As a trainer and coach at The Arc, Annika inspires us every day with her fierce honesty and intuitive understanding of our feelings. When we asked her who she looks to for inspiration, she told us about her grandmother. Here she generously shares with us why her grandmother is her idol and the five pearls of wisdom she received from her.

One of the people who inspires me the most is someone you won’t have heard of. She was not famous. She was not rich. She was not successful in a way that the rest of the world would call ‘successful.’ In my eyes, though, she was.

These three things are my measure of success in life:
Do you live life to the fullest?
Do you inspire others?
Do you go your own way, no matter what others say?

For my grandmother, a woman who grew up during war and deprivation, I can answer all these questions with a definite yes. I will never forget the important life lessons she shared with me. Now, I’d like to share them with you…

1. We only have one body.

Aging can be difficult and the way we treat our body when we are young impacts how our body looks and feels later in life. We can buy new clothes, but we can not buy ourselves a new skin. So it is our task to care of it.

2. Don’t overthink it, just do it.

In the 1950s, women were not allowed to work without the permission of their husbands. Nevertheless, my Grandma just went out to find a job. She really lived by her principle – and she told me to “just do it” pretty much every time I saw her. It’s definitely one of the hardest lessons for me to put into practice, but she did it!

3. Every day is a present.

My MThe one moment that shaped my grandma’s life the most was when she nearly died. Together with her stepmother and other war migrants, she was fleeing from East Prussia to Hameln during winter. Their path was attacked by low-flying aircrafts. People died and one cart broke. My grandma had been taught to jump into the ditch beside the road whenever she heard aircrafts coming. It didn’t matter if there was snow, thistles, stinging nettles or thorns. Anything was better than dying. So she jumped into the snowy ditch and was lying there under the white blanket.

She thought she was dead. Everything was so silent. After a few minutes – minutes that felt like eternity – she realised that she was alive. In that moment of pure shock she decided to live her life to the fullest and enjoy it as much as possible.

4. Be open and curious. Be a true critic of the world.

Sometimes the world seems like an unkind place, too dark to deal with. It can feel annoying or frustrating to read the news and to take part in the outside world. Two winters ago I struggled to deal with that horrible outside world, so I called my grandma. She said: “Just be open and curious about it. It is very interesting what is happening everywhere.”

And she told me about her childhood. She told me about how the grown-ups would discuss the war, Hitler, Russia, France and politics. She told me about how the kids were not supposed to listen. She told me about how she hid under the table after dinner to hear what was going on, where they needed to flee to now, where the borders had opened, and what was going on in the rest of the world.

Throughout her whole life, my grandma kept a non-judgmental attitude towards the world. She would listen first, informing herself by using any media she could get her hands on, then observe what was going on and try to make sense of it without judging it as dark, bad or horrible.

Without this judgement she managed to keep her eyes and ears open and curious like a child. She decided: no drama. Instead she chose to really see what was going on and face each event with open curiosity, interest and questions. She was a true critic of the world around her.

5. Be you – no matter what society tells you. Stand your ground and live up to what you believe in.

When my grandma was a kid she was sent to buy bread in a bakery nearby. She did not like to use the common phrase, “Heil Hitler!” (compulsory at the time when greeting anyone on the street and in shops). One morning she decided to greet the baker and the soldier who was in the bakery with “Grüß Gott” (which is still used in Austria) instead of “Heil Hitler”.

The baker looked shocked when the little kid entered his bakery, addressing him in such a bold way. The soldier flew into a rage, slapped her in the face, and demanded: “what did you say?”

My grandma answered calmly and kept saying “Grüß Gott” whenever and wherever she wanted to.

Another time, she was going home on the bus one evening. She offered her seat to an old lady. All of a sudden, the bus driver yelled at her and told her to leave the bus and walk home. “How dare you, a German girl, give your seat to a Jewish lady? Don’t you have eyes in your head? She is wearing a yellow star!”

A soldier who witnessed the situation protected my grandma and spoke up, saying that it would not be appropriate to let her walk home in the dark. He convinced the bus driver to drive on. My grandma stayed stubbornly on the bus. For her it mattered that older people get a seat, no matter which sign they wore on their clothes or which culture they belonged to.

These are my Grandma’s pearls of wisdom. I believe we can all learn from her. She was bold, determined, and stuck by what she knew was the right thing to do. I am so proud of who she was. And I am very glad that I got to know and learn from this wonderfully strong woman who shaped my life with her presence.

Who shapes your life with their presence?