Changing your work-life to welcome more freedom and fulfillment is a process and a journey. Here, every month, we will share stories of women who are doing it. Real stories, real transformation. This is a virtual treasure chest -- full of the challenges, struggles, lessons and insights of others -- which you can use to enrich your own path.
This month’s featured “woman on purpose” is Karin Heinzl, founder and CEO of the social startup MentorMe, a former political and communications advisor. She’s currently planning the second program year of MentorMe, matching 100 female students with job-experienced mentors for individual mentoring and offering trainings and networking events for the mentoring community.
Describe the big shift you’ve made in your work-life. What led you to that change?
I used to work in German politics, but I lost my job when my political party got kicked out of the Bundestag after the federal election last Fall 2013. But, when a door closes, another one opens. I got a chance to go to India and work for an NGO in Mumbai. So, I packed my luggage, flew to Mumbai, and stayed and lived in a rural village with the locals for the first half of 2014. This experience was just incredible. I reached and pushed my own boundaries. I found my peace and my freedom. When I came back, I was certain. I want to do, feel, and see that I can help others -- that I can have a positive impact on other people’s lives. Long story short and a couple of months later, I decided to start a social venture: MentorMe, a job-related mentoring program for female students. Doing so and becoming a founder and CEO of a company with a team of more than six people completely changed my life. It gave me much freedom but also an incredible load of responsibility. But, I love it. I really and full-heartedly love it.
What were you most fearful of in making that change?
I am fearful. I fear a lot things like flying for example; but luckily, I’m braver than I am fearful. So, I wasn’t afraid of many things when I founded MentorMe. But, one thing that I was, currently am, and will always be afraid of is the fear of failing. To be more specific, it is the fear of financially failing. Not so much for me, but I have greater responsibility over my team and over the 100 people (and more) that are involved in MentorMe (i.e. our mentees and mentors).
How is your experience of life different now?
My life is completely different now. I am my own boss; I make many own decisions. My days are NEVER the same. I am working on so many levels and business areas, i.e. from HR to product development and event organization to acquisition. I get to know and learn from so many wonderful men and women. I have a great team that is still growing. All these aspects -- the freedom that entrepreneurship gives me and, above everything, the positive feedback I get from our mentees and mentors -- make my life fulfilling.
What’s your biggest concern in this moment?
My biggest concern right now is that we get financial funding as soon as possible. We can not make big money with the students, our mentees, and that’s not our aim. So, the funding needs to come from somewhere else. That is why we are establishing partnerships among companies, organizations, and foundations.
What are you most excited about going forward?
I’m very excited about our new program year. Our application phase is now open for new students applications until September 15, 2016. After that, we will match the mentees with job-experienced mentors until mid-October. This is when the new program year starts with a kick-off. The applications of the female students we got so far are very impressive. They are motivated, intelligent, and eager to get from university into the working world. With the new program year, we will get 100 new mentees from Berlin and Brandenburg but also from other areas in Germany. So, the number of mentors and mentees will double in size from our current program year, and this will be very exciting for us.
If you could travel back in time, what’s one piece of advice that your current self wishes that you could tell your former self?
Think a bit longer before you start things and don’t be sad over things you don’t get. You didn’t get them for a reason, and the better things that came afterwards should be your proof.
Karin holds a Master in Communications from the University of Vienna and a Master in Political Management from the George Washington University. She worked in politics as an advisor and international officer as well as a lecturer in higher and adult education in the USA, Germany, and India. In 2015, she founded the social startup MentorMe, a job-focused mentoring program for female students. To know more about Karin and MentorMe, follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.