Can it be a coincidence that most of my life-changing moments have taken place in cafés?
Over a cup of tea, I have been incredibly fortunate to meet amazing, inspiring people who have significantly altered my life journey in the most positive ways. Simply put, they have guided me on paths I could not have traveled on my own.
One of the first major turning points in my career took place in a café on an October afternoon in 2009, when I met with my colleague and friend Helena Åhman at Nokia headquarters in Espoo, Finland. At the time, I worked for Nokia.
Helena and I had just finished facilitating a very successful management team development session and were feeling incredibly happy and energized. As we sat chatting over tea and debriefing, she asked me a question that ended up changing my life.
“Have you ever thought of starting your own consultancy and coaching company?” she asked, adding that it would be empowering to work together.
As I started considering what she was saying, I felt a huge shift taking place within me. The power of friendship
At the time, I was Helena’s client and she was our consultant. Later she became my mentor and now we are good friends.
Helena is one of the few people who really know me from the inside out.
I had confided in her about my upbringing, which had been rather unconventional.
My father is an artist, who worked as an art director, and my parents divorced when I was 9 years old in 1971. My younger brother and I went to live with my father, an unusual arrangement at the time, but it was because my mother was an alcoholic and couldn’t take care of us.
As a result of feeling abandoned at a young age, my survival strategy and sense of self were largely based on performing well in order to be liked by other people. My great fear of rejection and the sense that I was unloved and unlovable was formed during my childhood, and it’s a feeling that I’ve struggled with me throughout my life.
Growing up, I strived to be the good girl, and this worked for me in my studies and later in numerous high-performing leadership positions at Nokia, during the golden heyday years when Nokia was the world’s mobile phone leader. At the time, the work environment there was all about innovation and opportunities. It was a blissful environment, and we often danced in the halls. Practicing joy has always been one of my key values, together with honesty and integrity.
But then things changed. As a model employee relying on the survival strategies that had previously worked for me, I took on too much. Around 2006, I was traveling about 150 days a year, and I had started to feel very tired and stressed. I was crying a lot and felt unhappy at work. I no longer believed that my work was meaningful or that my values matched my role or the company’s values.
Around the same time, I started to feel as though I wasn’t present in my life and that I wasn’t doing a good job as a wife or as a mother; I had three school-age children at the time. I often felt as though I lacked the energy to truly be part of my family’s daily life or the ability to enjoy the moment, whether I was at home or at work. I often also felt a strong sense of guilt. I knew something had to change.
On a dark, rainy day in October 2009, I was sitting with Helena Åhman. We had just facilitated a management team session with great success. We were really feeling energized. At that time, I was Helena ́s client at Nokia, and she was our consultant. Our cooperation was so inspiring that we were already role- modeling collaborative leadership. As mentioned in the beginning, this was the question that shifted my perspective and decision.
“Miksu, have you thought of establishing your own consultancy and coaching company? Shouldn ́t we work together as we had such fun today and made an impact together?”
The question sparked a totally new way of thinking.
Helena inspired me to leave my job because she believed in me and encouraged me, which was very important because I felt I hadn’t received that kind of support from anyone during my formative years.
One major shift in mindset for me has been the realization that I don’t need to be negative, I can choose to be positive: I can make a choice about how I approach life. I can choose to live my purpose and balance love and lightness with work and in my personal life.
My husband backed my decision to leave my full-time job. His unconditional support to jump into the unknown is something that I have always sought from another person, along with his love.
Several months later, in May 2010, my company, 4L.com, was formally established, and I had resigned from Nokia.
Now ten years later, I feel so grateful that I had the guts to take the step into the unknown and have had the opportunity to work with and have great long-term relationships with my clients.
Love at first sight
Six years later, another meaningful encounter in a café also significantly altered me and marked the start of a lifelong friendship.
When I first met Lasse Wrennmark, a founding trustee of Oxford Leadership, it was to get to know one another and to negotiate my becoming the first accredited Finnish partner for the Oxford Leadership.
It was a sunny day in May 2015, and at a Stockholm café over tea, Lasse quickly became my close friend and Oxford Leadership partner. It was love at first sight, just as if we had met at an airport and were hoping that our flight would be delayed so that we could spend more time together. As my purpose is “Love and Lightness,” I realized that there are many forms of love and nuances of shadow and lightness.
At the time I had been running my own business for five years and was looking for a partner. But it was not until I met Lasse and Oxford Leadership that I felt I had found a soul mate whose values matched my own and who shared the same philosophy of working in the spirit of service. Intuitively, on the spot, we agreed to work together.
As we bonded and spent the afternoon in the old and picturesque area of Gamla Stan, one of the things that Lasse said to me during our first encounter was: “Think lightly about yourself and deeply about the world.”
His words have guided me since that day, as a motto for how to live.
Now I have been working four years with Oxford Leadership Leadership as a fellow enjoying every moment. Having a great community with like-minded, purpose-driven fellows and inspiring people around you to guide yourself and others into new perspectives and growth is such a joy. Working together on something you believe in and makes a difference – I just love it! Love, light, nature, and family
On Högsåra Island in the Finnish Archipelago, my husband and I are building our home. The island is gorgeous, with wild nature in lush patches of pine- and birch- treed forest and stretches of sand and rock.
My husband has always encouraged me to follow my dreams, and one of our favorite places on Högsåra Island is Farmors Café, about a 10-minute walk from the harbor.
Though we have had a share of ups and downs over the years of our marriage, we are committed to one another and when we sit at our island café to take a break from working on our cottage, I feel as though we’re building our dreams together. With my husband and my three adult children – Joakim, Janina, and Anton – by my side, I feel incredibly loved and fortunate.
I recently started painting again. I drew and painted a lot as a child, but that fell away as I sought out my profession with studies, career, and everything that followed. Painting is a creative part of me that I lost and only recently rediscovered again.
On our island, my eyes have opened to seeing the world in a different light. For example, earlier I might have walked through the forest and not paid much attention to my surroundings.
Now, I stop to look at the raindrops on a spider web and want to take a photograph or even paint them.
One of the conscious choices I made when I established my own company happened when I noticed that, as I had gone from being an internal employee to an external one, some people treated me differently. I decided to take the approach of being an internal/external, meaning that I work together with people as part of the team, not as an outsider. I want to co-create with love and lightness.
That means in the future, when our cottage is ready, I want to hold Self Leadership retreats on our island. This is not only because I love working within the Oxford Leadership community, but also because I feel so strongly that being in nature brings out the authentic, vulnerable self, which is so important for any type of relationship to fully bloom.
With the wild open sea on one side and a calm bay on the other side, our island represents the balance of opposites that I believe all of us hold within ourselves.
And just like in a café, when people meet in nature, they go to a deeper, more reflective and mindful place together. Magic happens together.