What has to happen for you to truly love, show and stand behind yourself? When life deals out tough cards!
When I was 6 years old, my father committed suicide. He was 44 and diagnosed as bipolar. His only relief was to leave this planet. And then life changed for me overnight.
The evening my mom informed my 2-year-older sister and I about his sudden death, a new chapter opened in my life – not only on the outside but mainly on the inside. I had the feeling I suddenly needed to be an adult. As a sensitive child, I didn’t want to be a burden for my mother. I felt she already had a lot to carry. She was 31, had two kids, a company to run and a few family members who blamed her for my father’s death.
I very much felt my mom’s pain, which she never openly shared with us. She wanted to protect us by hiding it. So, I started to function as she needed me to. I behaved accordingly and started to be the funny/entertaining girl in the family to release stress and lighten the grief. When people asked me about my dad, I told them he died of cancer, as I was ashamed to tell the truth. At that time, he was the only person I knew who had committed suicide. I felt stigmatized and thought everyone was talking about us and behind our backs.
My mom rarely spoke about my dad. She told me years later that she thought that if we had questions, we would ask her. Of course, I had many questions but I didn’t ask them. I felt if I asked, I would hurt her. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to protect her from more pain. (Shortly after my father died, we also lost a dear friend of my moms’ brother. Both, like my dad, gone within seconds). So, somehow, I started taking responsibility for her. Something a young girl can’t actually carry out, but as I couldn’t save my father, I didn’t want to also lose my mother. That unconscious decision was probably the birthplace of my “helper” and “being strong” attitude. Looking back, I realize now that I took over a role that was definitely too big for a 6-year-old girl; however, I learned this only years later when starting therapy.
10 hours and everything will be fixed!
When I was 30, I was in a happy relationship, and we wanted to start a family and have a child. For that reason, I thought I’d like to “clean up” my inside for a new life to arrive. I had no experience whatsoever with psychotherapy, and just thought it would take 10 hours and everything would be fixed/clear. Ha ha! Good joke. The 10 hours turned out to be a two-year journey. One year with a woman therapist, the second year with a male therapist.
I thought mainly about the early death of my father and other friends and family members who died before my 20th birthday. They all were gone in a second through suicide, car or motorcycle accidents, and a plane crash. No chance to say goodbye.
Everyone who has ever done therapy knows that this is not an easy journey. I was confronted with old, often unconscious topics, very painful at the time and hard to believe, swallow and integrate. There were numerous moments where I thought it would have been so much easier not to start. Before that, life was so much easier – just black and white and easy to navigate. Many times, I felt very fragile, like a newborn baby and insecure about who I truly was. I realized that I never really allowed my inner child to be a child. I took over responsibilities that were way too much for a young girl. I had, in fact, buried myself emotionally next to my father. I put myself in an invisible inner cage, not allowing myself to be fully alive, happy, light, naughty, and – at times – even demanding. I learned to be the well-behaved girl to be accepted and loved. I didn’t want any other person to leave me ever again.
Looking back now, I see that the painful therapy was definitely one of my best experiences ever. It is like looking into your mirror and realizing who you really are, what was missing and how to overcome open wounds. I struggled and worked hard to heal myself from the inside out. It felt like starting a love relationship with myself. And it still deepens more and more every single day.
Vienna, credibility and sports!
When I was 14, I moved to Vienna. My hometown is just an hour away from Vienna, but the high school I wanted to go to was in Vienna. It was a school for arts and crafts, and I loved it. To attend it, I had to stay at a dorm with nuns in the city. Living with nuns had its good and bad aspects. The good part was that I met lovely colleagues and we did sport almost every day. I felt protected and cared for. What I didn’t like was sometimes the double standards of the nuns. What they preached and lived were often totally contradictory (e.g. they talked about love and how important community was; however, their behavior showed something totally different). I was quite often confused about what to believe. I sensed something more than what was being told to me. I felt a desire to know the truth, because the contrast between the verbal messages and reality were confusing. I wanted to know: “What is true now? What shall and can I believe? Is it what they say true or what they do? Shall I trust my gut feeling or their words?” This experience with the nuns was probably the origin of my excellent intuition and sensing skills. Painfully learned, it is now one of my biggest strengths and gifts in my life and business.
