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Turning 40 and Becoming Conscious
Episode 6015th August 2023 • Forty Drinks: The Podcast About Turning 40 • Stephanie McLaughlin
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For Sascha Siegmund, the month before his 40th birthday was a whirlwind of rapid change, from leaving a safe, stable job in finance with no plan to next steps, to a 10-day Buddhist silent retreat. After the turmoil of his job and leaving it unceremoniously after almost eight years, and the fear of what he’d do next, the silent retreat helped him find calm. Sascha said “in order to be healthy as an individual you have to become conscious.” Through our lives, beginning when we are children, we adopt behaviors and strategies to deal with the world. He said most people run on autopilot and if we want to think or act differently, we need to become conscious about the choices and decisions we make.

Guest Bio

Originally from Germany Sascha has lived in France, the Netherlands, Belgium & China and has traveled to many more countries especially in Latin America and Asia. After some 15+ years working in corporates and NGOs he now uses his natural curiosity, knowledge and experience as a Corporate Trainer, and Coach.

Being a discoverer of the inside & outside world Sascha is passionate about human potential as well as physical and mental well-being. During his career and life he realized that the limit to growth and development for both individuals and businesses is the human dimension. Driven to empower individuals to explore, discover and live their individual strengths Sascha supports his clients finding their authentic self, meaning and motivation. As a result they move from a ‘reaction’ to a ‘creation’ mode, becoming entrepreneurs of their lives.

Sascha works with companies and the European Institutions on leadership, communication, stress-management, organizational development in order to create environments where people can be their best.

Turning 40 and Becoming Conscious

In this episode, I sit down with Sascha Siegmund, who shares his journey from working in financial compliance to discovering - and following - his true passion for connecting with people. Join us as we explore his life in Brussels, Belgium, his love for European culture, and his transformative experience at a 10-day silent retreat. If you've ever felt unfulfilled in your career and wondered what it would be like to take a leap of faith, this episode is for you.

Episode Highlights

  • Sascha's Background: Learn about Sascha's upbringing in Germany, his studies in European culture, and his diverse career path.
  • Career in Compliance: Understand Sascha's experience working in a financial institution and why it left him feeling unfulfilled.
  • The Decision to Leave: Hear about the pivotal moment when Sascha decided to leave his job and the rapid transition that followed.
  • 10-Day Silent Retreat: Dive into Sascha's experience at a 10-day silent retreat, where he reconnected with himself and found clarity.
  • Turning 40: Reflect on the significance of turning 40 and the profound changes that came with this milestone in Sascha's life.

Sascha’s story is a powerful reminder that it's never too late to pursue what truly matters to you. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate, follow, and review the podcast. Your support helps us bring more incredible stories like Sascha's to our listeners. Until next time!


The Forty Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire Marketing/Communications

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Stephanie: Hi Sasha. Thanks for being here with me today.

Sascha: Hi, Stephanie. Thank you. Thank you very much for the invitation.

Stephanie: It's my pleasure. You are coming to us today from Europe. Is that correct?

Sascha: Indeed, indeed. I'm sitting in Brussels, Belgium.

Stephanie: Beautiful, beautiful city. I was there in my twenties for a short visit and, God, it was so beautiful there. Some of the buildings in one of those main squares are just breathtaking. The historic buildings.

Sascha: Yeah, indeed.

They have some very beautiful old architecture.

Stephanie: Yeah, I was living in Ireland at the time, so I wasn't unfamiliar with old architecture, but once we got to Belgium, the architecture was completely different than on such a different scale, and it was really breathtaking. I would love to get back there again someday.

Sascha: You should. There's also good food and beer.

Stephanie: Oh, actually, that's right. There is good beer. When I was there, tell me is this a real thing? I had something called a Mazout. Is that a real thing? Oh. Oh, I'm so excited. I remembered that. Tell me what it is.

