For many of us, when you unpack the fear of getting older, it isn’t about wrinkles or the sand running out of the hourglass. You’re scared to become irrelevant.
You don’t want to be seen like a VCR — dusty, outdated, uncool… a has-been with nothing fresh left to offer. And why wouldn’t you feel that way? Although it’s changing (trickle-slow), by and large, society tends to glorify youth.
Fortunately, perception isn’t reality because this is not how young people see it at all. Your life experience makes you omnirelevant.
This week, it’s my pleasure to welcome Helene-Jane Groarke. You’ll get to witness intergenerational dialogue in action as we play a game of “what do we really think of each other” stereotype-busting.
In addition to her master’s degree in Irish Immigrant Identity, Helene-Jane is a life coach and founder of The Positive Life Project. Inspired by her own struggles with self-acceptance, including her battle with an eating disorder, Helene-Jane now helps others build positive relationships with their bodies.
A passionate young woman of many talents, she joins us to share a pull no punches 20-something’s perspective.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Your body according to men
- Trading competition for compassion
- Myth bust: with age comes have-it-togetherness
- The lies family members tell you
- Mentorship vs. friendship
Listen to the Full Episode
This is what happens when you bring women from different generations together in a safe space where they feel free to ask each other anything. Learn, teach, grow, and be part of something momentous. We need you in this conversation so apply to my invitation right here. Spots are limited.
Featured on the Show:
- Wisdom Fusion 6-Week Learning Series
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Sundae’s Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
- The Positive LIfe Project
Catch These Podcasts:
- EP226: The Space Women Crave
- EP227: Intergenerational Wisdom with René Washington
- EP228: Intergenerational Wisdom with Marianne Talkovski
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 11:00 am in New York, 5:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 10:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to this very special edition of the Expat Happy Hour, as we focus on intergenerational wisdom. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
You know that expression, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” That’s pretty much how I felt when I began this interview.
If you recall, I promised you something dramatically different back in EP226: The Space Women Crave where I dared to share what I believe. I believe that each woman has wisdom inside of her that is hard-earned wisdom and experience that is underestimated at best, undervalued at worst. I asked you to imagine a world where women of all ages are respected for their wisdom and are seen as relevant, valuable, forward-thinking with safe spaces, where it’s okay to be wrong and they can lift each other up, bring each other closer, find power within themselves, and among themselves, and be vulnerable, brave, authentic, and loved.
This is all part of an invitation to momentarily hit pause on your demanding, modern life, opting instead to reflect, share our stories as well as offer and receive support. This is an invitation to discover and share our wisdom in ways that are expansive and nourishing.
We started this conversation in EP227: Intergenerational Wisdom with René Washington. And today, we are joined by Helene-Jane Groarke, she joins us from Quebec, Canada.
Helene has always been interested in questions of identity, self-definition, and social context. It’s no surprise that she graduated from a Liberal Arts and Irish Studies degree and went on to study Irish Immigrant Identity in a thesis in her master’s at Concordia University.
For most of her life, Helene struggled with body image issues and the last few years have been a journey of self-love, and the realization of the fatphobic undertones of the society that we live in which fueled her unhealthy relationship to her body. Now, she supports others as they heal their relationship with themselves and flourish in their own identities.
She joins me today to help me with my burning question: What do we discover when we get women across generations together and we have open and deeply honest conversations?
Sundae: So it is my absolute pleasure to have Helene-Jane here, representing the 20-somethings for this third episode focusing on intergenerational wisdom. Now, Helene-Jane is known, and I absolutely love this, as “the warrior of worthiness” and in addition to that, she’s a feminist life coach and blogger helping people realize what they deserve to unleash their positive life. So you can find her at the Positive Life Project. But she is here with us today on Expat Happy Hour. Thank you for being here.
Helene-Jane: Hi! Thank you for having me.
Sundae: So I have been waiting for this all day. I’m so excited! So Helene- Jane and I, we had a chat before this just to meet and connect and we agreed at the end of that chat that we would go off and secretly write down a few things. We’re going to play a game and we haven’t shared notes, yet.
So I’m a 40-something, Helene-Jane is a 20-something, and we’re going to reveal a couple things and the first thing we’re going to reveal is what we secretly think about the other group, right? So I wrote down this morning, I wrote down what I secretly think about 20 somethings. *laughter* So did you do your homework too?
Helene-Jane: I did. Yeah, I have a few.
Sundae: Oh man. Okay, okay, so because I have no problem with shaming myself publicly, I’m going to start with the first.
I wrote down, “I had it way worse than you.” And then I wrote down, “MTV” and I circled the name “Pat Benatar” and wrote underneath it “Spandex and high heels.” And then I wrote underneath it, “Robert Plant, chicks with guitars all legs.” So that’s what I wrote, I was like, “I had it way harder than you,” because I had to wait for Tracy Chapman or Edie Brickell to finally show up on the scene to finally represent a woman that wasn’t very sexualized in the media. So what do you think about that? Does that surprise you?
Helene-Jane: But I just want to mention the name, Britney Spears, for my generation.
Helene-Jane: I think we all had the same problem, childlike pop stars or teenage pop stars in our ears and MTV was still very much a thing growing up and all kinds of teenage drama like episodes, TV shows, and such. So I think that we all think that and that we all have those Generations or even at that point Christina Aguilera who’s now changed completely and has evolved. So I think that it’s interesting. I think we all had it hard and that’s going to be the core thing to talk about between the two of us.
