Ditching Success?


What does it mean to "ditch success?" Author and entrepreneur, Batoul Ajlouni, joins Bill on this week's episode to discuss her ongoing journey from workaholic to…what comes next.

Guest Information:

Batoul Ajlouni is the author of the career memoir "Ditching Success?: A Career Ventured; A life Regained".

In her previous life, Ajlouni was an architect, entrepreneur, and business executive with thirty years of experience in fifteen of the world’s toughest markets. She co-founded her company at twenty-four, before serving as VP for Business Development at a leading IT firm, helping it grow into a multinational corporation.

As a prominent businesswoman, Ajlouni engages in activities and public speaking events on design, business, technology, and women & youth empowerment. She's also an active board member at Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Batoul works from her home in Amman, Jordan where she lives with her husband and a fuzzy little creature who's anything but a cat.

Sign up for her mailing list at: www.BatoulAjlouniAuthor.com

Grab your copy of "Ditching Success?" on Amazon today. Available in eBook and print editions: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0989JKV65

Episode Highlights:

06:59 …it actually took me five years to be able to make the move and leave, ditch my career.

23:16 So I was just sitting there in front of the fire just the whole night. I was so in the moment I could not hear anything. It was just me and that fire. And the feeling I had was unbelievable. And this to me was the, the moment that I figured out what it really means to be present.

32:35 The path to self discovery can sometimes be triggered by the most difficult choices we have to make.

--- Full Raw Transcription Below ---

Bill Soroka (00:53):
Cheers and welcome to my next guest today. Batoul Ajlouni. Batoul, thank you so much for being here today.

Batoul Ajlouni (01:01):
I'm so excited to be here, Bill. Thanks so much for having me. This is really, really exciting for me.

Bill Soroka (01:08):
Oh, good. Good. Well, I'm excited to talk to you too. I had a chance to read your book and just so our listeners know you are a entrepreneur, also the author of the career memoir, Ditching Success: A Career Ventured And A Life Regained. I had the pleasure of reading that book. I wasn't sure how I was gonna feel ditching success felt so counterintuitive to me. But I'd love to hear the story of where you were and what inspired that book.

Batoul Ajlouni (01:41):
Oh, interesting. And interesting actually, what, what your comment was regarding the title because that alone has a story in it. So the book, the book is right as, as it is a memoir, it is a story of my professional story of, of my professional journey of going from workaholic to burn out, to later seeking my life again. But obviously it is, this whole thing is not about me. It's about the journey that we all experience going through from, you know, from one place to another, going through transformation and self discovery. It is also about the choices we make in our lives and how those choices can actually take us to very different destinations. In my case, I had built my whole life around my career. I was so passionate about it for so long that nothing else really mattered or even came close to it until one day I realized that I was actually losing everything else in my life and it, this wasn't just my family or friends, but it was also my passion, my spirit, spirit, and my dreams. And even my health, I started, I really started losing my health and all of that was just because I was living a life so unbalanced and so burned out. And the thing is, I didn't even realize it at the time. It just started happening without me realizing what was going on.

Bill Soroka (03:26):
It's Like the the frog being boiled in the pan, right? You Don't even know it.

Batoul Ajlouni (03:31):
Exactly. It happened so slow. And you're so deeply into it that you, you're somehow in sort of denial where cocooned inside, that career building professional life of ours that we tend to just disregard any messages or anyone telling us anything about it, really, because you hear it from people, it just, you know, just tend to disregard it all together.

Bill Soroka (03:59):
Yeah. Like that's not me. That's definitely not me.

Batoul Ajlouni (04:03):
And, and you tend to give good explanations and good reasons for it?

Bill Soroka (04:10):
Justification? Yeah.

Batoul Ajlouni (04:11):
Justifications and all of that. So what happened is one day after I had actually left my job a few months after that, I was in what, because I, I stayed on a couple of the boards that I was on. And one of those board meetings a colleague of mine asked me, well, how's it going? How are you feeling now that you're out and relaxed and everything? It's such a simple question, but you know what, I, I just stared at the guy for about five whole minutes, not able to answer a simple question of how I was doing, because at that time, after I had left work, what I was going through, the confusion and, and the, the strange thoughts and the, the new territory that I was in was so overwhelming to me, I couldn't tell how I was feeling, how I was feeling.

Batoul Ajlouni (05:12):
I was happy and I was sad. I was relaxed, but I was still anxious. It was all those feelings coming in together. I was wanted to do nothing. And at the same time I wanted to do everything.