Sascha: Oh, it's one of the thousand kinds of beers that they have, quite honestly, because there's a lot of monasteries here that were traditionally doing the beers and they tried a lot of things. So there's some beer bars in Brussels, for example, where you can try out a couple of hundred of different kind of beers and they go from 4% alcohol up to 12% alcohol. So, there are quite a lot of beers that are relatively strong.

Stephanie: Yeah, I'm not a big beer drinker and never have been and so the week that I was in Belgium, I was drinking something. I thought it was called a Mazout, but it was half Coca-Cola and half beer. Is that a thing?

Sascha: That also exists. Quite honestly, I'm not Belgian by origin. I'm German, so I'm coming from a city two hours from here. We have that to in Germany and it's a drink, especially in the summer for people that don't like to get drunk so quickly because you have to be careful because it's too hot and stuff, they'll mix for example, coke and beer or lemonade and beer

Stephanie: yep. Yeah. I know Lemonade and beer is

a shandy, I think is what that's called in, Celtic parts of the world, I think. Anyway, I'm trying to remember things from 25 ish years ago, maybe more, 30 years ago, but

We're here to talk about your story about turning 40. why don't we start back a couple of steps and tell me a little bit about your early adulthood and how you got to be in your late thirties where our story will begin.

bank for banks. I started in:

Stephanie: Right,

Sascha: that's a little bit what I did. As you can see, it's quite diverse.

Stephanie: It is quite diverse. You did a lot of jumping around, which in the nineties, that was really the first generation where it was acceptable to be having jobs for only two or three years and, and then jumping to something else, because prior to that it wasn't so common. People stayed with companies for decades.

Sascha: Yeah,

Stephanie: Yeah,

So you took this job in the financial industry in Brussels, and you told me it was a real safe job.

Sascha: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, a financial institutions nearly like a public service in a certain way. So, once you are inside, you can move up or around or whatever and unless you do something really stupid, usually you can stay quite long if you want to. Of course there's a much bigger social security system in Europe, so you have your salaries and your holiday pay and all these kind of things that are guaranteed. So yeah, it, it was a very safe position.

Stephanie: And you were working in compliance? It was a real, you know, just plain old job there.

It doesn't sound like there was a lot, oh, I don't even know how to say this, it was just a nine to five. It wasn't inspiring in any way. Right.

Sascha: No, no. At least not for me. I mean some people are interested in finance, some people like law. I worked in compliance, which is a very legal area, I have no law degree So for me it was okay, I mean, there was an international company it was nice. But content wise, it did not really trigger me. It was sanctions and anti-money laundering and all these kind of things, which in some way are interesting, but it's nothing I would like to dive in, for 20 years. So there were these questions of purpose coming up.

Stephanie: Yes, for a lot of people, the idea of a job that you could go to every day and just do, and then go home and you have a steady paycheck and you have your holidays and all of those things, that sounds like wonderful stability to some people. How did it feel to you?

Sascha: I will not complain about money and I will not complain about my holidays, which is nice, but it felt like something is missing. I told you what I've done in the past, and it's always this kind of tension between something that is paying my life and gives me security and on the other hand, something that excites me that is bigger than me that I can contribute to. So there's the European Union, for example, or there is renewable energy, so all things that are close to me. In compliance, I didn't have that feeling. It was a nine to five job, which allowed me to do a lot of things, but I was looking outside of the window a lot of times and asking myself, okay, what I'm doing here is this what you wanna do until you are 65, 67, or even older. And I really felt empty. I felt like I was existing, but I was not living.

Stephanie: Mm. What did that feel like to you? How did you know It didn't feel like living?

Sascha: Cause I had no, no joy. I went already angry to work on Monday and I went angry to work every morning. And I complained all the time about other people, usually. And what I did, the tasks did not fulfill me, it didn't give me any pleasure, it feels like I wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible. So, yeah, I feel empty. I think empty is a good word.

Stephanie: Yeah. So how long into the seven years was it when you realized that you were joyless and empty and feeling all these things?

