One year ago today, I arrived in Amsterdam unemployed and without much of a plan. Two months prior, I had quit a job I loved before going travelling for a few weeks. Fast forward a year and I now have a dream job working at Harman, a Samsung owned audio company with brands such as JBL, Harman Kardon and AKG.
The CEO of Harman, Dinesh Pawali, recently delivered the commencement address at his old university. He talked about his journey and some of the lessons he has learnt.
Being the CEO of an audio company, he uses headphones to get his point across. Before 1958, headphones had a mono sound that was recorded with one microphone. The experience was flat and the sound had no depth or detail. A man named John Koss invented the stereo headphone which allowed you to listen to tracks recorded from different microphones playing at once. Music now sounded what is was supposed to sound like, a 360-degree immersion.
He argues that the same is true in business, and in life. Life becomes richer and fuller when you experience the world in high-fidelity stereo. Learning becomes deeper and more profound. Dinesh has found that humans are creatures of habits. We feel safe in a one-track “mono” world. But the problem is, if we stay on one track, we can’t take the road less travelled.
Dinesh grew up in India before moving to the United States to study. He has since worked in six countries and it is this international experience that he credits as the main reason he is the executive he is today. He encourages his fellow graduates to leave their comfort zone by moving abroad for at least three years.
By staying for at least three years, you dive into the social fabric of the society and learn the culture. Doing so will force you to think differently and adapt to a whole new decision-making process.
Dinesh acknowledged that the students listening to his commencement speech might assume he ventured overseas alone. And that he worked his way up the corporate ladder as a lone wolf. That’s not what happened. For the majority of his career he has been supported by his wife, Ila. He recognises the tremendous influence and impact she has had on his career. She has kept him grounded, lifted him up and provided valuable insights throughout his career.
Like Dinesh, I chose to leave my comfort zone just over a year ago. Life in Sydney was great. I had a good group of friends, both my parents had moved to Sydney to be closer to me, I had a newborn baby brother, and a great job. That’s why my friends thought I was joking when I told them I wanted to leave that life to move to Amsterdam, a city I had never visited.
I was also fortunate to venture overseas with a partner. I met Vanessa in February 2017 and on our 4th date she told me she was moving to Amsterdam. Three dates later, we quit our jobs and booked a one-way ticket to Europe. But that’s a story for another day.
We arrived in Amsterdam knowing there were several global companies and everyone spoke English. Our initial excitement wavered when we met an Australian couple who told us it would take eight months to find work. We started to believe them when neither of us heard back from anyone in the first month. There weren’t as many English speaking roles as we had thought and there was a lot of competition from expats and locals for the ones that did exist. With enough money to stay another 2 months, we started to question whether Amsterdam was the right choice.
We didn’t give up and it was the support we gave each other that made all the difference. We helped each other with job applications and lifted each other up when we felt defeated. We had a break when Vanessa landed an interview for her dream job at Booking.com. Over the next two months, she had NINE interviews and by this point staying in Amsterdam was dependent on whether she got the job.
You can imagine how happy we were when she finally got the call telling her she was successful. We even dipped into our diminishing savings to treat ourselves to a rare dinner out.
Then it was my turn. Amsterdam is an expensive city and we both needed jobs in order to have a life here. When Vanessa started working, it was tough. It’s not a nice feeling knowing you’re not able to contribute financially, and having to rely on your partner’s income. With three months of full time job applying only resulting in one interview, I started to wonder if I would ever find a job.
What made it easier was Vanessa’s continuous support. She put no pressure on me to find a job and was happy to support me for as long as needed. My friends weren’t as forgiving and were sure to remind me that Vanessa was the breadwinner!
After four months I landed an interview with Harman, a company I had never heard of. After a second interview, I was offered the job.
We did it.
What I didn’t realise until I started was that it was a dream job. I work for the biggest audio company in the world, marketing the best portable speakers and headphones on offer. I get to travel to music festivals all over Europe, organise fun events and work with world renowned musicians.
Our first year in Amsterdam hasn’t been easy. We’ve lived in 12 different apartments, survived a freezing winter and struggled with homesickness. However, we now have a beautiful apartment in the heart of the city, the summer is here and we’ve even made a couple of friends.
We never would have imagined that moving to Amsterdam would work out so well. Vanessa works in travel, I work in music and we both get to venture around Europe. We took a leap of faith and we truly are living a life in high-fidelity stereo.