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Why Impose “Impossible!” on Others?

A year ago, with colleagues in Amara, I set up to pursue a vision to “Double the number of leaders with transformational leadership capacity worldwide in 25 years”. Our aim is not to do it ourselves, but to be the catalysts for making it happen. Working for such a big vision demands devotion, determination and focus blended with love, humility and vulnerability in a mutual, collaborative inquiry.

The vision itself challenges me to grow a less limited mind. I have grown to believe more in the art of collaboration than in the art of competing and find it to be a key element for the future. Yet I catch myself every now and then in my old habit of competing, which was a strong element for me in my early years.

So What Brought Me Here?

When I was 12 and just had started taking horseback riding lessons, I dreamt of becoming a professional horseback rider. So when people asked me what I want to be when I grow old I said: “I will become one of the best horseback riders in Finland.”

Almost every time I was faced with laughter and: “Oh, you poor little girl” followed by a clap on my head. One relative looked me in the eyes and told me in a serious voice: “Your will NEVER be competing in horseback riding. Or have your own horse. Your mother doesn’t have the money.” I remember feeling really sad for some days, but then deciding I wouldn’t really care about his stupid opinion. Five years later I had two Finnish Championship, was part of the national dressage team, our family had four horses in our yard, and I coached 15 students in horseback riding.

Looking back it was not an easy road. The first two years my friend Natalaia and me looked up every horse on a 25-kilometer radius, bicycled over to asked if we could take care of the horses (for ‘take care’ read: brush the horses, shovel shit, carry hay etc.), which we mostly got to do and gradually we got to ride too. It is a miracle that we had no serious accidents, as most of the almost 20 horses we found in our area were not well trained and we had a tendency to ride fast and often without a saddle. It was in one of these adventures to find yet another horse to ride that we found Natan, with whom my mother also fell in love. She bought Natan as a family horse and I started to compete – first on smaller scale, later in larger competitions.

As I moved to national level the riders I competed against came from totally different settings. They rode in an indoor arena and got coached three days a week, whereas I was riding outside in the dark on a narrow, mostly snowy field and got coached 100 kilometers away three days a month.  I never experienced it to be hard (except for the few winter days that the weather made it almost impossible to ride). My love for my horses Natan and Herkulex, along with my passion to become ever better and my mother’s never ending (yet also never pushy) support kept me focused and motivated.

Eventually my relative was right. One day my mother told me that we just could not afford to attend all of the national competitions. A sad fact was that even though I would have won all competitions, the prize money did not cover the total costs of attending. I was sad. I thought I would have to choose the few competitions I really wanted to attend. A father of one of my students stepped in. He felt that I was so devoted to helping his daughter with training her horse that he wanted to make it possible for me to compete. He gathered businesses from the area, challenged them to sponsor me and arranged our horse trailer to be taped with all 8 the sponsors and an image of Herkulex and me. Thanks to him I got to compete fully for yet another season.

At the age of 27 I woke up to the fact that I soon will be 30 – and I did not yet have a university degree. My life had been interesting, with a horseback riding career, a year in a multicultural leadership program, four years in the back-then “sexy new media” industry over the millennium, and having a beautiful 2-year old son. I decided to earn a university degree before my 30th birthday. I told my friends that I would do the degree in 2.5 years and was faced with laughter, doubts and comments like: “You will never be able to do 70 study weeks per year” (the “normal” fulltime amount was then 40 study weeks per year) to which I responded: “We’ll see”.

After some months of getting up at 5am to do horseback riding between 5am and 8am, to then going to work, picking up my son in the afternoon and starting studying the minute my husband came back from work – I realized it was not sustainable for the long run. I sold my horse and held on to working full time and studying more than full time. Having worked for almost 10 years makes the Master studies somewhat easier than getting into it right out of school, but planning the courses in a five year program to fit into 2.5 years was tricky and required taking weekend and summer courses in different locations in Finland. The support from my husband at that time is not to be underestimated. During the last year of my studies I gave birth to our second son and basically wrote my thesis during his daytime naps. I succeeded and got my degree before my 30th birthday and by then the “it is impossible to do university in 2.5 years” had changed to “I always knew you would do it”.

Life has taught me that if you are willing to put your heart and devotion into something you strongly believe in, you can do almost anything. The achievements in the past two stories happened through passion that played out in devotion, determination and focus but also through riding a flow where pieces just fall into place. I believe the power of focus creates the energy that allows us to ride the flow. And yet, in order to do so, we also need visionary capability to see the unfolding opportunities and then devotion to act on them.  This determination easily brings out it’s shadow, which manifests in hurting people around us, and often also ourselves, if the determination is not blended with love, humility and vulnerability. One of my current inquiries is how to balance the love, humility and vulnerability with my devotion, determination and focus of my current passion into a mutual feeling among our team members at Amara Collaboration.

My second inquiry in relation to my stories is: why do we have a need to underestimate other people’s dreams, goals and visions?  Why is it challenging to support rather than to judge our children, friends and peers in their dreams? I believe we need challenging, honest feedback and especially inquiry from other people in order to shape our dreams. But can we do it with a supportive mindset? I am aware that I do at times impose my limited thinking on other people’s dreams and wonder: How can we challenge ourselves to grow bigger, less limited and more supportive minds in relation to other people’s dreams?

I want to continue to expand my mindsets to become even more adventurous and bold. I am no longer the child, the determined teenager, or the driven under 30-year old. My passion within Amara’s vision is bolder and more intense than any of my previous goals. I am not alone and lean into the art of collaboration trying to leave the art of competition, except for brief moments when it moves us towards our vision. What limited thinking and habits of competing do I still need to drop to promote honest partnerships and collaboration on a global scale?

Heidi Gutekunst
Heidi has a M.Sc. (Econ.). She has worked most of her career in traditional and digital advertising agencies. Heidi has several national and international awards in innovative advertising, branding, design and digital service design. She started her career working as a Human Resource Manager and continued from there to key account management, strategic advertising and branding.