Sascha: It came more often. I mean, it started relatively early, but of course I also changed department because in the beginning you're trying to make the changes small. You think, oh, maybe it's not the right team, maybe it's not the right content, whatever, and you switch to another team, another department, another topic within the company. And I went on for one, two years and I changed again. Or I took a sabbatical or I did this or that. But in the end, I would say the last one, two years, it really started increasing and it becomes something very regular.

Stephanie: Mm mm. Were you single at the time?

Sascha: I was with someone that is now my wife.

Stephanie: Did she reflect to you on the change in your demeanor? Did this come home with you or was it just something you felt during the week?

Sascha: Well, she noticed obviously, and we talked about it and at some point I think she realized that I didn't feel well mentally and, and even physically about my job.

Stephanie: So what did you do?

What did I do? That's a good question. At some point, I really was, at this moment when I looked out of the window, it was sunny outside and it was the darkened windows and I was wondering what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Is this it? What I, I'm going to stay for the next 20 years or not? And I decided no. So, I asked to have an internal coach that luckily they had this kind of program where they had internal coaches within the company. I also, at some point, took an external coach, and with this internal coach, because I knew her actually said when we had the first session, look, I've changed two, three times within the company, it doesn't really seem to stick or to fit. I would like to have an open discussion if I'm in the right company. And she was open to that, so, we started a little bit elaborating and quite quickly turned out that that was not the right place for me, at least not at that moment. Other than the things that you were feeling inside, how did the coach help you pull out the understanding that this was not the right company?

Sascha: Well, I mean we talked a lot about, obviously a little bit what I've done in the past. What interested me, what motivates me, okay, what are my values, what is important to me, these kind of things. And quite honestly, then you quite quickly realize, for example, that I'm somebody who likes freedom quite a lot, who likes discovery and learning new things quite a lot. And of course, in a very structured big corporate, that's usually less possible. I like very open communication style. For example, I'm quite direct, maybe that's my German heritage, I'm not sure. But, of course it did not always hit the right tone within the company, I suppose. So there are a couple of things that allowed me to see that I was not in the right place. And maybe the biggest point was that I figured out I like much more to work on people or with people rather than working on Excel spreadsheets or products or what it is. So maybe the one key takeaway is, for example, for me, that I like to work with people rather than with things because I've been working in politics, European studies, I've been working on renewable energies, I've been working in compliance. I think these are all very important areas, but I mean, you can have the technology to use renewable energies, but you can still use fuel or nuclear energy instead. You can have a compliance policy and people not applying it. So in the end, I realized very much it's about the person and not about the products or policies that you have, and I wanted to work with the people because that is the one thing that stick out of all of my experiences in the past is it's always the connection to the people. No matter if I was in China or if I was in France, or if I was in Germany, it's really this thing when I was with the people, that was my biggest and strongest memories, and usually it's the feedback that I got from other people.

Stephanie: Interesting. So you came to the realization that this job was not a good fit for you. What happened then?

ve. It was end of November of:

Stephanie: Wow. Wow. Wow, that's unceremonious.

Sascha: Yeah. Yeah. It's very funny how sometimes things accumulate into one moment or in one, one week or one month. Yeah.

Stephanie: Right, right. So interestingly though, you already had a holiday planned. Tell me about that.

Sascha: Yes. Yeah. I had a friend who was also into personal development, and he had done a Vipassana retreat a couple of years ago, so I had looked it up a couple of months earlier and I had booked a 10 day Vipassana retreat. Vipassana retreat is actually a silent retreat. It's built on Buddhistic traditions. You go to place, you give away your smartphone, you're not allowed to read, you're not allowed to have anything to write. The basic idea is you go there, you sleep, you get up early in the morning, four o'clock to start meditating at 4:30 or five, and you meditate more or less the whole day with some breaks. So you eat, sleep and meditate and walk maybe a little bit in the park and you don't speak to anybody. You're not allowed to have eye contact with people. You can have lunch watching at the wall if you want. They are table set directly face the wall.

Stephanie: No eye contact.

Sascha: Yeah. Because it's a way of communication, you know? So usually people walk around like this staring at the floor most of the time at least.

