Travel around the world once, enjoy “Travel & Fun” and then carry on as before? Not so with Melanie Dürschner and her partner Martin Huneck. The two used the trip to prototype their new life. The assumptions verified by real experiments encouraged them to found their own consulting company. This has now existed successfully on the market for five years. And Melanie Dürschner and her partner are living their dream of a self-determined life.
Dear Melanie, seven years ago you quit your job and your apartment to go on a world trip with your partner. What prompted you to do this?
At the time, we were both at a crossroads in our professional and private development. We wanted to get off the hamster wheel, have more self-determination and answer the question of what we wanted from life – professionally and privately.
We made a conscious decision to quit our jobs and our apartment. We needed this free space without old shackles that might hold us back from something. The moment when we went to the residents’ registration office to have our residence removed from our ID cards and then it said “without residence” was exciting. But it moved a lot and underlined this step once again.
How were the reactions from your friends and family to this step?
We were often met with skepticism and a lack of understanding, coupled with questions like: Have you really thought this through? Why not just take a sabbatical or a few months off, then at least you’ll still have a job and an apartment when you get back? How can you give up that security? What if you can’t get an apartment or a job after you return?
Of course, there were also affirming and encouraging reactions, but these were rather rare. You realized that this step doesn’t fit into the typical image you have of someone who has studied at university and is just climbing the career ladder.
Most world travelers return to their old lives after a few months of “Travel & Fun” and then carry on just as before. You, on the other hand, were on the road for two years and created the basis for the company you later founded. How did that come about?
We have also experienced that “Travel & Fun” is the classic image that one has of world travelers. Quite often, when we were in contact with our friends and family at home, they wished us a nice vacation. That was very funny.
But our intention of the journey was different. We wanted to find out what we could do (differently) to make our life even more fulfilling.
Through this process, we came up with the idea: Man, can’t we use the skills and capabilities we already have to create a company and thus shape our lives in a self-determined and active way instead of letting others shape them?
So self-determination is an important point that makes a good life for you personally?
Absolutely! The decisive factor for us is “being able to actively do things”. We could still travel the world and work remotely, but we now have – very classically, actually – an apartment, do our projects and have a child. This lifestyle is now actively chosen and not imposed from the outside. It’s just nice to be so self-determined.
As you said, you started making your first projects while traveling (remotely – in 2015, nota bene!). How did you come to your first project?
The first step was to connect with our own professional network and see if anyone needed support in the areas where we had expertise. That’s how we ended up doing small projects completely remotely, actually with the laptop on the beach.
It was a good opportunity for us to test it out and find out in an informal environment whether we would succeed or not, and whether we would even want to do it or not. It was unclear to us whether we wanted to withstand the pressure of suddenly being on our own, and whether we would even enjoy it. That was really an experimental phase.
It was a good opportunity for us to test it out and find out in an informal environment whether we would succeed or not, and whether we would even want to work independently or not.
From my point of view, this is a perfect example of an “experience prototype”. With little risk, you tested what it’s like to handle consulting projects on your own. What was the coolest experience and what was the least cool experience during this experimental phase?
The coolest thing was that we realized that we could finance our trip from our projects without touching our savings.
The least cool experience? To be honest, it’s hard for me to say, because through the trip – this may sound a bit romanticized, but it’s actually the case – we learned to take something valuable with us even from challenging and supposedly negative situations.
You are addressing an important Work Life Design principle, namely the growth mindset. People with a growth mindset do not see challenges as a danger of possible failure, but as a springboard for expanding their own capabilities. This attitude helps enormously to deal with difficulties and to shape one’s own professional and personal future in a fulfilling way.
That is exactly what we subconsciously had as the intention of the journey. We consciously tried things that we have never done before. We wanted to try it, because it can’t go more than wrong. A big advantage was that there were the two of us, so we always had a sparring partner. That made a lot of things easier. To dare to do something new and to realize that we grow with it, no matter in which direction, that was an important insight that we took with us.
After the two years, you returned to Germany and founded LEITMOTIF DIGITAL. From your perspective today, how likely is it that you would have founded your company without the experiences you had during your journey?
Very unlikely. It was necessary for both of us to break up the usual structures and leave the comfort zone. Otherwise we would probably never have dared to take this step. It was important to make the experience that somehow it always goes on. This basic trust encourages us again and again today to dare new things and to try out new things professionally.
That makes sense to me. You have made your decision not based on assumptions, but on real experiments. This makes it much easier to summon up the courage for real action.
Exactly. It was also important that we did this together. On a path like this, you need at least one ally who talks you through difficult situations and accompanies you.
With your consulting company LEITMOTIF DIGITAL, you help companies develop new products and services for the digital age. How do your customers benefit from your experience on the journey?
This may sound like miserable marketing (grin), but I think our customers actually benefit most from our mindset, our attitude and approach. All our customers are confronted with change themselves. It helps enormously that we know what it means to dare big changes and to deal with change.
Our customers benefit most from our mindset. We know what it means to dare big changes and to deal with change.
Thank you, dear Melanie, for the inspiring Work Life Design interview. I wish you continued success, both professionally and personally. It was an honor to start my interview series with you.