This blogpost had a loooong, long way to go, and I’m immensely glad I am finally able to write it, but also quite anxious about it - Not about the post as such, but about the implications of my acts that lead up to this post.
I am relatively risk-averse. I think many of us are, and I think we germans are especially good at it. Change is frowned upon.
That being said, sometimes change is just inevitable. For me, it has been since at least the before-last end-of-year, where I almost broke up with my girlfriend and, by the time the year was done, both of us lived, after 7 years of living together, in our own flats again. We’re happy together, with the usual highs and lows, but the separate living spaces give us shelter when things are rough, which, you know, also inevitably happens.
So, that’s change on a totally personal level and that’s totally not what I was going to write about - Nevertheless, with someone who doesn’t draw very distinct lines between personal and professional life, it plays an important part.
From that time on, a lot of things started to happen at once. First of all, although I loved (and still do) working at mindmatters, I started to look for alternatives - I wanted to, so to speak, level-up my work life. Which is actually not that easy, especially at an awesome place like mindmatters. So, I only have had two valid ideas back then: Founding a startup (and maybe applying for something like HACKFWD) or going freelance. Now, I’ve been doing freelance work before (during my studies) and I always hated the overhead of writing invoices, making sure that people pay me, etc, etc. Also, what we do at mindmatters is mostly client work, and going freelance would basically mean doing the same thing, with less security, less awesome colleagues and bosses, less project management support and slightly higher pay.
Then Florian, my colleague and foodie inspiration number one, convinced our founders (at mindmatters, that is) to open an office in london - I won’t go into the details why we think that this is a brilliant idea - that’s a whole different blog post and not one I should write, but of course I was keen to look at it and in the beginning I was quite sure that I would end up in London at the beginning of 2012.
Then I spent my summer vacation in San Francisco, 3 weeks of awesomeness in the Haight and in the Mission (Home and Work) and of course I fell in love with it. I was hoping to be able to write a blog post about SF as well, but somehow I never managed. Well, I hope to be back this year for a few weeks - We’ll see how that goes. What SF did to me, though, was giving me thoughts on a pretty much existential scale. What I learned there was that there are a lot of awesome places to live all around the world. But what I also learned there is how much I love my little, totally behind and totally mismanaged, not-having-a-super-awesome-tech-scene, Hamburg. My hometown. I’ve been born here, in a blue-collar neighbourhood called Barmbek before my parents and me moved to what people probably would call the outskirts of northeastern Hamburg. I basically lived there until 2010, when I moved much closer to the city centre, to lovely Eimsbüttel. Ironically, as a side note, my girlfriend now lives a few blocks away from the place my parents and my grandmother (who died in 2011, may Jutta Krutisch rest in peace) and I lived until the late 70s.
This feeling of home was, unfortunately, only amplified when I spent three weeks in London after coming back from SF, working on a project there for mindmatters, so-to-speak paving the way for mindmatters.co.uk and getting a good feeling for how it is to live there. Don’t get me wrong, I love London. I love the food options as much as Florian (although not as fiercely, maybe), I love the vibrant tech scene, I love the openness of an english pub, I love that I instantly found a place that sells me american IPA’s, an addiction I formed in SF, I love all of that.
But I also very much love the quietness of Hamburg. And I started to hate everything that’s connected to Air traffic. The easyJet connection to London is okay-ish and bearable if everything’s fine. One little thing and it turns into this nightmarish hour long wait at the gate which the converts into a situation where the BorisBike from London Bridge to Kings Cross (where I was staying at the time) is actually the sane way to go home an 1:30 on a monday morning.
So even if I am able to tuck away my environmentalist heart (which bled quite heavily in 2011 due to all the flights I took) for a second, moving to london would have meant either giving up my relationship (which, as I wrote, just recovered from what I would call an existential crisis) or spending way too much time and nerves on my carbondioxide budget.
Additionally to that, having a long-distance relationship may be fine, as long as you are already rooted in the place you live, but having one from a city where you actually just moved to also probably prevents you from actually growing any roots in that new city.
In the end, I wasn’t able to make any clear commitments to Florian and the mindmatters peeps that I would go over with him in the beginning of 2012.
What I had sworn to myself, though, somewhere in the process, was that I would not simply go back to business as usual when not going to London, but finally, finally, make sure that I also change course professionally.
And that’s what’s going to happen with me, starting Feb 2012. I’ll reduce my work for mindmatters to 20% of a normal contract (meaning about a day a week on average) and I will start freelancing for the rest of the time.
So why stay on the 20%? First of all, I love mindmatters. I am one of their first full time employees, starting in 2007 (which also means that I will be able to celebrate my 5 years of mindmatters in April, something I very much look forward to). I think the way Frank and Wolfgang steer their little company sets an example on transparency, accountability and humanity. This sounds huge, but I mean it. Most companies I know of don’t openly discuss their business goals, even their business model, their finance status and various other things openly in a company meeting every four weeks. Most companies I know would not work in a way where I as an employee can come up to my CEO and say “BTW, I’m planning to leave over the course of the next half a year, let’s talk how we can make this as smooth as possible”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all flowers and fluffy pink clouds in mindmatters-land - There are disagreements, there are arguments, there are misunderstandings, heck, after all, this is not a democratic parliament, this is a privately held company with business- and other goals. But I have never, ever before seen owners try so hard to keep up their vision (even through hard times and tough winds) on how to run a company and realign this vision with the help of every employee over and over again, iterating and iterating, and thus becoming, if the word would not be almost meaningless by 2012, a truly agile company.
So, I want to be part of that for as long as possible. I want to play my own part in keeping up that spirit, helping with my experience, my wit and my bad puns.
Regarding my work as a freelancer, although I have not signed any contracts by now, I am most probably already booked out for 2-3 days per week in the first quarter, which should at least give me a base on which to ponder what to do next.
It is actually not my goal to spend the rest of 2012 doing freelance work, but to try out various ideas, of some of which you hopefully will hear about “very soon now”, although, if you have something interesting for me, hit me with it, because I can’t look much further than a few months right now and actually everything beyond the start of February is still quite cloudy right now.
Which gives me the creeps, but also makes me quite happy. I am, for once, completely on my own, without being alone in it.
Happy new year, everyone