How this Entrepreneur Embraced Change to Find More Purpose In Her Career #GlobalFellow

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

[Editor’s note: This post was written by a MovingWorlds Institute alum, Andreia Mitrea. It was adapted from Andreia’s Capstone Project].

Last year, I had a midlife change which I initially experienced as a midlife crisis – an experience of resisting, fearing and fighting change. My background is in educational entrepreneurship, and I was part of the core team who, over 10 years, developed one of the best-reputed private schools in Bucharest, Romania. I loved what I was doing, but after a decade, it was becoming evident I needed to move on. The fact that I was approaching my 40th birthday accelerated this need for change even more.

When my 40th birthday arrived in April, I got myself a bracelet with “Be the change you wish to see in the world” written on it to guide me in this next chapter of my life. Encouraged and determined, I started to look for resources. I feel grateful to have discovered the fellowship organized by MovingWorlds — I knew I was in the right place when I saw their motto was “Create change. Be changed.” The fellowship provided a much-needed framework for approaching change with access to the knowledge, relationships, and experiences I needed to shift what started as a crisis into an exciting midlife transformation.

Reflections on the Institute Kickoff & Curriculum

The kick-off for the fellowship was in Washington, DC, but even before, the program introduced us to new frameworks for learning, self-reflection and self-design. The fellowship curriculum continued to provide a deliberate, conscious and constructive approach to change.

Andreia with her Global Fellowship Cohort at the Washington, D.C. kickoff

It was inspiring to be surrounded by like-minded professionals and great individuals who become real friends in navigating the transition, both supporting and inspiring me. My cohort included people from various backgrounds, such as investment banking, sustainability, policy and diplomacy, and project management, among others. The other fellows were so bright that they were almost intimidating, but at the same time so open that they were endearing.

The theoretical frameworks introduced as part of the fellowship opened up my mind to new paradigms of working and doing business. It made me aware of the need to change how our economies and societies are built by redefining success to extend beyond money to also include the impact on people and the planet. I became knowledgeable in concepts such as ‘the purpose economy’, “conscious capitalism’, ‘triple bottom line’, ‘purpose-driven companies’, ‘impact investment’, ‘for benefit’ replacing ‘for profit’ and many others. I had felt the desire to do something different and lead positive change, and learning about these models to turn that motivation into action fueled my optimism. The fellowship empowered me with tools that support this change, like systemic thinking, collaborative approaches to generating innovative solutions, like human-centered design and design thinking. [Editor’s note: You can learn more about the difference between human-centered design and design thinking here.]

Beyond learning theoretical ideas, we also got to put them into practice during our capstone experteering projects in the field. Through the MovingWorlds matchmaking process I chose to work with Sistema B, the organization leading the movement of ‘B corporations’ across Latin America. Only after I had agreed to work with them did I realize, to my amazement, that the first principle and one of the motto’s of B corporations is “Be the change”. What an amazing synchronicity, no? As if with my birthday bracelet I magically managed to make appear in my life organisations and models of work and business that recognize and address the need for change. I believe that there are no coincidences. I had found my tribe, full of other professionals and partner organizations who embrace positive change rather than shrinking from it.

Andreia with Sistema B Team
Andreia (left) with the Sistema B Team

One of their divisions is called ‘Academia B’ since it aims to gain support from and promote the B corporations/ B Economy cause within universities. My project was in Ecuador where, together with Sistema B Ecuador, Academia B Latin America and a progressive liberal arts university from Quito, we tried to develop a partnership to lead to more change in curriculum and in society related to the ideas of the new economy and new business models like ‘B corporations’. The experteering project gave me the ability to test everything I was learning and to contribute in a meaningful way. It offered the satisfaction not only of using my existing experience and know-how to support an organization in creating positive impact, but also the chance to be exposed to ‘newness’, to see myself in a different professional setting and to inhabit this new version of myself.

