Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Introducing Voices of Athena, a new podcast on Athena Radio. Priscilla Brenenstuhl interviews Athena members on how they achieved their professional success. Today, she interviews Liz’s friend and Puppet CEO, Yvonne Wassenaar on her interesting journey through birth, death, and the things that happen in between.
0:06 Liz’s Introduction of Voices of Athena
1:30 Priscilla Brenenstuhl interview with Yvonne Wassenaar
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
00:06 Liz Tinkham: Hi, this is Liz Tinkham, and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends but your show’s not finished. Hi, everyone, and welcome to Third Act. Today I’m introducing a new podcast, Voices of Athena, hosted by my Athena Alliance colleague, Priscilla Brenenstuhl. In this podcast, Priscilla highlights the unique stories of some of the extraordinary women of the Athena Alliance. On today’s show, she talks to Yvonne Wassenaar, the CEO of Puppet, a mother of three kids, and a long-time friend of mine. Yvonne’s got a story you’re not gonna wanna miss, so enjoy the episode. And for those of you who don’t know, both Priscilla and I are sponsored by the Athena Alliance, the largest learning community of executive women. You can find out more about the Athena Alliance and how to listen to more episodes of Voices of Athena in today’s show notes. Enjoy this episode.
01:11 Yvonne Wassenaar: Everything is a gift, it doesn’t mean that it’s not painful, it doesn’t mean that it’s not hard, but those are usually the biggest gifts because they are the ones that you grow in the most, if you’re willing and courageous enough to accept them.
01:30 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: Welcome to Voices of Athena, a podcast highlighting the more personal side of the successful women that make up the Athena Alliance, a learning community for executive women. I’m your host, Priscilla Brenenstuhl. Today, we sit down with Yvonne Wassenaar to talk about death, birth, forgiveness, and the people that are there to teach us and hold us along the way.
01:54 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: A quick blip about what we’re doing here. I am so driven by stories, the stories of culture that I’m a birth worker, the stories of birth, you know how stories carry history and how they carry morality. I feel like storytelling in the past was such a focal point, you had storytellers in the villages that were respected, and now I feel like we have that too in forms of podcasts, it’s coming back up in these other ways. And I’ve just been really focused on that in my life, just listening to people’s stories, that idea that everyone… It’s like a library.
02:30 Yvonne Wassenaar: I’m really appreciative of you doing this, what I find interesting is I’ve had an interesting life in many different ways, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more open about talking about different aspects and elements of it, and it’s always amazing to me how… And this goes for myself as well, how normal my life seems to me because I live it, versus how exceptional or extraordinary it seems to other people. And I say that in the context of not, I’m amazing, but what often happens when you tell a story of depth or meaning is it’s reciprocated with a story that is equally or even more amazing. But the holder of the story doesn’t see it themselves, just like you don’t always see it yourself.
03:13 Yvonne Wassenaar: And so I think the work that you’re doing is really important because we have shied away, particularly in leadership and talking about the stories that got us to where we are, and I think when I look at my life, there are some things that happened earlier on that I had to figure out how to deal with it, have now empowered me to do what I’m doing, and if I can help unlock that in somebody else earlier in their life so they have more runway with which to work. And I think it’s incredibly powerful, and to your comment, back in the day when we had villages and you sat around the old tree, and the elders, the wise ones, they were named that for a reason, and we’ve lost a lot of that. So I think what you’re doing is really important. So thank you.
03:57 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: I’m so happy to hear that, and I appreciate what you said. It’s important to remember that we’re all relatable, I think. But the division, like you said, especially with leadership, and this is my personal life, live so separately from, this is my professional life, this is what I show you and this is what I don’t show you. And I think so much can be learned professionally by the personal experience, and the last thing I’ll say is just the keepers of the stories and the way that you said that you often think of your life as normal until you start to speak about it or until something circles back to you, and that’s what I’m really excited about. I’m really excited about the opportunity to deeply listen to you and to sit with your story and then to present it back to you in a way that I hope even lets you hear it in a new fresh way and gets you closer to honoring that you are exceptional, you know? Just honoring that and being able to sit with it. Can you tell me someone that inspires you and why?