A similar situation happened at home. I very often felt my mom’s grief and pain. I sensed her suffering and struggle, but she always told us she was fine. Looking back, I completely understand that she wanted to protect us; however, it affected me and my feelings. I clearly felt her pain, but the message she gave me was “I am okay.” So, as a child, I started doubting my feelings. Is it right what I am sensing? Am I making up a story or can I trust my gut feeling? This is something I struggled with for many years. I wasn’t sure whether I could trust my feelings or what I sensed was right. Is this true or am I imagining something? I truly had to learn this skill – step by step – always connecting to my inside first. I asked myself what do I really want, feel or sense right now or in a specific situation? Once that was clear (and, to be honest, this took me some time to get the connection going, I offered it to the other person (or group) to check in or get feedback. By doing so I became more and more confident that I can absolutely trust my gut feeling and that I – can quite often sense more than what my environment seems to be projecting to me or the words people are saying.
What was fantastic in my childhood was sports! I was encouraged to do many different things – from skiing, vaulting, dodgeball, tennis and my beloved ballet. I guess this was the space where I learned to train and work really hard, to develop my performance-oriented, competitive mindset. To this day, I just love to win, and if I don’t win, I want at least the game to be fun and joyous. As with everything, there are always two sides of the coin. What I definitely learned at home, at school and with sports was to perform well, be competitive (healthy!) and goal oriented. The downside was that I felt that just being was not enough. I felt I had to earn love, appreciation and interest.
I went to ballet from the age of 6 to 12 and it filled me up with joy and pride. Pride because we were even invited by the city theater to perform on stage in an opera. And when I first stood there and people applauded and my mom gave flowers to me on stage, something magical happened. I realized how much I loved being on stage, being seen and appreciated.
I guess the appreciation coming from the outside helped me to become ambitious and goal oriented. What I didn’t know then was that I can give myself everything I was looking for on the outside. And I can do this by turning inward, connecting to my needs and fulfilling them either alone or by reaching out to friends or family members.
I realized that just being is enough and by building up my inside world, I enjoyed being alone more and more. In 2016, I attended a 10-day silence retreat with the spiritual leader Mooji in Portugal. What an experience. Before going there, I was a bit scared. What will happen? Ten days of mostly silence, no eye-contact with 400 other participants, no reading, writing, nothing. Just two Satsang’s a day (a big meeting with all participants and Mooji) with Mooji. In these gatherings (morning and evening Satsang), we could ask Mooji questions that came up during our inner process. I never asked a question in plenary. I just enjoyed listening to the questions of others and hearing Mooji’ s reply. And what I loved the most was not talking afterwards with anyone else. I just enjoyed digesting the thoughts and insights with myself in my own, inner world. In my own pace. My own beauty and calmness.
Almost every day, I sat under the same, beautiful olive tree and loved connecting to my inner source. It was a hot August, you could smell the heat, nature and the warm air. I felt that inner connection to myself, deeper and deeper every single day, and finally arrived at a place I have never been before. I felt such a strong love inside. A love for myself. Unconditional love. It felt like a state of nothing. Like a white, empty space. It felt like nothing and everything at the same time.
It was as everything could now happen in this empty, new space. I felt such a deep love for myself I had never ever experienced before – not ever for myself, nor any other person. And, for a second, I asked myself what does this mean now? Do I have to stay alone for the rest of my life because I never felt that feeling for anybody else? It felt like nothing and everything at the same time. I was becoming my own source. Owning my own life, love and happiness. I felt full and overflowing.
After the silence retreat, it was hard for me to go back to my “normal life.”. I wanted to stay in that place and inner space. I felt whole, protected, loved. I felt calm and at peace.
When I finally arrived back home, I realized a change. I realized that I was much calmer inside, centered and grounded. I realized that the space was always with me. That I am that space. That I am everything and nothing, wherever I go. And I could see changes in my work. I was even more calm when meeting clients. I didn’t need to prove myself anymore. My presence alone was enough. Me being there without doing a lot (or showing how smart I am) and just sensing when an intervention is needed, made it all even more enjoyable and effective at the same time. It’s like working out of the here and now. It is holding the most powerful and transformative energy possible to support clients in turning their visions and ideas into concrete results. This can be an individual coaching, strategy workshop or cultural change process in an organization.
I felt also a difference in my private life. I had – also here – no need to prove myself anymore. I realized I am absolutely enough – actually overflowing with love and richness. And that I can only be in a relationship again, if I meet a guy who is also full and willing to share his overflow with me. Abundance attracts abundance.
I am always whole!
When my father died and there was not much communication going on, my child’s mind started building up stories. I don’t know why, but somehow, I strongly believed that now that my father is gone that half of me was missing.