Bill Soroka (05:25):

Batoul Ajlouni (05:26):
And so all of this was going inside of me. And, and then I thought, just that moment, I had always wanted to, to write, okay, never thought of a career as a writer, but I was always wanted to write. And at that moment, I said, what, this is gonna be my next book, because to be able to answer that question, I'm just gonna go through the whole story, my story of how it happened, why it happened when it happened and what is going on inside of me while all of this is happening.

Batoul Ajlouni (06:01):
And so I started writing the book before, while, while I was going through all of this. And it helped me get through. So that's, I thought, okay. It, I didn't know it was happening. Nobody warned me about it before. I haven't even heard any story of somebody going through what I was going through. So I just said it'd be great for me to share that story with others. And so they know this is what happens and they're not alone in it. That's how it came about.

Bill Soroka (06:36):
I think that's a, the the beautiful power of a book like this is helping you process what it is you're going through, but then acting as a guide for others. And as you were describing this, it sounds a lot, a, a lot like grief that you were going through.

Batoul Ajlouni (06:55):
It is. It was, and it takes a long time as well. Someone asked me the other day how long has this been happening for, until you actually left your job? And, and until you, you sort of realized all of this is going okay, and you had time to heal and all of this. And I it was so surprising to, to me, but it actually took me five years to be able to make the move and leave ditch my career. . And it was five years ago right now, when I just started feeling pretty okay with it and, and started living my life again. So it, it is likely. It takes a while to, to get over it. And they, they say losing a job is like losing someone in the family. And it really is. It really is. And it's a lifetime career that I you're talking about. I've that I've been in it for 30 years. So….. ,

Bill Soroka (07:56):
It's, it's, it is like a person or a relationship that you're in, especially when you tie your, well, we tie our, cause I do the same thing, our identical to it, like, who are we without that? And then, Batoul, did you run into, the question I'm trying to get to is, how do you find people to talk to about this when you're going through it? Because it just seems like most people would be like, you get to retire early. What do you complain about, why do you feel this way? Did you run into that?

Batoul Ajlouni (08:25):
Oh, oh yeah. Oh yeah. Especially if you are actually like I was the type of person that, I was very vocal about people who, who felt tired from working, people who wanted to retire early, or just stay home and do nothing, or regardless of what it is. I, I was one who always promoted hard work and nothing but work. And when all that happened, it was, I felt pretty bad to start with, because it was, it was sort of a hypocrite that I felt like, especially to the, to those youngsters, the youth that I that I mentored I had to do a lot of explaining of why I was doing this. I didn't have the answer. That's that was the problem. All I said at the point was that I, I am burnt. I am tired and I cannot do this anymore.

Batoul Ajlouni (09:29):
This is not me. I've changed into a different person. Some that I don't even know. And I need to just take a break, how long I have no idea, I just need to take a break. And so everyone was hoping that I didn't just sit still and do nothing. And that was part of the of the struggle you go through after you make the decisions. It's because you don't know where you're headed and you have to, you know, think of what has become of you and will you ever heal and will this ever be okay again? So it's, it's, it's really something.

Bill Soroka (10:14):
. Yeah, that definitely is. And that's one of the the big questions even I have, like I get asked quite often, you know, what's retirement look like for me, or when will I stop? And I have no answer. I can't even picture what life would be like without my passion projects and what I'm in, what I'm in and what I've identified my self with. So that's, I really when, as I was reading your book, I was thinking, I don't know, like I could relate in some ways, because I have no idea. And the other thing that I was struggling with was how do you know, so what were your signs as you were discovering this about yourself?

Batoul Ajlouni (10:58):
So before it was, I think the signs started when I started feeling that everyone else was hyped about all the new projects that we had and the expansions that we had at work and everything. And I started not having that, that same feelings that they had. And that was very strange because I was always very positive about everything. It was, it took place bit by bit, but the more anxious I became, the more tired I became the less passionate I, I became about everything that we were doing and it showed and it reflected on, to everyone else. So I, it was, it was noticeable. It was clear that something was not right. But again, you just say, okay, so we're tired, we've been doing a lot of work. It's just physical, take a day or two, a break take your vacation for a week or two, and then things will be all right, you do that. And it haunts you when, when you're on vacation and work starts haunting you day in night while you're in areas and places that, that you should be just out and relaxed in.