Sundae: You totally stole my thunder. Damn it! Cause you’re right.
Helene-Jane: If I can go with mine. I actually had this before we spoke. And the first thing I wrote is, “If I ever complain, they’ve always had it harder.” *laughter*
Sundae: Oh, really because number two was, “You had it better than I did.” *laughter* So you might have a point. Same heart. This is obviously valid.
Helene-Jane: Yeah, I think that when is not as valid but and I was like, I’m closer. I’m 30 now, just turned 30 but definitely, when I was 20, 40s and older people have their stuff together. Their life is all organized, planned they’re like, set for life. That’s another big one. They know everything that they want to know and they’re just going to keep going in the same way that they’ve gone.
Sundae: I love hearing that. So the perception from the 20s is they’ve got their shit together. They know what they’re doing. And now every single person in their 30s and 40s is like, “Oh my God, no.”
Sundae: So good. Okay and so I’m wondering what led you to that conclusion, do you think?
Helene-Jane: I think that it’s because when people who are in their 40s that I’ve interacted with and even thirties and over, but let’s say 40s seemed to have it together on the outside. They are no longer talking about it, I think because they think there’s a taboo as well. When you get to that age of being like, “Oh I’m not sure what I want to do with my life,” or maybe “I want to change careers” or things like that. So I think there’s a lot more happening internally that they’re not talking about, especially not in front of a 20-year-old. I think maybe with their older friends, it’s different. So I think that there’s a big part of that and it’s also, my parents were around that, it’s all that bit older generation that I just think, “Oh, well my mom had the same job for her whole life,” kind of thing. And she was happy in it and same thing with my father. So it’s kind of that idea that people have it together. And they make their own dentist appointment, they go change their winter tires. That stuff that when you’re 20 it’s like, “Oh my God. I can’t”
Sundae: Right? They’re adulting consistently.
Helene-Jane: Yeah. The thing you don’t realize when you’re 20 is that the people don’t have a choice. It’s not like they want to, necessarily. That’s what I’m realizing now that I’m in my 30s.
Sundae: Totally and I’m not going to speak for my entire generation but we can get sick of adulting. We really get tired of adulting and that’s what Netflix and wine usually is for to get away from that but I love that. That’s so good. And you know what? When I hear you say that that automatically resonates in a sense of if I’m talking to someone who’s let’s say pretty early in the university, early 20s, I automatically kind of want to go into mentoring mode.
Sundae: I want to nurture. I want to nurture and mentor and it wouldn’t even occur to me to tell them that “here’s where I’m struggling,” or “here’s where we don’t have it figured out.” I would want to take the wisdom, I do have and, and share. And this is why we’re having this conversation. I think that is actually also sometimes not helpful. Because as I mentioned in my other podcast, this whole thing about intergenerational wisdom fusion project. The project came to me because I was sitting having wine with my friends and thinking, when I was 20, I felt lied to by all the 40-year-olds.
Helene-Jane: Yeah, yeah.
Sundae: Like, “What?” Why didn’t you tell me this?” And I think we need to talk. That’s why we’re doing it right now. So that’s really important. So I’m already learning something from you. If we, if we are in conversation with somebody who’s in their 20-somethings whether we’re 30-something 40-something, whatever, right? Also not just to use that mentoring or nurturing but also to be transparent about what’s hard.
Helene-Jane: Yeah. I think there’s this idea that in front, especially of younger people, you have to look stronger and kind of, I don’t like to use the word weak because it’s negative, but you can’t be weak. You have to have your stuff together. And if a 20-year-old asks you a question about life as a 40-year-old, I’m imagining that you’re like, “I need to have the answer to this, because I have…” Whereas, you could be, “You know what? I’m not sure,” like, “I don’t know how to deal with that specific pain or grief.” Or “It’s okay not to have it all figured out.” And sometimes I think it would help the 20-year-old to be like, “Okay, so it’s not just because I’m young and I don’t know yet how I’m feeling. It’s actually being human.” It’s part of life. And I think it would take the pressure off if you know that your mother, your grandmother, your sister, your aunt, because out of those people, I don’t interact a lot with people who are over my age, right? But even then, knowing that they’re also sometimes struggling and that it’s okay to do that. Like you said, “I’d be more prepared.”
Sundae: Right? Not like gobsmacked when he got there going, “Why were these guys lying to me for 20 years.”
Helene-Jane: Yeah, exactly.
Sundae: This is also really connected to the Wisdom Fusion Project because some of our intergenerational relationships are tied to our family. So your auntie doesn’t want you to worry right? Your grandmother doesn’t want you to understand what was going on behind the scenes. Your mother, for sure, doesn’t want you to know all this stuff. And so when we don’t have relationships across generations that are outside of our family context, we don’t get to hear this.
Helene-Jane: Yeah, right?
Sundae: Yeah, that’s super interesting. So interesting, that I’m already taking away.
