Last year I won a morning behind the scenes with Jane Goodall, known for her pioneering research on chimpanzees. Last Friday was the day and it would be very special. For years this woman inspires me in both my work and private life. It was special. But in a different way. I didn’t have hallelujah-breakthrough moments and I didn’t have moments bursting into tears because I was so touched. None of that.
It was – eventually – extraordinarily normal. Because of that, the ordinary was special. Because I took in everything calmly and experienced what happened, because I didn’t push myself to the foreground and I didn’t try to market myself at all costs, I learned a lot and I ended up with something particularly ordinary. I will try to explain how.
That morning Jane Goodall was going to present the Future for Nature Awards and give a speech. Before and after the awards there were meetings with different people and there were interviews with the press. I was allowed to attend everything everywhere and walk with her. Occasionally I exchanged some words with Jane, now and then I helped her, and occasionally I talked with volunteers from the Jane Goodall Institute Netherlands. There would also be time for me to talk 1-on-1 with Jane. And after a lunch I would go home.
But it was busy, so some of these matters were delayed.
I didn’t mind that there still was no time for my promised one-on-one conversation. It did not feel good to claim my conversation. That is not in my nature. I also saw how Jane was lived as a celebrity, and how many people grasped at her demanding her attention, asking questions or wanting to give or tell her something. When I heard that I had won this prize, I was very happy of course, but I thought the idea that I would meet her bizarre and unnatural. I ‘know’ her, and she doesn’t know me. I would not feel comfortable if I would quickly ask many questions and ‘fetch’ some ‘inspiration’.
Because matters got delayed, I hung out at the book signing session. After that I would have a moment to thank her for the day, that was one thing I wanted to do. So I asked Diederik Visser, the director of the Jane Goodall Institute, and then he said with a laugh: “How long do you want? One hour, two hours?” Me:” Uh … ” I was actually thinking of a modest five minutes, but before I could answer, he said: “You can also come with us to the property where we’re staying. Would you like that?” Somewhat surprised: “Uh, yes, of course!”. And so I did. We had to wait for a few other things, and then we left. I sat in the backseat with Jane. It went through my mind that I could have my 1-on-1 conversation with her now, but I saw how tired she was, and she dozed off to sleep. It did not surprise me. She deserved some rest. And I was ok.
Arriving at the estate, we go to an old garage that has been converted into a cozy house with a small living room with a fireplace, 2-person sofa and some chairs. We gather around sitting with the six of us. It was simple, with delicious snacks and drinks and stories were told. This is what I like. Simple, no fuss, and just being who you are.
At some point someone said that my husband and I could stay overnight. If that really wouldn’t be a problem, I would like that. Especially because I think it would be cozier if the ‘driver’ could also drink and relax, not even because of Jane Goodall. I had already seen and experienced so much, I was a satisfied person. Now it was about people, not only about the celebrity Jane Goodall.
It is impossible to describe in a blog what I have learned. I have learned from the stories and conversations by the fireplace, from the winners of the Future for Nature Awards with their fantastic inspiring projects, from the people of the Jane Goodall Institute, from the two sparkling girls who interviewed Jane for a childrens program, and so much more.
I also learned that a calm perceptive nature, that doesn’t claim and takes a step back can help you get a nice evening with special people. One of the peoeple of the Jane Goodall Institute confirmed: “If you were demanding and jumped on top of her, you would not be here with us sitting on the estate.” So if someone says to me again “Bold people own half the world”, I’ll chuckle and think “and introverts own the other half, and that other half I find much more fun.”
The experience of a very ordinary evening had perhaps the most impact. You might think “Of course, you sat there with Jane Goodall.” Yes, there was indeed a woman who everyone knows because she has a special story and charisma to inspire people worldwide. Because of her we sat together that evening.
But there was especially a woman with funny stories and fundamental questions that every human being has. Not the famous Jane Goodall, just an ordinary person. Nobody stared at her like she was a special creature, not everyone hung continually on her lip, and not everyone was always agreeing with her.
Everyone could be themselves. The people who wanted to listen, could listen. The people who wanted to tell their stories, could tell their story. Differing views were respected. You were laughed at if you did something stupid. Nobody was more than the other, no one was less than the other.
The normality of the evening brought me the realization that inspirational leaders like Jane Goodall can not answer my great personal questions. Because I know the answer the best, by experiencing the ordinary.
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