Batoul Ajlouni (12:25):
And not in a good way, it hunts you, not in a good way. That's when you start feeling that, okay, you're not happy anymore. When you get up in the morning and wish that you didn't have to go to work anymore. That is when you start realizing something is wrong. I started to physically face issues. I had headaches all the time. I had short breaths and so you start feeling like something is wrong. And I used to tell people, you know what, I feel I'm gonna have a heart attack. I feel I'm gonna have a heart attack, it's that bad. And, and again, you realize that something is wrong. So you have to listen, you have to listen to your body. You have to listen your spirit and do something about It.

Bill Soroka (13:17):
Yeah, that's beautiful. I al, I've not always subscribed cause I learned this lesson all the time, but I've I subscribe to the idea that if we don't or if I don't make the decisions that are best for me, the universe ends up making them form me and it may not look the way I want it to look. It can sometimes be rather abrupt or rather harsh. But I do think that the through the body, I don't think the body ever lies, you know, if we can get into our body and listen to it and our spirit, but do you think your spirit was whispering to you along the way and you just ignored it?

Batoul Ajlouni (13:55):
It was, it, it was, it was. And again, what happens is we're so cocooned inside ourselves and, and in that great denial that, no, this is just normal. This is just normal. The thing is, is that something fights, it seems like something sides, inside of us fights that spirit, that whispers. And it just refuses to, to believe that it's happening to us because of where we were. I mean, if having, having worked so hard for 30 years and so many people go through this. We've done, well I say we, because the others have done that so my colleagues and my partners have done that as well. We've, we've done for years sometimes 20 hour days, 16 hour days continuous weekends public holidays, whatever and, and we used to enjoy it all the time. So you're head refuses to accept that you are somewhere in a place where you can't take this anymore.

Batoul Ajlouni (15:21):
It's, it's, it's a fight that happens inside of us. And that's part of the struggle because your have to do something and, and your body and your heart and your spirit want something else. It's figuring out that struggle is what you go through, not just during the phase when you actually, until you make that decision, but afterwards that's even harder because then you have to figure out your future too. Because those of us who are workaholics, who've been doing this all our lives are not the type of people who would just sit and do nothing. And so you start thinking, okay, so what do I do? But when you are in that struggle, it's hard to make decisions. And my advice would be just take a break, let it, let it, let it simmer, let you know, relax. It'll happen and don't panic panic. Don't panic is what I tell everyone, cause I did, I panicked for a while. I

Bill Soroka (16:26):
Already have a little bit of anxiety just thinking about it.  

Batoul Ajlouni (16:30):

Bill Soroka (16:32):
Well, what does, what does that simmering look like? Are you a meditator or what do you do to tap in? And here's where I'd like you to, maybe you can help me too, cause one of my biggest disappointments in the way that the, my brain works or my heart works or the world works, whatever, is that the voice of my heart and the voice of my head often sound exactly the same. And I can't tell which one I need to listen to.

Batoul Ajlouni (17:03):
I think, well, first of all, don't plan it. I, I would say don't plan it because it will, it will just happen the way it has to happen the way it has to take its time. It, and it, it starts leading you in a way. I would say I, for me, just being in the, in the outdoors, being out in the nature is, is something that, that would really take my mind off of any issues that I had. My husband and I are really into the great outdoors. They're really, we're really into hiking and being in mountains and all of that. What I loved most about hiking, and I talk a little bit about this in, in my book is the fact that you are so into the moment and every step you take, especially if, if the hikes are sort of not your easy trails, marked trails and all of that, you have to do some scrambling, you have to do some up and down and canyons.

Batoul Ajlouni (18:08):
And so you need to watch out every step of the way or else you're you hurt you hurt yourself. That, doing that without feeling it and of course, being in, in the nature in nature and, and you know, the fresh air and everything, you tend to realize a few hours down the line that you, your brain is actually clearer and you're refreshed.

Batoul Ajlouni (18:36):
So that's really one way that's, that was my meditation. I did a, a bit of that. I wanted to travel. I love traveling. I wanted to travel and I thought, okay, traveling will definitely take my, my of all of it. Of course COVID came and, and changed all of that for me. And there you have it. yeah. Yeah. And funny thing is since I have retired and my husband has retired too, for, for the past three years, we have not moved outside or our city let alone in the country. It's so strange. Yeah, the world has its own plans for you at times. But it all worked out fine. It, it all worked out better than I even imagined.

Bill Soroka (19:28):
Yeah. Well, I love your your description of using hiking as a meditation. I think so many people are intimidated by the idea of meditation, but it doesn't have to be, you know, sitting in a position in your living room. You can do that. And I love that hiking brings you into the present moment. Is that, do you find that just clears the wave for, or the, the voice of your spirit to kind of guide you? Is that where you get your answers to these questions about what's next?