Stephanie: Wow. Tell me what about you at that time in your life made this feel like, because you booked this before you left your job, so what made that feel like the right thing for you as you were working in compliance at this financial bank and

Sascha: yeah. I think I needed to reconnect to myself. That's one thing. And you know, usually when you are at home and then there's your wife or your friend, or you have the television, you have the smartphone, you scroll around Facebook or whatever you do Instagram nowadays, or TikTok, you know, there's always distraction. And I really felt like after, well, what I didn't know before, but after the turmoil and everything going on, that I needed to close the outer world out, shut it out and concentrate on myself and take time for myself and see what happens.

Stephanie: Was that the first time you had ever done a silent retreat?

Sascha: Yes. That was the first time. Yeah.

Stephanie: Was it difficult?

Sascha: Quite honestly, it's very funny when I talk with people about it, they always, what? 10 days? No talking, sounds horrendous. For me, the 10 days of no talking or nine and a half it's very easy. It's not a problem to be silent because I don't know the people anyway that come there. I mean, I could talk to them in theory, but I have no interest. So the silent part for me is never a problem. But you will realize when you do this and you have no way to distract yourself because you're not talking, you have no television, you have no phone, how much crap you have going through your head all the time, all the thoughts, thousands of voices talking to you. And you can see how day after day of not talking to anybody of having no input, how things calm down and your mind calms down, because there's nothing else you can do. You do breathing, literally you do breathing all the time. That's the only thing you do. And so you realize after 10 days you really feel zen. Quite honestly, I would recommend it to nearly everybody who is mentally okay to do it, to once in his or her lifetime do this because I do believe you cannot go into a silent retreat and come out of it the same person.

Stephanie: Wow.

Sascha: No one ever in his life has spent 10 days with themselves and only with themselves.

Stephanie: Right. It does sound frightening a little bit. Unsettling, I think.

Sascha: I think some people usually leave, of course, two or three people usually leave because they cannot handle it. But I think it's a very intense and healthy exercise.

Stephanie: And did you say no writing?

Sascha: No, no writing, no meditation, no yoga, no sports, no mobile phones, no reading. No distraction.

Stephanie: I would just think doing that, I would want to journal and get all the stuff in my brain out. That's interesting that there's no capturing of any of that experience.

Sascha: No, no. It's being with experience.

Stephanie: Yeah. That's very zen. So you came out a different person. Who were you? How were you different when you came out?

th of January,:

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. The other thing you said was that when you left this job, you didn't really have a clear picture of what your future looked like or what you were going to do after you left.

Sascha: Yeah, I mean, as I said, whenI realized at some point that I like to work with people, but I had no background, I am not a HR person. I was no coach, had no psychology studies whatsoever. So, in the beginning I was you know, like everybody I went on YouTube, I watched people, I looked videos. Then I started to look up who in my network does something similar. I was reaching out to people, do you know somebody who does this? Would that be an option? I started having conversations, and so on, and which was possible to be quite honest, because my wife was working and she supported that. And so at some point I figured out, okay, for myself, I wanted something concrete, so I started a coaching training with a recognized company that was certified by the International Coach Federation and so on, because I wanted to show that I invested myself. mean, people have always been interesting to me, but I wanted to have something concrete, specific. So that was the first step, and it took some time.

Stephanie: When you came out of your retreat and you were contemplating your next steps, did you know right then that you wanted to be a coach? Was that something that had always been your mind?

Sascha: No, it has not always been on my mind, for a long time I didn't even know what a coach does, and it was my first idea because I came across it at some point because I had coaches myself and I thought, okay, that looks interesting, and I've always had a high interest in people. This is why I like to travel. This is why I like to learn languages. This is why my best memories is of experiences with people. And I usually had good relationship with people and they opened up and they told me stories maybe they wouldn't have told other people. But it was not that it was clear, it was more like carving out of a stone. And I'm still carving, I'm still working on it, it's not like, the job is done and I have evolved over the last five years in what I'm doing and how I'm doing these things.

