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Power Through Vulnerability: Interview with Jesper Pilegaard

Time to Rise — Ask the Author Series

Jesper Pilegaard is a sailor who has competed in the Olympics, and a financial manager and key account advisor. A top performer indeed! In my bookTime to Rise, Jesper shares the flip-side of his success — the things you don’t see in the media.

Stress affects everyone. To some degree, it’s a normal part of everyday life. But when our stress levels creep up and every day starts to feel like an Olympic effort, even the strongest of us need a little help.

I’m so proud that Jesper chose to share his story with us, and I just know that so many people will benefit from his message.

Dr. Andrea — In Time to Rise, the title of your chapter is, “How can I be stressed? I’m an Olympic Athlete!” And what I think is so interesting is that you talk about having a really competitive spirit, so after sailing in the Olympic Games, what else have you competed in?

Jesper — Well after the Olympics I sailed competitively for two more years. And then as I was approaching 30 my focus shifted to this idea that we all need to have a job that we can live off for the rest of our lives. I also thought that I would like to find a girl and start a family. So it became time for that. And after 15 years of sailing and competing all together, it was time for change.

Dr. Andrea — But then you also switched into another tense and competitive world — the banking industry.

Jesper — Yes! Back in the period that I was sailing and making my Olympic campaign, I was employed by a bank. They had been very kind to me, and gave me time to travel and sail. Although it wasn’t a job that satisfied me that much, it gave me the freedom I needed.

Dr. Andrea — In your chapter of Time to Rise you talk about getting back into that banking work and this time really feeling the pressure to perform in this job. So can you tell us a bit about the first signs of stress that you experienced?

Jesper — When home banking came out, I was involved with getting that to our customers. And they were so pleased, it was great for them. But I started feeling pressure then to deliver.

I was taking on new partners and new customers. There were three other account managers who then began asking for my help. So for three and a half years I really worked, worked, and worked! I was looking after my customers, managing the relationships with partners and teaching the other account managers.

During this time a legal complication came up with the work I was doing, the managers that had been supporting me lost their jobs, moved on quickly, and suddenly I was alone — nobody was backing me up.

Dr. Andrea — So tell me about your breaking point. What were you experiencing physically and emotionally?

Jesper — I didn’t realize it myself at first. It started with me spending an extra hour at day at the office, just to finish my work-load. My wife noticed me brining this stress home, and she said, “Jesper, RELAX, you’re not at work now!”

If my phone rang, I would always answer, and my reply to the request was always, “Yes, I can do this” — even if this was 11pm.

My wife noticed I came home aggressive and hyperactive — I couldn’t relax anymore. I hadn’t taken any holiday in ages. So I agreed to take a break. But when I came back, nobody had helped with the workload, so my pile was even bigger than usual. And again, I took that stress home with me.

This time my wife told me I needed to see the doctor about my stress levels. I asked her to give me two days to get my workload back under control, promising it would be better soon.

Anyway, I did end up in the doctor’s office, and he told me to stop work immediately. It was only then I realized how far off track I was.

So the doctor told me to relax, do some exercise, and absolutely not use my mobile phone. I needed a “mind reset”. I got home and told my wife, and she said, “Yes, I could have told you that a long time ago!”

I started exercising, and being an Olympian, I of course took it seriously. My neighbor noticed me walking everywhere and actually asked me if I had lost my driver’s license! So I told her that I was ill and walking for my health.

But you know I was so embarrassed and ashamed for not having my job anymore. Being a top athlete you know when and how to get the best results, and there are certain expectations on you.

Dr. Andrea — But there is quite a difference here. In the Olympics you had a top team with you, someone to support you. Here in this job there is nobody that you can rely on left. And it sounds like you weren’t able to give yourself a break, despite this big difference.

Jesper — It was really good for me to get calmer and start to accept help. So to give myself a break, I started to see a psychologist, and then a therapist. They helped me to handle all my thoughts. I saw a few, and when I found a therapist that spoke a language I understood, and who gave me tools to work with, this started to help.

The thing that therapist explained well was that some things are out of our hands. We can’t always handle it ourselves. And when you can’t change something, then don’t take on the responsibility for it.

I still smile now when I think of her question, “why worry?”

Dr. Andrea — So was that easy for you to accept?

Jesper — No! And still I’m not an expert in this, but I’m getting better every day.

Throughout this whole experience, I carried a little notebook from my wife, who encouraged me to journal. At first I would write a few words just to say I’d done my homework! But after a while, I started to use it as a journal. It was really good to get the thoughts out, just to not think over them and hold onto them for longer than necessary. It became very good therapy for me.

After a while, my wife looked at my journal and commented on how many words I had down. She suggested it could be the beginning of a book.

Dr. Andrea — It is therapeutic for us to write and share our truth. It helps us come to terms with the existence of our feelings. So your decision to participate in Time to Rise was a big step up from journaling.

Jesper — It feels like a new passion too. Before, sport was my big passion. But now I’m enjoying speaking about stress to people. And as a man, we don’t speak about emotions or feelings with each other.

We can compete with each other about who is busier, who works harder. But that’s it. And we have to learn how to speak about our feelings, as the stress in our working world grows.

Dr. Andrea — And speaking of how men don’t share their feelings with each other — can you tell us about the very first time to shared your stress with a male friend?

Jesper — I was out on one of my walks, and I met up with one of my friends. My heart was jumping as I tried to tell him. And eventually I did tell him I’d been at home on sick leave. And then very quickly, I changed the subject to ask about his daughter.

He didn’t fall for my change of topic though. He started to ask me about my illness and got me to open up. It was such a release to finally speak the words, “I’m on sick leave with stress”…

Again, my wife being like an oracle, “could have told me that before”. But she let me learn for myself, always leading me softly in the right direction.

But as I had told a friend and he hadn’t taken it well, I thought I could try it again. So slowly I started to open up to other friends. And in fact, they thought my vulnerability showed power and strength to open up and share. I never thought of it that way! But with this my pride started to come back.

Dr. Andrea — And I understand that a part of your plans for the future includes talking to more people about the power in opening up and sharing our stresses.

Jesper — Oh yes. If an Olympic athlete can talk about it, this can show others that actually it’s not embarrassing or shameful. And if we were more open then we can discover our problems and get help before it makes us ill. I might have gotten help sooner if I’d been able to admit my stress levels to myself.

If I can help someone to beat the stress then I will feel great about that. It’s time to start preventing stress too, rather than just treating it. And getting people to start seeing this makes my experience worthwhile.

If you would like to learn more about Jesper, visit his website at

To get your copy of Time to Rise with our special free gifts, head here to see more, order your copy, and be inspired:

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