Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Carsten Glock, Creative Director & Founder of GLOCK

Carsten Glock is the founder and chief creative officer of interdisciplinary creative agency GLOCK. Since starting the agency in 2006, Carsten has worked with some of the world’s leading brands, including Bombay Sapphire, Revlon and Burt’s Bees.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

My career started back in my home country of Germany, where I studied Design and Photography at university. I was lucky enough to get some work experience with some great photographers and agencies alongside my course, both big and small, which taught me so much and gave me the confidence I needed to make my next big step. 

The plan was to move to London then New York, before coming back to Germany but, spoiler alert, that didn’t end up happening. When I got to London, I pursued my passion for photography – taking any job I could to pay the bills. This was mostly at big PR events, and some still life, but I had some amazing experiences shooting portraits for Vogue. 

After a short stint in advertising, I moved into art direction for magazines like Contemporary, and set up my own magazine called Social Enterprise, which sought to integrate social goodness and commercial decisions.

This move made me realise that I wanted to run a commercial enterprise, separating my personal passions from professional life – it was time to set up my own agency and so GLOCK was born. I’m still there today, and still in London.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

I get up at 5am every morning with my two sons and try to spend as much time with them before the day really begins. Well, as much time as they’ll let me! I do the school run religiously. Nothing gets in the way of that time with them. Then, once my kids are at school, I head to work – either into the office or to my personal studio in Hackney.

I try to keep my days as flexible as possible, working around the needs of my kids, wife and team – so I don’t tend to keep to a regular routine but work from a strict list of priorities for the day. 

Most of my working day is taken up by meetings with clients and staff, but I always save a few spots every day so people can come to me with urgent issues they need to discuss. And I always make sure to have an hour of either exercising or meditation! Quite often I travel too. I just came back from South Africa where we were shooting a new campaign and then headed straight back out to Buenos Aires.

Once I’ve closed up shop, ideally I’d get a chance to do some reading, but after picking my kids up from their after-school clubs the day is usually over. After 10 years of trying to do everything all the time, I’ve started to set boundaries – so I make sure not to be in work mode in the evenings.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

To me, work-life balance is an incredibly personal thing and drawing boundaries between the busy office and the calmness of my private studio is key to that. It’s taken me years to figure out what works best for me and how to protect that balance – getting it right has been trial and error. 

Not everyone needs that alone time, and some people struggle with it, so we encourage our team to think beyond what society suggests is ‘the norm’ and consider what works best for them. Just because the rest of the world is working from home, is that right for you?

I’ve found that, following the pandemic, international travel is becoming more frequent. And whilst facetime with clients and creative exploration trips are hugely important parts of my role, I’ve had to draw some lines and say no to trips at times. There were moments in my life that felt like non-stop flights!

But when I’m at home, cycling is my thing. I try to cycle every single day – come rain or shine – and keep my mind active beyond work through reading and meditating.

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Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

It’s hard for me to answer this question, as I think a lot of the changes I’ve made have been over much longer periods of time, and I’m by no means an expert. It’s been an eight-year mission of mine to set and maintain clear boundaries, and I still have a way to go (I’m still contactable on holidays!).

I’m not much of an advocate for drastic changes. I think change comes when you listen to yourself and what you need, creating small and sustainable ways of orienting yourself towards your goal. My advice is to start small and take small steps. Radical changes have a way of bouncing back. 

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

No newsletters for me, I need that precious inbox space! But podcasts and books are my jam. When I’m walking or travelling, my favourites to listen to are Diary of a CEO, The Art of Being Well, Hidden Brain and Eight Billion – I love listening about the stories of people from all different walks of life, whether they be professional or personal.

On my bookshelf, I’d always recommend Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which my wife gave me over ten years ago. It’s the best book for understanding why we make decisions, which is pretty handy when it’s most of your job. 

The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer, gives great insight into the nuances of cross-cultural communication, which has been invaluable in both external and internal communications at GLOCK. It’s so important to remember that everyone has their own history and approaches life with that sensitivity.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I feel strongly that mistakes are opportunities, and often people are too harsh on themselves over the smallest of mistakes. We all need to take an objective view on our mistakes. Don’t take them home with you, keep your work at work. 

Always consider the perspectives of others. You may not agree with what they have to say but approaching things from another point of view goes a long way – and you may even learn something! It’s hard, especially now, to not get too close to our own selves but the world is a whole lot bigger than we could ever imagine.

And, if you ever find yourself stressed about what others may think, my dad always told me that “we all cook with water”. Remember that.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.