“I’m only alive because so long ago, I was helped by generous strangers… I decided to make mine a life that was worth saving.” — Dame Stephanie Shirley
Dame Stephanie Shirley is, by any standard, an over-achiever. Tech entrepreneur, feminist, visionary, multi-millionaire (self-made, and maker of 70 more), mother of a severely autistic son, passionate philanthropist. She has, as she puts it, “lived densely”.
Even now, at the age of 83, she still projects health, vigour and energy. That she has lived so well and achieved so much is, I’m convinced, a direct result of her inner narrative that her life should prove to be worth saving, as if she had to prove to the strangers who helped her flee her native Germany before the outbreak of World War II that their efforts – in some cases, their sacrifices – should not have been in vain.
As a German Jew, she could have lapsed into survivor’s guilt, or resented the loss of her childhood, or grieved over the disruption to her family relationships. But she didn’t. She chose a different attitude, a much more empowering and positive attitude.
Which is not to say that she is superhuman. At one point, overwrought by the pressures of a young company with an uncertain cashflow, and exhausted by the challenges of rearing an autistic and sometimes violent son, she collapsed with a nervous breakdown. She said that coming back to work after her breakdown was the hardest thing she has ever done. But once again, she found the courage – or the stubbornness, she might say – to do it. She refused to be beaten by her circumstances.
I found my conversation with Dame Stephanie tremendously inspiring. I am sure you will too.
Please check out Dame Stephanie’s entertaining and insightful TED Talk: Why Do Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads.
And her book, Let IT Go.
Great quotes from Dame Stephanie Shirley:
“Even in the blackest moments of despair there is hope, if one can find the courage to pursue it.”
“[I have learned that] few things in life are as solid as they seem; that tomorrow will not always resemble today; and that wholesale change, though often terrifying, is not necessarily synonymous with catastrophe.”
“The art of surrender is, I am convinced, a key to many kinds of success – and fulfilment. And many lives are limited by a failure to master it.”
“We waste too much time being afraid, when what we should really fear is wasting time.”
This is the last in our mini-season of podcasts, Women of Courage. Plans are afoot for a new podcast next year, still under the Roz Savage Project umbrella, in which Producer Vic and I discuss the affairs of the day through the lens of courage. The episodes will be very approximately guided by the themes of the weekly seminars I’ll be leading at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, which start on 17th January 2017. Stay tuned!
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is underway again. Please give the crews your support, as it will mean a lot to them. I know it meant a lot to me!
It’s my birthday today! No problem if you forgot to send me a ridiculously generous gift – you can instead make a donation to an ocean-related organisation, which would make me equally happy. If you don’t already have an ocean nonprofit of choice, please support Oceana.
I’m off tomorrow to spend Christmas with my dear old Mum. Wishing you a very merry Whatever-You-Celebrate, and all the very best for an amazing 2017. See you on the other side of New Year!