and had moved a lot with her parents so she knows how to fix and build things. I am not a person with two-left hands either, but doing all the stuff needed to get an apartment nice for the first time was a bit scary at parts.

Anyways I moved in at the middle of October, had my house-warming party shortly before Christmas, all my guest still had to sit on the floor, but there was enough Feuerzangenbowle (This is a recipe video and if you would like to see why I like this drink so much, skip to the fun part here) to keep everyone happy.

I am all alone

By this time I was settling in at my new fulltime position, still going to the evening classes and just trying to get through the programme. But I felt very lonely, the handy friend had left me for China , I didn’t get along well with the colleagues my age and most of them lived elsewhere anyhow.

From my old circle of friends from high school there was no one left in my home town, which was only a 40 min train ride away so that I basically kept all to myself in my new apartment.

Half a year later I recognised that humans are a herd animals, me not being an exception, and that I had to make some human connections outside of office hours to make me stop feeling so miserable. I found a great StudiVZ group (german pendant to Facebook, but it ceased to exist after FB took off here as well) and made one lovely friend who went to the normal university in the town and therefore my circle of friends kinda grew from there.

But I had to pay a lot for that revelation, both literally and figuratively as I went to see a therapist, after it became incredibly hard for me to get out of bed and go to work. Sometimes I just came in about two hours later then usually but on the worst days I couldn’t make it out of bed and called in sick pretending to have a heavy migraine. Then I just lay in bed often two days in a row and did absolutely nothing or binge watched some stupid TV series.

I needed help and I needed it now

This part of the series is called the break-down, because at one point I figured out that I needed help, professional help. If I remember correctly it was when my boss called me into his office to offer all the help he and the company’s health department could give me to defeat my migraines. I had used my migraines as an excuse whenever I just couldn’t make it out of bed and go to work. I felt very bad for having lied to him all the time and I therefore called the therapist/coach a friend had recommended me. Writing this down seems silly, because I didn’t just call this woman. If I remember correctly it was in April, there was still snow on the sidewalk and the sun shone as if it was summer. When I left work this day I was able to walk 3 minutes until the tears started flowing down my cheek. It was then that I realized that I needed help and that I couldn’t continue to save this one on my own. I called the therapist/coach and we immediately made an appointment for later in the week.

I write therapist/coach not to belittle her or diminish my problems, but that’s what she is. She is a job development coach, helping people realize what they want to do and figuring out the steps to get there and she completed a therapy degree so that she has a profound background.

I will explain how she helped me and what my next steps were in the third part coming next week.

picture courtesy of The Medicine Owl

Part I: The silence before the storm

Crystal Castle - expectation hangover

This is Part I of a little mini series where I try to share with you how I came from trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations to setting my own rules and started to not only breathe but live.

My story starts shortly after high school. I was a decent student and until I took part in a school project of the Boston Consulting Group I thought I wanted to be a fashion writer, having lived in Italy for a year. After this school project was finished I wanted to become rich and powerful and that very fast so I decided to go after traineeship programmes or dual study programmes as I will call them.

I started the dual study programme right after high school or the german equivalent Gymnasium. I was lucky enough to get accepted already in January of the year I took my A-levels so that I was calm and relaxed during the prep time and the exams, because I knew what the next big step after school would be.

I like to know what the next step is, or least that’s how I used to roll.

A quick word about my dual study programme, there are many different combinations for this but the essence is that the company pays your study fees at least in part at a university that specialises in education for full-time employees. The model at the company I worked at was that you started the studies right away, but for the first two years of the program you are a normal apprentice. After getting your degree as an industrial clerk you would get a regular full-time position while still taking university classes and exams in the evening and on weekends.

Having a major Expectation Hangover

During the apprenticeship, which was a federal regulated one and therefore had to comply with all the guidelines from the chambers of commerce, I had to work in many not so interesting departments. I was tremendously bored already at my first department which was IT.  When the holiday season came and almost the whole department had taken off, the remaining staffer had so much work to do that he could only mutter a quick good morning when I entered the office and didn’t even notice when I left.

One day I actually contemplated taking a nap in the office of the head of the department. But as he also was the union rep I figured that anyone wanting to speak with him would just enter his office. It would not have made for a great start to be caught napping at work.

I did this a year later in an even more boring department. I think that someone entered, saw me napping and quietly close the door again. That’s the off-site production department’s work ethic for you 😉

The study part wasn’t as demanding or interesting or international as I thought it would be, but every semester I would tell myself that it would get better eventually,  when suddenly the programme was already half done. That’s when the sum of university fees I would have had to pay back, as I had signed a restitution contract, became too high, therefore I continued. After I finished my apprenticeship I was able to get a very interesting full-time position within a newly formed department of our yet to be founded energy market division.

As this position came with a nice paycheck and I had my heart set on moving out of my mum’s flat, I  continued to schlepp myself towards the end of the studies.

