Irmelin Drake: Chapter 2. Yes to no!

Du kan lese mer om forfatteren av boken, A dream comes through, som skrives direkte her i WTMagazine på http://www.womentalk.no

There are obviously some minor practical tasks involved in the process of preparing for half a year away from everyday life.   I am definitely not of the practical type, so I’ve put my husband in charge of the organization (uhm, maybe it’s more appropriate to say that he is naturally assuming this responsibility since he knows that the result will be rather sorry if I were to be in charge of it.)  I’ll skip the details.  In truth, I don’t even know of all the details, but things have been going on constantly, like getting an alarm installed in the house,  signing forms about address change or neighbours dropping by to help arrange for snow plowing, etc.

What has been my responsibility, in turn, is to make as much money as I can before leaving and find ways to reduce the expences incurring on the home turf as we are gone.   Since we are both self-employed, there is no employer available to sponsor our sabbatical and we have to find other ways of financing it all.

 

To sum it up; my preparation has pretty much involved working like a madwoman.  I have held courses and seminars, lectures and speaking assignments, written articles in magazines and newspaper columns and developed project applications so that I will have some work to come back to when the half year is up.  Right now I was on my way to a beautiful spa hotel a few hours away from Oslo where I was ready to orchestrate a full day seminar for 70 leaders from a municipal nearby.

One day last week (and mind you, it’s less than two weeks before we take off for Zanzibar), my friend and sometimes collaborator, Amanda, called me up and urged me to find time for a meeting.  She had arrived at the conclusion that before I left, we simply had to establish the firm that we had been talking about, numerous late evenings over endless bottles of red wine.  I hesitated.  I wanted to leave with no strings attached.  I wanted to feel free to assess where I was going next without having any obligations whatsoever.  Which I consequently explained to her. However, as Amanda is one of the most persuasive people I’ve ever known, with the most amazing ability to follow through on all kinds of projects which she juggles in between her ordinary job as a middle manager in a corporation and all her other obligations, I had nonetheless agreed to meet up for a meeting next week.  – I will prepare all papers and practicalities, she consoled me, – and all you have to do is to bring you brilliant mind with you.  I had been beaming as I hung up.  I was such a sucker for praise and affirmation, and Amanda always made me feel like I was capable of anything and everything.  I simply loved how she made me feel clever and bright and optimistic and how she lifted me up (in fact it was a very concrete physical feeling) to a more hopeful outlook on life.  Maybe it really was the right time to finally put our heads together and make something concrete out of all the ideas we had cooked up over the last years.

Yeah, it will be ok, I thought to myself as I stretched in the seat of the car and looked out on the beautiful autumn coloured landscape I was driving through.  Some opportunities simply must be grabbed, that’s just the way it is, and this felt like one of them.  Soon enough I wouldn’t have to move myself all over the country to lecture, but instead I would be an internet leadership learning entrepreneur with a growing business enterprise on the way.  Life would be good and safe and not the least more interesting than ever before.

However, when I finally got to bed at 2 a.m. that night, I was no longer so sure.   I had spent the entire evening  (after facilitating the full day seminar) working on a lecture I was about to have the next day and still hadn’t managed to finish my preperation.  Now I was looking forward to (only) three hours of sleep before getting up to complete it at 5 a.m. and then embarking on the three hour drive back to the conference where I was going to be opening speaker. It surely felt like a paradox that there I was, laying on a bed at a spa hotel, so stressed out that I could hardly remember my name, teaching leaders about taking leadership, and on a personal level, so out of touch, so incredibly out of touch.  When would I learn to say NO?

I came to think of a conversation between Oprah and the actress Geena Davies about self esteem.   Geena Davies is the actress who among other things, managed to portray a very believable female president in a hugely successful American TV-series some years back, who’s known for her Mensa membership (meaning; she’s highly intelligent) and who, not the least, won an Academy Award (an Oscar) for best supporting actress at an early stage in her career.  Must be said, though, that the conversation that I am referring to dates back to 2006, before she established the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, an institute engaged in conducting and promoting research related to gender balance and stereotyping and not the least pushing for much more diverse female characters in the media and entertainment industry.

One would assume a woman with that kind of track record has her things in order in terms of saying yes and no to the right things, right?  But although it’s easy to assume that people who are professionally successful, have high self-esteem and makes such grounded career moves and decisions, are on top of it all,  Davies admits to the contrary.  In fact, in that interview she admits to being a so-called people’s pleaser and not very good at standing up for herself, until she was way into her 40s.

The obvious explanation is that self-esteem is not about portraying presidents or achieving Academy awards and/or being highly intelligent, it’s about how you feel inside.  It’s about knowing that you’re good enough, not because of, but in spite of achievements and success.  It’s about making decisions that are based on your own values and hunches, not on the need to refrain from disappointing others or to please them.

