Simone Noordegraaf of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching: “Listen to the voices inside you carefully to ensure your choice is fully authentic”

Listen to the voices inside you carefully to ensure your choice is fully authentic — understand, recognize, and welcome both your fears and your excitement so that your voice becomes clearer and clearer. Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. […]

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Listen to the voices inside you carefully to ensure your choice is fully authentic — understand, recognize, and welcome both your fears and your excitement so that your voice becomes clearer and clearer.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Simone Noordegraaf.

Simone Noordegraaf partnered with the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) as CEO of her company, BeTouched Coaching BV, or iPEC Europe, in 2018. In just two and a half years, Simone has been instrumental in tripling the number of European and APAC students in iPEC’s Coach Training Program and iPEC has expanded into new locations overseas to expand on their mission: “Raising the consciousness of the world, one person at a time.” Before joining iPEC, Simone held senior executive positions in some of the most significant global companies in the world (e.g., Royal Dutch Shell, EY, Royal Philips, and AkzoNobel).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I started my career as a chartered accountant (comparable to CPA is the United States). It was an education I chose because my father did not want to pay for my advanced education, so I found a way to work and study at the same time. He wasn’t a bad person, but he was anxious about life’s securities and, looking back, that fear has driven me too for a long time in my own life. The experiences of our parents drive our choices in life until we become fully aware of the connections. I am not an exception.

I chose Finance and did pretty well. I ended up in the most senior leadership teams of large listed Multinationals, led global teams of more than 4,000 people and substantial transformation efforts. Yet, I felt unfulfilled and lacked a sense of belonging.

I trained to become a coach in 2011 with The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Before then, I had experienced executive coaching with two marvelous individuals. They made a real difference in how I saw myself, also in relation to others. All three experiences taught me how my mindsets, filters, and attitudes influenced what was possible and/or held me back to achieve my full potential. In addition, the same is true for the people (including leaders) around me.

After more than 30 years in a corporate career, I finally found my strength and courage to leave that career behind me and start my own company, bringing iPEC’s certified coach training to the world outside of North America and be an advocate for conscious leadership to combat the emotional poverty in our workplaces. That role now changed into a global leadership role in the global company that iPEC changed into. During that journey, I learned many lessons that were of value to me and, no doubt, to others as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t really have a favorite quote. Depending on where I am on my journey, my quote changes, which makes perfect sense to me because life is a flow and while one quote may make complete sense at some point in my life, getting attached to it may hold me back during the next period. Helpful quotes are part of my favorites until they have served their purpose and letting them go is as much part of my growth journey than hanging on to them.

A quote that I regularly return to is: “We have thoughts, feelings and emotions, but we are not our thoughts, feelings or emotions”.

For much of my life I identified myself with labels — whether a label of being sensible, intelligent, sensitive, or otherwise — the label would define me as one thing and as a result it would exclude the opposite. I have come to the realization that humans are not simply one thing. When we believe we are, we are limiting ourselves more than we can see or care to admit.

It’s relevant to think about this in light of this interview too. As long as I identified myself as an Auditor or a Finance Professional, the label would hold me back from making a bold choice. When I believe my thoughts or feelings are absolute, I limit myself. When I realize that there is someone or something underneath those thoughts or feelings that is universal and versatile, nothing can truly hold me back.

I love the thoughts and feelings that make up my internal universe. Having said that, the knowledge that we have thoughts, feelings, and emotions and can change them when ready is a human super power. Whenever you are ready to embrace that super power, it can be taught and learned.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1. Curiosity — I have always been impossibly curious about what life has to offer, feeling that there is more to know about life than meets the eye. I have not been disappointed. Where I look there are lessons, and most of those lessons lead to expansion of possibilities. The boundaries of potential for myself and others are elusive, and the more I look, the more they can be moved. Curiosity extends much beyond the larger questions of life too. I love a good Sunday where I can nerd around in a system, finding a new way to look at data. If I had all the time in the world, I would learn more and probably change careers more often.