05:08 Yvonne Wassenaar: I often, when I’m contemplating, think to, who do I wanna emulate? Who do I wanna be like? Who inspires me? And there’s many people I feel fortunate that I could call upon for that. But if I look at my truest source of inspiration, it’s really my daughters, and one’s 13 and one’s almost 16, and they’re so full of dreams and integrity and character and belief that they not only will, but they must make the world a better place. And it’s everything from my oldest becoming a vegetarian because she wants to reduce greenhouse gasses and not stopping at just her, but educating us and being okay that maybe we don’t go completely vegan, but can we reduce certain things to change our carbon footprint? And during the pandemic, being the one to push to go out to protests for Black Lives Matters, and to see that type of energy and belief in purpose in people who are so young, who dream so big, who have that purity of… That anything is possible, I think, is what, not only inspires me, but gives me that hope that we will succeed in improving the world around us for everybody.
06:23 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: That’s beautiful. I am presently nine months pregnant and expecting my second.
06:29 Yvonne Wassenaar: Yay, congratulations!
06:30 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: Thank you. I too, share that my son is kind of my hero. He reminds me of all of the hopes that I’ve ever had.
06:37 Yvonne Wassenaar: And in fairness, I need to give a shout out to my son, ’cause he is a mama’s boy and I love him dearly. He’s a twin too, to my 13 year old daughter. And he gives me hope in the sense that he is a white male, who has a great appreciation of the power and meaning of being strong, regardless of what the color is of your skin or your gender. And in fact, he was very offended by some of the award ceremonies where he’s like, “Mom,” he goes, “The song that they picked degrades women and sexualizes them. And I don’t think they should have won.” And I was really proud of him for that. ‘Cause that’s a big statement for a 13 year old boy.
07:11 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: That’s a huge statement and it probably has something to do… His awareness probably has something to do with who his mother is. So, masculinity is inherently sacred, not toxic, especially if it’s exposed to the right encouragement. So, kudos to you mom. What song are you singing at Karaoke?
07:32 Yvonne Wassenaar: I love music. I love all types of music. There’s very few types of music that I don’t like and enjoy. I think it was my escape from early on as a child. However, I’m tainted because my sister used to tell me I’m a horrible singer, which my mother swears I am not. So first off, I’ve never done karaoke and I would be horrible. But if I have to think about a song that my children would tell you that I sing a lot, particularly when they were younger, would be, “On top of old smokey, all covered with cheese, oh, I saw that poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.” Yeah, I’m going to basics.
08:08 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: Encore. That’s so great. And again with villages, right. I mean, would ever anyone ever say you don’t dance or you can’t sing? I think we just are all born that way, but I know most people have a complex about dancing and singing and sharing and you just did it for me, so. Very brave.Yvonne, what is your biggest fear?
08:31 Yvonne Wassenaar: My… And this will make more sense when we dive into my personal story, but my biggest fear is wasting time. I think we have… Whatever amount of time we have on this earth it is limited. And we don’t know how much it is and I feel a tremendous need and drive to make the most of it in so many different ways. And so if I really dig deep, I have a slight fear of heights. But I don’t mind spiders, I’ll pick them up in a cup and put them outside the house. So when I really dug deep, I’d have to say it’s wasting time. I just… It’s not a great fear ’cause it makes it harder for me to relax and read a book and do things that don’t seem to have an immediate return. So it’s not necessarily a healthy fear, but it’s one that I’m working with managing ’cause I think it’s got strengths and it’s got challenges. I think that’s like everything in life. Like even like a fear of height, it exists for a very natural reason. If you fall from somewhere high, you could die. So nature gave it to us for a reason. Fear of wasting time, I think is a good fear. It forces you to wanna be productive, but you also need to recharge and take care of yourself. So getting that right balance is key.
09:37 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: Thank you. What is the most daring thing that you have ever done?
09:43 Yvonne Wassenaar: So there’s this classic answer and then there’s the deeper answer. The classic answer is, I just mentioned, I have a slight fear of heights. And when I was 18 years old, I went parachuting. So I jumped out of a plane at 10,000 feet in the air. I went static line versus tandem. So it was just me. My little feet were dangling out the side of the plane in the UK and the instructor said, “Go.” And I’m pretty sure my hands were pretty tight on the side. And I think somebody gave me a little push, but I did go, it was super fun. I took up hang gliding after that ’cause that wasn’t the falling, that was the flying part, which was lovely.