Oprah had said something in that conversation that I had put on my mind; if you are a “people pleaser” who can’t say no without feeling guilty, you are not a free woman.

I surely want to be a free woman.  I want to be clear and concise and firm when responding to invitations from others or being asked to contribute to something in one way or the other.   I want to make decisions that are grounded in my own values, goals and intuitions.  But how to entangle what I really, really want, from what I think I want or what may be expected from me?  And what about refraining from taking the responsibility of the rest of the world on my shoulders and to let go without feeling guilty?

I got out of bed and put on the thick white robe that came with the room as I walked out on the veranda to make some of that autumn sea breeze wash through my exhausted head.  The sky was full of stars and as I looked up, I suddenly felt totally at ease.  It was as if there was an invisible hand being put on my head to calm me down.  Someone’s watching me, I thought.  It’s going to be all right.  I could feel a strange calmness spread in my entire body as I filled my lungs with fresh air and slowly let it out.  It’s ok, I thought.  It’s going to be fine.

 

 

Irmelin Drake: Chapter 1. Here we go again

Maybe it is obvious.  That a person like me, never should take on such an ambitious project.  On the other hand, that’s what I’ve done all my life – taken on projects that are too ambitious.  And so, maybe it has become a habit or maybe I’m just the masochistic type, but here I am, ready to embark on a six month sabbatical to Zanzibar with my family consisting of a husband who…(forget it, I’ll get to him later), and three kids aged 6, 8 and 9 whom I will be homeschooling.  Not that that’s such a big deal.  Doesn’t everyone go on sabbaticals these days?  At least that’s the impression you can get when you read the weekend editions of the newspapers or the trendy women’s magazines.  Not that I’m influenced by those. (Sorry, that’s not true, in generaI I love getting inspired by those magazines, but I was not when it comes to the specific decision of taking a sabbatical at Zanzibar).

Actually, I’ve taken a sabbatical before.  And indeed, I think I am doing it again simply because I did it once before, and it was the best thing I’ve done in my entire life.  Ok, so my life has changed a bit since that time in San Francisco when my husband and I took half a year off to play around and have no obligations except for chilling out and renewing our energy after an immensely intense period of working 24/7.  It’s like ten years, three kids, a lot more mortgage and a few disappointing setbacks in terms of career moves later, but even more so; it feels like just the right thing to do, making a stop, slowing things down and rethinking a thing or two. Those last ten years have gone by like a whirlwind.  Life has been so hectic.  Yeah, taking a sabbatical really seems like just the right thing to do right now (doesn’t it?).

After all, didn’t I make a drawing fifteen years ago in that Women in Management class at San Francisco State University, completing the assignment of drawing myself in my wildest dreams, lying in a hammock on a sandy beach with a couple of kids playing in the sand next to me?  I spent most of my thirties bringing about the kids.  Now, I was ready to bring them to an exotic island off the coast of Tanzania and actually fulfil that dream from way back when.  It feels pretty cool, to be honest. As I had tried to explain to a friend of mine who wondered why and how and whatnot around the decision to take a sabbatical; this was one of a few substantial life dreams that I have carried with me over the years and now seems the perfect time to see it come to its fruition.

I realize fifteen years may seem like a long time to wait for a dream to come true, and it certainly feels like a long time since I drew that dream on the sheet of paper in Professor Carr-Ruffino’s class. But really, so what if it takes fifteen years to fulfil one of your life’s dreams?  If we only have a handful of dreams (I’m obviously referring to “substantial” ones), and we’re lucky enough to live an average amount of eighty-five years, fifteen years is nothing to gasp about.

Yeah, right, you might be thinking – but I am serious about this, I think a lot of people think they have so little time (this includes myself when I was younger, I always felt I was too late, too slow, too old, or too outdated), but this is an erroneous way of thinking.  There is enough time for the really important things.  It doesn’t matter if it takes longer than you expect or plan for.  As long as it happens.  So what if it took me fifteen years to get to that dream island with those kids, now I’m actually fantastically going!!!

Of course, I have added a few, minor ambitions to the dream picture.  One is to make a clean cut in order to reassess what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, and the other one is to reassess whether one of the other major dreams that I’ve had for a long time, but haven’t yet fulfilled, remains a worthwhile dream to keep.  In fact, I did not only make one drawing of myself in my wildest dreams that time at San Francisco State, but two.  The other one was of myself sitting at a talk show, sharing ideas and stories from my own book which was stacked in piles next to me.  And even if I was lucky enough to get my first book published only a few years later, I had upgraded that dream to an international context.  Now I dreamt to published in an international setting, to create a book that would enable me to get my voice out to a much bigger audience and in turn enable me to realize all my other ambitions, such as creating the “The leadership institute”, which would be a place where women’s ways of leadership would be legitimized and celebrated.  (In case you wonder, I’m a specialist on women and leadership.)

