It was 10th November 2009. A few months ago, Robert Enke had been announced as the top goalkeeper candidate to lead the German team into the Football World Cup 2010.
That morning, Robert said goodbye to his wife and went to his daily training routine at the Hannover Football Club. By late afternoon, his wife Teresa became worried when Robert was not back. She rang him continuously but found his mobile switched off. At 5.15pm, Robert stood in front of a regional express train. Police confirmed the discovery of a suicide note but would not publicise its details.
Robert’s death came as a great shock to the nation and the entire international football community. The question remains – Why would such a successful footballer end his life at the top of his career?
Petra Chan (name & background changed for confidentiality reasons) is a self-driven and highly respected Chief Operating Officer (COO) in a large multinational company. She is going through one of the toughest times in her career as she leads the merger of her organization with another corporation. The complexity of the integration, its long hours and difficult negotiations, combined with the stresses of her day job in a highly regulated environment started to take its toll on her. She has sleepless nights, struggles with continuous headaches and started suffering from stomach problems.
Being an insecure overachiever, Petra is always going the extra mile and has an amazing track record in top positions across various organisations. But now Petra feels overwhelmed, incompetent and hopeless.
What connects Robert and Petra’s situation?
For me, Robert and Petra’s situations can be connected through a song, which was initially written as a show tune in the 1945 musical Carousel. The cousin of the female protagonist Julie, sings it to comfort and encourage Julie after the death of her husband. Gerry and the Pacemakers released one of the songs most successful covers in 1963. Right after that “YOU NEVER WALK ALONE” became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club and is now invariably sung before the start of each home game.
So, how does the song relate to Petra’s situation?
In my conversations with her, it was clear that she was near her emotional and mental rock bottom. The complexity of the circumstances made her doubt her own proven capabilities despite her successful track record. She was overworked and exhausted through the continuous internal debates where she focused on what was not working rather than what was. She felt that her spouse and her friends did not understand her and she did not talk to her peers or her boss, since this might be perceived as a weakness which could impact or even end her career.
Petra felt alone.
We needed to find a way out of this situation quickly.
After several conversations between us, Petra decided to brave a change and approached her situation differently. She confided in a colleague about her crisis and also told her boss about the challenges, doubts and internal conflicts she was going through.
This was the Game Changer.
In sharing about her internal debates and pressure, she found the courage and energy to look at her situation differently. This shifted her perspective and she saw how it REALLY was – Yes, her job was tough, complex and difficult, but it certainly was not hopeless.
In the months that followed, Petra’s situation got better. With the support of the people around her she gradually picked herself up. Not only is the business transition on track, she also is stronger and healthier.
Certainly the pressure and individual circumstances of Petra cannot at all be compared to Robert’s personal mental and emotional situation, but for me both of them were struggling with loneliness and an inability to share their real feelings and inner struggles with those around them.
For many of us, our successful careers create a lot of pressure and make us feel lonely at times. Whilst some of us thrive in such an environment, it could feel like a dead-end road for others.
When things get really tough, remember to walk on with hope in your hearts and find strength in sharing your situation with someone you trust. This could be a friend, a colleague, a mentor or a coach. By doing so you will be able to find your own way forward and hence “YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE”.