The Quarter Life Crisis

Finishing my master’s program, moving from one country to another and applying for jobs has kept me busy over the past few months. Before all of this started, I had a few weeks time to breathe in December and January. Back then I was not in a good place. I was insecure what I (really) wanted and felt like I was cheating myself. A classic case of quarter life crisis.

Let’s be honest here: Most of us give up our childhood dreams sometime during high school or a few months after graduation. We give up crazy dreams of becoming Indiana Jones (in my case) for a safer and more suitable career. We realize that we’re probably not going to substantially change the world (or in my case, find the Ark of Testimony) and try to find happiness in a more realistic approach to things. And although we grow up and with that accustom to our not-so-dreamy future life, this feeling keeps creeping up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with my choice of study. I’m really really really good at what I do. I get to be creative, analytical and strategical (all of which are among my favorite ways to think) and usually get to see quick results of my work. It was a lucky choice for me to go from engineering to business and later marketing. It combines what I’m good at and what I like to do. I believe that for personalities like me who are literally on the edge between introvert and extrovert, marketing is a great field to work in.

But then there are these certain situations. When somebody asks you what you do for a living and wrinkle his or her nose when you reply marketing. Because that’s not special, it’s not glamorous, or directly making the world a better place. In my experience, marketing and sales is associated with superficiality and not-so-smart people. Every time this happens to me, I feel like I have to defend myself (and the whole field for that matter); tell the opposite person, that my IQ is among the top few percent of population, that I’m an ace in math and that marketing can certainly also make the world better (no cancer researcher would get funding without it). But this weird feeling stays behind. This feeling of not living up to a certain potential. Of doing something “everybody thinks is easy”.

Maybe I should have tried to become Indiana Jones. I would have probably failed hardcore, but people would have appreciated the spirit. “Living the dream.” Then again, what is it that 5-year-old Nicole liked so much about becoming an archeologist? I thought about this for a while (while listening to The Velvet Underground, highly recommended for this kind of thinking) and came to the conclusion, that Indiana Jones is awesome, because he’s smart and badass and especially not afraid to take risks for his beliefs. He’s also stubborn and proud, something I think more people should be when it comes to fighting for their ideas and ideals.

Reflecting on all of this, I realize that I’m not that far away from Indiana Jones after all. I consider myself to be pretty badass, especially in fighting through the lows but also in using the highs to improve instead of staying still. I can be stubborn when it comes to fighting for an idea. And then there’s one more thing: Indiana Jones is charming. It’s a main driver to his success. You can be sharp as a knife, but if you’re not charming, nobody will believe in you. And that’s why Indiana Jones would be great in marketing. And it’s also why I’m in marketing. You can excite people for an idea and then actually execute it. It’s awesome. It’s not easy at all. You actually have to have good ideas and be able to communicate them.

So, I’m not really giving up my childhood dream. It just looks a bit different. This realization is more important than you might think. Finishing up studies, a major chapter in life, can be pretty scary. You ask yourself a bunch of substantial questions. You’re scared. You’re insecure. You question life’s purpose, your own purpose. You question your wants and beliefs. It can be tough. It can be depressing, especially as most of us don’t know where and as what they’re going to work in the near future. It’s important to stay confident in yourself and what you chose to do. Starting off your career will still give you many possibilities to change and develop new passions, as well es fulfill old dreams. So reflect, believe in your choices and be patient (for now).

 

 

 

 

 

The Minimalist Wardrobe: Workwear

Depending on your field of work, you may feel pressured to have several different dressing options on hand. If you work in a representative role, dressing appropriately is essential and the same may apply to sectors like finance or legal. Even if you have a classic office role, fashionable colleagues can urge you to keep up with your outfits. But how do you do that without buying new pieces every few weeks? Here’s how.

Capsule is key – Start an office capsule wardrobe. This concept has become a popular trend recently. Originating in France, this concept stands for choosing a certain amount of pieces each season that mix and match (almost) perfectly with each other. By picking the right pieces, endless combinations are possible. Sounds easy, but in reality it takes months to years of dedication to perfect this system for your whole wardrobe. I recommend these ladies for help: Alli, Christine, Meg.