This is part of a series of posts, Part II will be uploaded next week

I borrowed the phrase Expectation Hangover, from Christine Hassler’s book 20 Something Manifesto: Quarter-Lifers Speak Out About Who They Are, What They Want, and How to Get It
This book helped me a lot during the process of changing my attitude towards life. And the phrase, which she trademarked and I hopefully won’t get any angry lawyer letters for using it, just sums it up perfectly what it felt like to hae all your expectations crashed by the harsh reality.

picture courtesy of nikki

Holy Moly I did it – the big step that changed my life

Not my granddad's garden, but it looks pretty similiar

Holy Moly, I did it !

I did it, i turned my life upside down, quit my job, moved back to my hometown to live with my granddad. And the odds of getting into my favourite grad school, any grad school at all, turn out to become smaller any day that’s passing. {Update I did get into one!}

Doing it right

I always figured that I did everything right, in “their” mind whoever you want “them” to be. And almost immediately I hated it. Half a year before I even finished high school, I got the offer of a “dual studies” programme with a coal-trading company. I happily took it, being the type A personality that I was back then and needing the security of knowing what the next step would be.

When I started this programme consisting of an apprenticeship for the first two years and after that a full-time position within the company, all while going to university lectures 2-3 times in the evening and on most Saturdays, I immediately hated it. I didn’t like the general management stuff they taught us at university and I felt not needed and bored during the apprenticeship.

After convincing myself that I just needed an adjustment phase and that afterwards the big career I always wanted during high school would await me. Money to buy Jimmy Choos, get a BMW Z8, fancy designer clothes, etc. Needless to say when I envisioned that I was a clueless high schooler, pumped up on talk about the demographic shift and how we are the Generation that can choose their employers freely.

After sometime I just couldn’t take it any more and I started to plan my “escape” (I will blog about the detailed process in an upcoming mini series)

Now that I have “escaped” and things do not go according to plan, again, I still feel calm. I am full of confidence in my decision, my future, and most important of all, I am full of confidence in myself.

That is when I don’t get a letter of decline from a grad school that I thought to be a sure candidate….

But after watching bad TV for an entire day and nearly crying in the car, the next day I was okay again. Now I am sitting here in my new favourite spot to write, in my granddad’s big garden and…

I am so happy and proud of me that I did it, that I let go of my unfullfilling day job and started anew.

moi pink

PS: I wrote this piece while on my blogging-hiatus so it’s probably a bit confusing. Because I did get into grad school after all, but I just wanted to share this article with you nonetheless.

picture courtesy of jour de pluie via Ilorias hub

Assessment Center or ….

Assessment Center or why do companies believe in grilling their future employees rather than having a lively discussion with them?

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I have told you about the one-way-interview via hirevue.com here and how much I would love to start working at the company.

Well, on Friday I had the Assessment Center and let’s say it could have gone better.

I was slightly nervous the night before, I even forgot the dress I wanted to wear so that I had to drive back to my flat and get it.

I stayed at my mums, because she lives closer to the venue.

 The morning was not much better, I threw a hissy fit because my mums mascara stained on my lid, which mine never does and I had forgotten mine as well, because hey Mascara is mascara ( turns out it isn’t…) Well at least I arrived in time, although as the last one.

We did some small talk about the arrival and academic background before the HR person took us into the first room. There we had to make some brief introduction and then started with the data analysis exercise.

Data Analysis Exercise 

We had to allocate 60 units of lightweight jackets to some stores located in three different regions. There were some restrictions as to how many items had to be sent and when they would arrive. The data given were weekly sales, inventory and an indicator S/S I think it stood for Supply to Sales, indicating how many weeks the stock would last if the sales remain the same. We had the week that had just ended 2nd march and the week prior as well as the week of 18th March from the year before. We should then allocate the merchandise and write down the rationale behind our decision.

I thought I did pretty well, until I checked the restrictions again and saw that I wanted to allocate double the allowed amount to the store to be newly opening in three weeks time.

 Well I had to quickly fix my numbers then as we only had 4 minutes left out of the allotted 15. All the other candidates seemed to have written more than me, but that didn’t irritate me too much. I am a friend of precise words, that is until I don’t know what to say then I tend to mumble on incoherently instead of just shutting up.

Group Exercise I

Directly after HR took our papers we were guided into another room where our assessors were already seated. There we did another round of presentation, I totally tanked mine…

After stating my name and successfully making a joke about how I didn’t want to disclose my age, the rest of the sentence was not so concise. I often have this problem also at work; there I fixed it by actually preparing a short introduction word for word and learning it by memory.

The assessors briefly introduced themselves and stated their position within the company (the Italian buyer for women’s lingerie and something at least repeated my age joke) than they started to explain the first group exercise. We had to pick a product each from the ones that were laid out in the table in front of us and judge it regarding to the criteria scale they use. Afterwards we had to present our results.

