Alum-spiration: “Be a good captain on your sailboat”

Felix Ruebcke underlines the importance of mutual support and self-discovery during the COVID-19 crisis.

2008 MPP graduate Felix Ruebcke has been self-employed for 14 years and collaborated as freelancer and network partner with different organisations, such as Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, the DO School, Lead Mindsets and Capabilities, HBC Consulting and is currently a partner at TheDive, Curators of Change. He holds an MSc in Organisational Change, an MA in Public Policy, and a BA in European Economic Studies. He trained as a systemic organisational consultant and coach at SySt®-Institute, Munich. Felix gained practical experience as systemic organisational developer, process facilitator, trainer and coach in private, public and civil society organisations. His work led him abroad to countries such as Argentina, China, Costa Rica, India, UK, US, Spain, Taiwan and Thailand.

You graduated from the Hertie School during the global financial crisis. What were the main challenges you had to face?

Staying grounded and confident and at the same time accepting a mix of anxiety and uncertainty. Not regretting past decisions about which professional pathway I chose. Organising expenditures to match a salary down to 1000 euros for a period of five months, due to working in a vulnerable start-up consultancy. Having a reflective inner dialogue with my “ego” about my perceptions of own self-worth.

Do you have any advice for graduates searching for a job during a global crisis? How can they navigate the job market?

First, think, feel and sense beyond the next one to two years. You have several decades of professional life ahead of you; e.g. in 2008 I figured that I will work 40 more years until 2047 – assuming a retirement age of 67 and that I live that long… Beaming in time and recognising that things will be different soon might allow you to see a better horizon after the crisis.

Second, crises come and go. How does it feel to be you right now? Use the opportunity to discover and learn more about your true nature. While it is natural and OK to acknowledge your own anxiety, this can also be a chance for personal development. Consider this tension as energy that you can transform into a good development for yourself and others. Yes, your financial stability might be suffering and bringing you sleepless nights – and for some even worse. But at the same time you can connect with your inner resources and make your heart bigger for yourself and others. This will be more valuable in years to come compared to the dollars or euros missed.

Be a good captain on your sailboat and allow others to help you, as well as reach out to others for giving and receiving support.

What are the most important skills to highlight in an application?

Labour research shows that people get well through crises, if they have access to and nurture their flexibility, creativity, analytic thinking and problem solving as well as soft skills – all these things are still being taught at Hertie School, I guess.

I believe emotional intelligence and intercultural awareness are qualities of future leaders. And this starts with an awareness of your own mindset and behaviours. How can you tap into your interior condition, your inner source or mindset from where you think and act?

There are a lot of smart, well-educated people out there. However, most of your future colleagues might ask themselves silently if they want to spend time with you in a team or project and also after work. So maybe also communicate something social and team spirit besides cutting edge cognitive skills etc. Finding the right language for each job is a challenge and an art.

Do you have any tips on how to deal with setbacks?

Differentiate between failure (Fehler) and mistake (Irrtum): a failure (Fehler) is if you should have done better. If you did something although you knew better. Here, you should really work on yourself and commit to a change in action. But don’t be too harsh with yourself. In life, we all repeatedly do things wrong against knowing better. Consider it a “lap of honour” (“Ehrenrunde”).

A mistake (Irrtum) can happen if you could not know better. For example, this crisis is the first big one you experience. You will try things. Some of them will work, some won’t. Is it a failure if something you try does not work? I would say no, because you could not know better. You were in that situation for the first time. Now learn from that setback and look for the next good step. Prototype iterative loops in your application design and content and imagine what the application reviewer would consider as “better”.

Felix's post-it mantra

In what way was the Hertie School network beneficial to you during your job search?

I co-founded a decision consultancy, for which we received wonderful help from the Hertie network. Kurt Biedenkopf invited us for a dialogue and offered to write two letters introducing us to a high level decision-maker in a ministry (state secretary) and a former minister of labour and economy. They invited us to showcase our decision method approach and helped open doors for further conversations with decision-makers in need of complex decision facilitation. I was also invited to spend a few fascinating months experiencing work as a policy analyst in the Federal Chancellery. That was a unique experience!

From your current standpoint, how did the difficult situation after your graduation prepare you for the career you pursued? Do you have pearls of wisdom you would like to share?

Consider exploring and switching two modes of being in time. One is the “Iter” mode, a Greek word for “path” or “way”. Here, you consider time as a path towards a goal. You need to make steps to advance towards your goal. This is also the typical mode of working in organisations (vision, purpose, objectives, strategy etc). In a time of crisis it can feel like “I tried so much, but I am still not getting closer to my goal.” Here, it can help to contextualise more and perceive time and life in the “Flux” mode.

Imagine this: you are standing in the river of life and time is flowing towards you, around you. You sense into the river and the field around you and you might filter – with known and unknown criteria – what is flowing towards you…This is a mindset of  “time will tell” (Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat) or “I'll just take it from here” (ich lass das mal auf mich zukommen). In this mindset, you let go of control and invite a sense-and-respond mindset into what is emerging. You look for opportunities instead of staying in a fixed mindset on your goal only.

So, whenever you notice that you are stuck in your thinking or doing or have tense muscles in your body, take a few minutes of silence. Close your eyes, feel your feet well connected to the ground and enjoy your inhales and exhales. Invite your energies, such as playfulness, tenderness and decisiveness and let your heart expand to accept what is and sense for a next good step.

In this series, Hertie School alumni speak about what it was like to enter the job market around the time of the 2008/09 financial crisis, offering words of wisdom to the Class of 2020, which is facing similar challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.