10:20 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: So was that for you a direct challenge for yourself? Like, “I’m afraid of this, so I’m gonna do it.” Or was it… Who says I’m afraid of heights, right, and then jumps out of a plane?
10:34 Yvonne Wassenaar: It’s exactly what you said. It’s a continual testing of myself to conquer my fears and it’s a very, very active process that I put myself through, which is interesting ’cause I never consciously recognized it till later in life. I would say the deeper, more kind of existential daring thing that I think I did in my life was, I consciously decided to have my fiance’s three kids through IVF after he passed away of cancer. And it was not a decision I took lightly. It was one where I did a lot of research on, what did it mean to be a single mother? And what would it be like for the children? And there’s plenty of single parents and children who are raised with just one parent for a whole host of reasons or even no parents. That’s very different when you consciously make the choice.
11:29 Yvonne Wassenaar: And so for me, I did a lot of research on different perspectives. I reached out to his family members to my family members, but ultimately had my first child Isabel. And that I thought since she didn’t have a living father, that she should at least have siblings. Had a little bit of a challenge getting pregnant the second time, but ultimately got pregnant with twins. And I very happily have three children now, but that took a lot ’cause that’s a forever commitment. That’s not a jumping out of the plane, like one and done. That’s like you go on that ship, you’re not getting off.
12:00 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: And I have to stand by it and keep presenting it, over and over again in my life as this decision that I made, not super brave. I don’t have an understanding of your experience. I was separated from my partner when my son was six days old by immigration. And so I raised my son for the first four years by myself.
12:19 Yvonne Wassenaar: Wow.
12:20 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: And I guess what I wanted to share was that, even the term, ‘single parent’ is loaded and I wasn’t a single parent in the traditional sense. If you join a single mom’s group, a lot of times they wanna talk about their partner who they’re mad at or…
12:34 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: Working out agreements about who’s gonna take the kids on this day. And I didn’t fit in any of that framework. Like you said, it’s not only just making the decision to be a single mother, but to be a single mother in a really novel way that doesn’t have a model. It doesn’t have a lot of reflection, other people to look at who have done it. It has a lot of presumptions that are put on you. That’s pretty amazing.
13:03 Yvonne Wassenaar: Well, I appreciate you sharing your story. ‘Cause what you call out as so important, is that we tend to characterize things into the common. And so much of life is uncommon. And you can very quickly feel marginalized or excluded or judged in negative ways. And for me, it was a big decision, not only to have my kids, but from the time they were born, I was very honest and transparent that their father had passed away of cancer. And it’s amazing what kids do with that. Because to them, it’s fact, like they just… They’ll like, “Yeah, my dad is dead,” unlike, “Oh my God.” But it’s, “Yeah. No, that is the truth.” But it is interesting. They were definitely points of judgment along the way, where one teacher asked one of my children in elementary school, “Well, it must be hard not having a father. And how are they able to get certain experiences? And God bless my little child.” And I only know this because of another parent who was there who relayed the story. But my child stood up to the teacher and said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. My mother does all those things and all these other things. And I’m missing nothing.” And I was just really proud of them in the sense of, it’s a lot of burden that you’re trying to be the best you can be for your children. But there’s no one model on how to do that.
14:21 Yvonne Wassenaar: And I do think, particularly for kids, if they don’t fit that 50% of the average, they do get questioned by others, not just the other kids, but even the adults and the administrators and the teachers. It’s not ill-willed. But it creates different pressures and different things that you have to deal with that are challenging at times. And I think going back to storytelling, the more that we can share my story, your story, your son’s story, it’s important so that you realize there’s not a flavor of life, that life is the richness of the rainbow. There’s all these different shades and ways of being. And it’s not what your family structure is, or what you look like, but it’s how you show up that I think really defines the beauty of the planet.
15:05 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: So beautifully put, Yvonne. I whole-heartedly concur. So the meaty question, now that we’ve tiptoed around with a life-changing or life-affirming moment, and I feel like you just gave me a really big one. Are we diving in deeper to that, or is there something else that you had wanted to share?
