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What loss or trauma would you like to share a story about?

The birth of my daughter held up a mirror to me: what had I been living for all these years? Was this actually what I wanted? What did I want exactly? Who was I in fact, stripped of my academic mantel? What was left... to be proud of?

How did you handle it at the time? What did it mean for you?

My story is about a loss of identity, from a defining - or so I thought - piece of my puzzle. Ever since I was 16 I have been fascinated by Russia. That was when I registered for an evening class in Russian. The decision to do a Slavic Studies course at university was obvious. After my final year, I got a grant to study for a year in the legendary Sint-Petersburg. When I returned I landed a grant to write a PhD thesis. And four years later, without giving it much thought I rolled into a position as a postdoctoral researcher. Along the way, I became who I was, constantly further determined by what is expected from you in the academic rat race: I measured myself by the number of publications, conferences, seminars, visits to foreign universities etc. The more these boxes were ticked, the more my self-worth grew.

In hindsight, it reads like a chronicle of an impending implosion. My happiness was being determined by something that was ultimately unobtainable, once you have achieved a certain result, it is instantly wiped out by the thought that it still isn't enough. Without consciously thinking about it, I was following the standard steps in an academic career and fully identified myself with it. Until suddenly there didn't seem to be a next step...

Where do you stand in life today?

“Learning lies within the stretch.” I heard this phrase a few years ago from a friend and since then I have been wearing it like a mental pendant. It expresses succinctly how you can grow - or perhaps even can only grow - through experiences that take you out of the ebb and flow of your comfort zone. A shock can throw you off balance, send you swirling and shake you up; when you finally come to rest, you may notice that the parts have come back together in a slightly different order. It’s still you, but composed slightly differently. The puzzle fits together in a different way.

06 Nel G Sun

Are there issues related to this event that you are grateful for today?

Apparently, a ruin is fertile ground. After a few years of searching and doubt, my puzzle fitted back together again. Composed differently, but it’s still me.

- Life is like a Russian doll (Matrëshka): there are several different versions of yourself, you just need to dare to look at what lies beneath your current doll. -

A me that lives with more awareness, who has discovered a deeper identity or Russian doll within herself. I am keen to find out what other dolls are waiting to be revealed...

Which woman do you look up to?

Different women: Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks, Amanda Gorman, ...