Batoul Ajlouni (20:01):
I think what you're, that's, that's probably the whole idea of meditation is for you to clear your brain to clear your mind, to sort of relax and be in the moment, whereas it's somehow refreshed again and your creativity starts kicking in. You cannot be creative when you're overwhelmed and anxious and all of that. It just doesn't happen.

Batoul Ajlouni (20:29):
You just have to keep an open mind at all times, and, and it helps you, nature helps you do that. It's it, it's not like being, you know, on a treadmill or exercising though, for some people exercising does that. For me, it doesn't do it. I have to be in the outdoors. Nature to me is, is a thing that is so pure and, and simple and yet, so, so sophisticated. It, it, I'm always in awe when I'm in the middle of nature whether it's the, the animals, the insects or, or just the plants that alone sets your breathing down, down, sets your brainwaves, I guess it just relaxes you and so you start thinking clearly and more creatively.

Bill Soroka (21:23):
I love that you even brought up awe because I think that's probably among the emotions. That's probably my the one I'm most fascinated with, and I think it's a direct, it's a key to joy. When you can find awe in the, in those small moments, when you realize the complexity of, of life, as we know it, when we're out in nature that way. Has that shown up for you anywhere else or throughout your life, or is that a, a new revelation during this period?

Batoul Ajlouni (21:57):
It has shown once. We were in nature in the middle of nature, but it was one of the, it's a funny story, actually, our very first hike we hadn't planned it properly, or we had misunderstood a small piece of, of it while reading the, the book that led us to it. We ended up doing a two day being out in the nature in the outdoors for two days when we had only planned for four hours.

Batoul Ajlouni (22:30):
It was, it, it was a beautiful experience. One of the experiences I would never forget in my life that probably should go in a story in another book of mine. But the point is that night that we had to spend in the outdoors again, unprepared we barely had water with us. We had no food, food was no issue. Thankfully it wasn't that cold. So we were able to just stay out in the open, it wasn't wet or anything. So we had a fire lit and it was so uncomfortable to, to sleep or lay down. We had no sleeping bags or anything to put underneath you. So I was just sitting there in front of the fire just the whole night. And I reached a point at some point during that night of pure meditation, if you will.

Batoul Ajlouni (23:32):
I was so in the moment I could not hear anything. It was just me and that fire. Mm. And the feeling I had was unbelievable. I could still feel it. And this to me was the, the moment that I figured out what it really means to be present. It's not easy to, to create that moment to recreate that moment, but at least I had the chance to feel what it feels like. And it's amazing. It, it was really amazing. It is so refreshing. And so cleansing that it's great. So yeah, well, it turned out okay. Next day we were able to leave that place but funny enough, that was the experience that got us hooked to hiking.

Bill Soroka (24:31):
I love that. I love that. Thank you for sharing that too. And I , I agree. I think that I've heard stories of this, in fact an author I I've enjoyed, he wrote The Power Of Now, Eckhart Tolee mm-hmm and he speaks of a similar experience when just all the colors were more vivid see the outlines or the more detail in the trees and everything around him. And that's that level of present moment that I, I think I've gotten close, but not to that level yet. So need a little more meditation experience, but that's beautiful. Yeah. I won this circle back to the title of your book mm-hmm and how that came about; Ditching Success.

Batoul Ajlouni (25:17):
So it was, it was very hard for me to find the proper title for it. And I went through several, I asked a lot of people, I had several focus groups for the different titles and everything, and none of them was really, moved me personally, that I was really, you know, I wanted, I thought, this is it, this is it. In something nd, and then one day I just thought it came out. Okay. It's okay. So I was successful and, and, and I let all of this go and I wanted a very strong word to sort of contradict success and what I used the word ditching and I asked people and they thought this is pretty strong. It's many of them thought it is pretty negative. But I wanted that conflict to show because this is what the whole story is about, is about the struggle that goes with where you wanna be your dream of, of being successful, your dream of having the career, and then what you go through that actually leads you to ditch all of that, literally ditch it, cause that's what I did.

Batoul Ajlouni (26:40):
And and, and, and change your life and start that path towards changing your life. And then, then I added that question mark at the end. Actually my editor suggested that I add that question mark, at the end of giving it more of a, a question is have I really ditched success? Or am I just finding a new path towards a different kind of success. Because who, who wants to ditch success after all? And that was the whole controversy that I wanted people to, to ask. I hope it, it sort of created in, in people's minds.