Helene-Jane: That’s what I will see and to me it’s interesting because I thought it came over from a place of, “Oh no. She doesn’t know what she’s doing,” or something of a judgmental place. And the way you just talked about it is actually from a caring place, right? It’ll play some, “I don’t want to put that on them.” So that’s also interesting to me, that it’s not just me being judged as a 20-year-old, it’s people and being lied to. Not intentionally but it actually comes from a good place and you’re right
Also something I’m taking away is to stop thinking that people who are older than me are always judging and coming from a place of judgment. And what they would do.
Sundae: And is that tied? Before we spoke the very first time briefly, you talked about how even this question of wisdom and 20-something causes you to think, “Do I have wisdom to share?” Can you say more?
I am now a part-time life coach, like you mentioned and it took me five years because I kept thinking, “I have nothing to say. I’m a 25-year-old. What is someone older or even my age going to get from me? I haven’t lived enough.” And I think it’s from this idea that, yeah, when you’re young, you don’t have the experience and in some ways, your feelings are not yet valid because people keep telling you, “it’s because you’re young, you’re overemotional.”
That’s one thing that I thought from what 40-year-olds think of 20-year-olds was, “They’re too emotional.” And it’s like, I don’t know if it’s too emotional or just we’re learning and those feelings are still very real to me. But I keep being told that, “Oh well, you have it easier.” So in some ways, it’s kind of that in-between phase of, “Well I have those but I’m not being heard necessarily,” and that I think is something we internalized as 20-year-olds and like, “Okay so obviously then I don’t think I have wisdom at that point.”
Sundae: Hmm. So if you don’t think you have it you’re definitely not going to look for it and you’re definitely not going to share it.
Helene-Jane: Exactly. Yeah.
Sundae: Right. So it’s a negative spiral and then I’m also hearing you don’t feel heard.
Helene-Jane: Well, I think that’s a big thing and that was one of the things I was thinking before our conversation because I have two nieces who are pre-adolescent now. And we all remember in our own way, those times. And those feelings and hormones and everything changing. And I kind of hope, and I’ve talked to my sisters about this, they’re great mothers and they’re both very good at validating their teenagers’ feelings. And I think that’s important because I think that’s also a trope we see of the teenagers, of like, “Nobody understands me.” And I think that if acknowledging them and actually saying, “You know what? That break up was hard. I’m sorry you had to go through this,” instead of saying, “Oh don’t worry. You’ll have like eight more breakups before you find the right person.” It’s like, “No.” This is really real, whether you’re 15, you’re 25, or you’re 55. These things are hard and that’s the feelings, you feel.
And yes I think when you’re older then you look back in your life like, “Okay, this was maybe not that big of a deal,” but back then you needed that to learn how to deal with it.
Sundae: That gave me chills, because what I’m hearing is, when you have a relationship with someone who is in a different generation, might be in a different space and you have this wisdom, it might not be appropriate to share yet, like validate before you encourage.
Helene-Jane: And I’d say it’s not a question of encourage, it’s just don’t dismiss it. Replace dismissal with validation. Like, “Yes, it is hard.” And then I think encouragement and mentoring it’s still true that you have more life experience than me. I’m not taking that away and I do think that you have stuff that I can learn from. But it’s more of a question of making sure it doesn’t come off as “you don’t know what you’re feeling at all. So let me tell you.” Rather than, “I know what you’re going through. I also went through a breakup when I was 15 and it was difficult,” and all of those things to create a constructive rather than this barrier. And then maybe we’d have less teenage movies where it’s like “nobody understands me.”
Sundae: Right? Don’t dismiss, validate. Just shut up and validate.
Helene-Jane: Yeah. And then I think 20-year-olds also need to do that more. I love it because I think that’s something I do sometimes I dismiss because it’s like, “Oh yeah, they had it tough. We know, blah, blah,” and it’s like, “Great. Let’s actually talk about why you think you had it hard and learn from it?”
Sundae: That’s so exciting. God, dang, I love it. Okay, let’s see. So now that we’ve very much seen that I am exactly the 40-year-old who thinks I had it worse than you. And my second was, you have had it better than me. I just want to share what came underneath that, I couldn’t believe this was the second thing because it’s the exact same thing but just said in a different way, right?
But what I wrote was, “You have more space as a woman to be more than beautiful or smart. You don’t have to undo as much sexist, racist, transphobic shit as I had to as a kid and young adult. You have so many more and wider varied narratives of what’s available to you.” So that is what was behind that statement. And I know you’re going to tell me that it’s not that simple.
Helene-Jane: I think this is always going to be on both sides and it’s good. I think that you’re absolutely right in that I don’t think we had it easier, necessarily. I don’t like that. First of all and I think we were both on this wavelength, but just for the listeners, what I hate about all of this is competition. Why does it have to be competition? So that’s basically what we’re always talking about. Why do you have to have it harder than me to be more important, kind of thing?
But so I do think that you’re right on so many points and that would be interesting to see. I don’t think my generation dismisses that and I don’t think we go around saying, “No, you actually had it easier as a woman in the 80s or 90s.” I don’t think that. I think the difference is the difficulty for us, more in the fact that we have been awoken, we have been made aware. So when we live it, it’s much more difficult because we have to deal with, it’s still very present.
