“Career change” and “life coach” are two buzzwords that seem to be extremely fashionable nowadays. A lot of people, without even knowing me personally, try to convince me they’re going to help me express my full potential and achieve my goals. I receive almost one message per day on various social media from people trying to sell me their miraculous services, some of them are even bragging about some fanciful certificates they earned at some coaching schools. My inquisitive spirit made me want to know more about this new trend but, even though it seemed there was an overpopulation of coaches, I realized I had no one of them among my contacts. Until when I finally met Joachim Brackx, a former musician that decided to become entrepreneurs and business coach, helping people making the changes they need and living the life they want. I decided to put skepticism and stereotypes on the side and go with genuine curiosity to ask him some questions about himself, about why he changed his life after becoming a successful musician, and about his current job as a business coach. The result is this very interesting interview where I felt I scratched a bit over the surface and got to know a real person a bit better.
The first question is, of course, the most trivial one: who is Joachim? Musician, entrepreneur, none of them?
That’s a very good question! I tend to say these days that I don’t define myself by what I do. In essence, I live a creative life. I have these creative impulses in me and I project them in different fields, whether it’s art or entrepreneurship.
That’s a good point. What we do doesn’t identify who we are.
Yes, not necessarily. Some people do identify with what they do, but I don’t do that anymore. I am Joachim and I do different things and these things change. I think it was Stephen Fry talking about Oscar Wilde that said something like: “We are not nouns, we are verbs”, and it’s true, I conjugate myself.
But, even though they don’t define who you are, you’re still doing a lot of things. You founded some companies, previously you were a composer, I’m getting lost in all these projects you have!
So, the main company I’m running right now is called “VectoriaDesigns” and it’s a company that makes digital crafting graphics. We’re trying to move into the physical world now, we’re going to produce crafted items soon, it’s expanding. That’s a very creative business, the whole mission is to make it easier for people to be creative because maybe not everybody has the ability to make something from scratch so, if they start with something that already exists and maybe inspires them, you know, that’s much easier. We’ve been doing it for 4-5 years now and it’s been a very interesting thing to grow because when we started it, me and a friend of mine, both musicians actually, we had no prior experience with either with business nor the crafting niche, but we were both into this mindset of trying something, just giving something a shot. We tried this idea and then it started working and we developed it from there.
Thanks to this business it was the first time I really thought about how I want to live before I create something, in the sense that, at that time, I was reading a lot and I was inspired mostly by Tim Ferriss and his book “The 4-Hour Workweek”. I was like: “Wow! This is a completely different way of seeing how life can be organized.” So I started asking myself what kind of business I could create that would give me the things I really want, and first of all what is that I really want. So I came down to my core values which are integrity, autonomy, and empathy. I wanted to do something that I feel is real, something that gives me autonomy so that I can decide myself what I do, when I do it and where I do it, and I want to do something that allows me to have empathy for the people I work with, so working in a team that is not so much focused on results but more on the process and the well-being of people. So, when I came up with that business model, I realized it fitted exactly what I wanted.
I see! But how did you come up with those values? Now that you’re naming them, it seems easy, but if I think of my core values I can list at least 10, or even 20. How do you decide the three that are more important to you?
I do this exercise a lot with my clients, because I also work as a coach, and there is this list of values you can download, there is like 70 or 80 values in there, and if you start reading that list, with every single value you go like “This one is important, that one is also important, and that one too!” and that’s not very helpful. What I think is important is to have this conversation with yourself. There are several tools and techniques you can use, one, for example, is to write your own Obituary, because when you do that, it helps you focus on the big picture and then you feel what’s really important to you. You know, what people say about you when your dead is probably not 80 things, it’s just a couple of things and those are probably your core values, and this is part of how I found my own core values. Of course, then you refine over time, it’s pretty flexible, it’s ok if they change.
Thinking about my lifespan is something I never do, I feel this is already changing my mindset in a way.
Most of the people never do that, because it’s scary. You have to face your mortality, the fact that you don’t have unlimited time. That really helps you understand what are your core values and how you want to live. From there, very organically, I started my second company, the coaching business, StepUpLabs.co. People started to ask me how I was able to change my life so radically, they looked at me and they were like: “Wow, your life looks really nice. How did you do that? Can you help me do that as well?” and in those conversations I noticed they were writing things down, taking notes of what I was saying, telling me it was really helpful, so I started to understand that what I was saying had a lot of value for those people and that maybe I should develop it a bit more to better help people achieve those goals. So I started coaching people, helping them understand how they wanted to live, what their core values are and how to translate this into a way to actually earning money, mostly by opening new businesses, because not many people actually want to work for someone else, where the values of the other person are imposed on your work. You either find a company with your same values or you start your own.
I think career changes is a topic a lot of people are talking about right now or at least feeling it inside. Maybe there isn’t enough conversation yet, but more and more people tell me they’re tired of what they do, they’re unsatisfied and want to change.