I only half tanked this one ( I mixed up the structure and jumped from point to point) 

Then they asked us to pick the best and second best product for their store in a group discussion. Being an all female group we were incredibly harmonic and someone proposed to jot down the major points at the flipboard, she had to do this of course, I excused myself with my terrible handwriting ( An art teacher of mine once told me that my homework had the charm of a train wreck…) 

In this exercise I think I was able to score a bit when I told them that I don’t agree with the overall quality of the chosen product ( a gift set of two baby bottles and a pacifier) some items were loose in the packaging and I would not want to give or receive that as a present, successful joke number two: unless it has been used in so many assessment centers before the quality is not okay. I shut up after this joke. The assessors had some questions, sometimes asking in the round sometimes addressing persons directly.

I have been obsessing with the right answer to the ranking and I think number one should have been the blouse, it was knocked down more than two/thirds, around 75% I guess and it was from the upper priced brand of a highly recognised high street brand, had a summary flair to it and great quality in terms of stitches etc. ( sorry I just had to get this out, as I have developed a throbbing headache over all the things I could have done better, and this I think was a major point but it never occurred to me during our discussions)

Instead we chose a black tweed ballerina from a lower premium brand highly recognised by middle-aged women I’d say and the baby bottle gift set  

Group Exercise II

As all exercises had to be completed under extreme time pressure we started quickly with the second exercise we got our data analysis sheets back and now had 15 minutes to allocate only 30 units of the jackets (which we as a group only got 12 minutes into the exercise when one of the assessors told us again) and once again come to a group decision.

In this discussion I stood my ground a bit more firmly than in the one before, partly because I know how to do data analysis and partly because the most active participant was twisting the sense behind the key indicator ( I should have voiced so, making either a complete ass out of myself or out of here…) Of course the majority had a differing opinion from mine.  As I can’t hide my emotions I was asked by the Italian buyer if I was content with the result of the group decision and I declined and explained why.

Another assessor asked why we had sent 1/3 of the units to the store with lowest annual sales revenue ( that was when I had to constrain myself hard to not facepalm myself as I have not seen those important figures on the data report given…)

Final round

Lastly we could ask some questions to the assessors about the program / company etc.

I asked about their classification system for the goods, as they had stressed sometimes before that the report we were given was sort of real life, and to me it seemed incredibly basic and I wanted to know which classifications they used to steer their merchandise distribution and analyse it.

They told me that they didn’t look at sizes and that colours were only regarded in some regions and what we were handed was pretty much a real report. Mine was the last question to be answered before we left.

I had a brief chat with two of the participants, one had finished her masters degree in Supply Chain Management and was the one getting some of the numbers twisted and the other one comes from a similar background like me, she also did a dual studies in Management but is further on obtaining her Masters whilst simultaneously working at a small consultancy firm.

I briefly discussed payment with them and that led me to reconsider my position if they should ask me for the final interview.

Today or tomorrow I will know if they want to see me for a final interview and presentation.

 You guys ( I have to come with a different word for you my dear readership, as I don’t feel comfortable using the generic masculine, any suggestions ? ) it felt really good getting it all out. My headache has nearly vanished and I refuse to believe that it’s the merit of the pill I took before I started writing 

Picture courtesy of artofmanliness.com

Recruitment processes today Part II

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I already told you about my experience with the so-called one-way interview via the platform hirevue.com in the first part here.

The second Interview I had was a traditional interview, in the sense that we met in the HR offices and talked from person-to-person. The position I applied for there was also a graduate trainee program but for a large insurance company.

The interviewer had some sort of pre-formulated questions so to get similar answers from all the interviewees, as was the main purpose of the hirevue.com one-way interview. But he mentioned directly in the beginning that he wouldn’t stick to that guide religiously. He started by showing me the extent of the district I would have to work in on the map hanging in his office. It was interesting that he asked about my family and their background and what lead me to apply for a sales position. As my parents both have a background in sales that answer was responded to in a sufficient manner.

(my writing is kind of stiff today, isn’t it ?)

He talked in length about the program and that even though in the future there could be a position with personnel responsibility the main part of it all is being a sales person and half of the salary is fixed and the other one tied to your sales revenue.

Making my requested salary very hard to reach, if not impossible.

What I liked about this interview was that at some point he said that the program I applied for might not be the right fit for me and he offered to talk to a colleague in the greater district where there would be more development possibilities in regards to region and responsibility.

As a conclusion I liked the traditional interview better. There are different possibilities to steer the interview in regards to the answers be it by the interviewer or the interviewees and you get direct feedback to your answers even though some interview partners might be better at hiding there thoughts on your answers or maybe they just let you see what they want you to…

 Picture courtesy of Giacomo Gambineri