So, only if there is a man in my life will I be whole again. It was this concept of two souls. I needed a male partner to be and to feel complete. And as this was my strong belief, I had to find the other part to feel whole again. And I found them. Over and over again. The first at 16. I was in relationships constantly until age 37 when I realized I still didn’t feel whole and complete with all the men, their love and appreciation. Something was still missing. All the external appreciation and compliments didn’t really land inside. I heard what they said, but didn’t believe it. I didn’t feel it inside. Looking back, I feel a bit sorry. They gave me a lot, but nothing was enough for me, as my inner foundation was still missing. There was still this empty hole, I was searching for something. My own love and appreciation were missing. The love, respect, gratefulness and nourishment from the inside out.
During my therapy, I got to know the concept of the “inner child”. The inner child results from the parts inside that didn’t get enough love, space, appreciation, or attention in our early childhood and thus, we are still looking for those things from people on the outside. It can happen in relationships that we, for example, attract over and over – partners who are similar to our parents. We want them to feed something inside that our parents couldn’t do. Not that they didn’t want to, but they just couldn’t, for whatever reason. However, the little child inside is still hungry. And as long as we attract similar people, it’s like programmed disappointment, as they might not have the gifts we are looking for. I experienced that a few times. I wanted a man to tell me how wonderful I am. I wanted them to cure the loneliness I felt quite often as a child; however, they couldn’t give that to me. This is something I have to do. I learned that I can connect to my inner child (Yippee! I am now also a mom to my inner child!) and give her everything she needs to feel unconditionally loved. This is a lifelong journey and relationship with myself. It’s like growing older together, staying in touch with my inner child, loving, protecting and caring for her. Showing empathy and compassion. It’s about inner abundance, joy, love, boundaries, achievements and fulfillment. This means love from the inside out for me.
Awakening. Who I am is the gift!
It was in my early 30s. I still remember the exact place in Vienna. I was waiting for the street car to get to my office at IBM. I think I forgot something at home, and my inner critic started shouting at me… nasty words, yelling and telling me over and over again how stupid I am. And – !!!BANG!!! – it was like a light bulb going on inside. I suddenly realized HOW I was talking to myself!! How unkind, disrespectful and rude I spoke to myself. I realized that I treated myself in a way I would NEVER allow others to treat me. I was my worst enemy!
At that time, I had a spiritual coach and we went for a one-week retreat to the Austrian mountains. Our first task was to be alone in silence for two hours and to spend one hour for writing down every single thought. Hallelujah! What a simple, yet very powerful exercise. I was amazed about the amount of trash (we have up to 65,000 thoughts a day) I unconsciously thought every single minute about myself and others. How judgmental I was about myself and others. What the heck? At that same retreat, we also got introduced to the “law of attraction,” Simply put, it says that we attract what we think, feel and are (the energy we radiate). This law attracts thoughts, ideas, people, situations and circumstances and draws similar energies together. Wow! I was fascinated. I loved (and still love) the idea of everything-is-possible energy. I love knowing that my mindset and attitude matter and make a huge difference on my outer reality. This was something I felt since I was a child but now, I got a “law’ for confirmation. Having this concept in mind, I started being much more conscious about my thoughts toward myself and others. Whenever I noticed self limiting, negative thoughts about myself, I changed them immediately into thoughts like “I am a wonderful woman,” “I am very smart,” “I am beautiful,” “I love myself,” etc.
I even started an experiment in 2016. I love to test everything for myself before offering it to my clients, as credibility is very important to me! It’s called “50 days to be your lover.” It’s all about mindset/attitude and the effect thoughts have in my life (a bit like self-fulfilling prophecy and law of attraction combined). Daily, I tested a different mindset/strong belief and its effect on my behavior and results. One day, I focused for example on the belief that everyone loves me. Wherever I go, whatever I do, everyone loves me. I could be sitting in a meeting, saying everything that was on my mind without the fear what others could think – as I strongly believed “everyone loves me.” And, to compare, the next day I thought, “I can’t trust a single person. I have to control everything.” With that mindset, I approached everyone with a more suspicious, controlling behavior, and I got the result I expected. Narrow- minded, shallow ideas and conversations. It was amazing to see the difference in outcome depending on my beliefs and mindset. I strongly believe that scarcity attracts scarcity and abundance attracts abundance. Trust attracts trust and so on.
Judgment is separation!
One of my toughest lessons in life was and still is not to judge. My rational mind will argue now that judging is important, otherwise it’s hard to navigate through life and that it helped me so much in the past (which is true) to have my black and white boxes. However, my inner wisdom knows that judgment is separation. It takes away the colors and possibilities in life. Judgment doesn’t accept the full person or situation. It accepts only what seems okay or right for us.
The moment I judge (myself or others), I separate good from bad, right from wrong. I actually quite often separated parts of myself I didn’t like that much. If I separate parts of myself, I am not fully present, alive and powerful. I might however be a well-functioning facade/machine but not a lively, emotional and edgy person.