However, I do not seem to be getting very much closer to realizing this dream as all my other obligations and priorities take all of my time, and even though there are several unfinished scripts stacked away in my bookshelves, it is not difficult to admit that they hardly seem to be of the kind of “best selling” material I need to move forward.

So, it seems appropriate to make some major reassessments, and what better way to do it (is my thinking), than escaping from the cold winter of Norway and the trivial and tedious assignments taking up so much of my time, and give myself and my family a break.  Yeah, a break surely seems the appropriate thing!

Except, this isn’t all of the background story.

There is a husband.  And he is in many ways worthy of a story all in itself, but the important thing to mention here, is that he has some of his own ambitions for the sabbatical.  Which, in some way or another, he has managed to drag the rest of the family into.   Of course, they are fun projects.  Like the one with the monkeys; he calls it “Hey, hey with the monkeys – project”.  Who would dare to be negative to that one?

The monkeys are, more precisely, the Red Colobus Monkeys and they are unique of its kind so much that apparently the only place they exist are on the Zanzibar island.  So, my husband thought, why not make an effort to help the poor kids of Zanzibar by turning the attention to these interesting and fun creatures, as he spent a lot of time on the exotic island while conducting one of his other projects.  Which is why he established the “PP monkey fond” (yeah, wouldn’t you know it, PP as in Peter-Peter, is his own artistic version of his original name Peter).  But this was when the project was still very modest and pretty much limited to having a bazaar at the local mall in Larvik where we live, and collecting some teddy bears to bring to the children of Zanzibar.  Now the project has grown big, and I mean BIG; involving all of the primary schools in our city and most of the nurseries and primary schools in Zanzibar.  And that is just one of the ambitions he is bringing with him in our collective baggage.

As I’m speaking of ambition, I was browsing through my favourite magazine shop the other day, when my eyes caught a glimpse of those exact words in red thick capital letters on the cover of Time magazine; “The secrets of AMBITION”, it read. Isn’t life funny, just our mind focuses on something specific, we notice it in all kinds of ways and places.  Not that the topic was new to me.  When your professional endeavour involves women and leadership, you are bound to touch upon the topic of ambition.  I’ll never forget how affected I was by a question posed in a book written by Harvard professor Anna Fels on the topic;  Why are so many professional women willing to walk away from their dreams?  She asked.  And you know, after you have thought about it for a bit and swallowed the grief you feel by the assumption implied in the question  (that women are in fact walking away from their dreams), the next thing you’re bound to ask is; are they really?

I had been able to explore that question among quite a few outstanding Norwegian professional women, but what I found was perhaps even more discontenting: Most of them didn’t even relate to the idea of having any dreams about careers or making it to top leadership positions or being at the forefront in their fields.  They seemed to walk along, taking one day at a time and resolving the challenges that were presented to them step by step.  No proud feelings because they in fact were superwomen handling it all.  – I don’t feel like a superwoman, a young and successful financial officer and a mother of three children commented in a focus group I had conducted.  – I just do what must be done.   In other words, there was no specific dream or goal driving her, but rather a strong work ethic and an ambition to master her career and at the same time being a good mother and friend and wife and all the other things modern life imposes on a woman.

Relating the topic to my own life, there were other dilemmas.  I surely had dreams, but seemed to lack the ability to follow through.  For example, I had been working on my PhD for ages, and never seemed focused enough to finish.  Or, what about the book scripts that were more than half way finished, stacked away in my book shelves.   Surely, it had been my goal to finish them when I started up.  However, parallel to the superwoman cited above, there are so many  things going on at the same time.

The idea that I was pursuing too many goals and dreams at the same time, clearly had  crossed my mind.  But I seemed unable to choose between them.  On the contrary to Fels who argues that women walk away from their dreams, I seemed unable to do just that.  I wanted it all.  On my own terms.  And refused to admit that it was impossible.  It simply meant taking more time, and following a slower route.

The article in Times, helped me clarify one thing; being clear about ones goals is vital.  As psychologist Dean Simonton of University of California, Davis stated; “Ambition is energy and determination, but it calls for goals too.  People with goals but no energy are the ones who wind up sitting on the coach saying ‘ One day I’m going to build a better mousetrap’.  People with energy but no clear goals just dissipate themselves in one desultory project after the next.”