One by one – However, incorporating the capsule wardrobe concept for the workwear part of your wardrobe isn’t that hard. Here’s how I did it: I picked 3 blazers that are very different in style (I have a classic black one with small dots, a light pink one and a grey one with pinstripes.) Then I picked 4 pairs of pants, 2 skirts, 3 blouses, 2 cardigans and 3 long sleeve shirts. If you differentiate between office and non-office shoes add these too. Now, besides trying to pick only a few items each, the key is to have one core item that everything else matches with. For me the blazers are the core item. All other items match with at least 2 of my blazers. Now this sounds easy in theory, but I highly recommend trying on all outfits at home. Just because it looks good in your head, doesn’t mean it will actually convince in reality.

Switch it up – Now you may agree that focussing on mix and match is a great concept to stay organized and somewhat stylish, but there’s still the problems mentioned above like keeping up with trendy colleagues and not looking too simple. Having a limited amount of fashion options gives you room to try something else with complimenting style aspects such as your hair, makeup or jewellery. If you feel like you’ve been sticking mainly to a few of your capsule styles, force yourself to not wear them for a week or two. If you feel too uncomfortable with other styles, switch out an item or two before the next season.

Seasons – As mentioned earlier, the capsule wardrobe concept encourages switching out items every season. This is not only to have weather appropriate clothes, but also gives you the possibility to incorporate some new styles, change your colour palette or reduce the capsule overall. After some getting used to, four occasions a year will feel completely sufficient to re-evaluate your wardrobe.

The Testrun – Don’t jump into your capsule wardrobe instantly. Test out the concept for a while. Pick one item and try to wear it for a few days, styling it differently. I recommend a cardigan or blazer for this, as they are harder to adjust to than a pair of basic pants or a blouse – and the testing phase should challenge you. A less basic item will force you to go through your closet more thoroughly, looking for matching items. This leads to a better overview, which of course is essential to pick the right pieces for your final capsule.

Of course this system doesn’t only work for the office, but any other part of your wardrobe. Having a secure dressing base for your professional life can take away a lot of morning hassle and help you gain confidence plus focus on more important things (like what’s for lunch?) – Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Love is all

This Sunday we lost our first dog to a terrible accident. She had just turned 1 year old and was the liveliest dog we ever knew. We rescued her from a bad environment. She literally jumped into my arms and didn’t let go until we arrived in our apartment. The first weeks she was incredibly scared and only felt safe with us. With patience she grew into a great dog, happy, trained. Her favourite thing in the world was to run and play fetch and we did that with her every day, sometimes for hours. I know that she had the best time of her life with us and loved us dearly.

Her death was an accident that took her life within seconds. It was a walk and play like every day, when she suddenly ran out of the park onto the street. I wasn’t there but was called right away. When I arrived (in my bathrobe, after jumping out of the shower) I could only hold her dead body and comfort my boyfriend who had been there and broke down, still screaming for an ambulance. I talked to the people who had seen everything and called my parents, asking them to drive to us so we could burry her in their garden. I stayed calm until we had made it back to the apartment before the initial shock passed and it hit me. How could this have happened? How could the same dog that had woken me up that morning and snuck up to my pillow be gone?

I’ve been through quite some misfortunes in my life. Cancer, eating disorders, depression, illnesses, loss – but none of that had an impact this hurtful. Even though I wasn’t there, a feeling of guilt keeps creeping into my thoughts. What if I had been there? Could I have stopped her? The worst thought of all being that she had trusted us in all matters, loved us unconditionally and we failed at protecting her. Spending every day with an animal grows a bond only other animal owners will understand. Seeing a scared puppy turn into a confident dog is one of the proudest feelings I have ever known. Seeing that same soul go – especially if it’s way too soon – tears you apart in such an extent, that it can never fully heal.

