Having held C-level positions for the past decade, Gido van de Geest consciously took his last interim job for 6 months only, although the temptation to resume was high. “An industry and a job, you know, is a safe space, but I felt I needed to grow.” After trying out some traditional and less traditional self-improvement methods, he is now determined to give his daughters an amazing childhood experience while also studying positive psychology and coaching to be able to pursue his second career: support men to be their better selves. How does Gido, an ex-corporate leader, navigate his career transition intuitively despite the uncertainty?
You’ve had quite a year of transitioning activities. How did it start – and why?
A couple of things have been happening in parallel, one being my career trajectory. When I lost my job shortly after coming to London, it took some time for me to regain my confidence as for 10 years I had always been a top talent within the company, and was not well prepared for this. After some weeks of self-doubt my wife wisely suggested to learn new skills in areas where I had an interest. Being able to make ‘art’ and finish a course was a great confidence boost which led me to getting my first COO role (a huge promotion) through my network. So I worked there, I was content, and then my position was made redundant due to politics. It was just around the time our second daughter was born so I took some family time off and was able to find a new and even better job quite quickly. Everything was fine, until – guess what – I was made redundant for the third time. That got me really thinking: This is three times, what am I not getting? Is it that this corporate ladder thing is not me, as there has never been a complaint on my performance? But if it isn’t, then what is?
How did you go about finding the answer?
I’ve had a rather interesting chapter of trying to start a company with a business partner and raise funds. It didn’t succeed but it was a great learning. I then joined a startup and that gave me a real understanding of what building a company is about. Up until then, I’d been a COO, but in huge corporates, you can barely order yourself a pack of paper without having to request 3 signatures. Here, I could finally immerse myself in everything: finance, operations, taxes, funding, HR. I loved the autonomy, responsibilities and gratification that came with that role: I felt immediate impact of my work.
And while all that was going great, it didn’t pay well and at some point there was a need for me to find a better paid role to support the family. Quite quickly I found a better paying job which I loved: exciting environment, new product, great people, good challenge. It was an interim position and I agreed to work for them for 6 months.
You mentioned there were a couple of things playing in parallel. What else was going on?
Apart from the visible – my career path – there was a lot happening on the inside. Starting with a mindfulness course to a more in-depth spiritual, eastern religion inspired yoga practices, it had mostly to do with breaking down the ego and understanding what was fueling my ego (upbringing and demands of the society).
Eventually leading you to ayahuasca ceremonies…
Originally, I wasn’t interested in ayahuasca. I’m the kind of person that likes to keep control, not lose it. But I’ve started hearing so many interesting things just as I was visiting my good friend in Brazil who’s changed his life for the better. He went from regional sales director to captain on a boat, sold most of his possessions and is happy as Larry, for me this was a great example of freedom and aliveness. So I figured why not. And the first ayahuasca was just pure love. It was as if 5000 people were hugging me.
“I’ve started to listen to my intuition and go for it, even if I can’t rationalize it.”
Did the ceremonies have lasting effect on your life or work?
Both! One clear message was that I really needed to stay in that job for 6 months only (which is precisely what I did) and that my next calling is going to be chanting with men. I had no idea what that meant at that time but ayahuasca pointed me to our nanny who is a psychologist. So when I came home, I sat with her and asked what should I do if I want to coach men. She mentioned positive psychology and the more I got into it, the more I knew that was the next step I wanted to take. So I enrolled as a post-graduate student at East London University, which has a world-renowned positive psychology faculty.
I’ve also had another big realization around ego. In the ceremonie, I agreed to stop putting myself first all the time and be there for my wife, children and parents and to give my girls an amazing childhood experience and to take care of my parents and talk to them more openly. We’ve never done that growing up, so when I called them and told them that I loved them and that I was going to be there for them, it felt extremely liberating.
What changes did you make in your work life design as a result?
First of all, I resisted the temptation to stay at that interim job. It would have been comfortable. We’ve had great results, I’ve had fun and could act as my authentic self in the workplace. They wanted me to stay, too. After almost a decade, it’s felt like a grand finale, like a farewell to the old me. I finished in June. But to be honest, it still pulls. Just yesterday, a friend of mine called offering me a job. I know I’ve done the right thing keeping my eyes on the new path. Even though I am now in a void – sometimes a tricky place as I’ve released what was and haven’t yet gotten to what’s next.
“It would have been so easy to take another job instead of staying in the void where there are zero distractions and you are confronted with all your thoughts.”
Secondly, I’ve taken charge of the household. We came together as a family and even drafted a contract. We made it fun and inspiring. I am now the CEO of Van de Geest household which has two employees (my daughters) and an advisor (my wife). We agreed what it means, what are the roles and responsibilities, what is the purpose of the household and all these things. It made me realise all the good tools we use in the corporate world can be so helpful at home too.
I’m spending a lot of time with my girls, designing what I call an amazing childhood for them. This sounds great, but I am still getting clear on what does that really mean and how do we reach that goal, it’s getting better every day. Together we have decided to start a couple of “companies.” They want to be Youtubers and sell goods online as a non-profit activity. I am teaching them to go for it with an entrepreneurial mindset, the difference now is that their attention span is about 30 minutes of excitement. After that, time for a new activity!
“The pause is good to experience. From the void comes the blossoming. The excitement of the new goal.”
Where are you standing now in your transition?
I’ve been doing a lot of work around my masculinity to gain self-awareness and as a starting point to be able to help other men. I realized every boy and man needs to break the bond with his mother to fully rely on himself as a man and as a society we have lost initiations that would facilitate this. It is actually quite interesting that centuries ago, the boys then were very close to their fathers. They used to transition into their father’s jobs, and the fathers would help them with this transition and be their role-model.
Since the industrial revolution our fathers went away to work in factories, shops and offices. We didn’t see them that often and were raised by our mothers and female teachers which is one of the reasons that has led to today’s problems with masculinity. Some of this insight I’ve taken from a retreat with The ManKind Project, a great organization helping men globally grow, become more self-aware and authentic.
I am not clear what is my work with men going to evolve into. I’ve given myself two years to turn this new direction into a successful one so I can work with purpose and provide for my family.
Some people think I have lost it, I instead believe I have just found it!
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