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- At 22, Oelmann was earning $160,000 as an investment banker in London.
- She quit after just six months at Merrill Lynch, feeling drained and lacking motivation.
- After three more failed attempts in the business world, Olemann followed her gut and began performing as “Djane Annie O.”
- Djane Annie O became popular in Berlin and the ex-investment banker has been able to live comfortably on her own since 2015.
Anne-Kathrin Oelmann had a career many will only ever dream of: years at an elite university studying business eventually culminated in a job at an investment bank in London with a starting salary of roughly $160,000.
But after just 6 months in the job, Oelmann quit. Today she is known as Djane Annie O.
Oelmann tells Business Insider how she got here.
Born into a family of academics and high-flyers
Oelmann grew up in a family of successful academics, her father a senior surgeon and her mother a teacher. Even her brother, 10 years her senior, has a PhD in biochemistry.
Oelmann quickly became convinced that academic success was an absolute necessity. She was satisfied with nothing less than best in everything. All that mattered to her was winning.
Gritting her teeth through WHU
“I applied to Otto Beisheim School of Management [also known as WHU], which was Germany’s most prestigious business university at the time. It’s in a beautiful little town near Koblenz,” she said.
As one of only 83 students in a private university, Oelmann passed the entrance test and began her studies in 2002.
Finding her studies stressful and demanding, she found herself depressed. As a perfectionist and a high-flyer, she was suddenly just a small fish in a big pond.
“I was surrounded by incredibly talented, intelligent, and ambitious students and a lot was being demanded of us in preparation for a successful career — it wasn’t easy to keep up. In retrospect, I realise now that I was on the brink of burnout once or twice during that period.”
But the self-sacrifice was greatly rewarded: “On average, two top companies came to our university every week in the main course of study, introduced themselves and competed for us. This, of course, further fuelled our motivation to perform. I was driven by all the possibilities that were opening up for me.”
Surprise at Merrill Lynch
Oelmann specialised in finance and completed an internship at Merrill Lynch in London, a year before graduating. At the end of it all, she even received a job offer.
“I liked it there. In hindsight, I think it was more London than Merrill Lynch that I liked. But I was proud to accept a job right at the top after all the effort I’d made,” she said.
At 22, she was working as an investment banker in London on a starting salary of around $160,000.
Then something unexpected happened: after just a few weeks, the young banker found herself becoming increasingly drained and losing all drive.
Something was happening beneath the surface
“I felt constricted. In the morning, I had no desire to go to the bank and felt constantly as though the end of the day never came quickly enough. Today, I rationalise the experience by telling myself that my head was preoccupied only with achievement but below the surface, subconsciously, something completely different was happening. I got to know more of the world and saw other values, other ways of life.”
This went on for quite some time: Oelmann undertook Erasmus placements in Dublin and Brussels and enjoyed life far away from her familiar, highly performance-focused environment.
While on a trip to New Zealand, she met people with a completely relaxed way of life she had never experienced before during backpacking. “All of a sudden, no-one cared about the fact that I went to a private university and wanted to be a banker. That experience changed something in me,” she said.
“London was full of art, culture, music, and inspiration. In what free time I had, I soaked it all up like a sponge,” she added.
At first glance, it may seem as though it was her head leading her to Merrill Lynch that landed her in London — but looking back, she suspects that it was really the call of London’s huge alternative scene that took her there, and that she was following her gut in an attempt to break free of her performance-focused environment.
Annie began her new life as a “cool banker”
In her first full-time job, Oelmann set out to merge her old self with her newly discovered self, to be “a cool banker”: successful investment banker by day, party animal by night. She moved into a flat of seven non-bankers, going with them to parties and to concerts, but it was too demanding.
Coming back to party with her housemates after 12 hours at the bank each day led to sleep deprivation and exhaustion. “It interfered with my day-to-day routine at the bank,” she said. I smoked roll-up cigarettes and I had a broad interpretation of ‘professional dress code’.” She can still recall being kicked out of a seminar because she was wearing a red dress with white dots.
Her rebellious attitude, however, did not satisfy the liberation her gut craved: “Something in me was fighting tooth and nail to break free of the investment bank’s shackles. Oelmann’s “gut self” became so compelling, she could no longer avoid making a decision. After a mere six months with Merrill Lynch, she quit.
Acting from the gut
“Everything that followed went completely awry,” she said. “That was important, because plans come from the head; the gut doesn’t make plans. I just allowed myself to drift and suddenly, the idea occurred to me to learn to play the drums. Within a few months, I’d picked it up. It came so easily, it was as though the ability been lying dormant within me all along. Before I knew it, I’d founded my band ‘Rotkäppchen’ and, for the next few years, it became my life’s purpose.”
But the life of a musician isn’t easy: Oelmann had to live off her savings and work part-time to keep her head above water. She sometimes worked in marketing and PR but, very often, she was also waitressing. At one point, she even worked in Oxford Circus as a sales advisor in TopShop. “It wasn’t that bad, because I was working for my band.”
Another attempt at the business world
In 2011, Oelmann’s savings had run dry and her time with the band was coming to an end. So Oelmann took a job in a marketing agency in London and began work as “Djane Annie O.” But she soon realised that the business world was just not for her: again, it took just six months for her to hand in her resignation.
In 2012, Oelmann received a job offer from a start-up in Berlin, founded by a fellow WHU associate. Though she didn’t want to accept, her head resurfaced and raised her hopes that a start-up might provide a more relaxed atmosphere, giving her the chance to finally unify her two egos.
But as soon as she arrived, it began all over again and ended in a termination after six months. After a third failed attempt in the business world, Oelmann realised once and for all that it really just wasn’t for her.
The goal in sight
Since then, she has been working full-time as “Djane Annie O.” The first two years were very hard and Annie, who still had a room in London and an apartment in Berlin, was nearly crushed by debt. But she soldiered on and overcame her obstacles.
Annie O managed to gain a foothold in Berlin as Djane Annie O and has now been able to live comfortably on her own since 2015. She is enthusiastic about the variety life offers her now. One minute, she’ll be doing a set for a big company in a museum, the next, she’ll be working at a gay fetish party. At one point, she even DJed from a van roof at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. At last, she had found a job with no “daily grind.”
Her “head me” still makes an appearance from time to time when making bookings or filling out tax returns, but she still enjoys those jobs.
The aimless life of the ex-investment banker
Oelmann no longer makes plans or pursues goals. “My work is born of my interests and desires, not vice versa,” she says, “Being a DJ is what I do but it isn’t who I am. I’m Annie, and if my needs change, my job can change too.”
Today she lives contrary to the principles of strategic and analytical thinking she was taught in her education. “That said, WHU had a very positive reaction once they’d caught wind of my career change: last year, they invited me to give a TEDx talk about my unusual career, which was met with a great deal of encouragement and support from the students. I was even booked as a DJ for an alumni event!”
An important message
Oelmann underlines that her way of life is not for everyone — but she has a powerful message:
“Ask yourself whether the job to which you devote your life really fulfills your true needs, or whether you’re just following an ideal that has nothing to do with your “real you,” as I used to.
“Why not just listen to what your gut has to say? You never know what it might bring.”
Here’s Annie’s TEDx Talk:
Read the original article on Business Insider Deutschland. This post originally appeared on Business Insider Deutschland and has been translated from German. Copyright 2018. Follow Business Insider Deutschland on Twitter.
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