6 am March 2009, Geneva. I just woke up after 4 or 5 hours of sleep. I couldn’t sleep much during those days. I had too many things to think about at work. It seemed I was always behind, despite working 12+ hours a day. As most mornings in that period, I got up from my bed, had a coffee, and then sat on the couch to watch the Steve Jobs video on his Stanford Commencement Speech. “One day, I would be able to make a similar speech thanks to this crisis I am going through now,” I used to tell myself. Then, I swept my tears, washed my face, and got ready to start another day full of meetings and deadlines. “How did I reach the point of crying before going to work and become almost obese?” I kept thinking on my way to work. Paradoxically, I was living my dream life.
Have you ever achieved a big dream of yours just to realize that your life has not improved or has even become miserable?
My adult life had been quite successful until that point, and I had achieved all the goals that I had set for myself. I was a top student in my engineering degree, which allowed me to spend one year as an Erasmus student in Madrid – my top choice. After graduation, I was accepted into the M.Sc. in Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). I studied with bright minds and graduated in the top percentile of my cohort with Distinction. Before graduating, I was already working as an intern for my dream company – P&G – and then offered an unlimited contract (“Contratto a tempo indeterminato”), the ultimate Italians’ dream.
Moreover, I worked in the fragrance sector for brands like Valentino, Puma and Laura Biagiotti. When I was 25 years old, I attended the Haute fashion show of Valentino in Paris. Two years later, being top-rated in the company, I was then proposed to move to Geneva’s regional headquarter. Wow, I couldn’t wait to move to a new city, new job, and new challenges at that time. “New” and “challenges” were the most exciting words for me at the time. I moved to Geneva in October 2008. So, how did I go from that excitement to the edge of burnout in a few months?
Looking back, I could see many reasons for that; a new city, job, culture, and boss. More generally, I experienced what is now known as “a quarter-life crisis.” No one used this term at the time, and I had no clue what was happening to me. I was not ready to experience such stress and negative emotions. “Just be outstanding in the university, get a nice job, and you will be happy” This is the mantra I was told at the time, and this is what I did. So, why was I so sad? I felt betrayed by society and by my universities. I was a top student in top schools, mainly studying management. Why haven’t I done any courses on self-management, managing stress, and happiness? I had only courses in math, physics, marketing, and finance. Why not even one course on how to manage my life?
I still wanted to be at the “top of my class” and kept working long hours to the detriment of my health. However, this was not helping. I was eating poorly, and sleeping badly; thus, my productivity went down, and I needed to work even longer hours. Finally, an accident forced me to disconnect from work for two weeks. It was the first time I was taking some real time off from work. This is when I found out books on self-help and personal development. What I could not find in my university textbooks, I was able to learn from books such as “A monk who sold his Ferrari” by Robin Sharma and “Unleash the Power Within” by Tony Robbins. When I came back to work, I kept reading avidly and started self-experiment the advice mentioned in the books.
I lost 16 kg in 3 months, I had more energy and felt happier, and my performance at work improved. When my boss told me: “Marco, you have finally come back to a great level of performance”, I knew that it was time for a change. During that period I eventually understood that the problem was not the city, the job, my boss but that I was not excited about that career anymore. I left to start my Ph.D., and 10 years later I was teaching the course “Strategize your life ® with simple rules” – the course that I would have liked to have as a student – and I did the speech at the Mantova TEDx – the speech that was inspired by the crisis that I was going through at that time.