And also then kind of still say, “No, sexism is still the thing. The patriarchy is still messing up. Everybody, men and women and non-binary people.” So let’s take the next step because so many people now are like, “Oh well, this is in the past. So now we can just celebrate.” So I think you’re absolutely right. And I don’t think someone in my generation would question that. I think what we’d still say is that it was still difficult because I grew up being labeled as “the tomboy” because I love to play sports and that affected me a lot because whenever I wear makeup or heels, even in high school, people will be like, “Oh, that’s not you. That’s so weird. Why are you doing that?” Which is why now for me wearing makeup, it’s part of a ritual, that’s super important because it’s affirming that I can be more masculine and still want to wear makeup, right? It’s not a superficial idea.
So, I think that you’re absolutely right that you had it in some ways harder but it sounds horrible, but it’s this idea that if you’re not aware of it as much, it’s easier to live in. It’s not right, it’s not good. But I kind of became a feminist when I was around, 22, really. And I could just try to go through a family meeting or family reunions and I was like, “Whoo. I need to prepare myself mentally. Am I actually gonna go there? Am I not going to go there?” And for a long time I was quoted like the feminist in the family and I was like, “I’m still Helene. I’ve just been– my eyes have been open now.
Sundae: Right. I hear that. I hear that. I could get away with those family meetings because I was oblivious to some of the stuff that went on. Even though there was always a small voice in my body where I was like, “No, that ain’t right.”
Helene-Jane: Yeah. And I think that’s why we were lucky in the sense that we’ve had the tools to improve and also isn’t it a good thing? Why does it have to be a competition? I’m happy and I hope that my nieces in the future will have to deal with a lot less shit than I had to deal with and that’s going to be a good thing. Let’s not make them feel bad.
Sundae: Okay, I have shared two, tell me which one you have.
So the first one is, 40s are more conservative.
Sundae: Okay, tell me more.
Helen-Jane: Well. I think it’s great. This is not planned. You couldn’t tell, but these were not planned, but you didn’t know my answer. But we just talked about if I’m meeting someone who’s a bit older, first of all, I’ll make sure I’m not swearing just to make sure right? Because I know some people and I’m a rugby player, I can swear a lot. So there’s that but also then there’s this kind of assumption that I might be a bit more mellow.
If we’re at a conference or something, at a lecture and after, people talk or whatever, there is wine and cheese after, if it’s someone who’s a bit older, I might not be as honest with, “Well, I think maybe that was problematic,” or quite the opposite, like, “Oh, I love this woman. She’s just such a great example of messing up the patriarchy,” and all those things and saying those keywords like problematic and patriarchy and emotions that. I think I’m more careful because I don’t know.
Sundae: Yeah. So because you’re assuming they’re going to be more conservative, you actually don’t share more fully who you are.
Helene-Jane: I just actually, I filter myself more.
Sundae: Hmm and then that means we miss out on a huge portion of you.
Helene-Jane: Yeah. And I think, also it’s not true, necessarily.
Sundae: But you know, I do the exact same thing with you because I would think, “Well I should probably behave myself,” right? I should probably act respectable. I should probably, “act my age.” I wonder, I should be a good role model.
Helene-Jane: Yeah. Right. But what does it mean to act your age? *laughter*
Sundae: Right? Good question. I love that. See, that’s something that surprises me. I would never know that. So I wrote down those two things which were basically the same thing. And then I was like, “No Sundae, go positive, think about something positive.” So then I wrote down and I’m like, “I’m really excited for you. What you can create an experience in your life with this expanded potential. I am envious and I’m grateful that you’re more aware about the environment around equity around flexibility,” all of those things. So, there is, there is also a joy that I tapped into really looking forward to seeing what you know the 20-something group does as they move forward in the world with that awareness. So I see a lot of potential, right? I see a lot of potential. So, how does that land for you?
Helene-Jane: I think that’s beautiful. And I think that’s the good way, you’ve just reversed the negative things that we’ve talked about. That’s how it should be, right? In that way, you acknowledge that in your life, you grew up differently than I did, but that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. And that, yes, I am young and I still have stuff to learn but it’s all said in a more positive way. And I think that’s beautiful, and it’s constructive. That’s the point, is that, it’s not putting me down or bringing yourself up, it’s just like, “Yeah. Looking forward to it.” I really like that.
Sundae: But I had to get through the first two to get there. *laughter* Before we dive into the, what I think 20-somethings think about 40-somethings. Do you have another one?
Helene-Jane: Well, actually it goes a bit in the same vein. While I was thinking about all those things I wrote down, I wish I could actually have a conversation about what they went through in a productive and non-judgemental way on both sides with no competition. Because I think it’s so interesting, right? And I wish that when my grandmother was there and told me, “You had it easier than me,” but I can’t because I was too young, but I would have been, “How then? Tell me about it. Why, what did you go through?” And let me understand this without having that negative, like, “You had it easier than being kind of thing,” right?
Sundae: And keeping the divide. Absolutely. Yeah, it actually really ties to my fourth one. And I wrote something of a chip on my shoulder, but this is honestly what came out: You could learn something from my generation who’s done stuff without technology. So that’s what I wrote and then I put, “let’s go retro” like “predigital romance, connecting traveling.” And here’s what it really was. And then I wrote this down, I wrote, “I have something to offer.” So what that really is about is, I want to be seen as relevant.
