Christin Lidzba

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
Sep 1 · 15 min read
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After reading Chris’s answers to this interview, I thought it would be quite a challenge to write its introduction. On top of that, Chris dared me to pick her last answer as a prompt…

“If gravity is just a theory and the center of the earth is made of strawberry jam, how would that change the way you live your life?”

Strangely or not, that prompt made my mission a lot easier. Over the last year or so, I’ve had the privilege of crossing paths with people who turned my world upside down, like Chris, and created a sense of belonging to something bigger. I call them liminal beings; the ones who live in the threshold between different worlds. I found my tribe — I’m still looking for the strawberry jam though.

Chris is an unstoppable force of nature who’s lived more than a thousand lives. So, the best I can do is shut up and let you enjoy the flow of life that follows.

Bird’s Eye View

Can you give us a glimpse of your life story?

I could also spell it out with details: I was born into the margins of rural, communist East German society into a Polish-Italian-German Catholic family. We did not belong and yet we did. The long and short version of this back-story has greatly influenced my sense of belonging, identity, justice, and freedom, and thus my life story.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was just like everyone on the eastern side, stuck and unable to travel, and yet all I wanted was to leave. I desired to see places and meet people that had different lives and truths than the ones presented to me. I lived in my books, my fantasies of faraway places, in their smells, colors, and how the sunset might feel there. My world-traveling Italian grandfather, Rizzeri, who was a hobby photographer, had left behind thousands of slides of his time in Northern Africa and Southern Europe. With his heritage, I “traveled the world” beyond the Iron Curtain whenever I could. I also had the eclectic music collection of my dad and with this, too, I “traveled the world”.

Life, and the possibilities of life stories, did present in more ways to me through these means than through the narrow horizon of my daily lived reality behind the Iron Curtain. And when the wall fell, I was gone out into this world and still am to this day.

Life, my insatiable curiosity, and my desire to contribute to a more just and equal world has truly taken me places.

At 15, while setting up a Fair Trade shop in my parish, I was determined to study and work for the “rest of my life” in the global south as a human rights and women’s rights activist. Truly dedicated to this path I did end up working for NGOs, Government Agencies, and UNICEF across many countries of the global south for a good 20 years. I had the privilege to live and work in magical and yet truly complicated spots on this planet with names we all know and have preconceived images of, such as The Gambia, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Somalia, and Haiti. Moving between these at times challenging realities and European realities has often left me with irreconcilable friction. The friction of the realities of this planet. This irreconcilable friction also permeated my relationship with the work that I was doing, within the mainstream humanitarian and aid industrial complex, over the years. I wanted to make a difference and yet I felt I was part of an agenda that feeds a global system of injustice, resource exploitation, and inequality rather than truly fighting it with all its might.

I resigned and resigned again. I overused the Adorno quote: “There is no right life in the wrong life” until I could not use it anymore without losing self-respect. After 10 years of failed divorce from my “mission for the rest of my life” and re-inventions in the same system, I left it all behind in 2016. I could say I successfully “burned my bridges” just to make sure I wouldn’t return.

Four years later I am finding myself here in the south of Portugal, still aiming for a world more just and still driven and inspired by the seeds of my childhood.

Our current project, Nautiluz, is inspired and fed by the sum of all my lessons thus far. It was, in fact, born out of them.

How did you manage to adapt to so many different, and complex, environments?

There is a way, I have and still resort to when dealing with yet another friction between the inner and outer worlds, which any experience for me boils down to — this can be in the middle of Berlin or the Liberian rainforest. A disconnect is a disconnect, and an observation that contradicts or challenges my nicely constructed belief system and worldview is always met with an inner reaction and later response. So a very helpful tool in dealing with irreconcilable friction has been to become the “participant-observer”; the “ethnographer”; the “ sociologist”; the one that removes herself and yet stays but changes her glasses, changes her perspective. When I really could not handle it or say my inner reaction, this became to this day my “last resort”. And it did support me a lot in adapting and gaining deeper insights into many storylines of the same story.

What does diversity mean for you?

As a passionate ethnographer, I think of what anthropologist Wade Davis calls the multitude of “ethnospheres” on this planet. It fills me with sadness to know that every day, every week, every month our world loses another “ethnosphere” with yet another language dying, as another tribe becomes extinct. It’s not just the tribe and the language that dies but with it an entire cosmological, psychological, emotional, narrational human landscape: it is an “ethnosphere” that dies. Our planet is losing diversity in species of all kinds, cultures of all kinds, and “ethnospheres” of all kinds. We are moving in great strides towards a global monoculture.

As organizations, we can ask how much space we can possibly create for a multitude of “ethnospheres” within our midsts to fill the concept of diversity with life and meaning.

Being a feminist since ever, how do you see the current state of feminism?

What about leadership? How do you see the leadership role in this uncertain world?