15:35 Yvonne Wassenaar: Yeah, it’s interesting. I have a few life-altering moments. The one I’ll briefly touch on because I think it’s important, and such a core foundation of who I am, but not the whole, is something from my childhood. And then I am gonna talk a little bit more about my experience with my fiance. Because I do feel that one thing we don’t discuss enough today, and we did in times before is the concept of death and the experience of death. But before I dive into that, for me, my parents immigrated to this country. They’d grown up in Poland during the war. They left to kind of escape, find new promise in this world called America. They had three children of which I’m the youngest. So they got divorced when I was four. And my mom remarried an alcoholic, abusive man, not intentionally. Nobody ever does. But I was sexually molested when I was in second grade for a meaningful period of time, and didn’t really understand that at the time. It’s funny how you can look back and you can put words on things. But ultimately what happened is, it created in me what I learned later in life, is a very fear-driven perspective. So I actually found a way to graduate high school early.
16:51 Yvonne Wassenaar: I graduated at the age of 16, which many people thought was just ’cause I was smart. But I just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. I went to college in Southern California. And I was determined to be independent. I was determined to not fall into the trap I saw my mother in, which was being dependent on somebody who did not treat her well. And a large part of my career was fueled not by some great ambition to be successful, but by a desperate need to feel safe.
17:39 Yvonne Wassenaar: And I share that because I know for a fact that so many people, particularly people from diverse communities, have similar, if not worse and more challenging experiences. And yet so often, we’re not able to speak about them because it becomes a taboo or label, something that’s negative, that in some regards, you become blamed for being part of a situation that you had no control over. And so I put that out there, because when I talk about being a fear-driven person and having spent a large part of my life conquering my fears, it comes from a very early time in my life where all those things that one expects to be in place to protect you, let you down.
18:23 Yvonne Wassenaar: And I love my mother dearly. She’s about to move down the street from me, which I’m thrilled about. I think she’s led a very heroic life. And at the same time, even with all that she had, despite her best will and intention, she couldn’t prevent what was happening and going on. And I think we need to understand that from a societal perspective and find those avenues for people to be supported and encouraged and to get beyond. And clearly, I’ve done fine. So there are opportunities to break out. But I wanted to put that out there. And then I’ve got a different deep dive topic. But I thought I’d offer that up.
18:56 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: And I’m so grateful. It’s not an easy thing to share. But it is an important thing to have shared for the reasons that you have said before, so that other people can hear. And so that…like you said, there’s these common stories, even how. Oh, I graduated at 16 ’cause I was smart. I had a mission. I had a plan. And that was the way I saw forward. And even this success-driven oftentimes can start as running away from something as opposed to towards something, and then hopefully along the way you find something worth running towards that supports you. It sounds like you at least were given the opportunity to do that, and it could have been really easy for you to just do that and then never mention the other stuff and let people believe, “Oh, I’m just really smart”, or, “Oh, I did… ” And what you said about your mom and the ability to forgive and to find understanding on somebody that you love most lets you down in such a big way, but to see them, especially as you grow as it’s just human doing their best and in circumstance and find compassion away for, it was one of the biggest gifts in my life to relieve the burden of the bad mom or a bad person, or didn’t do enough or, so thank you for that.
20:16 Yvonne Wassenaar: So I think… Yeah, no, absolutely, and thank you for sharing the elements of your story. I do think it’s important, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it because again, back to the common stories that we tell on the TV shows and then in the fairytale books, there’s a wonderful life that you’re supposed to have. And so few people actually have that. And even if it looks like that from the outside, it’s usually not like that from the inside. And being a mother myself now, it just deepens the appreciation that I have for all that my mother went through and sacrificed that I didn’t necessarily understand at the time, but to create the opportunities in a the way that she could, and she’s been just an incredible grandmother to my three kids and just a really beautiful person, and so I think finding that way to get through the disappointments and understand what’s controllable, what’s not controllable, and get to peace is a really powerful moment that then allows you to go back to enjoying life and growth and all those good things.