Because I was left alone so many times in my early years by sudden deaths, I started leaving myself unconsciously over and over again. By judging certain parts of myself I was not loving my whole person unconditionally. I left certain parts behind. I wanted to stop that. Just realizing that I judged myself made me sad. Something had to change. However, changing a very strong belief/behavior needs a lot of attention.
I have always had a very strong mind and ego (Taurus!) who was not very happy when I decided to take back the control of my thoughts and well-being. There were many moments where my inner critic started judging myself. It was almost a reflex. When you are not present and observant, you won’t even notice, and it already becomes second nature. So, I started to play a different music in my mind. Whenever my mind went into judging and criticizing, I immediately turned it into a positive thought. Something strengthening, appreciative and nourishing. It felt like re-training a big muscle. Turning that big muscle into a different, more kind and pleasant muscle. A muscle full of self-love, self-compassion and appreciation.
I want to break free & becoming my own source!
After different coaching sessions and spiritual retreats, I felt more and more the need to break free. I wanted to break out of my inner limitations and self- criticism. I attended many different workshops and had the best coaches from all over the world. They helped me come home to my true self and accepting and fully love the person I am today. They helped me to celebrate the here and now and everything I have achieved so far – inside and outside.
It was time for me to fully show up. To stand behind myself. To say what’s on my mind.
One big step in that direction was starting my own company in 2004. Before that, I worked at IBM. I had European and global roles, projects and functions in management development. I loved it. I loved to lead people and projects, to learn from the best in the field and I will always be grateful for every single year. After eight years however came the time for me to leave. My students (I teach Inspirational Leadership in the 21st century at the Technical university in Vienna) sometimes ask me, “Why did you leave such a great company, salary and job?” The reason was that I had the feeling I am not spreading full wings. I had the feeling that I fly with retracted wings and I wanted to know how it is if I really spread my wings 100%. I knew, I will only do that if forced without a “safety net” beneath me. And the company felt like a safety net for me.
I finally left in 2004 and never regretted it for a second. Funnily enough I thought starting my own company meant working a bit less after my 60-to-70-hour weeks at IBM (I traveled the world – during my IBM time – to work with leaders all over the place) however my ambition was to eager to show the world that I can do it everywhere. It felt like leaving the parents. I wanted to prove that I can make it alone. I didn’t take a single client with me or start working as a consultant for IBM as many colleagues did. No. That was not my way. I wanted to succeed on my own feet. I was very lucky. Shortly after I left, I got introduced to Duke Corporate Education in the U.S. They had Deutsche Bank as a big global client and asked me whether I was interested in leading a European project for implementing the first ever global leadership initiative at Deutsche Bank. Their role model was everything I used to do and work on at IBM for the past years. It was a leading-edge leadership program, combining top content with the latest technologies. My heart was beating. I loved it. I adapted the global program and process to European standards and trained all future consultants and trainers to run different programs and delivered many myself. I was back to 50-to-70 hours a week, but it felt somehow different. Now it was my own company. My own money. My decisions. My quality. My standards, my mindset, and the difference I was making.
In my new company, I decided what to do, with whom I wanted to work and started building up a global network of excellent colleagues from around the world. I always wanted to have a small boutique consulting firm to stay flexible and independent… The downside was that I even flew to clients with fever, otherwise I had to pay so much cancellation fees for big events, all hotel costs etc. which would have ruined my company. I am proud that I have never abandoned my high ethical and moral standards. Having said this, I have also withdrawn over and over from big and smaller companies where I felt their attitude and commitment didn’t match my values. I don’t like employees or managers who take everything for granted. Who don’t see and appreciate the incentives, benefits and goodies companies offer? I don’t want to convince leaders in workshops that they have to participate, bring the right attitude and mindset. They are all adults and it’s up to them to take responsibility for their lives and the impact their behavior has on their employees and results.
I went through a tough school at IBM. In my early IBM days, we delivered almost every week a five-day leadership program for managers from all over the world. We were going to different countries every week delivering workshops for 24 participants, sometimes men only, sometimes a few women. It happened quite often that some of them resisted at least the first 1-to-2 days. They were sent and didn’t want to be there. And my colleague Sys Boe from Denmark and I tried everything to convince them about the benefits, what was in it for them and what they would gain by the end of the week. I gave everything! All my energy. And I was exhausted by the end of the week. Usually 97% of them loved it. They were happy, fulfilled and even stronger than before. But I felt exhausted, tired and drained. I unconsciously took over their responsibility! I thought I have to convince them. I thought that’s part of my job that I show them what’s in it for them. However, looking back now, I know, this was not my responsibility. But this insight came only years later, with much more experience and confidence.