2. Truth telling -This can be an immensely challenging quality for both myself and others. Many people prefer a solid rationalization above the truth, because the truth will initially hurt. We miss so much of our potential because we prefer to tell ourselves why we are right, instead of seeing where we are avoiding potential and possibility. The truth can be painful and the one telling you the truth may be perceived as an enemy or an aggressor. In fact, the complete opposite may be true. Truth telling is often an act of love. Humans are energy circuits and our circuits have resistors built in to keep us safe from energetic surges that could hurt the entire system. Our bad experiences teach us to “never go there again”. When someone feels remote, distant or resistant, I sense those resistors in the system and ask a question about it. I may reach beyond someone’s comfort zone at times and as a result magic happens when a resistor is recognized and released. To learn more about how to articulate my truth in a helpful way is by doing it, taking feedback and building the strength in our relationship so that we may be caring AND daring together. How can we build strong relationships if we are unable or unwilling to speak truth to each other? As I learn and practice being both caring and daring with myself and others, there is more acceptance when I share my observation and, fortunately, more magic happens.

3. Acceptance — For much of my life I fought the status quo and wanted it to be different. I am (and may always want to be) a change agent. I love change. Through much of life’s lessons though, I have learned to love change while accepting the present. There may be possibilities to make things better, but it does not make the existing state “bad”. These two thoughts can be held in the same space.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

My career started when I was 18 years old as an assistant auditor 3b at Ernst & Young, the lowest entry job the audit firm had to offer. Since my dad did not want to pay for university, I found this position to be able to study and work at the same time. I literally started at the bottom. I always like to mention the 3b part. I find it on the one hand immensely funny to give someone a job title with a 3b in it, because it makes me think of R2D2 in Star Wars. I like to also think it serves as a useful example that life is full of possibilities. There is a path from such a humble entry position to the board room, even if it is not immediately visible.

It took quite a while for my internal world to catch up with the progression of my career. I always seek the boundaries of what is possible and found it difficult to comprehend that pushed boundaries were not met with push back, rather by more space to grow. For a long time, I kept identifying myself by that 18 year old assistant auditor 3b. The consequence of that was that I suffered from a healthy level of imposter syndrome needing to prove myself to others all the time.

My choice of career was influenced by the choice my parents made to become entrepreneurs out of necessity. There is beauty in understanding one’s lifeline, understanding how the choices of our parents and grandparents influence our choices from an early age. My mother, the daughter of a butcher who was taken out of school to help in the shop, married my father at a relatively late age. It is possible that they would never have married but for my father’s accident in which he lost his leg. That accident changed the course of their lives and probably mine too.

My father loved his life and possibly himself a lot when he started working in his twenties. My mom tells me the story of how he would walk past her house, looking slick in his suit and hat in the very early sixties. She clearly noticed him, but not necessarily in a way that would suggest they were to be married. And yet, faith decided differently.

The same night they met in a cafe for the first time, my father’s dramatic accident happened when he was driving home on his scooter. During his recovery, my father asked for my mother to come and visit him. Their relationship blossomed. Life had changed quite dramatically though, because a disability was a reason to dismiss someone at that time and my father lost his job. Imagine how that must have felt… you lose a leg, which in itself is quite traumatic, and on top of that you lose a job you absolutely love as well.

There was a time of recovery, a new relationship and the search for a new occupation. My grandfather thought he knew the answer and advised his son to buy a store and become an entrepreneur. The business turned out quite well in the booming sixties and seventies, but the unprocessed trauma and the experience of a life that has happened (instead of chosen) weighed heavily on my father. He made his decisions to ensure his three daughters would have more choice in their lives — not necessarily realizing it was his choice he was imposing on his girls, rather than our own. Beautiful motivation to keep his girls safe, however, not always with the intended outcome of happiness.

By the time the eighties came around, the business was not as successful as it once was. More importantly, my father’s physical and mental health and parent’s marital struggles had become a part of our daily lives. My father had become unable to work and started to become concerned about future financial security.

All of this led to my choice to become an accountant. I had this sense of wanting to study psychology, but it was not very well developed yet. My father’s search for financial security and his desire for his daughters to choose what he considered “sensible” choices drove me to consider studying economy or law — the hard stuff, rather than the soft stuff of life. Since I was the third one of the three girls, he was not very inclined to contribute to my further education, so I found another way. I chose a career where I could work and study at the same time and became an auditor.

