Are High-Achievement, Work-Life Balance, and Globetrotting Mutually Exclusive?

I should have known that I was “doomed” from the beginning. I mean the very beginning. 

My parents got married when my Mom was almost 21. Back then, in Germany, you had to get parental permission to marry before 21. My Dad is eight years older.

They met at the university, fell in love, and got married. My Mom wanted to have kids right away. I was born one year and 20 days after their wedding day. A little less than two years later, my sister arrived.

When I was around three years old, my Mom got restless. She wanted to go back to studying for a career. She began studying pharmacology. According to my Mom, at age three, I was able to say “Desoxiribonucleinsäure.” That is the German word for Desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

Eventually, my Mom went back to school and became a teacher. That was not easy, but she made it! My Dad was a teacher, too. He was already teaching when I was born.

Why “Doomed”?

Why am I saying I was “doomed from the beginning,” you might ask. 

For starters, try being a kid of parents who are both teachers. You get corrected for everything. On the upside, you get a rich vocabulary, and your grammar is bound to be better than most people’s. That said, it can cause your classmates to say, “You talk funny. You use such long words.” 

Have you ever been to Germany? Long words there are ubiquitous! LOL.

As you can see, I was bound to become a perfectionist. “Do it right the first time; then you don’t have to do it again.” There was no such thing as “good enough.”

But that was only the beginning of my life’s dilemmaMy Mom loved being a teacher! She would share stories at the dinner table about her students. Sometimes – I’m not proud to admit this – my sister and I were jealous of those students. What about us?

My Dad brought a different perspective. There is more to life than work. He was much less fulfilled in his career – although he read tons and tons of books. That sparked another passion in me: reading.

My Mom taught me that careers could be fulfilling and worthwhile to pursueYou have to work hard at it. My Dad implanted a desire for work-life balance. Somehow I also gained a desire to be a globetrotter.

Yet, how on earth do you combine the two: Be a high achiever in your career AND have a work-life balance? Oh, and let’s throw in the globetrotter, too – whatever that might entail? 

The Answer Was Not Clear To Me For Some Time

The answer to those questions was not clear for some time. I succumbed to societal pressure and specialized. You have to pick a specialty and become an expert. I love learning in so many areas; it seemed hard to select one. I decided on chemistry, and that is very interesting to me. Yet, as soon as I could, I branched into neighboring fields, too. Often breakthroughs need an interdisciplinary approach. And that approach is in my DNA.

Then I discovered the specialization society “forces” us into has a dark side – I suspected this all along. Sure, it makes sense on the one hand. There is so much depth to know in any field; we need experts

Yet, we make them into highly paid worker bees when we train them. For example, chemists learn chemistry, physics, and math. But universities rarely offer them anything they would need to become entrepreneurs. Most schools provide no classes for scientists to learn marketing, sales, finance, leadership, or business systemsThose subjects are entirely off the radar for most professors in the sciences. (I wrote a couple of books to address this issue.)

Thus, you either become a professor or a “worker bee” in a company or another kind of organization. Now, don’t get me wrong: This can be extremely fun. I have great stories to tell about that (another day or Brilliance Nugget). Nevertheless, there was still another yearning inside me. 

I had already acted on my “globetrotting” desires by coming to the U.S. as an exchange student. I ended up staying in the U.S., which had not been my plan. But perhaps it was inevitable

What Drew Me To Stay In the U.S.

The U.S. offers at least five things that are amazing to me and attracted me to stay

  1. Cultural diversity, 
  2. Immense natural beauty and diversity,
  3. A freer, more modern path to becoming a professor (compared to Germany which, in my opinon, has an antiquated system)
  4. A keen sense that you can be anyone you want to be as long as you are driven enough to get it, and
  5. Vibrant entrepreneurship, which is related to #3.

About the first point: I enjoy being multicultural and have friends from many countries. I love learning about other cultures.

Regarding the second point: I have had the good fortune to experience many of the U.S.’ natural beauties. Canoeing the 100-mile wilderness way in the Everglades. Climbing Mt. Hood and mountains in California and Colorado. Hiking the part of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the Smokey Mountains. Motorcycle-camping in the four corner states (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico). I also scuba-dived in lots of places. These are just some of my adventures.

Point #3 was a strong reason for me to stay in the U.S. – for a while. As I was pursuing it, I realized it wasn’t for me. (That is another story for another day.)

About points #4 and 5: It was inevitable that someday I would quit my job and become an entrepreneur. Climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t for me anymore. The Yin-yang of my desires – career success, accompanied by freedom – led me to entrepreneurship. Yes, someone like me could be happy in some exceptional circumstances of being employed, but thanks to my Mom and Dad, that wasn’t in my cards long-term.

Entrepreneurship is not an easy road to haul. It gives you freedom, however, you pay for it with substantially more responsibility and having to face uncertainty. You constantly need to learn more, become more, give more, and be willing to pivot. I LOVE it – although it is not always easy!

Along the way, I had to learn that perfectionism doesn’t serve me – or anyone. I always strive for excellence, and I do my best to harness the dark side of perfectionism.

Are High-Achievement, Work-Life Balance, and Globetrotting Mutually Exclusive?

Surprisingly enough, the answer is “no.” It is possible!

Was I was “doomed” to this path from the beginning? It seems that way. It is all my parent’s “fault.” Or should I say, “Thank you?” 

Of course, I should, and I do! Thank you!!!

What is funny, is that in some sense, I feel that I am a “globetrotting entrepreneur.” I call my shots and pick whom I work with and when. I look at what my business has evolved into:

  • I have become a “Brilliance Doctor,” assessing how well you use your brilliance and to what extent it is at risk. 
  • I am also a “Brilliance Miner,” capturing and systemizing your brilliance.

This means I have the best occupation ever (for me): I get to work with top experts in many different fields. They are innovative, creative people who yearn to increase their impact even more than they already have. Now, THIS is fun! 

I get to be like a “sponge,” absorbing new knowledge and making it teachable and passed on effectively. I must not be the expert in these fields (but learn quickly) to bring fresh eyes. I love it!

What This Story Could Mean For You

You, my dear reader, have the opportunity to make the same choice. You get to embrace how you got to where you are today. You might look at the messages you grew up with, which may be conflicting. Appreciate whom you have become as a result

Because in the end, it is about three things, isn’t it: Help others, evolve yourself, and have fun doing it!

I’m Curious

What is your story?

Live Brilliantly,

Dr. Stephie

P.S.: I appreciate you commenting and sharing this Brilliance Nugget with others. Thank you!

Stephie Althouse

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