Reflections on Experteering with Sistema B

Reflecting on my 4 months in Latin America as my fellowship comes to a close, I am aware of the tremendous professional and personal enrichment I have experienced. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from taking the leap of faith to join MovingWorlds and support Sistema B:

1. I have gained a new paradigm: a new perspective on work, business, and the economy.

I have acquired a whole new set of possibilities for how to exist in the world, both in the personal and professional realms. I remember how many times throughout my professional career I felt like an outsider. I have always had a strong need for purpose and impact, but I kept hearing “It is not how things are. It’s not normal. Who cares? You are too idealistic”. I thought there was something wrong with me for not being ‘normal’ and able to accept the status quo. At the beginning of my career, I even quit a good corporate job after a promotion because I felt totally disengaged from my work and I was keenly aware that it had a bad impact on the world. But I thought it was my fault I wasn’t able to gain satisfaction from an apparently desirable job and work setting.

Only later did I learn that actually 80% of people feel disengaged at work, but they do not find that to be a good-enough reason to change. After starting the fellowship, I learned about being purpose-driven and theories of personal motivation. I became aware that there may never have been anything wrong with me, but there are many things wrong with the system. And I found people who are committed to choosing their own work consciously and to creating new types of organisations that are using business as a force for good. In Sistema B, while doing work with people who shared this deep motivation and sense of purpose, I felt ‘normal’. Being on the other side of the planet from my home country, I felt I fully belonged to this professional tribe. I loved being part of this community of innovators and visionaries who dare to create new models for working and living.

Now I have a much wider perspective relative to what type of projects, organisations, and types of work I can do. This gives me confidence and optimism that I can both tailor work to my profile while creating meaningful social impact through my work.

2. For change to be implemented well, we need to have practical, actionable tools.

Many people, employees, and business leaders acknowledge the need and want to change. But we get stuck figuring out the ‘how’- how to approach this scary change monster. It is of tremendous help to have the right tools and approaches that tame the ‘monster’ and make change achievable. An important point of departure for figuring out your ‘how’ is to know where you are. Now you can assess your purpose and your motivation and your impact in the world through a variety of instruments.

The strength of the B corps model is that it made change practical and actionable through the B Impact Assessment. Now, organizations know what to measure to understand their impact. Financial success and social impact are not mutually exclusive – It IS possible to use business as a force for good. It is not just lofty principles. At least, not anymore because now there are actual instruments you can use. So stop using these excuses that it can’t be done and it can’t be applied. It is being done and you can learn how to apply it, too. You just need to take action and open your mind to new perspectives.

On a personal level, assessments we used in the fellowship like the Imperative Purpose and PurposeMatch helped make this elusive, hard-to-phrase concept of personal purpose more tangible. The fellowship offered wealth of tools of reflection: coaching, mentoring, reflection frames, webinars, accountability groups. We received so much support in this difficult process of transitioning to a new professional philosophy.

3. The power of collaborative, structured processes of innovation and change.

These processes are centered on the idea that together we can find better solutions to complex issues. Examples include processes like design thinking, human-centric design and other innovation processes that are systemic and inclusive.

This is the strength of the approach of Sistema B in Latin America, going beyond the idea of just promoting B corporations as a concept to also work on developing a supportive economic, legal, political, and social environment to help these new types of organizations to flourish and increase in numbers. Part of my project with Sistema B was focused on this systemic level, and involved strengthening the link with Academia by developing a project with a local university.

Andreia with Jose Ignacio, one of the directors of Sistema B
Andreia with Jose Ignacio, one of the directors of Sistema B

These flexible processes of approaching change are counterintuitive to our linear approach, but they can create more sustainable, tailored solutions. The biggest challenge may be time since it takes longer to be collaborative and human-centred. My project taught me how critical it is to ensure there is clear time commitment from the team and especially from an engaged leader. There needs to be (in writing) clear prioritization and dedication of time and other resources, otherwise, you will be unable to follow through all the steps of the process.

Hopefully, the more value we can show in these approaches, the more organizations will renounce the idea that it is best to do things ‘fast’ and ‘alone’. The better alternative is to engage with these processes, which will help generate change at a pace and in a way that is tailored to each stakeholder’s needs and peculiarities in the specific time and context they operate in. There is no one-size-fits-all, ‘simple’ solution.