Helene-Jane: Yes. That’s what I was going to say. I was like, “You don’t want to feel like a relic from the old age.” Prior to all those things. I think you still are relevant. I think that it goes beyond technology. The fact that you didn’t grow up with the phone, doesn’t mean that you’re no longer relevant because it’s life experiences. I don’t think it’s the actual phone that makes the difference. Everybody goes through heartbreak, everybody goes through grief. Everybody goes through body image issues, if you want to talk about that too, right? We all go through it, the way we went through it is going to be different and altered by technology, but you definitely still have something to prove. But I think that focusing on the difference and that past that no longer exists. I’m sorry, I know it’s a tough subject for a lot of people to admit, but it’s gone. I get it.
I think that demonizing technology and saying that it’s the root of all evil and of why things are bad now, isn’t useful for anyone because then that makes it feel dated rather than just like, “I actually remember dating when it wasn’t online,” and all those things.
Sundae: It’s crazy. Oh God.
Helene-Jane: But I’d say that people idolize the past too much and I know I already do it myself with my friends but you see all those things everywhere. Like, “Oh like prior to phones people would talk to each other,” and I was like, “No, they didn’t.” You wouldn’t talk to a stranger.
But also, it’s this idea that listening to music or what I do when I have earphones in, is actually listen to podcasts which is basically radio and it’s like let’s not judge people when you don’t know what’s up.
Sundae: *laughter* That’s hysterical. It’s called the radio. You might enjoy it. It’s so funny. Okay, so I want to dive into, what I think 20-somethings think about 40-somethings. And so I started making a list and everything started with, maybe. Because I have no idea to be honest, I have no idea.
So I wrote, “Maybe they think I’m out of touch. Maybe they think I’m losing relevance. Maybe they think I’m losing power. But what I want them to know is that what I’ve seen at 40-somethings is finding their power, reclaiming their voice, increasing confidence, and more self-confidence.” There’s one more thing I wrote down, but I want to see how that lands with you.
Helene-Jane: I don’t want to put too much of my life coach hat on but I feel like that kind of reveals a lot maybe of your insecurities, actually.
Sundae: Well it goes back to the idea of relevance. Right. Relevance. It’s about relevance completely.
Sundae: And that’s where I went back up to the other statement and I wrote in, “I have something to offer.” I did not even know this was there until I did this.
Helene-Jane: Because if you notice, nothing that I said has to do with relevance.
Sundae: Right? So interesting.
Helene-Jane: So there’s nothing that came up actually, that had to do with that. So, that wasn’t even a question for me, but, of course, you have relevance. And of course, you’re important to me and your experience is important. And I wouldn’t be where I’m at, if women who are older, wouldn’t have been where they’re at, so that’s why I think it’s interesting.
Sundae: Totally. I had no idea that it was there.
What about your list?
Helene-Jane: So mine only had two but it was like I said earlier, 20-year-olds are too emotional.
Helene-Jane: And then the second one is, they take themselves too seriously.
Sundae: Hmm. Interesting. Those two I would never think about. Really? I would think they don’t take themselves seriously enough. And emotional? I don’t even know if I would go there. Not even on my radar.
Helene-Jane: I feel like when I was 20 I was like, “Oh, I need to decide everything now.” And I don’t know. And I don’t know where it came from. The too emotional, I think just comes from being told, always like okay. I’m obviously a very loud person and who is emotional. So maybe I was just told that in my experience. But this idea that you’re just done adolescence when you’re turning 20, a lot of people are maybe going to university or starting jobs and such, and it’s kind of that in-between land where you’re dealing with professors who are older, but you’re still young and still have those breakouts of frustration and everything.
And then taking themselves too seriously, I think that it’s just because sometimes every decision is kind of a life decision.
What you decide to major in is not the end of the world, if you change that. You can chill. It’s fine.
Sundae: Right? But it can feel like it’s going to change the trajectory of your life.
Helene-Jane: Yeah. Well that’s what I mean by like you think it’s the end of the world that every small decision is like the biggest thing.
Sundae: The other thing I wrote down, this is the last thing I wrote down is, what I think 20-somethings think about 40-somethings: We can’t be friends.
Sundae: Well, so if you’re 20-something and you meet a 40-something, you connect, you would never think, “I’m gonna call her, I’m gonna message her, or I’m gonna meet her for coffee.” Are intergenerational friendships a given? Or they not they don’t even come to mind, right? You know what I mean? Why not?
Helene-Jane: Yeah, yeah, I actually came to the same conclusion, but the other way around also. I thought 40-year-olds, meets a 20-year-old, I think that mentor mode comes in and they’re like, “I can’t learn anything from them because I’ve already been 20. I’ve been there. I know what they’re going through, so I can’t learn anything really from them. So let me be a mentor.” Whereas mentorship and friendship are two very different things, right? The dynamic is so different and less one way when it’s friendship and goes two ways and it’s not a question of always being like, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have said that,” or, “Be careful, don’t stay up too late. Don’t drink too much,” kind of, in mom-mode, a little more.
That’s what I thought, I was like, “I don’t know if a 40-year-old would accept my advice as easily.”
Sundae: So I think that mentorship, that age gap gets in the way. I think we’re missing out. I think we’re missing out, right? I read you as really mature. Now that you turned 30 on the weekend we talked or whatever, but you’ve got a lot of life experience and maturity and I think we’re missing out. Both sides are missing out when we don’t open ourselves to friendship across generations.