In February, after dog-sitting another dog and seeing how much our dog loved playing with her, we adopted that dog as well. Since then I have only known the two of them together. Now I look at our second dog and see emptiness beside her and it breaks my heart. I love her dearly, but we got her based on our first dog. A companion. She was not supposed to ever be alone. Now all three of us have to get used to that idea.

Studies show, that loosing a pet triggers the same stages of grief as loosing a relative or friend. For me this means that I can’t eat properly and even thinking of sleep scares me, as that’s when the pain is the worst. Seeing other dogs makes me sad and I can’t go to the places we used to walk with her or meet the same dogs we used to meet. It’s hard to do daily tasks, to keep up the routine and to look into the future. I feel lucky that we are moving back to Stockholm in less than two weeks because everything here reminds me of her. Then again, every time I will walk by the water at our new home I know that I will feel incredibly sad because she would have loved it there.

We all deal with grief differently. I try to isolate myself, don’t want to be close to anyone and become very quiet. Writing helps me to clear my thoughts and stay sane. It fills me up with the joy of productiveness, a small help against the hovering feeling of emptiness. The internet is full of guides about how to deal with (pet) loss, but what I found most comforting was to read other people’s stories. Many of them speed up their healing process by getting a new dog and eventually are able to look back happily, cherishing the memories of their former pet. It gives me hope that I will reach that point someday myself.

Why applying for Jobs will offend you

In a few months I will officially be able to call myself Master of Science in Marketing, so I have recently started applying for jobs in both Berlin and Stockholm. Although this is my first official “post-graduate” job, I have already worked fulltime for around 2 years besides my studies, have done various internships and have worked part-time along my studies since 2009. I finished my business Bachelor before anyone else in my year and achieved a grade highly above average. Besides my Marketing Master, I have been taking courses in Decision Support and Risk Analysis and also have otherwise not been lazy – using my spare time to learn Swedish or practice my SEO skills. I guess you would assume finding a nice position would come easy to me.

Still, the past weeks that I spent applying for jobs have been among the most frustrating of my life. I can call myself lucky to land an average of 2 interviews a week – however, I don’t feel too happy about that at all. And here’s why.

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Hello, Goodbye – Most companies will reply to your application within 2 weeks (Germany) or 4 weeks (Sweden). If you get an interview, it will usually be with a recruiter and probably on the phone. The first interview is to check if you are at least slightly similar to what your CV indicates and usually takes around 30 minutes. After the first interview I have so far always gotten very positive feedback and been told I would be seeing an actual decision maker in my next interview – however this happened around half of the time. I never heard back from the other half. Being raised with manners and knowing that it doesn’t take longer than 2 minutes to write a quick “Sorry, we have decided you are not a good match after all”-e-mail, I have a hard time not getting offended every time this happens. The good thing is, that you do learn to keep your hopes low and it’ a pleasant surprise to actually hear back.

WTF did I just read – I am confident that I have a very clear CV that leaves no room for misunderstanding. My cover letters are structured and never longer than a page. Still it happens that people get my data wrong and I receive e-mails stating “We’re looking for someone with master’s education“ (can you even read?!) “We need someone that is fluent in English and German” (I’m native in both) or “Because you are a graduate we can only offer internships” (Seriously?!) In the beginning I answered those emails indicating that I had exactly that, but I figure that most recruiters don’t actually bother to look into a candidates’ profile twice – just because they didn’t get it the first time. Don’t get offended! I always do a very intense double-facepalm and tell myself that I wouldn’t want to work for a company that recruits this sloppy anyway.

Superman or the Toothfairy? – Just reading position descriptions can be very frustrating. At first glance it seems like everybody wants a person with various degrees, 150 years of working experience, 12 languages and on top of all that is an ace in communication. In the beginning I tried to find positions that didn’t ask for more than 2 years of experience and in general seemed closer to reality – however, you usually end up with a company that simply wont pay you what you deserve which may be the secret reason behind giving only few requirements. I’ve made better experiences with applying for positions that sounded like they were looking for more advanced applicants. Why? Because actually, it is hard to find people who are fluent in 4 languages, have relevant experience and are nice. Most interviews and offers I’ve gotten came from applications for jobs that sounded highly out of my league – so be confident and don’t get put off by all the qualifications.

