What happened when I stopped planning and started designing my career

In 2013, while sitting in my nice office in Brussels, I hit a glass ceiling.

And, at the same time, rock bottom.

Professionally I had reached all I had planned and pursued over the past 10 years.

Starting as an intern at the European Parliament, turning into a trainee at the Government Relations & Public Affairs Office of BMW, moving on to be Head of the Public Affairs department, and later, Head of the Brussels office of the Confederation of the German Textile and Clothing Industry.

All accomplished without delay or bigger obstacles. All worked out perfectly and according to plan.

So why did it feel like I wasn’t living up to my full potential while, at the same time, diligently checking off all boxes on my career bucket list?

Shouldn’t I be rewarded for being an A-student in the career development department?

Shouldn’t I be rewarded by feeling accomplished and fulfilled?

But instead I felt stuck and lost.

Coming full circle – in Brussels

Fast forward, 5 years later, and back in Brussels, back in the European Parliament again.

This time as part of the team of instructors for this year’s APA Summer School, preparing assistants and trainees for their future career steps.

This time I returned to Brussels with a completely different feeling and experienced things from a completely different perspective.

I understand now what had been the root cause of my dilemma 5 years ago. And I understand now all the limiting beliefs I had around career planning, or better, all the limiting beliefs I had around “life planning”.

And I understand now how a linear career planning had made me a prisoner of my own choices and had narrowed down my options.

Career Development from a Life Designer’s Perspective

When I prepared my talk “Career development from a Life Designer’s Perspective” for the European Parliament I thought back to my own situation 5 years ago and what advice and inspiration would have helped me to navigate myself through this rough patch.

And what I shared with my audience in the Parliament is what I want to share with you today.

#1 Don’t start your journey with the final outcome/job in mind

“Not knowing the answer can be your greatest advantage” I recently came across this quote by Richard Branson and it deeply resonated with my Life Designer’s approach.

Often we feel scared or paralyzed to make a move because we can’t foresee the outcome. Whether it is our next career step or some changes we want to make in our personal life.

But the truth is, the less we define the final outcome in the beginning of our design journey the more opportunities we’ll encounter along our path.

#2 Experience and act your way forward, rather than thinking your way forward

Overthinking is the safest way to feel stuck or to procrastinate.

We often stop ourselves from moving forward, from taking action because we think we need to have absolute clarity before we can get started.

Well, it’s actually the opposite. We start to see the path building up in front of us by taking the first steps, evaluating the experience and deciding if this direction feels right or not. In other words, clarity and certainty only comes from taking action and getting real life feedback. Not from thinking.

#3 Career development is a co-creation process

Career designing is a co-creation between you and the world’s reactions to what you put out there.

Career planning, on the other hand, only takes your own part into account. And as soon as the world’s reaction doesn’t correspond to what’s in your planning, you’re thrown off track.

Every setback, every rejection and failure causes you to question and doubt your perfect plan.

In Life Designing, setbacks, failures and rejections are nothing more than “street signs” showing you that a different direction might be better for you. And giving you food for thoughts how to turn this setback into an opportunity.

#4 Every path is designable, not only an entrepreneurial one

Becoming a first time entrepreneur in my early forties after giving my whole life priority to stability and foreseeability had been quite a challenge, and a rollercoaster. I can tell you.

Now I know with absolute certainty that deep down in my heart I’ve always had this entrepreneurial spirit inside me. But before I was able to live it, I had to overcome many fears and limiting beliefs.

But I also know that not everyone is cut out for this path.

And that there’s a false, limiting, belief around how much you can design and shape your job, also as an employee. I’ve seen great examples for this.

So keep in mind that there’s a huge design potential out there, either way. Just stay true to yourself and the way you work best.

#5 Know that there’s more than one great career or life path waiting for you

It had taken me years to allow myself the thought that being a lawyer doesn’t have to be my only career.

And it also took a very long time to overcome this limiting belief that if I would decide for a new career, I would lose something.

But the truth is, I didn’t lose a bit.

I only gained.

And there’s so much of what I’ve learned in Brussels that I use now for my work.

Sometimes I even think, only through the work I’m doing now I was finally able to see and appreciate the richness of my learning experiences in my first career. And this has made me truly grateful for it.

Find out more about the difference between being a Life Planner vs being a Life Designer in this video

Originally published at workinbalance.org


  • Yvonne Hendrych

    Life Designing & Mindset Coach


    Yvonne Hendrych is the Founder of Workinbalance and The Life Designing Online School.  Her work’s mission as a Life Designing & Mindset Coach is, to support and empower people from all walks of life to gain a clear life vision, overcome blocks and obstacles, and move from ideas to action in order to create a meaningful and joyful life. Amongst others, Yvonne is working with the methodology of Life Designing (Design Thinking applied to our lives), Brain Based Coaching, Mindset Work, Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry. More about Yvonne's work at: Workinbalance Instagram LinkedIn