Stephanie: So one of the reasons I was drawn to talk to you was when I read your bio, you had some real big picture worldview kind of things that you were reflecting on, and one of the statements that I loved was, in order to be healthy as an individual, you have to become conscious. Can you talk to me about your journey to consciousness?

Sascha: Sure it's still going on.

Stephanie: Of course, of course.

Sascha: pretty much, uh, no. you know, we get stuff when we are children, so you adopt certain strategies, you adopt certain behavior, certain values, whatever. And most people run on autopilot, including myself, most of their life. And I think in order to act differently, and to do what is good for you, you have to become conscious about the choices that you make, the decisions that you take, the things that are important to you. I think that's a big part about learning about yourself, of destructuring yourself, of making the subconscious conscious, because otherwise you're going into the same traps over and over again because you're always on an autopilot and you're reacting, you know, you're reactor not the creator of your life. Things happen to you all the time. And so this is why awareness or consciousness is so important.

Stephanie: Do you feel like, because this is one of the things that I'm so curious about and really a lot of these conversations is about is in our twenties and early thirties or sometimes all the way through our thirties and into our forties, if you're me, you are not conscious of the patterns and the choices. Do you feel like this was something that dawned on you orthat became more obvious to you through your thirties and into your forties? Or were you always conscious? Were you a conscious kid? Were you a conscious young adult, or was this something that came to you during this decade sometime around 30 to 40.

Sascha: Quite honestly, I think I was a conscious kid and a conscious young adult. The thing is, I think I was very conscious at the time, but I wasn't aware that I was conscious because it was, it was natural because you're a child, you always doing these things very naturally without knowing. And I think then what happens is that society hits, your education hits and you are doing what everybody else does. This is what happened with me, I started working in insurance company, then I felt, that's not the right thing, and I went into European Studies and then I went into renewable energies and that felt more or less okay, but then, okay, I wanted to again, make more money, and because I saw my friends making a career... and, so you, at some point, maybe when you're a child, you're unconsciously conscious, you just do the things that you do, but you don't know why you're doing them. And I think when you start going for personal development and discovering yourself, you're trying to make to reconscionize the consciousness or the unconscious that you had before, maybe as a child. Because as a child you didn't, you didn't wonder, you just did.

Stephanie: Right. But if you're unconsciously conscious or if you're not aware that you're conscious, are you really conscious? You know what I mean?

Sascha: Oof. That's a philosophical question. Yes. I know. Maybe it's, it's not the right words. Yeah. Yeah. Maybe it's not the right words, but it's like, it's a little bit like with learning, you know that, I'm not sure you're aware, there're the five levels of knowledge, of learning. You are unconsciously, unknowing. Okay? This is when you're a child. So if you take the example of driving a car, for a young child driving a car, they don't know. They're not able to drive. Okay. They see Dad doing this or Mom doing this, and they think, okay, that's the easy thing. I can do this as well. Okay. When they grow older, they become consciously unknowing. Okay. They can see that it's complex and they don't know. Then you go to driving school and you learn how to drive and then you become knowledgeable. But at the beginning, you were like, steering, changing the gear, watching in the back mirror and everything you have to do it very attentively and consciously in order to not create an accident. And then after some years of driving, you drive home. You don't even know how you got there. Okay? But the fifth stage is then if you want to teach somebody how to drive, now you have kids and you want to teach them how to drive everything that you have automated, you have to make it re-conscious again, you have to make it conscious again in order to explain them how it works. Cause we, for you, it has become so natural that you don't remember. And I thinkin that sense, maybe it's a little bit the same, just the other way around. As a kid, you, you know it. But you don't know that you know it maybe. And so at some point when you are older, in your thirties and forties, you find ways back to go through all the layers that were put on you of what you have to do and how you have to do it, andwhat you need to have, et cetera.

