Every exceptional person has had at least once a painful experience …

Dear reader,

I just came back from the UK again. This time it was a journey up North, with the main aim to attend and present as a speaker at the International Conference organized by the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP).

My workshop session titled “Having no support system being an advantage and free education being a disadvantage? Lessons learned from a Slovenian perspective” was about how easy, cosy student life hinders development of self-advocacy skills, self-determination and self-respect. I disagree with permissive student centred approach. I believe there should be challenges in the environment and support should be support as a side activity to help you grow, not a patronized shelter.

Ever encountered a situation where you had an almost perfect life, enjoyed it, had much fun and had most of the things you wanted, but you were not really proud of yourself? Ever felt like your achievements were actually nothing special and though you would never admit it, you are in fact only an average student, employer, friend or practitioner? That is maybe because you had it too easy. You always got what you wanted. You didn’t have to try hard enough to get it. This may not be what you needed, though it was what you wanted. It’s not the same thing.

Your achievements were nothing special, because you probably didn’t have to demonstrate any extra skills, didn’t have to invest much time or you had someone else who helped and did it instead of you. For example, if you wrote a seminar paper and constantly asked for advice, is that in fact your paper you wrote? Alternatively, if you really wanted to impress – did you do it by saying what you are and what you can do or was it by doing and demonstrating it? Does your CV contain positions that you never really mastered? Or even activities that you only did several times, but then quit? These flashy headlines may well persuade someone how amazing you are. However how can you feel self-respect and worth, when you know that all this is nothing special or not entirely true?

I believe that every young person needs tough lessons in their life. Maybe even painful ones. These are not unfair, mean or deliberate actions happening to you. They are lessons. There must be a good reason for it; otherwise, they would not happen to you. Character (a person’s moral worth) is shaped through tough times, and hedonism (with boredom and constant greed for more) is nurtured through pleasant times. Thereby, if you want to make a change in your life, don’t expect it to be easy. Or pleasant. If you truly want to be or achieve something special, prepare for hard work. As P. Coelho said: “Straight roads do not make skilful drivers”.

My clients come to me with all sorts of painful past experiences like messed up families, eating disorders, substance abuse, divorce, school retention, sexual abuse, depression, etc. I believe each of them has the right resources to convert this into a valuable lesson. As we work together, the path towards progress often resembles my path, so in order to protect client’s identities I’ll share my own story:

I remember when I was young (about 15-18), I didn’t suit the role of an average teenager. I didn’t like to go out. Didn’t like parties. I didn’t date guys. I didn’t like to talk about the latest hair style or discuss fashion, nor did I wear makeup. I didn’t want to live at home. I didn’t want to receive allowance, because I didn’t want my parents to buy me. I never went on holidays, because I had to work. I had to, if I wanted to be independent and free. Freedom comes at very high costs. I didn’t go to my prom party. And at the university later, I didn’t have a chance to see the world or to go on an international exchange or to afford holidays. I was working all the time. Sometimes I even had night shifts and went straight on to classes. It looks like I’ve missed many opportunities and joys in life. In fact, it is quite the opposite, now that I look back. I may have missed many hangovers, one-nightstands and hours of meaningless conversations. I may have missed all the main tourist attractions that I would probably not even remember today. I may have missed chances of building a network of influential people that would help me become someone. I may be hurt, abandoned, and hopeless as a result.

I value this lesson so much. Because I learned that everything I am today, is a result of past sacrifices in terms of time, efforts, energy, even health perhaps. And it makes me so proud, because I know that everything I did, I did it myself. I’m proud to be able to face the barriers and overcome them. I’m proud that I invested my efforts into knowledge, training and discipline. Even though my colleagues tried to persuade me to relax a bit, come to a party and just enjoy, I didn’t do this, because this was just not me back then. Though I did feel excluded and not a good asset. As if I was born in a wrong place, to a wrong generation, basically. Does that make me a victim? For all the things I didn’t have, all the opportunities I’ve missed? Because of what my parents did to me or didn’t do?

No.

I’m a winner. And because I’ve fallen so many times and managed to get up so many times, I’m confident I can do it again. I’m so proud that I can firmly stand behind every line in my CV. I’m so proud that nobody just gave me anything for free. I couldn’t be more proud on the fact that deep inside I feel secure, accomplished and fulfilled. And that feeling didn’t come from the admiration or worship of others. I don’t need anyone to prove this to me. It came from within and the tough circumstances of the past have enabled this feeling to evolve.

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Nobody can provide you with feelings of pride. It is your job to build it.

Never Stop Making Wishes …

Dear reader,

Gandhi was supposed to say something like

live as if you are to die tomorrow. Learn as if you are to live forever.

Today I’ll tell you a story about someone special, someone who I hope, I’ve inherited my brain from (and looks, hopefully?). My aunt. She’s one of the Ribalon’s main supporters and she has been in my life since I remember. Always encouraging me to reach one more star, take one step further and follow my dreams, no matter what others said.

She was totally eligible to say and do so. Here’s why.

She’s retired now and used to be a medical doctor of stomatology. She finished faculty od stomatology in Slovenia, then moved to a foreign country (Italy) and had to start over, as back then, her Slovenian degree didn’t count, even though she had all the knowledge she needed (today thanks to the Bologna system, this is no longer an issue, at least some Bologna benefits!).

So she started over. Entered a medical faculty in Italy (general medicine). Got divorced and re-married again to someone who valued her more. While still studying, she got pregnant and had my cousin. Taking care of a baby, learning foreign language, trying to make a living and adjusting to the new environment, forced her to dedicate the nights to her studies. Long nights with loads of coffee and cigarettes, she says.

After graduating, she tried to learn as much as she could in as many best places she could find. Eventually, this got her to open her own practice. That was only the beginning. She collected all her strengths as well as resources and arranged an internship with one of the best doctors in the United States. There she’s learned a new technique and was among the first, who introduced the dental implants to Italy. Apart from that, she regularly visited various conferences and trainings. I remember as I was 11 and we were skiing together, she would teach me how to ski (I was a hopeless pupil), then as we came home she cooked dinner for all of us (there were at least 5 hungry people) and as we were chatting or went to bed, she returned to her books. I still hold a picture of her holding a marker pen and working late into the night.

When I left the National theater, because I was sick, she picked me up by encouraging me to go to the university even though my first attempt was not successful. She called me as I won my Prešeren’s prize for my final thesis and congratulated the first. She was on skype as I was abroad.

Back to her. Imagine, you’ve spent so many years studying and after finishing one very difficult faculty, you find the motivation to start all over? Imagine you’ve managed to be the top of the best doctors in one of the biggest cities of Italy and yet still you never rest on your past successes? Imagine you live your life in continuous growth and improvement and somehow you never lose track even though you are all alone and everybody depends on you? That was her. She was the big leader, the strongest, the smartest and most persistent. With the downside that she was not allowed to fail, to feel down or to be fragile. We were. She was not, because if we would lose her, we would have no one to turn to. So she had to stand tall.

Now the best part. When she was 17, she had to leave the love of her life. Then life happened. After 40 years they accidentally found each other again. Today they are a very happy loving couple, full of life and joy. Up until today she had faith. Faith into knowledge. Faith into love. She is a lifelong seeker. A lifelong warrior. A lifelong believer that she can do better. And she always did the best. The second great person that I proudly call my relative. And selfishly I imagine that I might be somewhat, at least tiny bit lucky to share some of her passion to learn. And to never stop making wishes.