Intelligence Tests – Ok, I have to be honest here, this is the most offending part for me. I once applied for a very basic PR position and was asked to do a pretty demanding intelligence test. During another interview they asked me to calculate degrees on a clock in the middle of talking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually good at these things and solve them, but I feel like it’s absolutely unnecessary to have a person with several degrees, experience and that has already been through interviews and proven to be real do tests like that. Especially, if they are totally irrelevant for the actual position. I turned down a job offer, because they kept sending me tests throughout the whole process. To all recruiters out there: This is one of the worst practices you can do in terms of positioning yourself as a decent employer. Actual talents will look for someone who appreciates them and their time.

Personality Tests – Isn’t this what you have 2-3 interviews for? After going through interviews’ with a company it regularly happens that I get sent an online personality test. Every time this happens, I feel like I’m back in middle school, doing tests like “Which Harry Potter character are you?” I think personality tests are the wrong approach to finding out if somebody fits a position for several reasons: 1. They are easy to manipulate (trust me, after you’ve done one you know exactly what to click to match a certain position’s requirements), 2. They don’t say much about the actual person in a business context (i’m an introvert according to all of these tests, but I bet non of my former employers or colleagues would think I’m anything else than extroverted and open) 3. They are a turn-off. Honestly, I’m 25. I don’t want to waste 20 minutes on your stupid test. Just talk to me.

Perception of Time – This is one of the worst parts of applying for me personally, as I can be impatient. In the end of each interview I ask when I will hear back from the company and how the process is going to continue. Usually you get to hear something like “by the end of this week” or “latest next Wednesday”. Never in the history of applying and interviewing has this proven true. All companies got back to me days or even weeks later or after I contacted them again. Dear employers and recruiters, if you don’t know how long a process will take, don’t give clear dates as it will definitely piss whoever’s applying off. Nobody likes waiting.

We want you, but we don’t want to pay you – This is probably something a lot of younger people and graduates have to deal with. After going through interviews for a payed position, it has happened to me several times that in the end I was offered an unpaid internship or shitty-pay traineeship instead. I know that everybody has to save money, but offering people who already have experience this will not only kill their confidence, but also most likely not get you the talent. Personally, I know that I have more experience and qualifications than people should have when starting a traineeship. So why would I do that again just so you can pay me less? I’m not even going to talk about offering unpaid internships to people after interviewing them for “real” positions. Those employers land on my never-again list without a glance

Cash, Cash, Cash – Most companies will ask you for a salary estimate in the beginning. You would assume that if they continue with the process that means that you’re going to be offered a salary around your estimate. Sorry to shatter your dreams, but many companies don’t care about your salary expectation and may still try to pay you way less – especially if you’re a graduate. So here you either need to have awesome negotiation skills or be prepared to turn down a job if it’s too far off from what you want to be payed. There’s no shame in that! You know what you’re worth.

Finally, let’s talk about the by far most frustrating (and potentially offending) part of applying: not getting the job.

Here’s the good news: In most cases you won’t even get reasons for not being hired. It’s usually just a 2-line e-mail stating that somebody matched their requirements more closely. You can get over that, no problem. But what about the other cases? Here are my 2 favorite experiences so far: One popular Swedish Start-up interviewed me several times and then actually sent me an e-mail asking when I could start and come in for all the paperwork. After that I didn’t here back for a week, which lead to me sending an e-mail asking for clarifications. I then got an answer that there had been changes in the organization and that currently no new positions could be filled. WTF? The other time I had a very promising last-round interview with the actual manager, telling me how I was his favorite out of the 140 applicants, but that he simply didn’t want to hire a girl again, as there were already 3 women in the 6-people team. I mean thanks for the flowers, but didn’t you know that before interviewing a female?

I could go on and on about frustrating sides of applying but the good news is, that a lot of times it’s actually nice too. You get to know different companies, improve your self-selling skills and hear a lot of good feedback. And eventually you will land an awesome job. If all the applying and waiting stresses you out anyway, you might want to read my post on mastering stress.

