The only way is up; you create your own career; and leaders are born, not made. These are just three of the fifteen myths that Professor Marion Debruyne and Professor Katleen De Stobbeleir expertly unravel in Making your way, the (wobbly) road to success and happiness in life and work, a book that everyone can and should read.
“Our society and labour market have changed tremendously in recent decades – people work for longer, we have dual-income families, but there also single-parent families and huge diversity. All the same, day in and day out in my coaching, I find that our perception of what a career and happiness should look like has remained virtually unchanged in recent decades. Many people still define a successful career as one that is abundantly filled from the moment you graduate until you retire. And this career will preferably also keep going up and up, without too many side roads and bumps. This contrast between today's society and these stereotypical ideas is beginning to cause friction in many areas,” says Katleen. “As a coach, I notice that quite a few people think they’re the only ones with a bumpy career path. Even just being aware that other people are struggling with the same things can be enormously liberating. For me, this was one of the main reasons for writing the book: to show people this lesser-known reality.”
Marion nods. “Starting your own business, working as a freelancer and so on... there are so many alternatives besides corporate life. We want to encourage people to make their own way, in their own style, hence the title of our book.”
Katleen and Marion joined forces and, based on their own expertise and style, complemented each other's words – rather like a jazz combo, as they wrote in the preface. They examined fifteen myths, divided into fifteen chapters that you can read separately, although there is a little chance that readers will restrict themselves to just one a day. Once you start reading it, the book is hard to put down and is written with the necessary dose of humour and ability to put things into perspective.
In addition to their own experiences, it contains a wealth of testimonies from successful, world-famous and less famous entrepreneurs and business leaders, politicians and academics, supplemented wherever possible with scientific research, always under the heading ‘What we know for sure’. Each chapter ends with Our 2 cents, in which Katleen and Marion provide their own personal opinions.
The story of Mette Lykke illustrates the zigzag path that is rather more common than the traditional ‘climbing of the career ladder’. After a few years at McKinsey, she and several of her colleagues founded Endomondo, a sports tracking app. Some time after they had sold it to Under Armour, she was sitting on the bus in Copenhagen next to a woman who was using the app ‘Too Good to Go’. They got talking, one thing led to another and today Mette is the CEO of Too Good to Go.
“Lots of people think they'll do the big things later,” says Katleen. “You have to start small to end big, something like that. But the problem is, if you aim low, you end up low. We want to encourage people to dare to dream and express their dreams out loud. Like Boyan Slat, who founded The Ocean Cleanup at the age of 18, with the ambition to free all our oceans from plastic waste. Is he succeeding in his mission? We don't know yet, but at least he is setting a lot of things in motion and prototypes of his ocean cleaner are already being used in Jamaica and Malaysia.”
“We wanted to write a book for a broad audience. An accessible book, one that benefits everyone,” says Marion. “And we will have succeeded in our aim if readers have a light-bulb moment, like I did when I first read about imposter syndrome. Until then, I had always felt that I was just pretending to be a professor and that one day I would be exposed, whereas my colleagues actually knew what they were doing. That sense of recognition is priceless, it helps you to move forward. For example, did you know that you actually seem more competent when you ask others for advice? Counter-intuitive, isn't it? Yet it is precisely people who suffer from imposter syndrome who tend not to ask for advice, so they can keep up appearances.”
The book provides inspiration, helping people to find answers to the questions we all ask ourselves from time to time. “It invites self-reflection,” says Katleen. “And that's something people try to avoid at all costs. For example, we cite a study that shows most people would prefer to get an electric shock rather than think about themselves and their feelings for fifteen minutes. All the same, I hope that we will succeed in making readers look in the mirror.”
However, Making your way is not a career guide. The authors don't actually tell you what to do; they want to inspire you, and light-bulb moments help to achieve that. The timing of the publication is perfect. COVID-19 has been disruptive on a professional level for many people, but they need to focus on what they want and what they consider important. Even though they didn’t write the book as a result of the pandemic, it did affect Katleen and Marion during the writing process and therefore perhaps coloured the approach and the message of the last chapter: an individual can indeed have an impact. And because they want to set a good example as authors, they will be donating the proceeds from the book to the Vlerick Spirit Scholarship Fund.
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Making your way, the (wobbly) road to success and happiness in life and work is published by Lannoo. The book is available in English (original version) and Dutch (translation) and can be purchased at various bookstores. You can also order the book from Amazon, Bol.com,and Kobo.