Bill Soroka (27:24):
I don't know. Well, I think you nailed it because I, I remember seeing the title and I'm like, there's no way I'm gonna read that, Ditching Success? But I like the question and I think it, it does think it makes you rethink success. And I think success gets a bad rap too. Right? Mm-hmm like everybody thinks it's all about striving money and outward success, but it doesn't have, I think you can define success in your own way. So I, I that's what your, the book title kind of, it triggers that kind of thought process, at least it did for mm-hmm . And so I'm curious now, what is, what does success look like for, for you as you move forward?

Batoul Ajlouni (28:08):
So going through all of this process writing the book actually got me into a whole new thing that I realized now is what I wanna do from now on. It was such a wonderful experience going through it, not only because of the writing itself, but it got me into a whole new industry, if you will, with my business mind going on it is a whole new industry, see, I'm back to it, that I had nothing to do with before that. The, being an author, the writing, the, the publishing-I self-published my book-the marketing of it all of this, all the learning that I'm doing, which is really exciting me all the time. But what I like most about this every time I think about, okay, do I wanna do it more, you know, in the future or not?

Batoul Ajlouni (29:13):
The first question that I ask myself is that, would it be giving me enough, freedom enough control over my life? So I wouldn't go back to where I was before. And the answer is, yes, it does, because it's something that I can do on my own time, at my own pace wherever. I keep saying whatever all that I need is is, is just a laptop and, and connection. If, if you need to and that's, that's about it, you can do it from home. You can do it in the desert, you can do it on the beach, you can do it in what whichever country you're in. So it gives me that control and freedom that I missed so much being part of a corporate. Yeah. So what really kills us is, is a corporate life because of all the stresses and all the stress and all the anxieties of ills and, that, that I wanted to get away with right. From actually know that.

Bill Soroka (30:19):
I, well, I love that. And I think you and I share similar goals even with all the other projects I have. I love that they're vehicles for me to write, I love to write, and I've already, self-published two books as well, working on the third and the fourth and the fifth coming up too. But my, my dream is to travel the world, meet interesting people and, and write books that touch, move and inspire one way or the other. So I think we're of like mind as usual, that's usually how these things go. I'm so glad that we connected and I wanted to share too, is, as I was reading your book, I could tell as I was reading it that you love to write, it really, it shined through in your of, and I love a book that makes me think, I wonder why she chose that word, or I wonder how, why she chose that phrase. And I think you did a really amazing job of doing that and sharing a very vulnerable story with yourself.

Batoul Ajlouni (31:18):
Well, thank you. Thank you. That's, that's I'm very happy to hear that.

Bill Soroka (31:22):
As we close out today, what final remarks or last bit of advice do you have for someone possibly going through this or discovering they might be going through something they didn't even know about?

Batoul Ajlouni (31:35):
Yeah, well, it's actually, as, as we, as we grow older things that were most important to us change and shift, we, we tend to get, go through this and they change to, to areas that even we could cannot feel or, or believe that is possible. At that a point we really need to evaluate our lives. At times, it may even require us to start all over again, start our lives or older again. And this is, this is what I did actually. When that happens I just think it's best to not, not be afraid to do that. Okay. So, so open your mind, give yourself time and space and, the the space that you deserve to make that change to go through that change. The, the path to self discovery can sometimes be triggered by the most difficult choices we have to make.

Batoul Ajlouni (32:44):
I chose to ditch my successful career at the height of it in order to regain my life. So regardless of the results, the journey itself will actually heal you. It will, you, as it surprised me, actually, it will take you to places that you haven't even thought about. And this is exactly what hap, what happened to me. Dropping my dream career was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.

Batoul Ajlouni (33:14):
One of the most difficult choices I had to make, but after a while I realized how blessed I was to have taken that leap. Cause now I'm, I'm creating my whole, whole new journey. Okay. A whole new path that I could journey through and it's just proving to be an amazing adventure. I'm loving it. So my message to everyone was just, is just to be hopeful, have faith take that leap. Okay. And great things will happen. It'll all work out in time, regardless of what the issue is. It doesn't have to be burnout from work. It could be any self-discovery journey that we go through just to the time be hopeful and it'll happen.

Bill Soroka (34:03):
Thank you so much, Batoul. I truly appreciate it. It was a pleasure speaking with you and thank you for being here.

Batoul Ajlouni (34:10):
Thanks so much, Bill. I really enjoyed this and I, I really love your show and I wish you all the best of luck with, with everyone else as well.

Bill Soroka (34:20):
Thank you so much for listening to the Side Hustle Lounge podcast.

Bill Soroka (34:23):
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