Wouter Noterman - Family man and driving force behind Atelier Noterman
What gives you the most energy in your life?
I am a family man. My greatest satisfaction is getting together with the kids - Lander aged 27, Tijl aged 26 and Mira aged 22 - and the kids’ “loved ones”, combined with a nice dinner. Talking at length about life, about the future, about how the world works, telling anecdotes and hearing how the “old man” is hopeless in the digital world. That makes me happy!
And that togetherness with the children can also be extended to being together with my parents and my three brothers and their children. My parents (both 80) are still the core of our family. My parents have organised and prepared hundreds of dinners, from BBQs, to mussels, Christmas dinners and just nice afternoon and evening meals, from 8 to 20 people. That togetherness is always a source of energy. Family is not something you choose and it is certainly not always rosy, especially when you are working together in the family business and yet, for me, a close-knit family is at the heart of a happy life.
Another thing that definitely gives me energy and positivity, besides eating and drinking well, is (trying to) eat and live healthily. I feel a huge difference when I put in periods without alcohol, without added sugars, then your energy levels get a boost. Doing that forever would be going too far for me, then the balance would be lost. You should still be able to enjoy a nice dinner with a nice wine and a cold Duvel now and then ☺.
And, combined with that healthy eating, exercise does rank number one in terms of giving me energy. After a difficult day, sometimes putting on my running shoes with a slight reluctance and then feeling afterwards how virtuous it is, how differently you look at things again. For me, that exercise is also inextricably linked to the mountains. Hiking, climbing, skiing in the mountains: every time I say I should do that more. The mountain air, both in summer and winter, makes me instantly happy. But also being in the Ardennes and the Flemish Ardennes; being in nature gives your body fuel.
I also discovered Wim Hof with his cold baths and breathing exercises, combined with the Intermittent Living concept. Highly recommended for anyone looking for extra stimulation, physically and mentally!
The introduction to spirituality was also an eye opener for me. That was uncharted territory for me until a few years ago, but now it triggers me and I sometimes allow myself to be led along. I don’t want to go too far into that because I always want to keep in touch with “the real world” and yet escaping can do you a lot of good in terms of dealing better with the sometimes harsh everyday reality.
And what gives me a huge amount of energy is our “trouser company”. I spent many years looking for something I felt was still missing in my life, privately and professionally. Noterman Fashion has sometimes been very difficult to run in recent years, to still find enough energy to go at it. But I would say that in the last year, things have really picked up. With Atelier Noterman, we are booming and I am incredibly happy and grateful to find fulfilment in my job again, something I missed for years. I also realise now how important it is for me to be able to work. Being a hard worker is labelled “naive” these days in the Carpe Diem era. I feel this is just the opposite for me. Enjoying, absolutely, but also accomplishing, doing something, achieving something, that makes me happy.
And last but not least. I hope one day to find LOVE with a big L again.
Hope springs eternal and nothing could be further from the truth.
What is the biggest challenge/the most important lesson in your life? And how do you deal with that?
Like everyone else at the age of 56, I too have had many life lessons, including an emotionally very tough divorce. I have been through a massive journey of discovery and also turned myself inside out: who am I and what do I believe in? My biggest challenge remains to view the glass as half full and not half empty. In a good period, it is relatively easy to be positive and believe that it will be fine and not to worry. When things are going less well, I can quickly lapse into negativity and mainly see problems, not solutions. Thinking rationally, I know all too well that I have to push myself to focus on the positive and yet my feelings tend to go the other way. That's something that I’ll have to keep working on...
Another lesson is that my perfectionism was and is sometimes in the way of my happiness; nothing is ever good enough. If I did something, it always could have been different or better. To be specific: if I painted a wall in mid grey it could have been just a little darker and had it been just a little darker, I might have preferred it just a little lighter, if you know what I mean...☺. That’s the nature of the beast.
What would you say to your younger self today?
The things I mentioned above, my minus points, my sometimes half-full glass, my penchant for perfectionism, I know they are things I need to work on and yet accept that this is how I am. I have read many books and followed programmes to “work on myself”. And yet there is only one thing that matters: what is your truth, what do you believe in? When you stand in front of the mirror, are you satisfied with who you see? Have you lived by the values and standards you believe in? If so, you can die at any time, then you have had a good life. Long ago, when I was just starting to work for my father’s trouser company, I read the book by a well-known American Economist, Stephen Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That made a huge impression on me and I also drafted my own personal rules at that time. I know this sounds very heavy and yet that has remained the guiding principle in my life, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.
What do you want to be said about you at your funeral? Who were you as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a partner, as a business leader, as a friend? I answered those questions for myself 30 years ago and there would be very little difference in those answers today. Even though you pick up so much during your life and it’s sometimes said that people change. My belief is that deep down you don’t change, your values and norms, your essence that you were born with is there and will always be there. Always go back to your essence when you are successful and also when you are in a difficult period. That’s what I would say to my younger self today.
And throughout my life, it has become clear that in everything you undertake, say and do, there is one golden rule. Aim for BALANCE. I’ve never truly found it, but I feel I’m getting closer and closer ...
Who do you look up to and why?
I’ve never had any big heroes, except maybe “The Cat” (a Belgian TV superhero in the 1970s) and then to name a real human being anyway: Robert Van de Walle, that is who I looked up to and look up to. He was a top judoka when I was young. I have seen him in the flesh a couple of times and the man made an impression on me, with his physical strength and charisma, but also with his way of being.
Robert Van de Walle was, and I suspect still is, an incredibly driven, passionate man. Nothing was too much for him to achieve his goal and even though I do not know him personally, the sacrifices he made to achieve Olympic gold are extraordinary. Back then, there was not the intensive professionalisation and environment there is now. He travelled for months to Japan, the birthplace of judo, where he trained and lived in Spartan conditions. Nothing was too much for him to achieve his ultimate goal, Olympic gold, and he succeeded in Moscow in 1980. He wanted to achieve that goal by giving his all on his own, never at the expense of anyone else. He also remained respectful in defeat, even after a mind-blowing error by the referee at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Looking at the rest of Robert Van de Walle’s life, it is no coincidence that the man made an impression on me and still does.