I feel how people look at work is changing and I can see that in all the conversations I have with people, especially in coworking spaces, because I think this kind of spaces are a physical manifestation of a change in our attitude towards work. We don’t want to be stuck in an office anymore, we want to be in spaces where we can interact with different kinds of people that might have nothing to do with business, just because that’s more valuable for everyone. I think we’re just starting with this conversation, it’s still something many people are afraid of, because changes are always scary, even more for corporations, they’re trying to keep their system in place as long as possible. But you can already see that some young corporations are already trying to examine these questions, for example, there are companies starting already full-remote, not wanting to have an office. This is very recent but I think it’s going to grow.
In a way also technology is pushing in that direction.
Sure, automation and AI are replacing some kinds of job that three years ago you wouldn’t think they would have been replaced for at least 15 years. This is also why at StepUpLabs I help people to focus on their creative aspects rather than what people told them they could be. When you’re 18 you decide what you want to do as a grown-up person, a choice that defines who you are and what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life, or at least that used to be the system. I think that’s not very healthy, we can continue to change ourselves, to learn and create.
Also, the barriers now to start a career or enter a job market are much lower.
Absolutely. As soon as you start something you can announce it to the world. When I was young and I wanted to be a composer, I was stuck in my room with my compositions. You had to talk to the right people, get a concert somewhere and you could start something.
Nowadays you can be just a composer, take a video, put it out there and you can reach out to 10M people if you want. Of course, that isn’t that easy, I’m making it sound easy, but at least you have this opportunity to grow much faster. I met people that wanted to change their lives and they did it. One person wanted to be a consultant, he put the profile on UpWork and a week after he could find a job. That would have never happened before.
So you run two companies and you compose music. How did you understand these were the things you really wanted?
Being a musician comes from passion, I was always interested in sound and sound creation, that was almost a logical step for me. The only decision was not to become an engineer, I was about to do so but then last minute I decided I wanted to be a composer. The problem is that I never really considered what kind of life I would have had as a musician, I just wanted to make music. But then I realized maybe this is not the life I want to have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to be a musician and I was blessed, I had amazing opportunities to perform with wonderful people, on stage and all over the world. But the life itself it’s almost like following a script, people decide when you get up, when you’ve breakfast, when you move, when you’ve lunch (if you have lunch), when you rehearse, and so on. Everything is planned when you’re on tour and it’s a very unfree kind of life, I felt my autonomy was being transgressed. Goin back to the question, in the case of VectoriaDesigns it was a combination of different things. People sometimes say that luck is where preparation and opportunity meet and I think this was one of these cases. I was definitely prepared to go into business and to go into something that would sustain my core values. The opportunity presented itself in the form of a friend of mine that came to me and told me she was making these digital crafting graphics and trying to sell them online. When I saw that people were actually buying them, I thought: “Why don’t we try to turn this into a real business instead of having it as just a hobby on the side?”. Then it was because I really enjoyed the process of learning how to create this business that the coaching activity came out, it was because I was living my life according to my principles and my core values that people started seeing that I was doing something different, and they liked that and wanted to something similar as well, it just happened. Again, I was prepared to do this and the opportunity arose and I took it.
Speaking about being prepared, do you think it’s better to act as soon as possible, as soon as you feel you need a change, or it’s better to wait and plan the changes you want to make?
I believe waiting is never a good option, if you phrase it in terms of waiting, you’re wasting your time. You definitely learn the most in doing, but preparation is important, especially in the mindset. About the actual work, there’s not so much you can prepare, you can read as many books as you want, you can read many theories about management, about how to make a company, about how to be successful, but still, you haven’t done anything. The moment you start something, even if it’s very small and simple, then you start learning from your experience. I always encourage people to start doing as soon as possible, even if you feel you’re not ready because you’ll never be ready, you never know what’s going to happen next.
True, sometimes works better the other way around, you start doing and then you go back to the books and they make a lot more sense.
Exactly, because you can relate to your own experience and you know what it means because very often when you read it’s very theoretically and if you’re not connected to those theories it’s very difficult to relate. The case with good books is that you can read them every year, and every year you will be different and the book will mean something different to you because you had different experiences. I would never say just do and don’t learn, or first learn and then do, but learn and do at the same time, those things go together.
But what if you start doing without thinking and then you end up with no money to live?
Of course, you have to make sure you don’t put yourself in danger, the situation where you have no money at all should never happen, if that happens you haven’t prepared enough, clearly. Some of the things I always say to my clients is: if you want to make a radical change of your life, make sure you have enough money saved to live for a year. That will do two things: one, it will give you a financial buffer to try something without having an income; two, it will free your mind from worrying about how you’re going to pay the rent next week, because if you’re focusing on that, you won’t be able to use your creative skills to actually create your business. For some people, it might be difficult to save enough money to live for a year, but even if it takes two years to do that, it will be so much easier then to make the change you’re looking for. I did the same thing for myself, I saved the money so I could live for one year and then I didn’t even use that money, because things started working as soon as I started. Of course, you can’t count on that, but the psychological effect of having that buffer was important for me to be able to make it happen.
We talked about financial preparation, and that makes a lot of sense. But what about the skills you will need in your new job? How do you know you’re going to be able to make it?