You’ve already shared so much wisdom, I can’t even handle it. This was great. But I want to go more into your story. Now our listeners don’t know much about you besides the fact that you’ve got this great project about the Positive Life Project. You are a feminist life coach, warrior of worthiness, but you’ve had a lot of life events in the years that you’ve come, that are that would be enough for two lifetimes, right? You’ve fought bulimia, you’ve had battles with worthiness, you’ve had struggles conceiving. And you’ve done what a lot of people are doing, like, managing your own job and investing in your professional development, looking ahead to the future. So I would just love to dive in a little bit about your story and you can maybe start to tell a little bit of your story in terms of, when was your first struggle that you knew, “Hey, this is going to occupy some of my energy.”?
Helene-Jane: Mmm. Yeah, I think that my first struggle was with body image issues. They started when I was five. So–
Sundae: At five?
Helene-Jane: Yeah. Because I think there’s a lot of statistics that says, even, ten-year-old girls, now, I don’t know the percentage, are on diets and stuff. So I was just always aware I was a chubby kid and I come from a family that is genetically very tall, but very thin, naturally thin, and my mother and my father and my father was an athlete, a runner. And even my grandmother on his side and everything. So I always had this idea that I was a bit different because I naturally didn’t look that way. And I didn’t grow up in a family that fat-shamed me. Not openly, right. I think we all have those fatphobia and super negative comments about fatness, but it wasn’t directed to me. My mother never put me on a diet. My mother never made me feel bad for eating anything like there wasn’t like a restricted food, like you’re not allowed to eat this, whereas your brothers and sisters can need this because, you know, that was never part of the conversation, but there was always an awareness that I was a bit bigger, I guess, than the rest of my family.
So even as a kid people kept saying, “Oh, it’s the baby fat. It’ll come off at one point,” I was like, “My cheeks, that’s not coming off.” I have a round face, and it’s just like, always there and now I love it. But even when I was young and then high school hit, I was bullied a lot when I was in elementary school and then I went to high school and I had a really good time. Luckily, I went to a school that was very good for people who like to read, who like to be intellectual, and like school. And then yeah just going through all that phase.
We didn’t have a lot of money and the school was a private school. Although where I live, private school doesn’t mean the same thing as in America, as in The States. So it’s partly funded from the government but all of those years of trying to understand yourself. And again I hung out with all of the sports kids and a lot of them were tall lean girls who did sports. So I always felt a bit left out and a bit different. And luckily, I found rugby which is why I’m very jealous that you’re in South Africa.
Sundae: It’s a good place for rugby.
Helene-Jane: Yeah, it is a very good place for rugby. And it was the first time that I actually felt like, the fact that I had big thighs and was bigger, was a good thing.
It’s a good thing to be powerful and it’s a sport that’s great because you need all body types for rugby. That’s something that you need, people that are tall and lean to have long legs to run really fast. And then you have people who can be shorter and a bit bigger because you need the physicality of those bodies. So, yeah, it kind of fluctuated.
And then, I went to a higher level at rugby and I got concussions which back then were not dealt with the same way. So I had to stop all that to say, I had to stop and I was at a very high level where I would train with the team, four days a week. I had a nutritionist at one point to try and bulk up and everything. And then it’s going from that back to not being able to do any movement because I had two concussions within three months. So a lot of the weight that I had, I hadn’t even lost weight. I never lost weight. I was just very in shape but I was always a bit bigger and t it just became fat instead of muscle. And that kind of started the downwards.
I had always hated my body and how I looked, and wished I was smaller. And then that just started the downward spiral of that. And then I started university and when you start university it’s kind of the– And then that’s what bulimia is a lot all about. It’s the lack of control, a lot of eating disorders have to do with lack of control. So you’re starting a brand-new– I changed cities, I went to Montreal a bigger city and I was losing control.
I felt like I didn’t have control on things even though I did, but I was an overachiever putting way too much pressure on myself and so, yeah, I started making myself purge as we say and all that. Yeah.
Sundae: I think it’s important that people understand the connection between eating disorders. It’s actually about control and not about food, right? And it’s about societal pressure, self-image.
Helene-Jane: And that you can be bigger and still have an eating disorder.
Sundae: Right. Exactly.
Helene-Jane: It has nothing to do with your size because exactly. Well, I would tell, you know, if I had told, I don’t know as much about the same thing with anorexic, right people who are like, “Oh, I was anorexic,” like, “No you weren’t. You weren’t small.” It has nothing to do with it, but thank you for not telling me what it is or it isn’t. I know what it is or isn’t, right?
Sundae: Right, exactly. So tell me about it. So that is something that you’ve battled and have overcome. How is that connected to struggle with worthiness?
Helene-Jane: Right. So I think that it was always that I wasn’t enough because society was telling me that my body type is being judged. Because if you’re overweight and I’m doing in quotes here, according to science, and just society, you don’t deserve to be treated as well as someone who’s thinner. That’s what fatphobia is all about. Is this idea that, “Oh, this person is fat, because they’re not disciplined because they don’t take care of themselves. Well if they don’t value their own lives then why should I?” Or in an interview, someone will be judged because of the way they look and there’s already that idea of, “Oh well, this person doesn’t deserve it as much.”