21:15 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: From a really profound space. Not those candy-coated outside looking in, “Oh, everything is glossy.” Yeah. Well, so much profound insight and reflection you have shared already.
21:28 Yvonne Wassenaar: I warned you upfront. I have a lot of stories. I have many stories. The one that I thought that I would share with you today is interesting because it’s a story about death, but it’s also a story about empowerment and purpose. And if I turn the clock back 18 years, I was in my mid-30s, I had found the love of my life. Everything was coming up roses. Incredible human being by the name of Kevin, who saw in me things I couldn’t see in myself, who told me multiple days how beautiful I was, it didn’t matter if my face had broken out, or my hair was a mess, it didn’t matter. I was always beautiful, I was always special. It was an amazing lesson how positive affirmation can really start to change what you believe yourself. He very innocently went in for surgery for a deviated septum, he was having a hard time breathing at night, and we all thought it related back to childhood injuries, playing rugby and the like, hitting that nose maybe one too many times. But when they went to do the blood tests, they found that he had low platelet counts. And so they were able to go ahead and do the surgery, but they wanted him to get it checked out. He did that. And after a whole series of tests, they found that he had a very common B-cell lymphoma. But no worries.
22:51 Yvonne Wassenaar: Everything was gonna be fine, very common, you can treat it with a series of outpatient chemotherapy sessions, six to eight sessions over that many a month, and he did decide to go to a sperm bank in advance of the treatment because the oncologist suggested that there could be infertility implications. And we were just at that point in life where we were seriously contemplating having kids and moving on to that stage where you have a family. And in the beginning, everything was fine, he’d go in for his chemo, I wouldn’t travel that week for work. Yeah, he’d have nausea and the like. But everything seemed to be okay. And then this one time I was in London, it was January, and I got a phone call, he was really sick and I was home when he had the chemo and I’d left shortly after, but he started having neutropenic fevers, and so I rushed home from London and we checked him into the hospital, and they did a bone marrow biopsy and they found he had a very rare and aggressive T-cell lymphoma, one that typically showed up in younger Asian men in their 20s. And here he was in his early 50s of Irish descent and a British citizen.
24:04 Yvonne Wassenaar: So they didn’t really… They just didn’t know a lot about it, but they offered us some aggressive experimental treatment. So we spent five weeks living in the hospital. It is an intense experience to never leave a hospital for five weeks. Getting chemotherapy every single day, he had his spleen taken out, I slept on those chairs that fold out into pseudo beds, that oftentimes men are familiar with from the maternity wards, we watched a lot of movies and there were times he couldn’t eat, but it was a very special time because there was a lot of fear, and there was a lot of intimacy and discussion and thoughts. Ultimately, however, after the five weeks, they did another bone marrow biopsy, and the plan had been, he has three surviving brothers who live all over the world, so they had flown in from China, from the UK, to sample their bone marrow. ‘Cause the plan was, kill off the bad stuff, do a bone marrow transplant, but the result of the biopsy was not very positive.
25:03 Yvonne Wassenaar: And so I remember sitting in the oncologist office, it was a Friday morning. And she’s a lovely lady, blonde hair, beautiful smile. I don’t know how she managed to be so calm and cheerful working with such a challenging set of diseases in the world of cancer and oncology, but I remember I was sitting there, it was just the two of us, Kevin wasn’t there, he was upstairs in his hospital bed, and she leaned over to me and she said… She handed me a yellow sheet of paper and she had offered up more treatment, but recommended against it ’cause it wasn’t gonna make him better. And so we were gonna go home with the help of a hospice service, and when she handed the sheet of paper, she said, “And this is the number you call when he passes away.”
25:54 Yvonne Wassenaar: And it struck me, like a big rock was just dropped on my stomach because I hadn’t actually processed that the end result of this was that my fiance, who I loved so dearly, was gonna die. It was a horrendous experience and challenging, that we had become so close. And it’s obvious he was gonna die, but it just hadn’t consciously sunk in. And so I remember looking up at her kind of in shock and she said, “I’m really sorry,” and she goes, “But the reality is, he most likely won’t survive the weekend.” And the reason for that is, over 50% of his bone marrow was cancerous. He didn’t have enough bone marrow to create the blood he needed to stay alive. And in the hospital he was getting blood transfusions, but you don’t do that when you go home with hospice.
