• Dana Moldoveanu Brandes

Run, swim, bike, love and flourish

I am a feminist. This is not surprising for a woman nowadays, but I can tell you I am that kind of feminist who doesn’t blame it all on men. I think both genders (and the in between) have their own struggles, and we have good and bad examples on both sides. Over the years, being a feminist has introduced me to all kinds of events, groups, conversations and debates on the subject... Furthermore, more then half of my clients in coaching are women...All of these interactions led me to a simple observation: despite difficult circumstances, I have never encountered a woman who didn’t wanted to become something or do something, who fixed her goals and committed to them, not be able to succeed. I have been impressed by so many examples and I believe that where there is a will, there is a way.


The story I am going to present here, brings testimony to my observation. CinEast film festival Luxembourg has dedicated a special evening to women for a few years now. Martyna Adamska, coordinator of CinEast and responsible for this event, chooses inspirational movies in which the main character is, of course, a woman. But not only that, the stories of these movies always have a positive, bright side, which I love! Last year I was already impressed by her choice of a movie showing the awakening to life, choice and personal freedom of a retired woman recently widowed. This year featured a documentary movie about hijab-wearing woman from Bosnia Herzegovina and how she found her own path in life though sports. It is a more realistic version of the famous Eat, Pray, Love, if you want....The movie was followed by a debate with the protagonist, Nudžejma Softić, and Caroline Mohr Larsson, a motivational speaker and former golf professional from Sweden.


As member of PPL, I engaged to support this evening as the subject is directly related to positive psychology, showing a real life situation of how resilience and grit are put into practice. Martyna briefed me about the subject of the movie over the summer and inspired by what she told me, I went on Sunday evening with my hopes up and expectations high. What I experienced was beyond my expectation and even now, three days after, I still feel emotional and am trying to find my best words to described it. The documentary is a real, flesh and bones, example of how to build a meaningful, flourishing life.


As much as I appreciate the science behind positive psychology, I must admit that every time I say to my clients or I write: “the latest research shows... this and that”, it somehow feels dry and sterile and is missing elements that allow individuals to relate and be interested at a human level....And even if they are interested in the science, because the emotional background and connection is often missing, they are prone to forget it before trying to put it into practice. This is why any type of storytelling gives people a better idea about the “how” and the “why”, and chances are higher that they will follow the example.

But what I have learned?


The story of Nudžejma is an authentic life experience showing that anyone, in spite of her life conditions, can find the elements to a flourishing life. You can have the perception that she had all the bad luck starting her life: born in eastern Europe, in a poor country, living through war as a child, losing her father in the war when she was only 4 years old, being a Muslim and a woman. But, as a young adult she did not accept her fate or let others tell her what she should do, what should be meaningful for her and how to live her life. And she did so in the most gentle but clear way, remaining aligned with her values and respecting her religion. As you can imagine not everything went smooth and difficulties at many levels had to be surpassed.


Watching the movie and then listening to her answers in the debate I could clearly identify character strengths of courage, zest, authenticity, perseverance, kindness and hope. It is a story of a woman who did not do any sport as a child and who found herself and her meaning in life as a young adult by starting running. She need it to learn how to run and then step by step, challenging herself to run half marathons, then marathons, then triathlons and finally the Iron Man. For the swimming part in triathlons she need to learn how to swim from zero. You may say...there are so many other people (men and women) doing that. Probably it is true but the specific conditions and challenges of Nudžejma make her story an amazing example.


From left to right: Caroline Mohr Larsson, Martyna Adamska & Nudžejma Softić

I recognized what was helping her to succeed:

1. Accepting that what she was supposed to do was not making her happy nor was it allowing her to progress in her life. She decided that she needed to change and apply that change in spite of “what other people may say”.

2. Allowing her family time to adapt to the decisions she made and see she is better off, and her decisions are not just impulsive or rebellious.

3. Looking for support in this amazing but frightening and long journey. I think this was the key element of her success, she never said she did it alone. Maybe the initial sparkle of idea, the first steps but after that, she always looked for, accepted and believed in her support network: family, work colleagues, sport coaches, psychologist, her husband and finally her Iron Man coach. Besides that, she created or attracted a new bunch of friends who were living their lives based on the same set of values and enjoying the same type of activities.

4. Giving back. Her passion had a good influence on her life and that had a ripple effect. On one hand more and more colleagues from the office followed her example, on the other hand she created a project herself helping people weighting over 130 kilos to get into physical activity.

And all that with a smile.

(Note: how many elements of PERMA do you see?)



After the movie, the debate brought further quite a different story of Caroline Mohr Larsson. Born into better conditions, becoming a professional and successful golf player and then losing her right leg to cancer. Instead of asking “why me?” and giving up her life in despair, Caroline change her life around and became motivational speaker, inspiring other people to see life as “happening for them and not to them”.


I noted down amazing questions form this debate, food for thought for those who want to make a step in the right direction:

· What have the worst things that have happened to you really brought you? What have you learned from them? How have you grown up? What do you think is the meaning of what is happening to you? How do you make sense of what has happened to you?

· How can you challenge your fears in order to tame them and go further/move forward?

· What is really important for you?

· If you wanted to do one thing, what would that be?


What are your walls you need to brake down in order to break free and flourish?



If you feel stuck in your life, and you need inspiration on...where the heck to start and how to do it, or if you are already on the path to find your meaning in life and need to see other examples, the movie will run again on the 16thof October if you want to see it and I strongly recommend it! https://www.cineast.lu/2019/en/programme.html?day=6& http://littlestarrising.com

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© 2019 by Joanna  West.

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