Updated: Sep 24, 2020
To kick-off my new series of interviews with multi-hyphen women, I talked to a very appreciated former colleague of mine, Leonie Herma. She’s a digital strategist-remote worker-freelancer-website specialist-surfer; so I’d say that’s plenty hyphens all together. We worked together at Spaces, she’s as part of the digital marketing team, and I was in charge of the content marketing team. When I first met her, my initial thoughts were, well, this is not just some nice sweet German girl. There’s more than meets the eye. There’s something very cool about her. She has a certain je ne sais quoi. Lucky me, we bonded quickly over wines during a summer party, became close colleagues and still keep in touch.
After I left Spaces in July 2019, I remember bumping into Leonie sometime mid-September of last year I think. She told me she had quit her job. Her words: “I’m doing the least German thing there is, I’m quitting my job to go travelling!”. And so she left the Netherlands in October, and after two months working remotely from Costa Rica, she also left the company to go freelance.
It’s an afternoon in early September when I speak to Leonie, me from home in the Netherlands, desperately waiting for that Indian Summer to start while she’s surrounded by huge banana plants and eternal sunshine in Sri Lanka.
We know each other obviously but tell me a bit more about how you grew up.
Well, I was born in Augsburg, that’s about 40 minutes away from Munich. I have a sister who I’m very close with, who’s two years older. (believe me, they could be twins!). I’ve always been into sports, and I was very active in equestrian vaulting, it’s like acrobatics on horseback.
Yes, I know this, because that’s how you know how to make a braid crown in your hair! So impressive...
Exactly! Well, after finishing secondary school, I went to study Communications in Bavaria, spent one semester in Rouen in Normandy and later on went to France again for an internship in Strasbourg, France. Mostly my time in Normandy made a significant impact, and I couldn’t speak French that well, it rained a lot there and got super cold during winter. It was a very long nine months. When I got back to Germany, I wanted to do my master in English and study in another country. Since I never really clicked with France, that was off my list. I also wanted to live in a bigger city now. So I randomly picked Amsterdam and the master program New Media & Digital Culture. I applied and was lucky enough to get accepted. I loved Amsterdam, the city, the people. When I finished my degree, I moved back to Munich to work in marketing at a big IT company. The contrast from the student life in Amsterdam to working in a very conservative German IT company was huge. It was way too classic and too big for me as it has 7000 employees. I wanted to move back to Amsterdam and applied to over 30 different jobs, all related to marketing & communications. However, I came across a position at Spaces (this is where we met...) and was lucky enough to become the product owner/digital specialist for the website. It was the perfect job for me because I was drawn to the whole digital world, and in this job, it was all about connecting all the disciplines and the different projects.
Ok but let’s go back to when you were riding that horse doing acrobats. Did you have any idea of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a TV presenter! I always liked to be a show master when we had talent night as kids. During my studies, we had to make a lot of videos, and I always wanted to be the presenter. So I thought about presenting the weather on TV but then I had to learn about the weather. So that wasn’t going to happen. I then contemplated becoming a journalist, but on the first day of my bachelor communication, I was told that all journalists would end up unemployed. Ok, well that was a hard truth. So, then I reassessed what I liked and during my studies, I realised digital things were the future, and I became mesmerised by how cool it all was.
So you often tried something and then found out that it wasn’t what you wanted and then made a new turn. How did your father feel about you making all this turns along the way?
My father has been a teacher for all of his life. He has a free spirit and is very open-minded. The great thing is, and this I realise now as I’m growing older, he never put any expectations on my sister and me. He just let me try different things, explore and travel and never talked us into doing anything that we didn’t want.
You started travelling in November 2019 and had planned to be back in Germany somewhere in spring/summer of 2020. And then, of course, corona happened.
Yup, now I’m in Sri Lanka, where I’ve been since March. I never planned to stay for such a long time, but I’ve also not attempted to leave. I’ve seen so many others go to the airport and then to return as flights were cancelled last-minute. I think it’s easier now to get a flight back, but well, actually, I’m in no rush. I like living here, though I don’t feel that I live here, it still feels like I’m visiting. I’m just renting a place, and I have one bag. It’s difficult to establish real friendships when everyone is travelling, and I also miss being part of a team. I enjoy all the freedom, know lots of people here to hang out with and spend my days surfing and working when I want to. When it comes to work, what helps me is my project management background. The most important thing as a remote worker is on time for meetings and calls. It’s about being organised and on time to keep all your clients and keep them happy.
Any lessons learned from travelling?
When I was travelling for about three months, I knew I’d go back to Germany. At that time, I’d think about all those little specific things I miss, like German cakes or certain clothes I couldn’t wait to wear again. But now, I’m voluntarily stuck here, and I’ve been on the road for almost a year, and I don’t miss anything. Of course, I do miss my father, friends and especially my sister but I don’t miss having lots of things. I don’t buy things here, and I just have my backpack. I only bought a new surfboard and two bikinis, but those I use every day. I’ve learned to live with less.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that I’m getting better at not planning everything, every day is different, and I feel like I’m living my dream. So I’m going with the flow, which is a big thing for a German girl to say!
Going back to work stuff, what do you, and how did you learn your skills?
I help companies to get online, mostly websites. I work for a lot of small to medium companies, and advise set-up and help them with their SEO, create websites and implement tracking. I offer a full package of a complete SEO-friendly website with tracking and empower my clients to get comfortable with it. It’s about teaching them how they can do changes on the website themselves as well as interpret the google analytics data and make smarter marketing decisions. I also do a lot of project management, so I keep in touch with a lot of freelancers who all specialise in something different. I like to function as a mini-agency and make connections happen. When you’re all freelancers, you’re very agile and quick. That’s how we also got to do a project together!
Thinking back on my career path, you know people always say to me that I got lucky to get that cool job in Amsterdam. But they didn't realise that before I applied to Spaces, I had applied to 30 other companies in Amsterdam. Work is all about lucky coincidences and mostly just putting in the work. The same goes for my studies, it was quite broad, but it made me flexible. I made things happen because I worked for it, and I did feel that it all made sense, I mean one thing leads to another.
Do you believe in having regrets and if so, is there anything you regret?
No, there’s no one path that I’m following, and there’s just no point in regretting. Like I disliked my time in Normandy, it was too long and cold. But on the other hand, the internship was fun, and I learned French. I always had a natural urge to learn new things, new languages and move to new places. I get energy from new things.