• By Germana Barba

What a Career in a Major Corporation Made Me Discover About Myself

My transformation journey


Some time ago my former company asked a group of us to imagine ourselves in 10 years, and to write a letter from the future to our “current self”.


With the (imagined) wisdom of the future, what would be my advice to the current me? What should I be doing differently? What should I do that I am not currently doing?


Regardless of its official purpose, this exercise forced me to project myself into the far future and to then look back to the near future, artificially. It triggered a powerful reflection on what I have (and haven’t) achieved in my career and within my private life. More importantly, it made me think about who I wanted to be in 10 years, and what needed to change in my life to make that happen.


What did I discover?


I realized that I was very proud of my professional achievements, but that they were not enough. I realized that I had allowed work to push many of my passions to a corner like writing, politics, journalism, philosophy… Although, I did write and publish a novel in 2012, I managed to write only a couple of short stories after that and a poetry collection which ended up in the drawer.


However, the most prominent reflection was that I had spent the last 10 years focusing essentially on my career. While the variety of people I encountered and issues I had to deal with was huge, I needed more in order to meet the expectations on my future self. Many rewarding jobs are, in fairness, totally absorbing. The ability to perform well and to climb the corporate ladder depends, to a large extent, on having a continuous focus, and to channel all our energies and intellectual faculties into one goal. But how long does this focus last?


The Covid-19 pandemic has produced these types of questions for many people. As with any other global phenomenon with material impacts such as wars and famines, coronavirus has brought a healthy existentialism and a dose of self-reflection. It just happened a bit earlier for me.


The technological marvel that is ‘Now’


We live in times where change is the new normal; with innumerable information sources available on the internet, the possibilities feel endless. In just a click of a button, I found dozens of online courses that would allow me to become an English teacher in just 30 days (oh, teaching is another passion of mine). In my digital music library, I can store tunes from Berlin’s contemporary electronic scene alongside Renaissance compositions for classical guitar (and discover similarities!). On the same day, I can read female ambitions-celebrating pages from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and Turkish intellectual Elif Shafak’s thought-provoking novel “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World”.


In this kaleidoscope of moods, cultures, mindsets and lifestyles, how can we sensibly choose what our focus should be? Can we be just one thing?


Transformation is also a new normal. Just Google the word, and you will find hundreds of inspirational sources. From a World Economic Forum toolkit to interpret “the complex forces driving change across economies, industries, and global issues”, to yoga and meditation retreats offering stressed Western individuals a paradigm to give life a new meaning.


Change isn’t only for the individual; companies do too, and they are transforming. My former company, Philip Morris International, has embarked on a courageous journey to change its business model and offer consumers healthier choices.


Change is the only constant


Transformation is always an individual and personal journey. And what it means for each of us will depend on our state of mind and personal experiences. For some, it means realizing one’s aspirations, whether that’s money, success, to become a mother or father, living in nature, etc. For others, it may be about helping other people — from family members to entire populations. In my opinion, women are one such population in need for credible leaders that can foster their political consciousness.


Most of us have grown up with an idea of who we will be one day. But many of us struggle with having just one idea. Deciding between humanities and science in school, choosing a major at University, selecting a specialization course, choosing to work for the public or private sector, selecting one cause worth fighting for… These choices can be very difficult.


Politics has always clicked with me, and I was fortunate enough to work for one of the companies that have the best government affairs school across all industries.


Working to reduce the information gap between the tobacco industry and the public sector is an amazing challenge that I have been honored to serve. I believe that this challenge can be surmounted if ideology is replaced by pragmatism and recognition that complex issues (such as the diseases caused by smoking) require multi-stakeholder solutions. My love for dialogue, and yes, for compromise in the best sense of the term probably comes from being someone that has always struggled to embrace just one perspective.


I am in charge of my own transformation


The Prussian Statesman von Bismarck famously said that “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”. And I suspect that looking at issues holistically rather than partially can play a critical role in many other areas as well: the energy and the environment, food and obesity, gender issues, the role of science in policymaking, and so on.


Building on the vast learnings I had after spending over 10 years in a fantastic company, I am ready to walk the path of change.


Sometimes I feel like my head is about to explode; the act of choosing is not as straightforward as it was before! But a few principles are clear to me: Cultivate Passions, Accumulate Experiences, Invest in Relationships. And get lost in the colourful kaleidoscope of life.

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