Everyone heard more than once about german work culture and german efficiency right? Let me tell you, I have been there. I have seen it first-hand. I grew up in East Germany with this mentality but after years of overworking with no days off, I went to hell and back and finally broke free and I decided to change my work ethic and the way I was living my life.
Keep reading to know more about my long journey to escape from the german work culture.
A bit of history
I’m from East Germany, so my parents grew up in what we call “behind the wall.”
In the ‘60s, Germany got split into two different parts. One was the GDR, the German Democratic Republic, which was basically ruled by the Soviet Union after the war, and the other part was ruled by the Americans and the British, and that was the Republic of Germany.
After the Second World War, Winston Churchill decided to bomb Germany, especially my hometown, Dresden.
This episode had a lot of influence and impact on my life without my being there, without knowing anything about it.
But if you know about epigenetic, which is the intergenerational trauma that’s been going through generations, it definitely impacted me in how I build relationships, because I didn’t have the capacity to do so, there was always this really deep fear of losing people who were close to me.
This fear came from my grandparents because they were teenagers when they were in the war, so they saw it and lived through it.
My parents were born the year that the wall was built.
In the beginning, people tried to flee East Germany in different ways, and the government shut the border down completely and literally shot people that tried to come closer to the wall. It basically turned into a prison.
Dresden is also called “The Valley of the Unknown” because the city was not reached by any influence from the outside. We were the only town in all of East Germany that didn’t have any West German newspapers, West German TV, or West German radio stations because we were in the valley and there was no access to any outside news.
We were the only place in the whole country that only had access to East German news, so we were totally shut off.
When the wall came down in 1989, our mindset was pretty old-school. Relationship-building was pretty strong. You don’t just build a friendship with an East German.
We have the belief that money doesn’t grow on trees. If you don’t work hard, you don’t get anything back for it. And this is the foundation of today’s german work culture.
How German Work Culture was impacted by history
I have seen everyone in my family, every single one of them, work really hard. This work ethic literally comes from actually being in East Germany.
If you look back in history, we got cut off from any import into the country, and because they didn’t have all these products, they would just start their own small business.
There was no crying, whining, or complaining. If something was not available, we would do it ourselves.
So, I really saw everyone working hard. But, the reunion of East and West Germany also meant that West Germany took over most of the industries.
We were built on many different small shops, and suddenly, these huge, industry-based corporations came in and decided to buy all the small shops. They also decided that the people who were working in these shops, were really old and they kicked them all out and hired young people and paid them low salaries.
My dad was an auto mechanic, and he lost his job because he was too old. He was only 37.
I had just turned 13 when my dad lost his job, and I helped him write his resume. After walking into 100 companies asking for a job, he was rejected because he was too old.
I started working when I was 13 because my mom has a spine injury and she could only work 60 percent. My sister already had a little job on the weekends, so I was the one left, and there was no question. But I took the work a little bit too seriously.
How working non-stop for six years since I was thirteen killed me
I worked in very different places. I started in a pizzeria, cleaning it, and I was promoted to making sauces. I cleaned pharmacies, and my next job was in a petrol station.
So, while all my friends were partying, I was 15 and I would wake up every weekend at 4:00 and start work at the petrol station at 4:30 a.m., finish at 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., and go to the next job half an hour later. I would eat on the way and go to the next job, finish that at 10:00 p.m., and work through the night at events and stuff like that entertainment.
When I started at 13, I didn’t have a single day off nor an afternoon free for six full years. This is what german work culture had taught me. Work, work, work.
I did that in the beginning because I wanted to support my parents.
It taught me to be independent and to stand up for myself in a world where I was told I was not worth anything, but I still believed I could do it. Thanks to this, I ended up having jobs that would take other people half a lifetime to get, and I had them by the age of 22.
And then comes the breaking point.
One day when I was 19 years old, I came home. I had multiple versions of migraines, including epileptic seizures, and I realized they were coming really fast. It was literally like a sledgehammer knocking me over.
I broke down in the bathroom, hitting the back of my head on the bathtub and breaking down. By breaking down, because I was knocked out from that, I hit my forehead on the tiles of the floor, and that woke me up, so I guess it was lucky.
My seizures would start to shut down parts of my brain and get me to cramp up my hands and feet.
My mobile phone was in the living room. I dragged myself to the living room by crawling with my arms and called my parents.