Stephanie: It's interesting. I like that example for a couple of reasons. A number of people that I've talked to have talked about their transitions in this period of time. They've gone back to things that they loved as a child or they've gone back to things that they thought they had to leave behind cuz they were childish. So that really works within your analogy. And I think as I put my own sort of thought process on top of what you're saying, and it's interesting, you were talking about in your early twenties and you went into insurance and then you, and then you moved on to European Studies, you get into that routine of being an adult and it's almost like you get on the conveyor belt and you just head down, and you just, you know, go, go, go, without really thinking about some of the bigger picture pieces. And I wonder if, after you've been doing that for a while, you start, like you did, you start to realize that inside you're not feeling joyful and you're not feeling fulfilled. And, and so that's when you pick your head up and kind of wonder is, is this it? So, I think that that kind of fits in with your example.

Sascha: Yeah, I think some people do, I don't know if they're lucky, like me and you who start at the forties maybe rethinking things and changing direction and other people don't. I think they might think they don't have the means to do so, or they don't have the introspection to do so, or they think that that's life, you know. My parents, for example, I mean, life was different then, but I think they never had thought about, okay, what makes me happy? You know, they had a job and they had a family to support and that's it. So it's also a question of means and of possibilities.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. One of the other things you said in your bio, and I like this one because this is one I think about a lot and especially within these conversations, is only if you are aware that you have a problem, can you start solving it. And, and that really is the crux of these conversations of people becoming aware that there's an issue with their existence that they're not fulfilled or they're not happy, or they're not joyful and how to become aware of that and then how to, first it's such a big situation that it's overwhelming to even think about how to change it. Were you overwhelmed when you thought of leaving this stable, steady job to go out into the great unknown?

Sascha: Of course, of course. I was afraid because you don't know what comes next. If you have been seven and a half years in a job that pays your life quite okay, and you have no plan and so there is nothing prepared. Yeah, of course I was scared,

Stephanie: Yeah.

Sascha: And probably only dared it because I knew that my wife had my back in a certain way. I'm not sure I would've done it if I would've been by myself. I'm not sure. I cannot say.

Stephanie: Interesting. Interesting. For me, I wasn't single. I hada boyfriend, but it was a very bad relationship that was crumbling at the same time. But because I was single and unmarried I thought it was almost easier to walk away from the steady and the stable because there weren't other responsibilities that required that great paycheck or the the benefits or things like that.

Sascha: Yeah. Good point.

Stephanie: Sasha, tell me what you have evolved into. What do you do now? You've become a coach and talk a little bit about what you're doing.

Sascha: Mm-hmm. Well I'm still coaching, I'm doing it less, quite honestly, but I'm still coaching people individually. For example, this is also a process, as I said, I'm giving more trainings now. I like to give trainings, or speak, but mainly I'm doing trainings in corporates, not only on personal development, but on communication, for example, because communication for me is a key, that you need to know how to give feedback, how to receive back feedback, how to speak, how to communicate with your others on leadership, this kind of things, because I would like to have people be more happy in their jobs. And of course I think it has a lot to do with how we communicate and how the leaders or the management is working and this kind of things. And also I realized, for example, I love one-to-one coachings because they can go very deep. But I love the energy of being in a group, being a front of a group and animating a group. I'm talking too much sometimes for being a group coach, I think.

Stephanie: That's funny. But I love that, you're able to do both things that are fulfilling to you. You've created a situation where you can be one-on-one and go deep and, and really get gooey and messy with people. And then you also have the balance of getting that energy, of being out in front of people, that speaking to a group and feeling like you're having a broader impact. That's wonderful that you've been able to create that.

Sascha: Yeah. And so that's the path I'm on and I'm still working on it. There's always a next step, obviously. It's sometimes it's like everything, sometimes it's fascinating, it's not like I'm getting up every day yeah, cheerful and happy and there are days that are good and days that are less good, but overall, I have to say what I'm doing fulfills me much more than what I have done in the past.

Stephanie: Wonderful. That's the ultimate goal. Good. Well, Sascha, I just wanted to say thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your story. I think been an interesting, I never knew I was gonna get philosophical with a German, that was a scary place to be for me I'm not particularly philosophical, but you, you handled me very nicely. So thank you for being kind.

Sascha: Thank you very much, Stephanie. It was such a pleasure to be with you.




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