I must tell you that it was an ordeal at times to work at an audit firm. There were afternoons that stretched out in front of me as if they would never end, checking off folders of invoices, comparing them with the entries in the general ledger with a green pen. It was mind-numbing, and some days, I would cry of unhappiness or have to fight off sleep. Being a “sensible” girl though, I stayed the course.

Eventually, as I started to lead teams, things became more interesting. The experience of being promoted from within the team to be a leader was a challenge that I still remember to this day. How people responded to me from one day to the next as my position changed was immensely interesting. In general, I found the development of myself and the people around me a source of joy and fascination. Leadership, as clumsy as I went about it, was something that gave my days color and spark.

For years, I stayed in Finance. I knew I was rather good at it, even though it remained boring to me. Auditing made me look through the rear windshield of other companies. Nothing that I did was of my own doing or creation. I was simply looking at the work of other people in other companies, judging what they did as “right” or “wrong” and suggesting improvements for their world. So when I moved into financial controlling positions, it helped me to shift my attention from the back seat to the rearview mirror in the front seat of the car. I could stop looking at the work of other companies and started to work more proactively at the processes and financials of the company I was part of. That was an interesting and satisfying step. The way I see it today is that accounting and controlling are both value contributors, registering and analyzing the outcomes of all other activities in the company. They can be incredible partners to the business! I can’t help but see the limitations of how financials are educated though, with great focus on risk avoidance and management. Much more is possible within the finance profession when the finance function chooses to focus on growth and see risks as possibility.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

If I think about the many times I have reinvented myself, my head sometimes spins. I started off as an assistant-auditor and became a CFO, conducted business in more than 100 countries and lived in three. I ran my own licenced international startup and from there moved on to become a Chief Business Development Officer of iPEC Coaching, the premier coaching school in the world. Each one of these steps required both big and small reinventions, breaking through my own boundaries more than once.

For most people looking at my career, the synopsis of the reinvention would be from Finance into Business Development and Sales. There are no two professions that are further apart and that leap was years in the making.

I needed an external chance to experience and demonstrate what was possible. In traditional companies, the labels and functional designations are often constricting. Most leaders will struggle to see the potential of a global Chief Business Development Officer in the local assistant auditor 3b. And as a result, managers will often struggle to take a perceived risk, giving you the chance to try your hand at something radically new. Sadly that becomes even harder if you have demonstrated your skill in a function. The label sticks. Although I did find reinventions within Finance, I needed to create my own chances as an entrepreneur to break out of my back office box completely.

More importantly though, I needed an internal chance too. We believe most of the labels we are tagged with and internalize them. They become so natural and are confirmed throughout our lives. Breaking away from those labels requires much inner work and awareness. I had many conversations with myself and my many fears. For personal development, I adopted a new adage: “your history does not define your future”. In a future where we will be required to reinvent ourselves many times during a lifetime, we will be better off if we choose to believe in our ability to change and adapt to new careers.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

I love the question…. Because it is SO difficult to answer.

My journey of reinvention was about getting to know myself — understanding my filters and conditioning which were driving me in one specific direction, repeating patterns — so I could disarm them and free myself from the unconscious choices I was making. I learned about trusting life and my own abilities. In essence, I learned about loving more and fearing less.

As I was coaching prospective clients, I noticed that our loved ones most often try to talk us out of our transformational ideas. Did you ever notice that? Finding the courage to make a dramatic change in life is already daunting enough. We have that courage in us. Most of the time when we are drawn to follow that feeling and engage with the people we love, they will be the ones to ask us a million questions and enlarge any fear we already had to begin with.

Your loved ones don’t do that because they are bad people, of course. They love you and their highest aim is probably to keep you safe. It may even be a little bigger than that — they love the image that they have of you and dread to see that change. Occasionally, your courageous choice may even trigger an introspection for the other that they may need to make a change too, and your choice will make them uncomfortable in their own inertia. We don’t always know what goes on in their minds unless they are conscious of themselves and tell us. What I do know is that the pull into safety is a strong one, both for ourselves and others.

One big trigger that drove me to change was the unconsciousness that happens in large organizations. I just did not want it anymore. I read once in “Sapiens” that people are wired to work in groups of maximum 150 and that people start to separate themselves if the group becomes larger. Politics is a side-effect of people trying to manipulate their environment to feel safe. I don’t really like the word politics, because it is too generic and it implies ill will. That is almost never the case though… most of the time it is unconscious behaviour to create personal safety.

