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Becoming my best self: Career switch interview with Stefanie Stubbé

Going from being a corporate strategy consultant to sustainability as a career focus was a big step for Stefanie Stubbé . She tells us all about her choice.

From a corporate strategy consultant at a big Management Consulting firm in Amsterdam, turned to a water sanitation expert at PT HaskoningDHV in Jakarta, Stubbé tells her story of the challenging journey, which led her to a more abstract and uncertain, but authentic path.

On a different path

Stefanie admits the choice seems unconventional, saying with her signature wise smile, "I didn’t have a stroke of insight, nor did I win the lottery or become seriously ill."

"I do hope my story will be helpful and inspirational to anyone with the ambition to contribute to a better world, but “life” seems to get in the way."

In her own words, Stefanie tells us at Eve & Elle, of how she became her best self;

It all started when...

In 2015, I had a conversation with a newly-made friend at a recruitment event. We discovered that we were both very driven to contribute to a more sustainable world. To my friend, this meant working on renewable energy sources, whereas for me this meant contributing to improved water management (sanitation). We shared the same ambition, but in practice, we were very tempted to pursue commercial and corporate positions when looking for jobs.

Sustainability or the great job with fast growth opportunities?

I quickly recognized many familiar arguments in my friend’s story, as to why those positions were also reasonable, the top reasons being:

  • I want a head start into a career
  • I want to learn first and apply my knowledge to sustainability later on
  • I can always switch to sustainability later whereas the switch visa versa will be more difficult

We shared these arguments, and valid as they may be, in a more rapid, passive and lower tone of voice than we spoke of our dreams for sustainability.

The sparks in our eyes, when we were talking about our sustainability dreams seemed extinguished by the practical reality.

We mumbled some kind of approval of our own arguments, but then exchanged an understanding look and returned to the rest of the party.

"We all encountered the same difficulties in making practical choices towards anything perceived as less sexy or secure than a commercial position."

During the 18 months after that conversation on sustainability and career choices, I decided to figure out what I really wanted in a job, so I could make a balanced and conscious decision before graduation.

Doing impact work in a world where bottom-line results matter most

I was surrounded by many people who value sustainability and again, our eyes were sparkling with all the wonderful plans we were making for our future. However, when we started talking about concrete career decisions, similar counter-arguments continued to pop up.

It did not matter whether people wanted to work in the energy, water, or the entertainment sector; we were all strongly motivated and encountered the same difficulties in making practical choices towards anything perceived as less sexy or secure than a commercial position.

It took lots of time, coffee interviews, rest, intimate talks, inspirational videos and some more time, for me to realize that I wanted to “to do good”, “work in a dynamic environment” and “make an impact”.

Abstract as it was, it was something to refer to when 100,001 job descriptions were thrown at me. Between Fortune 500 companies, NGOs, governments and many intermediate job descriptions, I thought all three of my wish-list items could be pursued at Management Consulting. I expected to work in a dynamic environment and to make an impact in this large, well-oiled machine of carefully selected-consultants.

The “doing good” part needed a little imagination to fully convince me. Together with the list of arguments mentioned above, I chose to believe my “impact” at “doing good” would be much stronger when I was working at Management Consulting than anywhere else. Besides, I told myself, I could always switch to sustainability ‘later’ if this job would not make me happy…

Feeling "fine"... but mostly stuck

After joining a top Management Consulting firm in 2017, I was lucky enough to participate in inspiring projects such as analysing the national business model of renewable energy in the heavy industry, re-thinking the funding model of a children’s hospital and speed-dating with refugees. Those projects definitely made me feel like I was “doing good”, yet it did not ignite the same spark as the abstract dreams I had in previous years.

"I realized that I was no-longer, "living in the moment". This was especially jarring, as being mindful is important to me."

These projects were often squeezed in between “normal” work, which made me realize that living my dream had now become a secondary instead of a primary goal, in my life.

Most of my time was spent in a rush, executing someone else’s ideas and often looking forward to the time after the next deadline. I realized I was not “living in the moment” during conversations or meals.

It felt like I was carrying out plans that other people had made for me, instead of living my own life. It felt like I was not in control of my own time nor contributing to a more sustainable world. Looking back, this does not surprise me as the first important item on my wish list (“doing good”) was not entirely compatible with this important consulting firm's commercial activities.

Living the dream now

In an attempt to put my dream at first place, I looked for role-models who were able to combine their work with a powerful "sustainability" spark. Luckily, there were plenty at the company; some consultants implemented their dreams by waiting for these few “social” or “green” projects (renewable resources, pro bono, public sector, etc.). Other consultants joined the company’s ventures that have different activities and mission (e.g. Energy Transition). Others still had a concrete plan for their time after Management Consulting to follow their dreams (e.g. become Minister and contribute to regularity in the country’s expenditures). The common factor of all these role-models was that they were the best version of themselves today.

They did not speak of dreams in a past tense, nor a future tense. Each of them knows what they really want in a concrete, practical way.

Each of these role-models focuses on their present activities and how they are using their present capabilities. They did not speak of their dreams in past tense; none of this: “I used to be really involved in entrepreneurial activities or mechanics, but now…“.Neither did they talk about their dreams in future tense, like: “in 2 years time, I will have learned enough or saved enough money to do what I really want”.

In the process of applying the “tips” and “tricks” of these role-models, I realized I couldn’t simply “copy and paste” their activities.

I realized that the activities that make them the best version of themselves, are not necessarily going to make me the best version of me.

After that realization, instead of focusing on their activities, I started focusing on these  2 questions:

  1. What would be the best version of me today?
  2. Which activities and qualities make me feel most proud and respect myself while complying with the financial responsibilities I have?

This was the praecipe - a turning point for me: I returned to my abstract dream of improved water management and living mindfully.

I had to conclude that these priorities were not going to be by my core activities at the Management Consulting firm at the time.

Reminded of network connections from the past, involved in water management from projects I had worked on in the past, I thought of Royal Haskoning DHV.

After a few talks, it turned out they were interested to hire me. It is in this position that i am enabled to be the best version of myself today. Also due to the skills I learned in consulting. 

 

Being a Role Model takes courage

Stefanie's decision to switch took courage - going from a secure consulting position with commercial certainty to an adventure in water management.

In here words; "the investment of 18 months of reflection to discover my abstract dream and qualities, has paid off enormously. Instead of waiting for a burn-out, mid-life crisis or winning the lottery to make this switch, I am making it now and living evvery day mindfully as a better version of myself."

So the goal is...

Whether you are in consulting or sustainability - or both! Your job should contribute to feeling satisfied in your work.

We can’t wait to hear which activities would enable you to be the best version of yourself - right now!

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