But for every poor leader there has been an inspiring one. What made them inspiring for me? Their courage, vulnerability, grace and flaws, their failures, service, insight, dedication, and their passion and vision. In my teenage years and youth, I was hungry to read biographies of leaders, above all female thought leaders. Rosa Luxemburg, Sophie Scholl, Virginia Woolf, and Frida Kalo were my ultimate heroines in my family of many chosen heroines. I understood early on that in order to achieve the high ideals of global justice, equality, and making unheard voices heard on both small and grand scales takes courageous and brave leadership as opposed to spineless fellowship. Uncertainty is a given — it was in the past, it is today and it will be tomorrow. Whatever we set out to achieve or stand up for, the outcome is beyond our control and so is the environment in which we operate. And yet as leaders, it is our task to hold whichever purpose or vision we pursue, dear and in focus. I think when it comes to leadership styles, I still have more questions than answers and somehow I feel that is a good thing. The world truly does not need another leadership book or course full of answers and “how-tos”. I would love one full of questions.

Maybe hard questions like: Are we/Am I ready to be brave and vulnerable? Are we/Am I ready to stand alone in the wilderness at times making hard choices with no one to ask but the inner compass that knows no map? What does it truly mean to lead oneself, anyone, a team, a country? These are questions I ask myself often and their answers are ongoing explorations of my daily challenges and past experiences of leadership. I often think of two things: 1. “service leadership” and how this might come into form without clearly wanting to define it and 2. “emerging leadership & leaders” in a living (emerging) system and how do I or the system/the team act as an enabler and facilitator of that emergence.

Learning and Reinvention

What does learning mean for you? And how do you learn?

Do I always go there? No.

I think the image of me as a child just going into the public library close to our school and sitting there among all these books, with no intention to actually read them (all), says something. Sometimes I would just sit there and inhale all that book-smell and imagine it is the knowledge in them I absorb while wondering if other people might do the same. I understood later, that’s not how I learn. Sitting among books does not cut it. Smelling them does not cut it. The same goes for watching the lives of others instead of living a life of my own. I suppose that’s how I learn: through reading, observing, immersing, asking questions, seeking questions, trying, failing, falling, reflecting, integrating my learnings, repeating my mistakes, and getting back up. Every hour, day, week after week, month after month. Driven by my curiosity and by the desire to protect my curiosity at the same time.

How many times did you reinvent yourself?

There are these big reinventions and the smaller ones in life, right? The ones where I have hit a wall with no door close by — honestly there have been many of those. However, my personality is such that I still think “THERE MUST BE A DOOR; I WILL FIND IT!! I just need to change my strategy.” Sometimes this worked, but often it did not.

I would say one major reinvention has taken almost a 10-year process of letting go of an identity and vision of myself in this world that truly did not work anymore, a process in which I had lost my curiosity and recovered it. A process I am still in the midst of, with an unknown, undefined outcome of infinite possibility.

How do you know that it’s time to start again?

When my curiosity is gone, when my joy is gone, when I feel stuck, and when I have lost my passion as well as my vision, that’s the moment I better send in the rescue team. It is then that I have lost my capacity to “think and act”.

Portugal, Education, and Nautiluz

Why did you fall in love with Portugal?

It is the first time and the first place my whole being just wanted to stay and not move on, something I am still equally puzzled and intrigued about.

It is, of all places I have lived, my first choice, yet the hardest and at times loneliest.

What made you decide to work in education?

Can you give us an overview of Nautiluz and the experience of creating it?

The pedagogical foundation of our learning center will be the Lumiar Methodology which has a strong focus on learner autonomy, competency-based, and project-based learning.

The creation of Nautiluz in the last one and a half years has been an incredible journey of reinvention in itself so far, both frightening and enlightening. Whenever we think we hit a wall, another door opens. It’s been a journey of upholding the vision and yet leaving enough space to navigate the uncertainty such a project brings along in and of itself, on top of the uncertainty the global corona crisis has delivered to each and everyone’s doorstep. It’s been a journey for each and everyone who has joined it, pushing each and everyone far out of their own comfort zone. Making it a magical and deeply vulnerable process for all as individuals on their own journey of reinvention. The team we have now I could not have dreamed of and its diversity fills me with such joy. We are all scared in the most beautiful of all senses and so in love with what we do. Edges are those places that we seek, the edge of our comfort, the edge of our knowing, the edges of the possible and impossible, this is where I find myself with Nautiluz, this is where we find ourselves as the Nautiluz collective. I can not but love it all, it’s most likely the dearest, yet most frightening project to my heart so far.

Past and Future

Can you share some of the major lessons you learned in life?

Which big questions do you have on your mind currently?

How do you face the future? Do you make plans for it?

What should I have asked, but didn’t?

REINVENTION.SPACE

A live experiment aimed at helping people to reinvent…

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta

Written by

Change Design and Innovation, Product Leadership, Lifelong Learning, and Reinvention.

REINVENTION.SPACE

A live experiment aimed at helping people to reinvent themselves.

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta

Written by

Change Design and Innovation, Product Leadership, Lifelong Learning, and Reinvention.

REINVENTION.SPACE

A live experiment aimed at helping people to reinvent themselves.

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