It is draining though, to live and work in environments where people work in unawareness. Learning how to coach helped me tremendously to dig deeper under the resistance of stakeholders to help make decisions that are good for the whole organization and individuals in it. And yet, it is difficult to do this consistently within an organization that has a high percentage of unaware leaders who will be using their best tools to lead, and yet at times create separation and force rather than oneness and personal power to do that.

The second trigger is that I became more confident to simply follow the breadcrumbs of my joy. Finding new things to love is easier if you feel safe enough to do that. Doing what you love seems to innately make a person successful. I have been leading, training, and coaching SO many people throughout my career and all that holds them back to live their best lives is resistance and their powers to buy into and rationalize that resistance. It’s a fascinating, self-fulfilling and invisible prison.

This last trigger, a positive one, is still there and guiding me into the refinement of where I am operating at my greatest potential. It has become my close friend and is reflected into my closest relationships with the people who love me enough to remind me that I am pushing up against the wrong obstacles or coasting in my comfort zone.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

The first capability I had to discover was my strategic mind. Climbing the ladder from one of the lower ranks, you actually are hired for a lot of the “doing”. My mind, my belief in myself, had not caught up to the fact that I might have more in me. I felt exposed as I grew into bigger roles and struggled for a while to find my footing, especially in an organization where there was very little sensitivity and where achievement through force was considered a badge of honour. I tried to cope by “doing” more… which had worked for me in the past. It simply was not enough. I found myself close to a burn out as I was sitting on the floor crying and my husband was telling me that he did not “think I was a lot of fun this way”. He was right.

Have you ever heard about the “Hero’s Journey”? All stories follow a similar pattern and the hero has to go into the abyss to return with new wisdom and insight. I can only say that every abyss did that for me in it’s own unique way. This one showed me that I had much more in me than I had originally thought. A coach I worked with helped me to see that I was more strategic, creative, and sensing than many others who choose Finance as their profession. I had never understood why it was so hard to explain myself to my peers and Finance leaders until I understood how I differed from them. Learning that helped me to embrace my newfound strengths in strategy and intuition, and better communicate with people whose brain works differently from mine.

Moving into Business Development became a necessity after leaving my large multinational positions. There was no other option than to dive right into Admissions conversations to build my business and, as I did that, I learned that my whole perception and judgement I had around sales was wrong. Walking around with the image of the encyclopedia salesperson, who quickly pushes his or her foot in the door as the unexpecting potential client is disturbed in the middle of their day, my sense of sales was distorted. I found my first steps into the field terrifying and yet, as I leaned in, I met the most amazing people with the most amazing stories. They already knew what they wanted and gave me the option to help them to dream bolder and objectively consider the obstacles.

I had learned to coach years before and was now learning that selling IS coaching. If you do much beyond that, you are actually not serving your customer. In the well-informed world we live in, many buyers already know their desired state. They need someone to talk to, to truly understand how the product or service fits with what they want, and more importantly, understand how to overcome the obstacles to that desired state. Most people have an innate ability to understand what they want. They are holding themselves back to follow their joy because of their own fears and the fears of their loved ones. Understanding THAT made all the difference!

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

I am now in a role where I do nearly everything differently from how I started my career. I develop strategies, lead people, and focus mainly on how to develop new offerings and grow our business in a mission-driven company. I get to do what I love by building this new movement, work with people that I genuinely enjoy and care about, AND work in an environment where I am accepted for who I am.

At the end of the day, most professions and careers are not that different. It depends on the perspective one chooses. You can always find the differences if you look hard enough at the caricatures of each profession. Finance is a back office function, mostly busy with keeping score. Business Development is all about scoring, rather than keeping score. Nothing is less true if you change perspective and look at a company more holistically. The car is driving and gaining speed and we drive the car together. We need the gas and the breaks, the dashboard and the mirrors, the engine and the tubes, for the whole thing to work.In addition to that, everything is a process running horizontally through the organization if you look at a company through the lens of the customer.

