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Interview with Allyson Kukel - Foundations for Adulting: Cleaning your mental junk drawer

Last week, we were lucky enough to have Allyson as a speaker for our workshop Foundations for Adulting: Cleaning your mental junk drawer. In this interview, we talk to Allyson about her journey to founding Rooted in Calm, being a woman in business, and taking ownership of our own stories.

What inspired you to found Rooted in Calm, and what is the message you want to convey into people's lives?

What made me want to start it was having taken the long look at what I was doing and where I wanted to go - and going through that process on my own, I realized I want to work differently. I want to work with people differently and I realized that when you work for a company there is a lot of security. There are a lot of positive things you get from working for an organization, but you always have to work in the shadow of their message and their image. I think even in some of the best companies on the planet there are things to which we could still say: "Oh I don't necessarily love that". I realized I wanted to work with people in a way that was 100% the way I would like to work. A lot was around things that I missed in my own workplace. So, working in a sector that is 95% male, you might not have a compassionate workplace, you might not have the camaraderie you’d want to have. For example, in integrated teams, I have been on many teams where either I have been the only woman or one of two. Then we'd be: "Yay there's two of us! You look familiar." 2019 was the most successful working year of my life. I travelled from Peru to Thailand and everywhere in-between. I made more money than I had ever made. I had a great status on the airline, I knew my rounds. But then that was gone, one day to the next. I wanted to also feel a little bit more in control of my destiny, good or bad. So, that is how I got to founding it.

You mentioned yesterday [during the workshop] that you have been moving at least once every year for 20 years, which is really interesting. What have you learned from this experience in relation to mental clutter?

You know when you envision a ladder. You usually think that career-wise 'I'm going to move up this ladder'. First, I do this and then I do this, then that. Because I moved so much, the first 7 years of moving around I followed someone, and then you have to make a career in that person's shadow, because you are the follower. It's hard, it's really hard. The Netherlands is one of the best places I ever lived, and ironically enough I came here by myself. So, what I realized was that I was not growing vertically on the ladder. Every time I started moving like this I moved, so I started to grow more like this [moves hand horizontally]. I found it really difficult. I'd be in an interview and they'd say: 'Well, how are you qualified for this?' I'd show my CV, and I could tell my CV qualifications. It was difficult for me to tell my story, and especially when the relationship was over and all of a sudden, they'd ask: 'Why did you move abroad?' "I moved for love." 'Why did you move to The Netherlands?" "I moved for work."

My story changed also, and I found it very difficult to tell it. To tell the part that didn't involve my career, so to speak. But that part totally did matter. If you have the capacity to get yourself to go on a plane to Beijing, or get yourself on a plane to Nairobi, by yourself to conduct business, there's something to be said about you. I think that over the years I realized that, one, I was measuring myself with the stick that I created when I was 17 of what I thought success would be. Second, I was measuring it based on what my friends were doing. My friends that lived in the same place, hadn't moved, were doing things that made them go up the vertical ladder, where I was going horizontal. So, I had a lot of negative self-talk in my head, around whether I was successful, whether I was doing well. I said yes to everything, because I was ambitious and I didn't want to be still. I can't say that I didn't want to be still, I just didn't know what it was to be still. I was always taking on the next project. Always having the agenda full, as opposed to thinking 'I don't know what I am doing tomorrow, and that's okay.'

This relates very well to the notion of living on autopilot and shifting this to a more conscious way of living and gaining agency over your own decision. How do you think this is important for our well-being?

I think that we have to take responsibility for our well-being and not blame other people. There are a lot of circumstances and things that have happened in my own life that I could say, 'because of this I can fall back', or say 'I can blame this'. There is a certain time when we should say, just like [a student] said yesterday during the workshop. She said, 'yes, this is a hard situation, and I am going to sit this out for a while, and accept that I find it difficult.' That is powerful, and then there is the next iteration of that to say 'okay, I've set this, but how am I going forward with it, and how am I going to be in charge? What can I do to be in charge?' When you make these decisions eyes-wide-open and don't follow the herd you will get on the path of personal self-improvement. It is easy to follow the herd. They are all going in the safe direction usually, and if you get in the middle, no one notices you, if you get to the front of the herd you become the stand-out. But, to get there involves blood, sweat, and tears. For what?

How to get there depends on life-perspective. So, working really hard, like 100 hours a week hard, putting in this time and then another decade goes past and you're still doing the same thing. If you don't get promoted into more thought-leadership, it becomes very hard to compete with somebody who's 25 and doesn't have the same wants and desires you have at 35. I was thinking 'I don't want to do this for another...' I would probably be working for most of the rest of my life in some capacity. It is in my DNA: My great grandma worked until she was almost 80, because she wanted to.

Also as women in business, I think we have difficulty setting a certain limit or boundaries for ourselves. How do you think we can overcome these challenges, and maybe cut ourselves some slack sometimes?

We're not going to be perfect, and I think a lot of us want to make sure every i is dotted every t is crossed, and that is difficult. Sometimes that's okay. You want to preface that by saying this is my draft. Saying that this where I am now, but I'm going to get somewhere else. I think also using technology provides us with really great shortcuts. I am weak in grammar. I love to write, but then I realize my grammar is terrible. But Grammarly is an amazing app, or Hemingway is an amazing app. I think that using technology, we have an idea of what our weak spots are and understanding them is important. Asking the questions, 'What did I do well? What could I do better?' Also, try to solicit that feedback from your boss or from a colleague, even also from a difficult colleague if you can. Let’s say you have a colleague that gets along with you, and a difficult person, and you're not quite sure why this person is difficult. I don't know their story; they just drive me nuts. But you can use this kind of intermediary person to understand that. Everybody has a story. Everybody has a challenge. If you are open to try and understand, then you can figure out how to communicate better, and I think being very receptive to critical feedback and knowing sometimes that's not delivered well will help you a lot. Even though it's difficult. As women we tend to show our frustration through crying and that is not bad, it is just very difficult. Because you don't want to come off a certain way, but that is just how I express it. And knowing that this is alright and it is important to understand that not everything has to be 100% perfect. Understanding this, and cutting ourselves some slack when we’re being too hard on ourselves is necessary.

A second part of the interview with focus on our relationship to technology will be published soon.


Written by Florbella Rodrigues Baptista

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