Good question! I actually have a whole lecture about skills transferability and it covers mainly two points: on one hand, if you’re doing something now it means you’re already skilled at something and most skills can be transferred to other domains. That’s something I learned recently, I was curious to see how many of the skills I’ve learned as a composer I’m now using in my business life and wow! I found so many parallels there. No matter what is that you’re doing, the skills you have, try to be creative on how you can use them. Then, the second point is: will this actually be valuable? It’s very simple as well! If you have a job, any kind of job, it means someone it’s paying you for the value you’re creating, and people always pay you less than the value you actually create, otherwise the business would go bankrupt! That’s enough for you to understand that you’re valuable, you can use those skills and the value you produce to create something on your own.
And what about the skills that can’t be transferred, or that you have to learn from scratch, like learning to play the piano? How do you deal with this training time you need?
Some skills need years, like anything that is craftsmanship, musicianship, anything that has to do a lot with motor skills, it’s about brain-hand coordination, it’s about your body, those things are quite slow to be learned, it takes practice, it’s not something you can read and then say I know this! You have to keep practicing every day. If you’re a singer, for example, and you stop for two years, doesn’t matter if you practiced for 20 years, you won’t be as good as you were before. That’s very different from things you can understand and apply. In business most of the skills are cognitive, it’s about understanding things, how they work analytically, how connections are made, how things relate to each other, and then applying that knowledge in real life. This needs much less practice than the physical skills and once you understand something, even if then you don’t practice for a year, you’re still going to remember. So I think if your business isn’t related to your physical abilities, you don’t need to be afraid, learning will happen and it will be quicker than you think.
Finally, until now we talked about the past, what are your plans for the future?
Right now the thing I’m developing the most in my life is the community. I became completely location independent since this year, I’ve been living as a nomad for the past four years, but this year I decided to sell my apartment, sell everything I own. Right now anything I own is my suitcase and I can go anywhere at any time, and I do travel a lot because I think that’s something that triggers my creativity, makes me see things differently, gives me a broader perspective of humanity and relationships, and I love that. With this kind of lifestyle, one of the challenges is how do you develop a community, how do you stay in touch with the people you love and that are important to you, and how do you create new connections when you arrive in a place where you don’t know anyone. That’s my main focus for this year, not a business-oriented focus, more a lifestyle one, even though it can support a business. I think there’s gonna be more and more of location independent people and digital nomads, so if I’m going to be able to create some value for these people, then eventually it’s gonna become a business of some sort. Right now I’m just living it and figuring it out by myself, understanding what are the important skills and resources to have to live this kind of lifestyle, what new tools we can build or how to adapt existing tools. Towards the future, for the following years, of course, I’m going to try to refine this lifestyle and I’m very interested where this will go. During the last years, I stopped planning so much and started going with the flow, in the sense that I allow myself to feel in every moment what I want to do.
Business-wise I’m definitely going to develop more StepUpLabs.co, because coaching is something I really like and that I see is having an interesting impact, people really feel I helped them with something important. I started it together with a business partner but she left recently because she wanted to focus on her career as a consultant, so it’s just me right now and I need to redefine what that project means to me.
That’s great, I’m sure you won’t have problems figuring those things out. Actually, I have one more question and it’s a tricky one: it’s about the word coaching. Right now it’s a bit of an abused term, I receive on Instagram almost a message a day from people telling me they’re coaches and they can help me achieve my goals. How do you make people trust you?
(laughs) I actually have the opposite approach, I believe that’s pretty ridiculous. The answer to your question is: I embody my own values. I live with integrity, I do what I say, I live my own life according to the principles I’m helping the people with, and that resonates with people. People see me and they perceive it’s not just marketing speech. I’m not promising you’re gonna make a 6 figures income in the next 6 months. All those things are bullshit, I agree. Everybody is a coach now and everybody will help you make millions. I often say that I don’t even want you to make millions, probably that’s not even what you need, or want. So for me it’s all about being true to myself, all about living the life that I truly see is valuable to myself, and people resonate with that. I think people that want that for themselves will find me when I put myself out there in a very respectful way, I’m not gonna bombard you with messages. I maybe have to do that a bit more because I’ve been kind of shy, I haven’t put myself that much out there, that’s something I need to work on, also take that space and say “hey, I’m here”. Because I’m more of an introvert, I’m not going to be in your face anyway, I have to find a way that is true to myself. So far people that find me are people who see that my message is true and that I’m embodying my own lifestyle, I think this is the most powerful thing you can do marketing-wise.
Not like companies that want to look cool and attract millennial talents by saying they give freedom, flexibility and work-life balance but then the boss is stressed and always the last to leave the office.
Exactly, that doesn’t work because it’s not the real company culture, they’re just creating some kind of fiction. Maybe some good things can come out of that eventually, but I think if you really want to make that change, you’ve to start with the culture from scratch, from the owners, from the executives. These are the people that need to show they live by the company’s principles.
If you want to know more about Joachim Brackx, you can:
- Visit his personal website
- Visit VectoriaDesigns‘ website
- Visit StepUpLabs.co website
- Send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite writing this blog is a passion that keeps me awake even at night, caffeine always helps. If you like what I write and you want to help me buy Lavazza coffee on discount, below you find a red button, use it to keep me awake! ☕️