I do want to emphasize the importance of being accepted for who I am. In all of my roles in large organizations, I have never felt so accepted. I am intelligent, emotional, and passionate. I like to ask tough questions and will challenge someone if I feel that I am getting a superficial answer. Superficial answers have never helped us move beyond our wildest dreams. I question myself just as freely as others. I guess that has made me odd in senior roles in large corporations and forced me to also suppress parts of who I am with varied levels of success. I find myself in an environment that is not threatened by who I am, both at home and at work. It is the most liberating experience! Being able to be who you are, knowing that someone will hear your emotion and ask a question about it rather than judge it is refreshing! I wish that for anyone. I am still untangling years of conditioning from my corporate world, so I regularly tighten up bracing for a response. Every time the response is different than my conditioning leads me to believe, I feel a surge of happiness and appreciation to my environment for truly seeing and hearing me beyond my words.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Everyone who was ever on my road has helped me to get to where I am today. I most appreciate the people who had faith in me when I made my biggest turns. I remember those conversations vividly, especially when they came from someone or at a time that surprised me.

When Philips split into a Healthcare and a Lighting business, my position was split as well. All this was happening right around the time that I lost my husband and I found the company not particularly sensitive to my grief. In the midst of all of this, without a clear path forward in the separation of the company, I decided to pursue an exit plan. Where I anticipated pushback and complexities, I found understanding and a reasonable conversation from the leaders I engaged with. Or when I decided to leave my corporate position to pursue my new career as the international license holder for iPEC and I sat down with two people I trusted, their excitement and unwavering support in my new path was refreshing and reaffirming. None of them talked about the risks, possible failures, or what might get in my way. Instead they provided me reassurance and confirmation, seeing me in all my possibilities rather than their fears or concerns. They were able to advise me from my vantage point, rather than how they wanted to see me or what it would say about them when I would make a different choice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Tough one! I feel I am still in the middle of the transition, which makes it hard to zoom out and pick a story.

The most interesting story that I can think of is the story of my developing trust. If I would have known everything that happened in the past three years, I probably would not have chosen this path. I guess that it is better not to know sometimes.

I had just decided to quit my job at a multinational company, where I had been working for two years. I was unhappy. Good, and yet, unaware people can be really clumsy and when the stress runs high, the clumsiness can wear on everyone in a system. I needed a break from large and unaware systems. I decided to leave and become an independent executive coach. Before I had the time to hand in my letter, the CEO of iPEC, Joan, called me to tell me that iPEC was ready to go global and whether I was still interested in partnering. My (near immediate) answer was YES.

You should know that I had been flirting with iPEC for more than six years by that time, looking for opportunities to work together in different forms. Going through iPEC’s certified coach training program in 2011 was immensely meaningful. I wanted to offer that experience to more people in the world. Until that decision to resign, all options to collaborate failed. Interestingly, in the fall of 2017, the pieces fell together.

The years after that have been intense. I learned to form new partnerships and new companies, master international growth, enter new markets, develop marketing and sales skills, and much more. I learned to see someone’s potential separate from where they are today, becoming more realistic about how much ground there was to cover between now and possibility. We alternated failing and succeeding so that we could accelerate our learning. I felt the fear and the freedom in equal measure most of the time.

Interestingly enough, the iPEC CEO and I ran our separate companies without unnecessary boundaries and limitations. Where possible, we operated as ONE. We were weaving the fabric of a global company even when we were still in separate entities and groups. Seeing my views of how we could work as one reflected in my partner was a revelation to me. Seeing how some lawyers might try to instill the fear of separation in us was completely eye opening as well. My ability to trust and believe in the magic that was happening right in front of us was challenging. Experiencing a business relationship that was devoid of “us” versus “them” was a dream come true.

In life, I had made huge steps in trusting and releasing my judgements and yet, I found that I had lots of room to grow under this speed and stress. I am amazed by the gift that trust has brought me when I finally dared to fully lean in this past year. During an unprecedented year, we brought our companies together into one global group in the middle of a pandemic, challenging our entire company to be completely agile.

