I had been waiting for weeks. I wondered if this could work: trusting the inner voice while living on social welfare and refusing to accept the stamp "unemployed". Inner work was more like it, and finding out where to go was difficult enough. But the voice was silent. Instead, the murmurs of others grew louder. When I wrote about my departure from flying in this space a year ago, some readers predicted that I would slide into long-term unemployment. As an airline captain who had given up, I would be unemployable in my late 40s. At some point, one warned, the money wouldn't even be enough for fuel for a weekend trip to the ski resort. I sold my car. It felt surprisingly good. From now on, I drove my 17-year-old Vespa in the city, invested in my first annual public transport pass and became a train traveller. The voice continued to be silent. On the other end of the line was Jens Hollmann, a German transformation researcher and coach whom I knew from an invitation to the podcast "Ich Wir Alle" (I We All), and he talked to me about the idea of using the skills of pilots in other industries. At first it sounded dry, but then a spark ignited. It was not only about skills, but also about the courage to make a new start. Many people lack that, Jens said. To break away from childhood dreams and identification with uniforms and role models, so that something new can emerge where the old path becomes a dead end.
When I hung up the phone, I knew: That's exactly it! And the inner voice? A clear yes.
I make a decision: for one year, until February 2022, I resolve to follow my vision, to see where it takes me and to give it my all, even at the risk of it being a gut punch. I want to know.
And at the same time, not to become one of those who constantly have to fight, trick, belittle others, constantly prove themselves. As a pilot, I had billionaires on board who became quite restless when the private jet of a "business friend" next to us received the Start Up Clearance first. It's time for a different world view: Cooperation instead of competition. Trust and respect. Win the heart, before you aks for a hand. That's what I'm entering the race for. Naive? A year ago I wasn't sure, today I know. I would never have got this far if other people, sometimes very influential people, had not generously shared their time, their knowledge, their contacts, their kindness - without any fee.
Finding my way into the new role is a challenge in its own right: I write Founder and Managing Director in my first email signature, which admittedly sounds laughable for a one-man company that lives off social payments. But everyone starts at some point. My first employee is myself. I throw myself into work without a job, 14 to 16 hour days become normal, no weekends, and of course it goes wrong because you can't gnaw away at your own substance in the long run without feeling it.
Soon I'm rattling over the bumps of life at full speed. Including a slipped disc. The consequence is painkillers and special training several times a week. I am overtaxed. Some days I just make it from the breakfast table to the sofa, and fall asleep there again. It takes so much strength to get up and keep going that I swear to myself: I will only do this once in my life. Every day, books, files and laptops pile up anew at the dining table, dinner gets cold next to Zoom Call.
Happiness - far into the future. My wife doesn't want the "permanent state of emergency", and at the same time we have to admit that the togetherness that is new to us also has its pitfalls. Once, after an argument, I slam the door behind me with such force that the fittings fall off on both sides. At night I dream of flying and being carefree.
Again and again, fellow pilots, including former acquaintances, who I thought would do anything for a place in the cockpit, call in. Now they want to quit. The phenomenon coincides with figures from the US and the UK, where voluntary resignations are skyrocketing in the summer of 2021, especially in the hospitality, technical and nursing professions. "The great resignation" is what academics have dubbed the phenomenon; never before have more people resigned at the same time in the US. The career platform LinkedIN records a quarter more job changes than before the pandemic; in my network alone, 70 contacts have changed their jobs.
Some who call me to inquire about our offer want security, a pilot's salary and the new job around the corner. A transformation programme where you don't have to risk anything and can only win, a new life off the shelf, and they hope we will sell it to them. Unfortunately, no. Change and insecurity go together, you can overplay the latter, but you can't skip it. I feel the same way: in the meetings, which become more and bigger in the course of the year, we have to find a way between listening and putting our foot down, thinking and deciding. In the beginning, four of us sit in the garden over coffee to brainstorm; in the autumn, there are three times as many participants and an assistant takes notes for the minutes. In the end, it's me with whom the pairs of eyes meet and who is supposed to say how we're going to do it. Legal issues, marketing strategies, interview partners, design drafts, financial plans, employees, customer contacts, presentations. Even as a captain you have to make decisions, but this time there is no checklist and no duty times I can stick to, no plane parked at the destination, door closed, call it a day.
Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes it becomes a burden. Instead of the uniform, I wear a shirt and jacket when I give the CEO at appointments, on the stage of life. I have experts flown in from Spain and Germany for the production of our programme, meet the Minister of Happiness of Bhutan in Lausanne for an interview, and three days later I'm sitting at the AMS meeting again, as a participant in a business start-up programme. Officially still unemployed, but with a 60-hour week.
Nine out of ten start-ups, according to the rule of thumb, fail. And us? We went through a rebranding process at the beginning of the year and have a new name. One Eight Zero, as the company is now called, stands for a 180-degree turnaround and professional reorientation. The big product launch is planned for March, the end of the countdown after a year of work. It feels like a penalty shoot-out at the European Championship final in Wembley. The stadium is filled to capacity. The ball in the turf shines in the spotlight. Look at the goal, loosen up once more. Breathe out. Everything forgotten. The referee's whistle. Then silence. I put everything I have into this shot. Will it be a hit? The British poet T.S Eliot said it like this: "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.