The problem, that they forgot to elaborate further on in that article, was precisely the problem of goals.  How to make up your mind about which goals to pursue when there are so many things you want to do??  What if you’re the type of person like me (and a lot of other people I know, and women in particular), who are not single minded enough to focus on one or two things, but instead try to juggle at least fifteen at a time?  And mind you, five of those are most often thrown at me from the outer world just when I don’t need them, i.e.; children with all kinds of more or less legitimate needs, life partners with all kinds of more or less legitimate needs, teachers, trainers, friends, neighbours, helpers, or other people or tasks   that seem to appear out of nowhere in a non-stop fashion throughout the day.  Important things, most definitely, but alas, not things that bring me closer to realizing my dreams…

In fact, every time I read about successful business men who prescribe the single minded focus on one goal to be the requisite for success, I frown.  What would the world look like if everybody focused on only one thing?  It would become a very boring and unfriendly world, I think.  Nevertheless, I had to admit I was in the habit of creating too many goals and ambitions for myself and this was something I was planning to work through as I had an entirety of six months at my disposal.

And if everything else failed, the one goal I was determined to reach, no matter at what cost, was to learn the practice of

yoga.

Kapittel 2. fra Irmelins bok A DREAM COMES THROUGH kommer neste søndag, 25. september kl. 18.

 

På tide å snakke om aldring…

Av Gunhild Corwin

… nei, jeg mener ikke om hvordan man skal unngå å bli gammel. Det finnes pr i dag kun en sikker metode for å unngå aldring – det er å dø ung. Uten at jeg synes det er et særlig godt alternativ.

Er ordet gammel blitt et skjellsord? Hvorfor er vi så redde for å bli gamle – eller kalles gammel? Burde vi ikke heller være redde for ikke å bli gamle? Jeg har kjent alt for mange som ville gitt hva som helst for muligheten til å bli gammel – men som aldri fikk sjansen.

Om et halvt år fyller jeg 70. Jeg anser meg som heldig som har fått leve så lenge og oppleve så mye. Det betyr ikke at jeg har tenkt å gi meg ennå – overhodet ikke. En Dagblad-test jeg moret meg med å ta for mange år siden, predikerte at jeg skal bli 127,6 år. Jeg har mye å gå på. Og jeg synes livet er fantastisk. Jeg sitter ikke i gyngestolen og strikker – selv om strikking har fått en oppsving. Jeg skriver, jeg holder foredrag, jeg trener, jeg reiser, jeg er sammen med familie og venner som jeg er glad i. Nå har jeg bestemt meg for å brushe opp og forbedre min rustne italiensk. Livet er strålende. ”Dere har det jaggu godt, svigermor,” sa min ene svigersønn da vi kom hjem fra Italia sist. ”Gled deg til å bli gammel,” svarte jeg, ”din tid kommer.”

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Min egen mor ble 97 år og bodde i sin egen leilighet til hun var godt over 96. Mor var fornøyd med livet, hun syntes hun hadde det godt. Det var mye som skrantet –både av sanser og legeme. Det siste året satt hun stort sett alene i leiligheten sin. Hun var blitt enke 15 år tidligere, alle vennene hennes var døde, men mor hadde det bra, sa hun. Hvordan kunne hun synes livet var godt? Fordi hun var ekstremt tilpasningsdyktig og endringsvillig. Innen business snakkes det stadig om endringsvilje. Det gjelder på alle livets mange fronter – ikke bare innen business. Mor tilpasset seg etterhvert som veien foran henne smalnet. Hun kjempet ikke imot drivgodset som tross alt følger med aldring, hun aksepterte – hun var i. Hun brukte ikke kreftene sine eller tiden sin på å slåss mot vindmøller og ting hun ikke kunne forandre. Hun brukte den energien hun hadde på det hun likte å gjøre, som hun hadde mulighet til å gjøre og som var meningsfulle for henne.

I dag tutes vi ørene fulle med verdighet. Vi skal ha et verdig liv, en verdig alderdom og en verdig død. Hvem definerer verdighet? Er et verdig liv det samme for tyveåringen og nittiåringen? Antakelig ikke. Vår livsverdiskala forandrer seg i takt med oss – forhåpentlig. Må jeg være ung, glatt, vellykket og frisk for å kunne leve et godt og verdig liv? Nei. Alt for mange riktig gamle mennesker, eller funksjonshemmede, pleietrengende mennesker – det være seg unge eller gamle, sier de synes livet er verd å leve. Skal vi tro dem, eller skal vi tro at de som er unge og friske vet best?

Viktor Frankl sa at det viktigste i livet var å finne mening i det vi gjør. Det gjelder uansett omstendigheter og alder. Det var også han som mente at det viktigste ikke var hvordan vi har det, men hvordan vi tar det.

Heia Viktor Frankl … og naturlig aldring.