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How To Begin A Second Life

Second life is not about money, argues executive-turned-artist Philipp Humm. It is about fulfilment and happiness. 

 Philipp Humm in the studio

Philipp Humm is a former CEO of Vodafone and an executive at T-Mobile and Amazon. Six years ago, he left the corporate world to become an artist and filmmaker. His first film, The Last Faust, starring Steven Berkoff, can now be watched through Amazon Prime, while an exhibition of his oil paintings is at the Saatchi Gallery from 21-25 October 2020. 

Most top managers are scared to change careers, to change life. They think about opportunity cost and not the meaning of life. Trading off a high societal status and a multi-million income for being an artist does not make sense; 97 percent of artists can’t live from their art, nor will they ever achieve significant recognition.  

I’ve met a lot of successful managers with exceptional talents as musicians or painters. Its logical that having a strong creative side makes you more successful than a one-winged manager. We have been given two brain halves. Only if you also tap into your right brain do you realise your full potential. To quote Goethe: “Two souls live in me, alas, irreconcilable with one another! 

I was a manager for over 30 years and had an unusual career. A C-level executive at the age of 32, I started up four businesses, rose through the ranks at breakneck speed, got fired three times, went nearly bankrupt to make millions months later. I was a big-tech CEO for Amazon, T-Mobile and Vodafone, and decided in 2015 to leave it all behind, at the pinnacle of my career. Why? Was I in a midlife crisis?  

Watercolour paintings, Alter Ego by Philipp Humm

Maybe a bit of that. But I asked myself the question what is important in my life and what do I want to do for the next 30 years, assuming I am lucky to age as well as my parents. My answer was I want to do what I am passionate about. While I have had some passion for business, it was not really a burning feeling and I started to feel a bit bored.  

With art it was different. I was hungry to do more and couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning to paint. Plato once said if there is something worth living for it is the contemplation of beauty. Art is the purest representation of beauty. From an early age, I had two talents: mathematics and drawing. I dedicated my first life to mathematics; my second is dedicated to art. Drawing is at the core of my art. Whatever I do, even a sculpture or a film, it always starts with a drawing.  

Divine Collection, The Witch 2020 by Philipp Humm

I am now 61 and I left my successful career to become a full-time artist over five years ago. I studied at London fine-art studios and Florence Academy of Arts. My art has been exhibited in the US, UK and Germany. Since 2018 I worked on creating a Gesamtkunstwerk of Goethe’s Faust, called The Last Faust, entailing a feature-length art film with Steven Berkoff, an illustrated novella and 200 bronze sculptures, paintings and drawings.  

But second life is not about money. It is about fulfilment and happiness. In German there is a saying: ‘Your last shirt has no pockets.’