4. Favoring action alongside reflection in order to generate effective change.

One of the hardest things about the need to change is that it can actually be paralysing. We may inadvertently remain in a vicious cycle of trying to mentally figure out where to go next, thus avoiding movement altogether. When you need to change, you know what in your current reality is causing this impulse, but in making the change you must confront the great unknown of what you need to change into. Even if you know which way you want to go, you are leaving familiar territory to head towards something new, and that is scary.

There is one way to make it easier: to keep the mindset of trying, of experimenting, of being curious. Again the philosophy of design thinking comes in handy. This entails approaching change as a set of prototypes or experiments which gradually help you find what works and what doesn’t. It is much easier than trying to mentally compute all the variables of a new life scenario before you take any step only to succumb to the complexity. It also encourages you to reframe mistakes as learning opportunities, rather than outright failures.

This approach is useful on both a personal and an institutional level. Flexible, innovative organisation favor and encourage trying new things. Yes, change needs to be founded on research and best practice and solid arguments. But as this social entrepreneur shares, acting is a better strategy of change that needs to be introduced at all levels in the change process, starting from the initial stages of reflection and identification of solutions. Turn every reflection into a small action. Act a little after every discussion. Do something after you think of something.

But it is hard, isn’t it? In the end, it is about taking that first step into the unknown.

As part of my project, I went to the conference of Sistema B in Chile. While I was there I heard the speech of Jay Coen, one of the founders of the B Corporation movement. He spoke about how a vision of a few people has now become a new business model embraced worldwide. And he shared the key to this success through a poem by Antonio Machado, encouraging us all to recite it together. Hundreds of people joined their voices to say “Caminante, no hay camino”.

Traveler, there is no road. The walking makes the road.

We can and should create the road as we are walking. We can and should have the courage to follow our dreams and visions instead of walking someone else’s road.

I learned about the importance of moving and taking steps, even without knowing the final destination. The courage to launch projects and initiatives without waiting for too many circumstances to align. The confidence to follow your intuition and to explore what it tells you, without having any certainty or guarantee.

The result of my project in Ecuador was a proposal that the University did not embrace after all. Did I fail? The people of Sistema B that I worked with say that it was a great learning experience and there are a lot of possibilities to build on this project. What we developed together may become part of broader strategic initiatives throughout the system. I also have acquired a lot of practical understanding of how this new business model can be implemented, and how to find solutions. The University also enjoyed the process and was curious about it. There was great synergy and alignment of perspectives. Yes, we are all still figuring out what the next steps are, but the important thing is that we all are moving and building the road ahead. And we have already built a small portion behind us, and maybe that was the hardest part — we’ll just have to wait and see.

5. The beauty, satisfaction, and joy of work that is for a greater good.

I loved learning about B corporations. I loved Sistema B. I loved Academia B and the development of projects with the local university. I loved the smart and caring and visionary people I met through this work. When you have the objective to use work and business as forces for good, all the tasks, projects, interactions are more meaningful, more engaging, more enjoyable.

I will always remember my experience at Encuentro B, the international Sistema B conference in Chile. I was in a constant state of flow and wonder being surrounded by hundreds of people who were bringing their best and higher selves, always having conversations not only about how to improve businesses and systems and countries and the world, but also about how to transform and improve ourselves in order to be the change we want to see in the world.

Andreia at ecuentro B in chile
Andreia at the Ecuentro B Conference in Chile

For me, this kind of work, that is purpose-driven and that comes from an area of deep motivation, is the only kind of work worth doing. I believe that there will be no more concept of disengagement when we choose to do work and business from this place within ourselves where we deeply care about our professional lives. This is work we can love because this is a work of love.

I keep using the word ‘love’. Yes, love, a word we don’t use enough in business and politics and social settings. Funny since love is highly effective and powerful. I believe that we should use love more when it comes to our professional lives because when our ideas and work come from the place of love for others, everything transforms. I am proof. I was lifted up by my work with Sistema B.

I was the volunteer, but I feel I am the one really privileged to have had such a beautiful professional experience. Thank you to everyone in Sistema B and B Labs, thank you, Academia B, thank you MovingWorlds for facilitating this experience.