If I would have known everything upfront, I probably would have never been able to say “yes” with as much conviction as I did. And yet, saying “yes” was the biggest gift I could have ever given myself, because I know how to trust at a much deeper level and know myself loved exactly how I am.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

To the surprise of many, I always struggled to believe in myself and to some extent I still do. Right now, I find those moments mainly at night when I lie awake at the witching hours, in this space between waking and sleeping. My reasoning is that I have processed a lot of those limiting beliefs, but the deepest fears show up when I am least conscious. Right now, I am training my awareness to see whether I can get to this deeper level of consciousness to bring that part of me along on a journey of possibility and love rather than risk and fear.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

Great question! I think there are three big secrets to this:

  1. Trust you! You are your own support system, first and foremost. Getting to know yourself, your triggers, your shadows and your emotions are essential to freedom of choice. I have learned to use my emotions as a compass. When I am feeling an emotion, it’s time to sit down and see what is out of alignment. I don’t take the emotion as an absolute, because I may be angry at someone or something, but that is not at the heart of the emotion. Usually there is some value that is being challenged or a few being triggered — spending time with my emotions helps me to understand what is really going on at a deeper level than my drama.
  2. Build your secure bases, consistently and deliberately. Know the people whose perspective is invaluable and the level of trust is high. Share yourself, connect, explore. In addition to people, consider your spaces, your rituals, and everything else which gives you support and a base to soar from with courage.
  3. Share yourself shamelessly — This is one of the hardest and most rewarding things you can do to overcome obstacles and resistance within yourself. You are perfect just as you are and most of the issues you carry shame about are shared with others. Once you start to share yourself, you become a mirror to others and their feelings of shame. Anything you hide from the world and others, whether consciously or unconsciously, becomes a barrier or a resistance in the relationship. If you can face these barriers and befriend them, energy flows within you and in your relationships with others.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

How interesting is it if your mind is open enough to consider so many changes and different careers in different jobs?

I remember leaving my job at EY in 1997 after 12.5 years. I cried — really hard- when I carried my little box out of that big office into the wide world and felt SO uncertain whether I was going to be able to perform outside of this environment that had been my safe haven and comfort zone for all those years.

Less than 24 hour later, all was forgotten and I was completely clear of what I was able to accomplish in a new role and a new capacity. This remains true till this day. I always feel the pull to stay within the familiar, always am reminded by my loved ones that I take a risk and always find that I would not do it any other way after I take the plunge.

For a long time, I was waiting for my fear to disappear before I would make a change. You can prepare all you want. The fearful thoughts will not disappear until you actually take the plunge.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Listen to the voices inside you carefully to ensure your choice is fully authentic — understand, recognize, and welcome both your fears and your excitement so that your voice becomes clearer and clearer.
  • Listen to the voices around you carefully and see the love of the person telling you NOT to do — understand, recognize, and welcome their fears too. What are they trying to say? What is love and what is their fear? What shall I bring along and what shall I leave behind?

Story for 1 and 2: My father, who I considered larger than life for a long time, counseled me against quitting my EY job to go to Shell. He wanted me to be safe and thought I was throwing my career away by leaving. It scared me to hear that and I did not want to hear it really. Whenever people around me tell me NOT to do something, I take it seriously and sometimes too seriously. So it takes a little time and contemplation to fully consider their reasons for telling me not to go or do something. And yet, as he was counseling me, I still had the vivid image in my mind of the partners who walked the EY corridors for 40 years before they could go and enjoy their pension. I dreaded to be in the same role in the same company for so long and thought about the possibilities in the world that I wanted to experience. If I would choose to stay in my comfort zone and avoid all risk to keep what I had, how could I keep growing and experiencing what life has to offer me? I wanted to remain relevant and fresh with broad horizons and sweeping ideas.

  • Try it — you will be richer for the experience! You cannot make a mistake — telling me would not have done the trick. Most of the things I need to learn I don’t “just” learn through my ears and in my head. The most meaningful things I have learned in life I learned through experiencing new situations, new countries, new capabilities, and more. Even when I did not enjoy the new environment much, I took many lessons about myself from what I did not love and how I responded to it. I remember the times I stood in an airport with my life packed into a sea container and my husband with me thinking: “why am I making my life so complicated?” Those were the moments I would have turned around if I wasn’t already so deeply committed — they made my life richer though in many different ways.
  • Find and appreciate your Secure Bases in life. Even when everything is uprooted, we crave to have our safe havens. A Secure Base is a person, a place, a ritual, a practice which provides you a safe place in life from where you can take a chance, transform, and experiment. Learning about Secure Bases was very key for me so that I could anchor myself somewhere and find the safety that I could not always find inside of me yet. Who is on your advisory board? What are your habits that are an anchor in your day and offer you comfort that is pure and your own? How are you honoring those secure bases, rather than take them for granted in life, even when your relationship with that secure base is at times a little bumpy?