I’m lucky enough to always have been within, I’m usually a large right inside so I can go to normal again in quotes stores. So it’s just telling people that they’re not worthy of respect, of your attention of anything because oh well. And then telling them you have to go to a different store where it’s like we’re more than half of the population, right? But the other part of it that’s so frustrating. It’s like small to large is really not much different when it comes to different sizes. Like it’s crazy to me, it’s wild that this is what people think is the normal size. I don’t think normality is anyways, I think you’ve understood by now I hate that word normal, but it’s this idea that yeah, “I’m not worthy enough.”
And, if I’m not thinner then I’m not worthy of having a boyfriend or having friends or going out, or looking pretty, or being told I’m pretty. Just pretty. No, even though. “You’re so pretty, even though,” you know? And it’s like, “No, I’m just pretty.” And I’m not brave for wearing a sleeveless shirt. I’m just wearing a sleeveless shirt because it’s 40 degrees Celsius in Montreal in the summer and believe me, if we could all be wearing swimsuits around, we would, because it’s so warm.
Sundae: So I want to tie that because the thing is around this concept of worthiness and this is we’re talking about body image, this could be about, it could be about whether your gender identity is accepted. It could be about whether your racial identity is accepted. It could be about whether your level of academic performance is accepted. It could be about so many things, right? There are narratives that we have and either you fit them or you don’t. And when you’re outside of the narrative, there’s struggle. And you’re so many messages give you, subtly or not, around worthiness or not. So, I’m interested in what is the work behind defining your own worthiness? When you know, you’re not going to get external validation? What is the process for you that you’ve gone through that has helped you validate yourself, right?
Because I would say, another synonym for worthiness is internal validation. So this is relevant, across generations, right? Because I work with a lot of women in their 40s and 50s and they’re struggling for worthiness, self-worthiness. And this is where your wisdom, I think it’s going to come in. What, I don’t know if you have this at the tip of your tongue, but if you look back on your own journey, what were the steps that you took back to reclaim worthiness?
Helene-Jane: I think the biggest tip I can give and like you said, I think that’s actually something, now that I think of it that the older generations would really benefit from our younger generation that idea that we are worthy. I’m thinking again of my nieces who are much younger and they’ve been told by their moms, and by society, not everyone at, I still think we live in a patriarchal system. But I think it’s much better at telling you that you are worth it for who you are inside. Like you said, not just the appearance, but who you are inside. And I think I’m realizing now with some of my clients that are older than me, that, my goodness, were you told your whole life that you are only your body? That’s crazy to me and it was your body according to men. Even if you’re a gay woman or someone who’s non-binary, the point is always through the vision of the White male. So I just wanted to parentheses that I think that that’s something that older generations could learn from younger generations, and why sometimes social media is good. It’s good to take a selfie when you feel good. Good for you for taking that picture and saying, “You know what, I look cute today,” why be ashamed of that?
So I’d say the biggest tip that really helped me was the very simple question of: How would I talk to a friend if they thought what I was thinking? Or what I ever speak, the way I speak to myself, to a friend? And I never would, so how do you?
Sundae: But how do you make that happen in your everyday? We’re both coaches and we know that concept is there but how do you help someone integrate that into their life pragmatically so they’re actually doing it?
Helene-Jane: I think that the first step, I didn’t write it down, some people like to write it down. Just to do a bar or a mark on a paper or realize when you’re thinking a negative thought about yourself because before even going to feeling you’re worthy and telling yourself that you need to realize how much of an enemy you are to yourself and how much you’ve been treating yourself badly because we hear that. But people don’t realize it. So, I did it on my phone– technology– but like I took notes and I just put a one, two, three. And then at the end of the day, every time I had a negative thought and I had more than 25. And it can be a small thing like, “Ugh. Of course, you can’t do that,” or like, “I don’t look good today. Oh, I feel so horrible,” and “Of course, I didn’t get the grade I wanted.” When you’re 20 and like, “Of course, this guy didn’t really ask you out,” or whatever.
Or even in conversation with others, you have a friend who’s doing great and of course, you compare and you’re like, “Well I could never do that because I’m not good enough,” and all of those. And then you write them down. It usually takes two or three days until you realize, “My goodness. Why am I being so harsh on myself?”
Sundae: Hmm, totally. Yeah. So the first step is noticing your thoughts when you’re being hard on yourself.
Helene-Jane: Yeah. And then that’s how the brain works, if you realize, you start noticing your thought before your brain goes into the pathways it’s built of habits of, “Oh once we think that taught let’s like going to downward spiral that never ends,” to the point where you just deserve to be living alone in a dark corner talking to no one. If you notice it first, then you can stop it and you can say, “Wait, would I be talking to a friend of mine if they were saying these things? Would I respond that way?”
So first, it’s noticing it to be able to change the neural pathways so that your brain can get used to not saying that. And then it’s also to vocalize it.
It’s not an overnight thing. It took me more than six years. I wasn’t bulimic for, luckily, too long. But I always say I’m a recovering bulimic because it’s always there. It’s never something that’s going to leave me, but it took me a good five or six years before I went to a place where I was actually comfortable with my body and to a point where I could tell people around me, like, “Can we stop talking about your diet? I’m sorry. But I’m trying to get over this idea that diets are the way and that weight loss is always a good thing,” right?