Now good luck on not getting too pissed on the way to your dreamjob!

 

 

The Minimalist Wardrobe: How to Invest

After downsizing your wardrobe and living with what you have for a while, you will realize buying a new piece for your wardrobe just became a lot more difficult.

Ideally, you now appreciate what you have, know what suits you and what matches with the clothes you already have. Ideally, you know exactly what you like and aren’t influenced by current trends or brands. Ideally, you (for example) decide to buy a bag, know exactly what style and colour you need and have an unlimited budget to spend on exactly that one piece.

Ideally. Of course, the reality looks different for most of us.

Needs and Wants – First and far most you will only be able to maintain a small wardrobe if you can differentiate between what you actually need and what you want. You think you need a 3rd blazer because your colleague is wearing new blazers every week and you like the light blue with stripes version? This is clearly a want. Of course you can still decide to buy a new blazer, but going after your wants will eventually expand your wardrobe and will have you selling things again.

Worth investing in – Is really every item worth investing in or can I still buy my white shirts at Primark? Of course, this is completely up to you. Personally, I like investing mainly in key pieces like bags, shoes and coats. These are items I can see myself spending most time and money on. Over the years I’ve also come to appreciate high quality blouses, knits, shirts and dresses. On the other hand, I’m not a friend of branded jeans as I feel that you can get a nice pair for under 50 bucks with a little care. I still buy socks and tights at your average retailer. The whole investing process is highly dependent on two things: money and preference. If you have the means and wants to only buy from fair-fashion-high-quality brands, do it. If you’re on a budget, you’ll have to compromise.

What’s investing? – Investing doesn’t only mean spending a substantial amount of money on an item. It also means spending time on choosing the right item – skipping options you wouldn’t be 100% happy with to look for more alternatives – or to save more money for the item you really want. This can be tricky in the beginning. You may know you want a new pair of jeans in black, but you may not be sure what cut to go for, or what brand suits you and delivers the right quality at the same time as being within your budget. This means you will have to spend some time doing your research. Luckily, for most items you can do the biggest part online. Stroll around some online shops to see what you like, read through a few forums to find out about the quality and price. After that you’ll be ready to hit the stores with a clear target. Try on some models, feel the fabric and get a clearer picture of what you want.

Buy now or cry later – That seems to be the motto of most people when buying new clothes. I’m a firm believer in “sleeping over it”. Meaning that even if I feel like I found exactly the thing I want and it’s in my budget, I will not buy it right away. I like bargains, so I usually go home and google the model and size I want to see if I can get a better deal somewhere else or maybe even find the item second-hand (you’ll be surprised how many second-hand items I buy, that have barely been worn and save me humongous amounts of money). Sorry retail, but this means that I very rarely end up buying in a physical store. The “sleeping”-strategy however also saves you from impulse buys. The next morning those jeans might not be that appealing anymore and you’ll end up buying another pair instead – saving yourself an annoying store return or re-sale.

Second-hand – This is clearly my favourite category. You’d be surprised how much of my wardrobe is actually thrifted or bought on ebay and other online resellers. I have a few designer bags that have a price tag over 1000 bucks but I haven’t spent half of that on them. Of course, you should only buy used designer goods if you have enough knowledge on spotting an authentic item to protect yourself from fraud – I recommend using certified resellers like Vestiaire Collective, Trendsales, Hardly Ever Worn It or Vide Dressing and reading up on e.g. The PurseForum. Second hand is a really good way to get a great deal on a high quality item that can last you ages – and not having to splurge. And trust me – few things feel better than finding the thing you have wanted for weeks at a really nice price.

Input/Output – Eventually you will of course expand your wardrobe somehow by adding items that match your style better or that are suitable for your daily needs (job, kids, travel) so sooner or later you will have to get rid of some things again. I try to go through my clothes twice a year to make sure I don’t end up keeping stuff I don’t need. See my post on downsizing for help in this matter.