Nowadays, I don’t except participants who don’t want to be here. It’s my lifetime and I don’t want to waste it with people who are not serious or committed. I want to spend my lifetime with people who want to make a difference in this world. In their own lives and the lives of their employees. For them, I give everything, and I still look well after my energy.
I really love my company. We have achieved so much during the last 15 years, and I can’t wait to explore even more. I will expand offerings and add more online coaching’s and consulting work. I love to combine technology and leading-edge content and methods.
Business and Spirituality
The freedom of having my own company makes me stronger every single day and helps me merge my spirituality and business side. In the past, I often felt like living two lives. There was my business life on one side and my spiritual life on the other side. I even had two separate groups of friends.
I didn’t want to share my spiritual side with my clients as I was afraid, they might think I am esoteric. To avoid that, I finished one study after the other and many additional workshops and trainings. I rarely mentioned words like spirituality, love, kindness or mindfulness in my business context. I wanted to be taken seriously and was afraid that, if I didn’t play the normal game, people might think I was naïve or unworldly.
My business life brought me many achievements, successes, money and great clients, however my spirituality filled up my soul, sense of belonging and purpose. Within my spiritual circles, I got stronger and stronger from the inside out. The more I loved and respected myself, the less could I deny my truth. And my absolute truth is my spirit, my essence, my core. I can’t say that there was one moment where it all changed, it was more an ongoing process, development and growth in that direction.
I still remember an experience with one group of leaders I have been working for many years. Most of them are very rational, goal-and- results-oriented. We meet four times a year in a ‘Leadership Circle’ in my office. The goal is to work on day-to-day leadership challenges and leave with a concrete plan or action on how to tackle or solve the issues. One of them is an especially smart and reflective man. And just recently (I guess after approx. five years in that group) he said at the end of the workshop, “Isn’t just everything spirituality?” I had tears in my eyes. It was so deeply touching to me as I realized my inner YES to spirituality (not doubting or denying it for a second anymore) affected their way of thinking and acting.
Who you are is the gift to this world!
It took me almost 45 years to truly feel this sentence with every cell: “Who you are is the gift to this world.” Who I am IS the gift to this world! My being is enough. My pure presence is enough. By not sharing who I really am with the world, I am robbing them of something they need. By showing only parts of myself, I am not showing my true, rich and abundant self.
I asked (and it’s a lifelong journey) so often: “Am I really allowed to be happy? Can I just be joyful when so many people around me died? Maybe I was not good enough for them to stay? I was not worth it to stay? I have to do more to show the world my worth!? That I am worth being loved.”
Also, my father – he took his own life and I couldn’t save him (which was my strong belief as a girl, especially when there was not much communication going on). We didn’t talk about it in the family (that changed after I started therapy and got professional support on how to deal with suicide, communication and related family dynamics), so I started making up my mind and started behaving well, being the funny, entertaining, good girl and learned to work really hard. I learned to function well. And although there was very often resistance inside, I didn’t allow it to be there. I needed to survive. I needed to adapt to be accepted and loved. That was the old Erika. The Erika that was searching for everything outside to finally come home to her true self.
Today, I try to give myself everything I need. I have a lovely relationship with my family and if I am not happy, I change it. If I have not enough clarity about a client project, I ask for more clarity. If I feel upset in my relationship, I start a conversation or find a way to cheer myself up. If I feel bored, I try to find something that lightens up my day. It’s MY job to make me happy and look after myself. The moment we are adults, we are responsible for our own happiness, health and well being. It’s not the outside (family, friends, partner) that need to make me happy and fulfilled, its only myself.
I learned to own my own story and to rewrite it from the now. Every single moment. One step at a time. I learned to stop telling the same old stories over and over again which actually prolonged my suffering. I stopped waiting for others to save me.
I stated looking inside. I started connecting to my inner source – to everything and nothing. I started loving myself from the inside out. I started saying “YES!” to myself. I strongly believe that we are all here for a special reason. Our job is to find it and turn it into reality. Our highest self wants to have fun, play and serve others.
The greatest gift, freedom and peace for myself was to find everything inside. Becoming my own source. Owning my own life, love and happiness. To never leave myself alone and be there – especially when times get tough – with a kind, loving and supportive mind and heart. This is inner leadership at its best. And once that is your second nature, it’ll overflow the outside and will bring even more richness, fulfillment, love and success into our lives.
I am very grateful for my life and for the journey I am on. Especially our toughest challenges are our greatest gifts for inner and outer liberation and development.
I have arrived. I am here, not waiting anymore.