Especially at the beginning of your 20s, I think it’s always like that, but when you’re just starting university, they’re like freshman being afraid of gaining weight because you’re changing so many things and this idea that, “Oh, I lost weight,” “Oh, good for you.” It’s like, no. Why is it important for you to lose that weight? And it’s because it gives you a sense of worthiness. It’s like, “Yes. See I’m disciplined. I can do this.” And that’s actually not how it works because you can lose as much weight as you want but if you don’t actually believe you deserve to be happy now, which is another big part of my life coaching. We can work to make you better. Get from point A, to point B. Sure. But you would need to start by letting yourself be happy now.
Sundae: Now. Absolutely. That’s so central.
Helene-Jane: But you need to because what if your body can’t change, right? You can try as much as you want, but maybe that’s just your natural normal weight. And I know it sounds frustrating but weight loss isn’t always the answer to happiness. Or anything else. I think the point is that you just have to learn that I’m worth it. I think another word is also, deserve it. I deserve to be happy.
If for some people worthy doesn’t work, you deserve to be happy, you deserve to be heard, even if you’re like you say you’re a woman or you’re a person of color or you’re non-binary, you deserve to have your voice heard.
Sundae: Absolutely. And, you know one of the things that when we talk about worthiness, this was not on my radar at your age. This idea of even worthiness didn’t come up. And maybe when Brené Brown started talking about it, like I didn’t even have a word for it. Right? And self-esteem was around, self-confidence but that’s like a totally different level, where these go way deeper.
And one of the things I’ve learned, right now I’m doing a group and we’re talking about self-compassion, the difference between self-criticism and self-compassion, and one of the things that I think is important is understanding common humanity. That everyone struggles. That failure is inevitable, right? It’s like, where do we get this idea that we can’t avoid failure? Where do we get this idea that you’re struggling more than everybody else? And I always, I don’t get it. I say it in every other podcast, You are not alone.
I can’t tell you how many people, when they come to me for my first session, they almost start crying because they’re like, “Oh my God, you get it. And I’m not alone.” I’m like, “I’ve been screaming that from the rooftops!” But we have to let it in our bodies that we people struggle, and it’s part of being human.
Helene-Jane: And I think we have to talk about it though, right? It comes back to kind of at the beginning. We were saying about a 40-year-old not wanting to talk about it to a 20-year-old whereas maybe if I’d known that someone around me who was a bit older was also struggling with it, it would have made me feel less alone. But we are told we are not allowed to, right. We have to be strong all the time.
Sundae: What if they were struggling with something that you haven’t even encountered yet? And you were supporting them. And then 15 years later, it started to happen to you.
Sundae: That would change everything.
Sundae: Right. Because you loved that friend in that moment that you were them and you saw clearly what was happening and because of that experience, from a place of love, when you got there you would be able to extend that courtesy to yourself in a much better way.
Totally. So I know that our time is coming to a close. I’m curious if there’s something important that you want to leave our listeners with that we haven’t discussed or something important that you want to emphasize.
Helene-Jane: I think that we are both coming to the conclusion that, we always all have our struggles and that it’s never over. And like you said, we’ve all had some difficulties and we’ll keep doing it. And that sharing is important. Like you said quickly and we don’t need to go in-depth but I’ve had issues with trying to conceive for over a year and that’s another thing society doesn’t tell us about. And during that time, all of the work I’ve done with body love for myself, I kind of took two steps back because it was again feeling like my body and myself or two different things rather than working together. So, I just have to say that it’s normal that we have our ups and downs. And that I think, yeah, we should be gentle and look to friends.
Hopefully, now we can find friends, we can be friends but find other people to help yourself get through it, and let’s just all admit together, that life is tough man. Rather than compete, it’s really more of a question of learning from each other and being open on both sides or like you said, with the wisdom.
Sundae: Yeah. Totally. I’ve learned so much today.
Helene-Jane: Thank you. I’ve also learned a lot today.
As you can see, Helene-Jane is amazing. If you want to know more about her, we have shared where to find her in the show notes. And she promotes health at every size, a feminist framework, and she encourages everyone to stop waiting before making big changes and decisions in order to be happy now. So check her out at thepositivelifeproject.com.
And stay tuned next week because I have a special treat for you. Each woman from the series is coming back for us to have a four-way conversation about what they’ve learned and what new questions have emerged. Plus a few more surprises. This is all part of something much bigger, what I’m calling the Wisdom Fusion Project.
As you know, in June my business celebrates its 8th business birthday and so I can celebrate, I am offering a gift to my community and also my gift to myself. This is an invitation-only, limited space, six-week intergenerational learning experience among women. You can learn more by going to the link Wisdom Fusion in the show notes. There is no cost, but again, spots are limited so do apply if you feel called, it’s certain to be transformative.
What we’re looking forward to is discovering new facets of yourself, learning from other women’s hard-earned wisdom, sharing your journey, and supporting others who just might need it. Discover that you’re not alone in your challenges, become part of an intergenerational community of women, to call upon in the future for support and redefine womanhood on your own terms. Check it out. You’re invited, apply because spots are going to fill fast.
You’ve been listening to a very special episode of Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with the thoughts from Daisaku Ikeda, a Japanese Buddhist philosopher, educator and author: “Dialogue starts from the courageous willingness to know and be known by or