 

I hope this little guide helps you on your way to the perfect key wardrobe. Let me know, if you want me to right an extra guide on second-hand shopping and thrifting.

 

 

How to master (extreme) Stress

Having moved house soon 15 times during 25 years of my life – 7 of the moves being across countries – I’ve become an expert at mastering stressful situations. The following things have helped me deal with situations of extreme stress – by no means am I a doctor; consider these tips that may or may not help you in similar situations.

What triggers stress? – Stress is triggered by hormones. Different situations and environments increase the amount of cortisol our body produces. This effect was carefully established by nature to make our bodies react better to dangerous situations. However, in today’s busy society stress isn’t only triggered by life-threats but also by situations that make us feel insecure, under pressure, lonely…the list of stress-triggering feelings is endless.

Uncertainty – Personally, my worst trigger for stress is uncertainty. It go through all kinds of possible (and impossible) scenarios in my head, ending up in a never-ending spiral of angst. Of course the easiest way to release stress in this case is to achieve certainty. An example is the fear of failing an exam. By studying harder and getting thoroughly prepared on time, you will not only increase the chances of passing but also actively increase the certainty of passing.

Unpredictable Situations – But what can you do when you don’t have the means to gain certainty on your own? Moving house (especially across borders) is a good example for this. A lot of paper work is involved, finding house in a foreign country, getting rid of housing where you are living now, leaving friends and family, switching jobs or studies, understanding the new country’s system and culture and – in many cases – not being able to speak its language fluently yet. On top of this the actual transport has to be organized, options have to be evaluated and the budget planned.

List it! – The first time I moved from Germany to Sweden, I planned little, freaked out a lot and in the end got more or less lucky with most things figuring themselves out. The second time I didn’t take those chances. After spending nights worrying about the unclear, I started listing things that I wanted to get done or gain certainty about. After working through most of the paperwork I could do in advance and making clear schedules for the paperwork to come, I felt much better. Being an expert in packing, I decided to not worry about that until a few weeks prior to the move. However, to budget transport we needed to know approximately how much stuff we would bring. In order to plan this better, I started making lists of what to keep and what to part with. Some of the things we decided to give away I put on ebay (check out my last post). We measured out the furniture we would bring – this is not only good for transport, but also to get a clear overview of how to arrange everything in the new home which we (welcome to the struggles of moving across countries!) wouldn’t see until the day we actually moved in.

Goodnight, sleep tight –I stress the most right before going to bed when I recap the past day and predict the coming day in my head. The closer to the scary situation, the harder it is to get a good night’s sleep. There’s not ultimate solution for this, but the following things have helped me: I go through the lists to remind myself that things are planned. I go for a short walk around the area to catch some air. I distract myself with a good book and put my computer and phone far away – that way I can’t be tempted to be caught up in a cycle of googling worries and scenarios for hours. Besides, staying away from technology before bedtime will generally help you to rest easier.

Positive Distraction – I’m by no means a fan of ignoring problems or avoiding stress completely, but I do believe that some types of distraction can benefit you in nerve-racking times. The most important form of distraction for me is exercise. Though a situation can be emotionally exhausting and you may feel tired constantly, it’s still imported to reach a point of physical exhaustion. Going for a run or doing strength workouts will not only distract you for an hour, but it will also help decrease your cortisol levels, help you concentrate and in general reach a better body/mind balance. I usually set specific goals for a stress-period like “I want to run 20km” or “I want to do 50 push-ups”. If it’s a reachable goal, it helps you stay confident when getting closer.

That being said, here are some more small changes you can make to improve your resistance towards stress:

  • Reduce caffeine intake (bye, tripple-espresso!)
  • Increase vitamin intake (more fruits, more sunshine)
  • Try out some basic yoga or meditation (breath!)
  • Plan clear breaks from your routine (short trips, meeting friends)
  • Talk . Tell you friends and family about your worries. You’ll be surprised how much another person’s perspective can put things into perspective.
  • Do something creative every now and then (painting, writing, singing)

Good luck with whatever stressy situation you’re going through right now – try out some of the things and you’ll manage just fine!