26:53 Yvonne Wassenaar: And so I asked her, I said, “Well, does Kevin know any of this?” And she said, “Oh, no, no. We advise against telling the patients how long we think they might have, ’cause you just never know. And if you want to, you could have the conversation, but we’d recommend against it. Just go and enjoy the time that you have.” And I remember somehow we made it home and then I’ll tell you, hospice is amazing. It’s one of the greatest gifts on this planet. The nurses who came to work with us, the services they provided were really beautiful. And his brothers had come over. My sister lived in Holland, she’d come over. Our best friends from London had come over. And so there was a lot of time together with people. But I remember one night Kevin woke up and it was 3:00 in the morning.
27:40 Yvonne Wassenaar: He couldn’t fall back asleep. And well, what do you do if you’re British, you have a cup of tea in a Vicky. And so we got up, we made a cup of tea in a Vicky. But we were talking and he was really sad because he hadn’t lived his life to the fullest he felt he could have. He was an amazing artist and he had ended up doing commercial art to make money versus the art that was truly in his heart and passion. And it was just, it was just horrible to be with somebody you love, who on their deathbed was having a reflection around not having lived their fullest life. And he had an amazing life and he did amazing things. And he now has three incredible children on this planet. But in that point in time, the lesson was not about how I needed to convince Kevin about how amazing his life was.
28:40 Yvonne Wassenaar: But it really was the gift that he was giving me to ensure that I would make the most out of the time that I had here, however short or long it was. So that was a life altering moment. The other couple of things that I’ll say to fill in this story, one is that there was another time that we were up talking and everybody had left the house and he was having a really hard time. And when I inquired what was wrong, he just turned and he looked at me and he said, “Well, we’re all sitting around talking about death and I’m the only one dying. And it feels really lonely.” And it still brings tears to my eyes, but it’s really an intense thing. It’s an intense thing to be losing someone you love. It’s an intense thing to be the person who is moving on to whatever that next place is and to be able to create and have the dialogues through our life to prepare us for that time…
29:51 Yvonne Wassenaar: I just believe it’s so important. And it’s why I’ve talked to my children about their father passing away from the time they were born, is I don’t want death to be a horrible, scary thing. I was actually with Kevin when he passed away. And it was one of the most beautiful moments in my life, along with the birth of his children. And unlike what the doctors had predicted, he actually lived for five weeks and I could feel his spirit rising up. And it was a really warm and beautiful moment. And I share that because we have a lot of TV, gory, horrible experiences. And there is no one flavor of death or somebody passing. And sometimes it is really traumatic, but in my case, it was just yet another gift of comfort and love so that I didn’t have to worry about him, that he was gonna continue to take care of me. And he has to this day, wonderful things happen in my life and I always look up to the sky and thank Kev for looking out for me.
31:13 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: So beautiful, Yvonne. And I feel like so much of your stories have been because of your reflection on the worst things that have happened. And what you say is really important with… I’m a birth doula and I was studying to become a death doula when my grandfather, whom I am extraordinarily close to, was visiting. I came to a quick understanding that he was dying. He’d always been very healthy and active, but I just knew. So I lived with him for the last year of his life. And I know what you mean about hospice and the work that they do.
31:48 Yvonne Wassenaar: Yeah.
31:49 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: I was alone caring for my son at the time, right? So my son, at three years old, went through this process as well. It was just me, my grandfather, and my son, there was no other family. And we started kind of preparing for it by the lizards that we would have find dead in the back…
32:08 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: And just talking about that process and taking them out to the garden where they would then turn into all parts of the garden, and where we could go and look at a flower and say, “Oh well, this lizard fertilized the flower and it’s now the flower.” And he still has that, when we go outside and he sees a butterfly, “Oh, that’s Pat Pat.” And I feel like that was one of the biggest gifts that I was ever given. To be able to experience that, even though it was the hardest thing, to be able to experience that and I think we’ve gotten to a place where we’re so afraid of it that you don’t talk about it, and then it becomes a bigger fear, and then you almost don’t allow people who are dying to talk about it. To process it, to spend time in it, to sit in it and reflect in it, and to find all the wisdom that you have found by doing that yourself. So it’s such an important story. It’s such an important story and I think it’s remarkable that you have children by this man, and I’m sure there are traits and characteristics and features that very closely relate to him, and that you were able to give him life again, to bring him to life again in this way is super brave. And it’s such an act of love and I just love your story, Yvonne. It’s so beautiful.
