Voices of Athena

Sit down with the highly accomplished members of Athena Alliance, an executive learning community for women leaders, to hear the personal tales behind their professional success. We learn the real story behind their inspiring executive careers — their fears, their failures, and what song they’re singing at karaoke. You don’t get to the top without creating some memorable stories along the way.

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Great Challenges Bring Even Greater Opportunities with Yvonne Wassenaar

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Yvonne: Everything is a gift. It doesn’t mean it’s not painful. It doesn’t mean 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.

MUSIC Inspirational

Priscilla (Intro): 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 executve 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.

Priscilla: Quick blip about what we’re doing here. I am so driven by stories, the stories of culture, I’m a birth worker, the stories of birth. You know, how stories carry history and how they carry morality. I feel like you know, a lot of times like storytelling In the past was so such a focal point, like you had storytellers in the villages that were respected and and now I feel like we have that to in forms like podcasts, it’s coming back up and you know, 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 you know, everyone, is like a library.

Yvonne 8:07: Well, I was just I’m really appreciative you doing this? It’s what I find interesting is, you know, I’ve, 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. Like 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 like, 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. 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 that 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. I think it’s incredibly powerful. And I and into your comment, like back in the day when we had villages and you sat around the old tree and, you know, the elders, the wise ones, you know, they were named that for a reason. And we’ve we’ve lost a lot of that. So I think what you’re doing is really important, so thank you.

Priscilla: I’m so happy to hear that and I appreciate what you said, you know It’s important to remember that we’re all relatable. I think that the division, like you said, especially with leadership, and you know, this is my personal life lives so separately from this is my professional life. You know, 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 what, you know, the keepers of the stories and the way that you said that you often think of your life as normal, you know, until you start to speak about it, or until somebody tells it 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. Just honoring that and being able to sit with it.

MUSIC- Playful

11:57 Priscilla Can you tell me someone that inspires you? And why?

Yvonne: I often when I’m contemplating think to, you know, who do I want to emulate? Who do I want to 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 gases, 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 protest 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 the that anything is possible. I think is what not only inspires me, but gives me gives me that hope that we will succeed in kind of improving the world around us for everybody.

Priscilla: That’s beautiful. I am presently nine months pregnant and expecting my second.

Yvonne: Yay, congratulations!

Priscilla: Thank you. Yes, I too share that my son is kind of my hero. He reminds me of all of the hopes that I’ve ever had.

Yvonne: Well, and in fairness, I need to give a shout out to my son because he is a mama’s boy. And I love him dearly. He’s a twin to my 13 year old daughter. And, 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, because that’s a big statement for a 13 year old boy.

Priscilla: That’s a huge statement and it probably has something to do, his awareness, probably has something to do with who his mother is. You know, masculinity is is inherently sacred, not toxic, especially if it’s exposed to the right encouragement. Kudos to you, mom.

Priscilla: What song Are you singing that karaoke?

Yvonne: I love music. I love all types of music. There’s very few types of music that I don’t like. 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 I think down to first off, I’ve never done karaoke and I would be horrible. But if I have to think about a song that my children will tell you that I sing a lot, particularly when they were younger, it would be on top of old smokey all covered in cheese I saw that poor meatball when somebody sneezed. Yeah. I’m going to basics.

Priscilla: Encore. That’s so great. And again, with villages, I mean, would ever anyone ever say you can’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?

Yvonne: 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, like I have a slight fear of heights, but I don’t mind spiders, you know, 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 like I just, it’s not a great fear, because it 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 because I think it’s got strengths, and it’s got challenges. I think that’s like everything in life. Like even fear of heights, 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 want to be productive. But you also need to recharge and take care of yourself. So getting that right balance is key.

Priscilla: What is the most daring thing that you have ever done?

Yvonne: So there’s this there’s the kind of 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, because that wasn’t the falling. That was the flying part, which was lovely.

Priscilla: So is that like for you a direct challenge for yourself? Like, I’m afraid of this? So I’m gonna do it or was it? I mean, who says I’m afraid of heights, right? And then like jumps out of a plane?

Yvonne: 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, because 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 with cancer.

And it was a 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 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. 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, Isabelle, and that I thought, since she didn’t have a living father, that she should at least have siblings. I 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, that took a lot, because 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.

Priscilla: And you’re saying I made this decision, I have to stand by it and keep presenting it over and over again, in my life as this decision that I made. That’s super brave. I don’t have an understanding of your experience, but 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. And I guess what I wanted to share was that even the term single parent is loaded and it doesn’t like, I wasn’t a single parent in the traditional sense. So you know, if you join a single moms group, a lot of times they want to talk about their partner who they’re mad at, or, you know, like working out agreements about who’s gonna take the kids on this day, you know, it’s like, and I’m like, like, I didn’t fit in any of that framework. So not only is it 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 like 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.