6. The value of opportunities for dispositional autonomy, and the necessity of having the space and time to be alone and look at yourself.

Since we do bring our deepest, most authentic selves to everything we do, the experteering project provided above all a chance for me to revisit and rediscover myself. Maybe even to reinvent myself.

This kind of experience provides plenty of opportunities for the so-called ‘dispositional autonomy’, for time of being alone to reflect and to filter reality according to our own values and beliefs.

Many times in our regular lives, we fall into prescribed scenarios. It is hard to get out of them, especially if we remain in the same place. Sometimes, it is hard to even be aware of what needs to change since there is so much familiarity and normalcy linked to everything. Finding yourself in a place where nobody knows you and where the local culture stimulates and challenges you regularly is a fast track to self-awareness and self-articulation.

There were a few months of intense awareness, of quick learnings, of highs and lows, of being constantly between two worlds, a participant, but also an outsider.

I discovered I need to be really intentional about setting up my life in a way that provides me with balance as well as with newness. I quickly understood my priorities, which are to ensure physical and emotional wellbeing above all. Exercise, sleep, and connecting with people who care about you will give you the mental and emotional fuel to face the unknown. Yet these simple, most basic things are not always easily accessible in a foreign land.

Thus, I learned I can be a resource for myself in the absence of close, nourishing relationships. I learned I can build relationships and adapt to new environments, but that cultural fit is important for my long-term wellbeing.

Andreia at the center of the world
Andreia exploring in the center of the world!

I grew in self-reliance and self-regulation. I especially grew in self-authorship. I am the author and the authority of my own life now more than ever before. I don’t expect to be ‘normal’ anymore. I am ok with being an outlier. I like being with the innovators and early adopters in models of personal and professional life. I was inspired and encouraged by the numerous examples of the people I met who chose to live and work like this: having the courage to believe in their own perspective of the world although it may not be supported by current ‘reality’ or existing paradigms.

I hope moving forward that my role in the professional world will be more to bring in the new, so I can expect from myself to inspire people to change rather than to expect to fit in.

I was in a midlife crisis trying to fit into models that were not mine. Now I am in a midlife creation, where I am designing gradually and realistically my life according to my own models. I am boldly going to where no other previous version of me has gone before just because I am allowing myself to believe it is possible, because I have tools and resources I can use and because I am inspired and accompanied by other people. And because I like it. Living like this is so exciting.

I keep repeating a phrase I heard from another self-designer: ‘The hardest thing in life is to do what you want to do”. It is hard to live how you want to live. But is it worth it to live any other way? Why do we even try?

Do want you want to do. What is your inner voice telling you? You may hear: “I want to stay where I am, I am happy with my life, I want things to remain the same”. Then do it. While it lasts. Life has a bad habit of not agreeing to our decision to not pursue change and manages to find creative and very compelling ways to bring change. So keep listening to yourself until you hear the voice of change.

You will hear yourself saying ‘I would like my life to be different. I would like to work differently. I would like to have this impact in the world’. Then listen to it. Fear or no fear, start walking. The road will show up.

As I reflect on the experience as a whole, I am grateful to have finally found my tribe. The MovingWorlds Global Network is one of the more special tribes around the world since most groups and individuals try to preserve their identity and status quo. But not these organisations. And not me anymore, either. The fellowship gave me the tools to take action and lead positive change in a way that is approached thoughtfully and constructively.

Change may be hard, indeed, but it is undoubtedly impossible to avoid. My experience showed me that when we resist change, change strikes back and we experience it as a crisis. But there is no need to have life crises. Or work crises. Or world crises. What we do need is to have natural transitions to new ways of living in our bodies and relationships and society. On an individual and collective level, we need to continuously update our models of life and work and business.

Once we embrace and manage change well, it is powerful. Then it is experienced as a transformation and a becoming. I hope that my transformative experience can continue to create more positive change in the world!

[Editor’s note: If you’re as inspired by Andreia’s story as we are, we invite you to join us! Apply to our next cohort of MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellows to take that first step towards your own transformative experience.]