33:34 Yvonne Wassenaar: Yeah. As we have talked about early on, when you share these stories, they get reciprocated, and I think your story about your grandfather and your son… That’s what we need more of, is that sharing and understanding that these concepts that seem really terrifying are part of just the cycle of who we are as beings on this planet. There is a birth, there is a death, and there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the middle, but if we can learn to cherish those and as I actually had my three kids with the natural child birth with doulas and midwives, and my twins were actually born at home, which was a little bit of a the feat because I was almost 40 years old, so I was high risk. My twins were two weeks overdue, the hospital kept wanting to induce me and my midwives were like…
34:16 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: I’m sure they did. You had to be really strong.
34:20 Yvonne Wassenaar: Go deep, go deep and how do you feel your children are doing? But I had two beautiful, wonderful children born at home with many different doulas and midwives around and it was a really lovely experience, but I think that whole ability of… Similar with birth, I love the work that you’re doing there, because I did have incredible midwives and doulas who helped me understand that if you go back through time… Giving birth is a very natural thing and if we nurture that as a process, one of the best things… Well, there are several great things I learned from my midwife, one of them was to not be selfish and think about contractions as pain, but to be generous and think about contractions as cheering your child along on this journey into the world.
35:08 Yvonne Wassenaar: And that shift in mindset was so powerful, just in how I experience the moment when you are… You’ll do anything for your children. And when you change the focus to what’s the gift that you can give, it’s really powerful. Another one was never fear that anyone else will love your child more, or that your child will love anyone else more than you. That your job as a mother is to bring as much love into your children’s life as possible and the ability to love is unlimited, and so think what a gift that is? That they can love not just you, but all these other people and all these other people can love them, and I think these lessons are super important in life because how I’ve been able to be a successful businesswoman and the single mother of three children is… I have an incredible woman by the name of Julia, who’s been my nanny since my first was six weeks old and I went back to work, and they call her mom, and if anything ever happens to me, they will go live with her, and that doesn’t threaten me, they don’t love me any less, they just have more love, and I think the more I love we can create in the world, the better we all are.
36:18 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: What the midwife said to you about contractions and rethinking them, you know as gifts, not everybody… And in my birth work, and this is my birth room, actually, I’m sitting in the room that I will be giving birth in very soon. Not everybody is ready to receive those words… Not everybody has a concept of even what that means. What do you mean? A gift. What do you mean it’s not pain? Or what do you mean that pain is as a construct or as an idea, as a set expectation? And I think all of what I’ll reflect on from the gifts you’ve given by allowing me to hear so much of your story is that that seems to be the framework for everything you’ve said… Is the gifts that are hidden maybe in spaces that don’t ordinarily seem like they have gifts to offer and your ability to see that, and to make the most out of them and to be inspired by them. You didn’t have to. You could easily be miserable or say, this horrible thing that happened to me, or go into victim mode. This happened to me and this happened to me, and this happened to me, and you’ve done something remarkable. You’ve taken all these instances where it would be really easy to give up and find miracles. And you said this happened for me, there’s a space where this happened.
37:44 Yvonne Wassenaar: It’s interesting to hear you replay that. I think the important thing to recognize along the way, because I don’t wanna come across as super human, is I didn’t do that on my own. And I think it’s really important to acknowledge and call out the teachers that I had, who when I was a young little girl, saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. And the people who I worked with, who saw something in me and rose me up to levels that I never aspired to be myself.
38:16 Yvonne Wassenaar: And to the birthing doulas and the lovely people and the hospice service, and my family members and my friends, and my mother and all the people who helped me on that journey, because to get to that place where one can look at your own life, look at one’s own life, how I look at my life in terms of… Everything is a gift. It doesn’t mean that it’s not painful, it doesn’t mean that it’s not hard, but those are usually the biggest gifts, because they are the ones that you grow in the most, if you’re willing and courageous enough to accept them, and oftentimes you need that support and encouragement, and I think your point is spot on.