Yvonne: Yeah, well, I appreciate you sharing your story, because what you call out is 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 I mean, I know for, 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, their father had passed away of cancer. And it’s amazing what kids do with that, because to them, it’s, it’s it’s a fact and they’ll just be like, “yeah, my dad is dead” like, Oh, my God. But it’s yeah, no, that is the truth. But it is interesting. I mean, there was 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 were 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.” I was just really proud of them, in a 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. 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 you know, 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, again, back to storytelling, the more that we can share, you know, my story, your story, you know, your son’s story, it’s important so that you realize there’s not a flavor of life. But 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.

Priscilla: So beautifully put Yvonne. I wholeheartedly concur.

MUSIC: Inspirational

Priscilla: So the meaty question now that we’ve tiptoed around, is 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?

Yvonne: Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s interesting, I have a few life altering moments. The one I’ll briefly touch on, because I think it’s important and sets a core foundation of who I am, but, but not the whole, is something from my childhood. And then I am going to talk a little bit more about my experience with my fiance because I do feel that one thing we 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, you know, for me, my parents immigrated to this country. They grown up in Holland 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, I graduated at the age of 16, which many people thought was just because 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.

MUSIC: Near You :07- :27

Yvonne: 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 label, something that’s negative that in some regards you become blamed for, 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. 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, you know, even with all that she had, despite her best, you know, 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, 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.

Priscilla: 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 you said before, so that other people can hear and so that, like you said, these common stories, you know, even how, you know, oh, well, I graduated 16 because I was smart. You know, was I had a mission I had a plan and that was the way I saw forward. And even this, you know, 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 and what you said about your mom,and the the ability to, to forgive and to find understanding when somebody that you love most let you down in such a big way.
But to see them, especially as you grow as, as just human, doing their best and in circumstance, and find compassion and the way forward. It was one of the biggest gifts in my life, for me to relieve the burden of that of just the bad mom or a bad person or didn’t do enough or, you know, so. Yeah, thank you.

Yvonne: 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 the fairy tale books, you know, 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, you know, 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 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 enjoyment and growth and, and all those good things

Priscilla: From a really profound space. Not those candy coated outside looking in, everything is glossy.

Yvonne: I warned you upfront I have a lot of stories. But the one that I thought that I would share with you today is 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, you know, 18 years, I was in my mid 30s I’d 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 myself, who told me multiple days how beautiful I was. It didn’t matter if my face had broken out I my hair was a mess. It didn’t matter. I was always beautiful. I was always special. It was an amazing lesson in 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. And he did that. And after a whole series of tests, they found that he had a very common B cell lymphoma. But no worries, 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 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 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. So they didn’t really know I mean, they just didn’t know a whole 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 the hospital for five weeks, getting chemotherapy every single day, he had his spleen taken out. And I slept on those chairs that pulled out into pseudo beds that oftentimes men are familiar with from the maternity wards. We watched a lot of movies, 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. They had flown in from China from the UK, to sample their bone marrow because the plan was kill off the bad stuff, do bone marrow transplant. But the results of the biopsy was not very positive. So I remember, sitting in the oncologist office, it was a Friday morning. She’s a lovely lady. blond haired, beautiful smile. I don’t know how she managed to be so calm, 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 a more treatment, but recommended against it because it wasn’t going to make him better. And so we were going to go home with the help of a hospice service. And when she handed this sheet of paper, she said, and this is the number you call when he passes away.


And it 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 going to die. Like it was a horrendous experience and challenging that we’ve become so close. And I mean, it’s obvious he was going to die, but it just hadn’t consciously sunk in. And so I remember looking up at her kind of in shock and, and she said, “I’m really sorry, she goes, but the reality is, 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. 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 because 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. 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 that come over. And so there was a lot of times together with people and, and all of that, but I remember one night Kevin woke up, and three in the morning, he couldn’t fall back asleep. And what do you do if you’re British? You you have a cup of tea and a bikie. So we made a cup of tea and a bikie, but we were talking and he, 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 he ended up doing commercial art, to make money versus the art that was truly in his heart and passion. And it was just, there’s just horrible to be with somebody love who on their deathbed was having 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. 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. And so so that was a life altering moment. The other couple of things that I’ll say to fill in the 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 is 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 an have the dialogues through our life to prepare us for that time, I just believe is 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 of my life, as well as the birth of his children, and despite what the doctors said, he lived for 5 more weeks. And I could feel his spirit rising up and it was a really 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 comfort and love so that I didn’t have to worry about him. He was gonna continue to take care of me and I have to say wonderful things happen in my life and I always look up to the sky and thank Kevin for looking out for me.