I told them “This is a red flag. I feel like I have 10 more minutes to live. You’ve got to run. If you’re not here in five minutes, I don’t know if I’ll make it. Bring an ambulance.”
And they knew I hated ambulances. So they ran. They were there within five minutes, and the moment my mom arrived I heard her saying “The ambulance is here. They’re going to help you.” Those were the last words I heard, and I just blacked out.
Suddenly, it was white, and I thought “Wait, I know the black. I don’t know the white. What’s happening?”
Next, I felt like I was detaching myself from my body. I floated out of my body, and I was in a kind of Buddha lotus position, hanging over my body, and I saw myself lying there with my parents next to me, and I saw the ambulance rushing in and getting the IV into my arm.
I floated into this white space. That was really weird. It was as if a hospital turned up all of its lights and you wouldn’t see anything else but the light. So, I drifted toward it, and suddenly, all these moments popped up.
I looked back, and I couldn’t see myself anymore. I realized that I was drifting away and about to die.
The light got brighter and brighter, and when these moments popped up, you would think they would be the most important things, like great moments with your family.
They were random shitty moments in my life, like my ex-boyfriend smashing a rose over my head.
I thought, “Wow, my life is a shitshow. This is horrendous. I don’t want this life. I could actually just leave.”
But, I didn’t have anything that would have been a thing if I died. I thought, “Wait, no, I can’t die. I have to go back. I need to make things happen.”
I was clinically dead for 25 seconds while I had my out-of-body experience.
Suddenly, it felt like someone dropped a brick on my chest from a 50-meter skyscraper. It was the worst pain in my heart or chest area I’d ever had. It was the first heartbeat.
I remember this pain because sometimes, I still have it. Sometimes, when I make a wrong decision or when I feel like something’s going really wrong, that’s when it comes back.
The first heartbeat was fucking painful. I can’t even explain it. I woke up and thought, “Oh, I made it.”
After this huge episode, I did change quite a few things. I was 19 and I started traveling solo.
German Work Culture and burnout, my second breaking point
I’ve obviously kept this as a huge part of my life, but what happened was I didn’t make the connection between me overworking myself and dying because everyone kept telling me it was my chronic diseases, and I did not see anything wrong in working hard. It is part of the german work culture. It is what everyone does.
So I thought, “Okay, it has nothing to do with the work. It has nothing to do with the way I live. It’s the chronic disease. I can’t do anything about that.”
And with this thought, I pushed even harder for five years until I got a spinal injury, which literally kicked my ass, and I couldn’t walk anymore, and I got kicked out of my job illegally, and the therapist who was about to help me raped me.
This was the second breaking point.
I remember thinking “I’m 24. I seem to have a recurring pattern of shitshows that come back into my life. What’s going on here? What’s the common denominator?” The common denominator was me. I had to change something.
By this time, for my age – I was 24, but I had already worked for two big corporations, as a team manager and operations manager, and I built big teams up.
I started working as a project manager in a digital marketing agency, it was a pretty early startup. So, we were the first agency that did social media. One of the founders was really good at selling, so he would bring us projects that we had to finish in 3 months, but those were projects for a whole year. That is how we had to rush.
I did that for three years until one day I was coming back from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, the plane ride home was a three-leg trip. I got off the plane, and they said, “Hey, you have an hour until your last leg to Berlin.”
When they said this, I started shaking and thinking “I can’t go on this plane. The life that is waiting there for me is the most horrendous thing. I can’t go back”.
That was the point where I thought, “Wait. You already died of that shit. You already thought you wanted to change your life. Here you go again. You’re miserable, your friends are meh, and now, what are you going back to? Being bullied every single day for how much money? Nothing?”
I’m like, “I have to quit. I’m going back to Asia, I’ll become a scuba diving instructor, and I’ll change my life”
I went home and sat down for five hours, and I made a whole plan of how I could leave society, leave this matrix, leave the system, and here I am, five and a half years later with my own business, working only 3 days a week and helping busy business owners and entrepreneurs to leave the matrix, and reduce their work hours while increasing their income.
If you enjoyed this blog post and want to hear more, you might want to play the below podcast Episode from The Maverik Show, where Matt Bowles interviewed me and we dove deeper into my journey to breaking free from german work culture, and how I got where I am today.
I hope you enjoy it!
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