38:57 Yvonne Wassenaar: I was very… I’ve been challenged with many things in my life, I was very lucky when it came to birthing, I had very fast labors, I had a lot of things that went very easily, and I had friends who were in labor for three days. It’s a very different experience and it’s not judgmental, and it’s not to say if they had my mindset, they would have had a faster labor. Some things are just the experiences that you are intended to have, for whatever reason you’re intended to have them, and so I always try to tell people, it’s just like not every doctor is like the one I experienced with Kevin, it’s not judgmental, it just is what it is for me at the time, and it was what I needed. It was my challenge, it was my opportunity, it was my gift and everybody else will find their own. But by sharing the opportunities, I think, to what you were doing, you can pull out the common thread of what is communal versus what is not, so that we can find those moments of brightness.
40:01 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: I wanna close with one more question. If not, the Yvonne, CEO and the board director, what would you be doing?
40:08 Yvonne Wassenaar: Probably teaching, my dad was a professor, my mom taught at different stages in her career, it’s a wonderful thing to do because it’s one of those symbiotic situations where you’re able to give, but you also get so much, and when I think back on my life, the most transformational people were often times my teachers, and some of them probably don’t even know what a huge impact they had on me. The thing that I wanted to end with to tie a bow, ’cause we’ve crossed so many different topics, but I do think there are some really common themes, one is, all these different stories in my life have taught me that I’m stronger than I think I am at times, and we’re all stronger than we think we are. If somebody would have told me I was gonna live through my fiance passing away and through all that chemo and through all that heartbreak, I would not have thought it was possible and yet at the moment in time, you just do it. And so I think just acknowledging that we probably are stronger than we realize and then when we have purpose and meaning, that comes out. The second thing is that that purpose really matters, that lesson, that gift that Kevin gave me has fueled all that I do ever since then.
41:19 Yvonne Wassenaar: And In my work, in my personal life, and in how I reflect and meditate. And then the final thing is, for as much as we think we know, we don’t know that much, don’t let facts turn you off of trying something or doing something. Kevin wasn’t supposed to survive that weekend, there’s no medical explanation for how he lived five weeks other than he had purpose and a desire to close out some things before he moved on, and to me, that has always stuck with me and the oncologist who I love dearly, she was blown away, she’s like, “We just… This is one of those things we just cannot explain”, and I think that’s important, ’cause I think so many times, we can feel that the facts and the data suggests that we are not gonna have that opportunity and we’re not gonna be able to do those things, but if you realize that maybe those facts and data sets are incomplete, then you can have a different degree of hope and energy and inspiration.
42:16 Yvonne Wassenaar: As I said in the beginning, I’m grateful that you’re taking the time to be curious, to wanna hear stories, to give me a space to tell mine, but more importantly to capture so many others, because I think you’re right, I think we’ve lost the human face to society in so many ways, and I believe there’s a different type of leader that carries us forward and it’s a more human leader, and it’s not more women leaders or… I think it’s… We can talk about more feminine characteristics, but finding ways to blend our humanness and the depth so that we’re just not a two-dimensional business leader who’s driving profits and trying to conquer the world and dominate markets, but that we have a soul and a heart and lessons and tears, because that’s what makes the journey worth living.
43:06 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: Yvonne is currently the CEO of Puppet and Board Director at Forester and Anaplan. She has broad experience scaling, diversifying and transforming businesses throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Her market impact has earned her recognition as a woman of influence in Silicon Valley, the Board List top 20, San Francisco Business Times public company C-I-O award winner, and as a Wall Street Journal women of note.
43:37 Yvonne Wassenaar: On top of old smokey, all covered with cheese, oh, I saw that poor meatball…
43:41 Priscilla Brenenstuhl: Thank you for joining me, I invite you to tune in next week where we’ll talk about service and resiliency with Linda Medler, a one-star general and independent director at PANC and TransAmerica. If you would like to be featured on an episode of Voices of Athena, please reach out to me at [email protected], your story matters.
44:06 Liz Tinkham: Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast, you can find show notes, guest bios and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who has found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
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