Climbing the ladder in remarkable speed is definitely something you can say to describe Carolin. After studying romance studies and linguistics, she worked for a well-known German PR agency and as PR agent for the Berlin state opera. She joined Limelight PR in 2006 and has been working there for more than 8 years.
However, she decided to take a sabbatical and travelled around the world. Back then she was a partner at LimeLight PR and loved her job, but needed to take time off. Her’s is an inspiring story worth sharing. Talking to Carolin about her path and the reasons for each career and personal life step is eye opening and refreshing. She reminds you that a career on the fast track will lead to success but not necessarily also to happiness.
After climbing up the ranks with remarkable speed you decided you take a one year break. What were the main drivers of that decision?
Myself. It was a decision coming from an inner voice and nothing external influenced me. It had nothing to do with running away from something; I’d rather define it as a present I decided to give to myself. I gave a present to myself by allowing myself 12 months of 24 hours a day free time: no meetings, deadlines or commitments. Before travelling, I was rushing through my life. I felt it was about time to turn the tables and take a break from all of that to focus on myself and enjoy life.
Was there any point during that year that you were afraid you would not want to go back to the field you worked in before, and would have to start from scratch?
Yes, definitely! I had those thoughts but for some reason they never scared me. I guess that is also because I am not a security driven person and have always been attracted by the new and unknown instead of being scared of it. The decision to quit my job did, however, evoke a rather fearful reaction in my social circle. “How can you give up on all of that”, “It is a hard time to find a job, you should not quit your job, you should be happy you have a job” and “I admire you for your courage, I always dreamed about doing it but never had the courage” were some of the reactions. Existential fear is not in my DNA. Probably because I’m ambitious but not dogged. Starting off from scratch after travelling was not something I was afraid of. Back in the days, just after I graduated from high school and later uni, I didn’t have a master plan for my career either. I always knew what I was good at and what I was interested in, though. I rather stumbled upon challenges and made decisions intuitively, according to my gut feeling, instead of strictly following a big picture or specific goal. My positive thinking has always paid off, I guess. That is where my optimism came from, and my belief that after travelling everything would fall into place.
What was the reason you decided to return to your old job?
For 2 simple reasons:
- While travelling for a year and putting distance between me and my job I realised that my job is great. Also I realised that it was not necessarily the job I had to change but circumstances of how I wanted to do the job.
- I needed money – Film PR is simply what I am good at, and where I was able to just “continue” instead of starting from scratch.
When I left for my big journey my business partner at the agency told me they always had a job for me if at any point I wanted to come back. I cannot appreciate the offer of my partner at the agency enough, and I’d say that it was also a factor that influenced my decision to go on the journey and not worry too much about the “what happens after” question.
You travelled to South America, Southeast Asia and India with your best friend. Why did you decide to not travel solo?
That was a coincidence! We both toyed with the idea of going on a trip around the world, both for different reasons. I would have also travelled on my own, but in the end we decided to go traveling together – it’s way more fun sharing the adventure!
What was the most magical place that had the biggest impact on you?
Machu Picchu in Peru, Titicaca Sea in Bolivia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia are my top 3 and all magical places. It is almost impossible to put the magic of those places into words, I can only recommend that anyone go there and experience it on their own. Also, the people in Cambodia impressed me thoroughly. The Cambodians have gone through very hard times but are still full of positivity and friendliness. Brazil – also a highlight of our trip! India also had a big impact, however more in a negative way. Travelling as a woman in India you feel that it is not a matter of fact to be treated with respect.
You decided to return to your job after your sabbatical. What made you decide to go back?
When I made the decision to take the sabbatical one thing was already clear: the journey should come to an end after one year. I never thought about dropping out and opening up a bar in Brazil or becoming scuba diving or yoga teacher in Thailand. That’s just not me. I love living in a metropolis and do not struggle with society. Returning to Berlin was not a question, but a sure thing. The journey was not about dropping out somewhere but about reflecting on my life back in Berlin from distance and finding out what I wanted to change about it.
You had the role as a Partner; after you came back you started as a Senior PR manager – by choice. Why was that?
Well, Film PR is just my thing and I love doing it. With every project you get to meet new and inspiring people and dive into a different topic every time. The job never gets boring. There is a good balance between content, organisation and communication. However it can become very time-consuming and exhausting. If you add the role of the managing director to that – the acquisition of new projects, the annual financial statement, employee appraisals, events you have to attend and so on, you end up working 24/7. Not to mention almost no vacation. All of these are reasons why I decided to return to my job, but not as a managing director. It never felt like taking a step back for me, quite the contrary. I changed how I set priorities in life. Having quality free time I can spend with my friends was not as important to me at the beginning of my career, but is today. Back in the day my number one priority was my job. Today I’d say it is a balance between job and private life, and I am happier like this.
How has that year shaped you personally and professionally?
My one year journey was like taking thousands of coaching sessions and trainings, just with a waaay better scenery than an office. The reasons for that are simple: living in your comfort zone can make you lose the broader perspective. Outside of your comfort zone is an interesting, beautiful and exciting world that has much more to offer than the tiny cosmos we live in. Travelling abroad also means meeting people who have very different approaches to life and who sometimes act as an eye opener. I can only recommend all of you to leave your comfort zone (or let’s say discomfort zone) – there is everything to be gained! “I don´t have the time for that” is not an excuse that counts anymore for me. Not for myself, nor for anyone else. One doesn’t have time, one makes time.
What would you tell your mid-20s self?
Do not try to be everyone’s darling. Having the confidence to say no is a super important ability that will empower you with more respect and will get you further in the long run. Focus on being yourself and don’t imitate someone else. That is exhausting and will get you nowhere.
How has your definition of success changed after travelling?
It has changed very crucially. Success means being good at what you do. Success is not a stage you reach and then lay back and put your feet up on the table. The more successful you are, the more you have to work to keep the success up, every day anew. To being able to reach that point, you have to love your job. Also, you have to stay curious and open to new things and you should never take success for granted. Doing a good job means, on the one hand, putting your experiences into practice and, on the other hand, keeping up a constant learning process. As soon as you are caught in routine, or if you feel too sure about your success, something is going wrong. Money is also an indicator of success, however not the most important factor. If you finish a project and can say about your own work that you are satisfied with what you did – that is the greatest achievement for me.
What is your definition of happiness?
Happiness – a big word that everyone has their own definition for I guess. Happiness for me is the feeling that I am doing the right thing. To reach that stage, I believe it is important to love and to be loved. Happiness can’t come from the outside, you carry it inside and only if you are in tune with yourself can you also spread happiness to people around you. What goes around comes around.
Photos: Portrait Carolin – Florian Liedel, all others – Carolin