Quit to Stay: A Different Career Approach

15 Sep, 2021
by Natascha Zeljko

Who told us we had to prioritize our careers over our lives? Jasmin Stemig is a cheering example of how things can be done differently. The Director of Digital Sales Platform and Innovations at Payback has always trusted her inner compass and has been very successful thanks to it.

There's a book by Frank Behrendt, the guru of serenity, with the evocative title: "Love your life, not your job" („Liebe dein Leben und nicht deinen Job"). It sounds paradoxical, but in truth it is an excellent mindset to adopt for a successful career. And it's a strategy that Jasmin Stemig has also intuitively followed. Living in a comfort zone has never been her thing. While others start to settle comfortably into theirs, she is already on her way out the door to find new challenges. Learning and living, living and learning. So many new, unknown and promising things are waiting there. You can't let that just pass you by!

The fact that Jasmin is still working at Payback is unusual. She actually quit at the end of 2016, not because she no longer enjoyed her job as Director of Digital Campaign, Offer & Performance Management. On the contrary, but there was something that was stronger: the idea of living in Berlin. To just up sticks and move because the stimulating, vibrant energy of the city was incredibly appealing to her. "The impulse came very suddenly. I didn't tell anyone at first, but negotiated with myself. I was aware that it could go completely wrong. That I might mourn my job, my friends or not really find my feet in the new city. All of that was possible. And then I said to myself what I always say to myself in these situations: What's the worst-case scenario? And that's when my rational side came into play: I will just sublet my apartment in Munich for now." The upcoming adventure came with a little safety net.

With mixed emotions, she prepared to go to Berlin and quit her job. And then something completely unexpected happened: Her boss offered her the opportunity to continue working for Payback. Remotely, from Berlin. Project-based with a different area of responsibility and less team responsibility, but still for Payback.

From today's perspective, this may not sound so radically ground-breaking, but you have to put it into context. In pre-Corona times, a job was tied to a location – with very few exceptions. It wasn't until the pandemic that the "work from anywhere" principle became commonplace. Thus, without suspecting it at the time, Jasmin Stemig became a trendsetter. She was already video calling her colleagues while others were still driving (or even flying) across the country for 90-minute meetings. It will remain an eternal mystery why we hardly used the technology that was already available, except for a few Skype meetings, but that's a topic for another day. Jasmin's learnings from this time are interesting. "In one-to-one scenarios, communicating via video call worked well. In larger groups, it became more difficult. Sometimes you were forgotten about even when you were connected. Not with malicious intent, but because face-to-face interaction simply can't be topped." That's why she regularly travels to Munich for a few days at a time – depending on the Corona situation at the time. Then, she fills her calendar with appointment after appointment, which she calls "bathing in people" and laughs.

This wasn't the first time that Jasmin had made a radical U-turn and shocked those around her. She was 27, had gone full speed ahead in her job for the first four years after graduation and worked around the clock, when she thought: I need to press the off button, get out, travel. She spent a year travelling the world, spending long periods in Australia and New Zealand, driven by her curiosity about people and her irrepressible desire to discover and learn about new places. At the time, people told her: "You can't do that. You can’t give up your job now, at the beginning of your career. How will you explain the gap in your résumé later on?” She decided to love life and not just her job,

and filled her skills toolbox with the most important tools for a career in the digital age: an eye for the essentials and for people.

However, the truth is also that Jasmin belongs to the 20 percent of people who like change and even actively seek it. Researchers call them "sensation seekers," in contrast to the vast majority who are afraid of change. But she's too smart and empathetic to force that attitude on others. "Leaving the job was an active decision. When others fall out of their biographical framework because they can't do it anymore or they become redundant, it's associated with a sense of failure. In these circumstances, I can't stand there and casually tell people that it was easy for me and that you have to see it as an opportunity."

Jasmin Stemig experienced such situations first-hand in her first job at mail-order giant Quelle in Nuremberg. A proud company, equipped with the insignia of prosperity from being an economic miracle in post-war Germany: Marble entrances, crystal chandeliers on high ceilings and paintings of the founders Gustav and Grete Schickedanz on the walls. It was unimaginable that such a large tanker would go down. Unthinkable. Unsinkable. And then it happened anyway. "I've seen 50-year-old men crying. They had spent half their lives here. Whole family units worked at Quelle, they were emotionally attached to their jobs, even if they didn't have the most exciting jobs. It was their home. You can't underestimate how much value a company can hold for an individual." Meanwhile, the insolvency administrators hurried through the hallways in their fancy suits. Quelle was being liquidated. Office chairs flew out the window, files filled with many hours, days and weeks of work landed in the paper container. Toilet paper was missing from the toilets, and the cleaners had long since been cancelled. "For me, that was a formative experience. To see: The worst can happen, but life goes on."

What's next for her? She has taken on another important task in addition to her job. Together with three other colleagues, she is the company's Inclusion & Diversity Ambassador. "I don't want to just read exciting articles about it and complain that everything is going too slowly and nothing is happening. I want to initiate change myself." That there is still work to be done not only in Germany, but also at Payback itself is something she speaks openly about. We are not very female when we look at the top management." Gender diversity is just one dimension – albeit an important one. "We have to be fair to our international team. Many of the tech colleagues come from abroad. You can't just communicate in German there."

How do you know if you're right for the job? She doesn't think about this for long. "When you simply enjoy getting up in the morning and opening your laptop. That has a lot to do with the people and the working atmosphere. I've always based that very much on the environment. What are the colleagues I work with like? Is there room for choice? Can I contribute my opinion? It has nothing to do with the subject matter, but is a question of mindset." In theory, she could do her job for a garden table manufacturer, she says. From her, it doesn't sound like the arrogant "I can do anything," but rather a nuanced strength analysis. "People tell me that I approach issues in a very structured way. I think about: What needs to be changed? What is the goal? What is the cost? Scaling business models usually runs on the same principles." Her unassuming confidence is something that immediately captures your attention. She'd like to see the same in younger women. Doing, not thinking so much, being bold, daring to do more.

Payback, she tells us at the end of the interview, was a comfort zone in the beginning. She might not have mastered the job in her sleep; the company is too conscious and too agile for that. But as a whizz kid who was deliberately put in too-big shoes by her first boss, it was still a walk in the park.

What does someone like Jasmin Stemig do in a case like this? Stretch. Explore new fields, look for challenges within the organization.

This always involves two people: the employee, on the hunt for exciting projects, and the company, which not only allows them, but encourages them. A perfect match.

This article is part of a content collaboration between FemaleOneZero and PAYBACK. The marketing & loyalty platform enables consumers to collect points with hundreds of relevant companies offline, online and on the move – with just a single card or the PAYBACK app. 

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