Reinventions: Lucy von Sturmer
Reinventions profiles people who've made big pivots. Meet Lucy von Sturmer, an entrepreneur who, just after Mother's Day, explores what it is to become a mother, and returning to New Zealand while redesigning her business.
What were you before?
The founder of a small boutique agency in Amsterdam, living my best life far from home after more than a decade in Europe, traveling across the region representing some of the world's best brands and agencies, delivering workshops and training at a range of global events.
One year later, I sold my house, packed up my life and returned to New Zealand. While I'm still working across the European continent (and beyond) from the comfort of my living room, I'm also reinventing the way my company operates, shifting from a service-oriented agency to more of a digital business.
What triggered your reinvention(s)?
Without a doubt, Covid-19. But it only brought to the surface some bigger questions I had already been asking myself: Was the work I was doing aligning with my goals? Was the environment I was living and working in truly making me happy? On a personal note, was I yearning for a return to nature? These were all feelings deep in my gut, but which I wasn't listening to or ready to act on.
Everything became crystal clear when I learned that during all this, I was about to become a mom. When the borders to New Zealand closed, something deep inside me knew it was time to return to my country of origin.
If Covid has shown us anything, it's that much of the work—and global impact—we are able to achieve can be done from anywhere. So I'm excited about continuing leading The Humblebrag and Creatives for Climate from Down Under.
What did the first steps look like?
Everything changed so quickly. We made the decision to up and leave in September, and landed in New Zealand in November. In terms of transitioning our services into online programs and training, that took longer. For two years, I have been delivering brand positioning workshops and thought leadership training in person, and slowly refining and formalizing my process into a toolkit, transitioning this into an online experience. But I still have a lot more to develop in this space.
What was one hard obstacle to overcome?
Being a founder and being pregnant was difficult. I lost a few clients who felt my priorities would shift, or who—I felt, at least—projected their own idea of what being a mom, and a service provider, would mean for me. Luckily, the majority of my clients stood by and supported me, knowing full well that, yes, while I have grown a human, I have not changed. In saying that, I have been very lucky that being a mom has been an easy transition for me.
What was easier than you thought?
Giving birth, ha! No, but really—continuing to work on a global level from New Zealand.
What's something you learned along the way that other people, hoping to do something similar, should know?
I think it's tempting to look at other people's business models and think, "Oh, it must be working for them—I'll apply that same model, too." But success is so subjective. I've finally got to the point where I want to design my services and offerings to truly work for my own life—and to discover a model that serves my goals.
I won't say too much at this point, but this means scaling down my bespoke one-on-one service offers, and carving out more time to develop learning materials and training.
So my advice related to this would be: While it's tempting to look around and gain inspiration from others, trust yourself and don't spend time pursuing the "safe" path, because it might take you further from where you'd like to be in the end.
Did anyone or anything inspire you along the way?
So many people, but the role models keep changing as my own goals change. A constant in my life is my mother, activist and artist Sarah Smuts-Kennedy. More than a mother, she's a mentor and a friend, only 20 years "ahead" of me in life. I basically get full-time life coaching from her on an almost daily basis, which I benefit from greatly. ;)
What has this fundamentally changed for you?
She helps me to keep my eye on the prize, which is my well-being, my happiness and my positive impact on others. She challenges me when I'm pursuing "vanity metrics" and, because of the work she does in sustainability and social change, provides a robust sounding board for navigating this tricky space.
As women leaders, we increasingly support and mentor each other. We hold each other accountable for playing things safe or acting small, as we're both up against the same challenges in terms of power and the patriarchy.
Do you think you could go back/do you want to?
To having a job and working for someone else? Never say never. But I'm so outspoken, I feel unemployable. I much prefer to be my own boss, and support others in a way that doesn't inhibit my own freedom. I'm a real #millennial in this way.
Tell us your reinvention song.
"Strawberry Fields Forever," the Beatles.
How would you define yourself now?
I feel proud to be carving my own path, and proud of all I have achieved. I'm 33, four years into running my own business, with more than a decade of experience under my belt, and now a mother of one. I feel Covid has brought out a stronger sense of humanity and vulnerability in everyone, and of course, for me personally. So, too, has the process of becoming a mother.
Overall, today versus a year ago, I feel fewer inhibitions, less beholden to other people's expectations, and more excited about committing to the opportunities that feel right. Even if that means letting go of parts of my former self, and my former life, along the way…
Watch this space.