I married Joeri a year and a half ago after losing my first husband Niek to early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Both Joeri and Niek are my secure bases. I know to my core that my life and experience with Niek allows me to build a life with Joeri. They are two profoundly different human beings and both amazing in their own unique way. Niek’s illness and our struggle through discovery, understanding, and acceptance of the disease and more even of each other in our individual and joint struggles was something I needed to see the beauty, strength, and courage in Joeri. Our lives together are never perfect and yet, they are perfect in that imperfection.

Knowing Joeri as someone who will always stand beside me, however strong willed and persistent as we both are, gives me the opportunity to soar into whatever direction I may choose. I know he will perhaps disagree with me, but he will never stop loving me. I can’t say with certainty that I would have been able to see and understand this had I not had Niek as my teacher and Secure Base in the 25 years before.

  • Nothing is ever binary; Life is about so much more than ones and zeroes — there is no such thing as right and wrong, only shades of grey. I am not sure where I developed my strong judgements early in life, but I most definitely did. Life was easier if I could label things or box them up into a category or a “right” or “wrong” box. Over time, I learned how much of that is an illusion that I created to make sense out of life, to create safety and some kind of order. But what it does in fact, is create separation. Once something is categorized, it limits our ability to engage with an object, a person, a place. Nothing is simply ONE thing. Turn it upside down and your whole perception changes with it.

I enjoy watching Netflix or Prime series more than movies, because I have a huge admiration for the people who write and deepen the characters in them. Nobody is flat, only good or only bad. Nobody is static either, we constantly evolve. When I stop looking, I miss their evolution. The really great writers of series, especially the ones that span multiple seasons with high quality, understand this. They manipulate my heartstrings softly and gently until I see the humanity in the villain, what caused them to become who they are. The opposite is true too. What happens to the hero when he gains the power to manipulate the audience or the other characters in the series? What if we embrace the fact that we are ALL the hero and ALL the villain — we are never just one or the other. Maybe we don’t even need to be.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

That is the easiest question in the whole list! That movement would be about conscious leadership and conscious governance. We all go to work and adjust ourselves to what we expect professionals to be. All focused on the doing, unconscious about the impact we have on each other, many people feel less satisfied with their working life than they could be. In the process, we rush to an outcome and avoid having the conversation under the conversation, connecting around a true purpose (instead of the words), and creating meaningful connections and outcomes. We may need to slow down to speed up in very meaningful ways, staring our fears in the eyes with an aim to build deep and trusting relationships.

I wish for anybody to be able to be aware of who they are and make choices how they show up, feel aligned with something that is bigger than they are. I love the idea of large teams forging ahead, knowing and understanding how thoughts and beliefs trigger feelings which, in turn, trigger our actions. The unawareness and emotional poverty of our workplaces sub-optimize the use of all of our resources and I am committed to make a difference in that space.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

One of the things iPEC Coaching is well known for is our Energy Leadership™ model. For me, it was a game changer to start living my life in love, rather than in fear. It allowed me to become more aware of my conditioning and choose more freely and consciously rather than from what had been modelled to me in the past. Most recently, I was listening to the audible biographies of Matthew McConaughey and Barack Obama. It struck me how graciously they describe their lives and the choices they make — the awareness they bring to the situations they found themselves. Mcconaughey called it “greenlight” in his book and every time he said it, I heard the smile in his voice. Obama describes his “greenlight” moments under pressure so eloquently too. I am pretty sure they kicked the garbage can every once in a while too, feeling the low energy of victimhood or anger when their life felt heavy under responsibility or clumsy choices.

I am curious about those low points in their lives too and their methods to shift from their lows to more constructive energy levels, simply because that is what leaders do. Both of them developed their strategies to keep experiencing their personal power of choice. I’m not sure whether they ever met each other, but I would love to have breakfast with them and ask how they might share the power of choice to the people who don’t always feel they have that power in the palm of their hands.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow me on LinkedIn and through all the developments at iPEC Coaching at We have an extensive presence and although you may not always find my personal stories in there, you will find the influence of our amazing team in everything that we do.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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