The secret of successful career change

Interview with Monika Kalina

1. How did you come to NL and why did you choose the line of work you are in?

I came to Holland in 2002 with ABN AMRO. I started my career with the bank in Hungary and shortly after that transferred to Frankfurt, to Global Relationship Management. I was thrilled to move abroad – deep down I had always wanted to live outside Hungary and even during my studies I spent several semesters abroad. After two years I had to leave Germany due to permit reasons, then Hungary was not part of the EU yet. I had a Dutch partner and with the ABN AMRO head office here, Holland seemed to be the right choice. I got a lot of support from my senior colleagues in Germany and in the last minute managed to secure a job at the bank’s Loan Syndications team in Amsterdam. It was a dream come true – I felt ‘I have made it’ and was very proud.


Since then I have gone through an enormous change curve – you can call it a 180 degree turn-around. I left ABN AMRO in 2010 and totally reinvented my life.


You may wonder why did I choose to change and leave such a great job? The bank was in a massive change period back then. The RBS-Santander-Fortis consortium decided to buy ABN AMRO. Well, we all know how that story ended. For me, personally, it was a great opportunity to reconsider my options. I was no longer happy there. I was trading credit defaults swaps when the crisis hit. The markets became extremely volatile and crashed.


Parallel to these external challenges, my interest also changed. I got into yoga and Eastern philosophies and making money did not really feel fulfilling anymore. I kept on asking myself ‘how much is enough’. I was earning well and could save a lot, which made me wonder what the cost of financial security was and whether it was worth it.


Eventually I made my choice, chose for uncertainty and haven’t regretted it ever since. Nevertheless, it may not be everyone’s path. I often hear that it was courageous of me to leave without a new job or any specific plan. I did have an idea but it took quite some time for it to bring its fruits. If you know what you’d love doing, it is easier to make the jump.

2. What do you need for success? What kind of traits are essential and can they be learnt?

I’d like to focus on what I think is necessary if you want to follow your dreams. In fact I think everybody should be doing what they love doing. When I say this to people I often get the response ‘but will it pay the bills’. There is no easy answer to this but I know that markets and business have changed and the way we live and lead our lives is to a large extent up to our creativity, confidence and willingness to take (manageable) risks.


It takes self-awareness and self-reflection to figure out if you are on your path because you want to be there or it ‘just’ happened that way. If you are not following your own goals and desires you may be following somebody else’s. Getting to know your strengths and talents helps you define your way forward. Surrounding yourself with people who inspire and encourage you is also a smart thing to do if you want to bring about change in your life.

3. What are your greatest challenges and how do you cope with them?

I am facing quite a few challenges as I am in a totally new sector and have to rebuild my network. To my old colleagues I am an ex-banker and so far have not managed to establish my name in the banking sector as a trainer. In fact, I was trained as a counselor/coach. After I left banking I went back to study and earned my second degree in psychology.


I feel more comfortable working with people one on one as I can offer my full attention to them and everything else is secondary. During trainings there is a lot more you have to pay attention to, also more people with different characters that you have to manage. Plus I have to make sure that the content is educative and interactive as well.


By now I have created two platforms in Amsterdam and in The Hague where I regularly invite other trainers too to share their skills and experience. This way we combine our strengths: I take care of organising and managing the events and my trainer colleagues can fully focus on the content. Bringing people together and giving them the space to share their stories and connect with each other is something that I quite enjoy doing and am also willing to take entrepreneurial risks on it. I run the financial risk related to these events.


Every time I organize and host a training, I am stepping out of my comfort zone. And the more I do it, the easier it gets – so slowly but surely my comfort zone expands. We are now starting with full-day events and it is ‘stretching’ me quite a bit. But if I don’t try I will never know how it works. The final goal is to create a Training Centre for Personal Growth with our own location and full set of program and I fully trust that we will get there. I am saying ‘we’ because I have a couple of people supporting me on a voluntary basis.

4. What would be your advice to those who want to change their careers?

Figure out what you’d like to do and connect with and learn from those who already do it. Find mentors/coaches who can support you and build your network. Use the opportunities to meet new people and connect with them, show interest in them. An open and trusting attitude can bring you very far. There is this example of biking. The bike needs to be in movement otherwise you will likely fall. And if you happen to face some setback, correct your course but keep going.



Monika helps professionals cultivate a healthy self-image, step out of their comfort zone and move towards goals that bring fulfillment in their lives. Her latest initiative, House of Wisdom offers weekly evening workshops on personal and professionalal development in Amsterdam and in The Hague, led by experienced coaches and trainers from international background. The sessions are followed by networking and aim to create a community of like-minded people.