MUSIC reflective
Priscilla: So beautiful, and I feel like so much of your stories have been because of your reflections on the worst things that have happened. And what you say is really important, I’m a birth doula and I was studying to become a death doula when my grandfather who I’m extraordinary 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. 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 and my grandfather and my son. There was no other family. And we started kind of preparing for it by the lizards that we would find dead in the back sunroom. Just talking about that process and taking them out to the garden where they would then turn into all parts of the garden where we could go and look at a flower and say, Oh, this lizard fertilize the flower and it’s now the flower. And he still has that when we go outside and he sees a butterfly and says, “That’s Papap.” 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. I think we’ve gotten to a place where we’re so afraid of it, that you don’t talk about it and then 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, reflect in it and define all the wisdom that you found by doing yourself. So 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 their 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 and this in this way. It’s super brave and is such an act of love. And I just love your story, Yvonne. So beautiful.

Yvonne: Yeah, as we talked about early on when you share these stories, they get reciprocated. And I think your story about your grandfather, 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’s a death. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the middle. But if we can learn to cherish those events, I actually had my my three kids with natural childbirth with doulas and midwives and my twins were actually born at home which was a little bit of a 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.

Priscilla: I’m sure they did.

Yvonne: Right, so I had to really 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 you know, 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, you know, giving birth is a very natural thing. And if we nurture that as a process, one of the best things are there 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 worlds and that shift in mindset was so powerful just in how I experienced the moment when you’re 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. 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 you know 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 love we can create in the world the better.

Priscilla: What the midwife said to you about contractions and rethinking them you know as gifts, you know, not everybody, and I’m this is my birth room actually I’m sitting in the room that I will be giving birth in very soon but not everybody is ready to receive those words. You know not everybody has a concept of even what that means. You know what do you mean a gift? What do you mean it’s not pain or what do you mean that pain is 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 the framework for everything you’ve said. Now 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 and go into victim mode like 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’d be really easy to to give up and finding the miracles and you said this happened for me. There’s a space where this happened.

Yvonne: It’s interesting to hear you replay that. I think the important thing to recognize along the way, because I don’t want to come across as superhuman, is I didn’t do that on my own. And I think it’s really important to acknowledge and call out you know, the teachers that I have here when I was a young little girl saw something in me that I couldn’t see 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. The birthing doulas and the lovely people in 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 and 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’re 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 points spot on 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. I had friends who were in labor for three days. So very different experience and it’s not judgmental. It’s not to say they had my mindset they would have had the past. 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 death 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 what I needed. It was my challenge. It was my opportunity wasn’t my gift and everybody else will find their own. But by sharing the opportunities, I think to what you are doing or pull out the common thread of what is communal versus what is not. So that we can find those those moments of brightness.

Priscilla: I want to close with one more question. If not Yvonne, CEO and Board Director, what would you be doing?

Yvonne: Probably teaching. My dad was a professor, my mom taught at different stages of 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 oftentimes 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, because we’ve we’ve crossed so many different topics, but I do think there are some really common themes. One is you know, 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 going to live through my fiancee passing away and through all that chemo and through all that heartbreak I would not have thought it was possible. And yet if a moment in time, just do it. And so I think just acknowledging that we probably are stronger than we realize when we have purpose and meaning that comes out. The second thing is that purpose really matters. That lesson that gifts that that Kevin gave me has fueled all that I do ever since then, in my work and my personal life and 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, like 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 well just this is one of those things we just cannot explain. And I think that’s important cuz I think so many times we can feel that the facts and the data suggests that we are not going to have that opportunity or we’re not going to be able to do those things. But if you realize that maybe those facts and datasets are incomplete, then you can have a different degree of hope and energy and inspiration. As I said at the beginning, I’m grateful that you’re taking the time to be curious. to want to hear stories, to give me 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 humaneness and the depth so that we’re just not a two dimensional business leader who’s driving profits and trying to conquer the world dominate markets, but that we have a soul and a heart and lessons and tears because that’s what makes the journey worth it.

Priscilla: Yvonne is currently CEO of Puppet and Board Director at Forrester 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 CEO winner and as a Wall Street Journal woman of note.

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 PNC and Transamerica. If you’d like to be featured on an episode of voices of Athena, please reach out to me at [email protected].
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