Unleash the Leader Within

In November this year a small group of brave young women will venture to the Pole Circle. Most likely, not one will have any experience hiking through tough, snowy terrain nor sleeping in a tent.

But this will not stop them. They are hand-selected because of their drive and their will to put their mental and physical limits to the test.

Two leaders on the top in South America

Karen Holst and Helene Nilsson in South America where it all began. Photo live it up!

A Life Changing Trip to South America
It all started a few years ago in a running club in south Sweden. During a training session two adventure athletes decided to travel together to South America and climb Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas at 6,962m. The two women hardly knew each other before they embarked on this journey. Little did they know then  that it would be life changing – not only for the two of them but also for many other young girls.

The two women are Karen Holst and Helene Nilsson – both social entrepreneurs with a strong desire to empower young women all over the world.

Are we raising our girls to be perfect and our boys to be brave
After the climb, Karen Holst and Helene Nilsson founded the non-profit live it up! It’s mission is to raise young women into leaders  by challenging their limits and thus discovering what they can in fact achieve. I heard about live it up! for the first time as I watched the TEDx talk that Karen delivered.

To me, this is a seriously important subject. Too many women, young and old,  are afraid to take risks and really push their limits. As a woman, I feel we avoid negotiationg for that corner office at work. Instead, we wear perfect makeup at the gym. We hold ourselves back in so many areas of life.

I believe most girls are taught from a young age to avoid risk and failure. We are taught to smile pretty and play safe. Be careful. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and jump head-first. By the time boys grow into adults they are comfortable with taking risks while girls avoid them. Boys go for the corner office, negotiate that raise and stretch their limits. Girls too often turn the corner at adversity. Are we raising girls to be perfect and boys to be brave?

The young women will likely come with no outdoor experience. Photo live it up!

Leaving the comfort of a warm bed and a charged cell phone
I met Karen Holst at a café in central Malmo. She kindly agreed to a meeting even though she is very busy. live it up! had just announced their next program, Polar Edge 2016, where they intend to venture with their next group of young women in November.

With supervision from the live it up! team, the selected girls for the Polar Edge program will leave behind the comfort of their warm beds, family and mobile phones. They will head into a new world  and journey through cold and harsh terrain with skis and snow mobiles. They will likely come with no outdoor experience – no nights in a tent, no campfire cooking, no outdoor toilet. It’s an incredible step to even apply to such a program!

live it up! programs consist of two phases. The first is meant for the young women to actually experience the power they have within themselves. They are brought on an adventure in the wild where they will challenge  their own limiting beliefs to discover what they are in fact capable of. Along the way, they go through very practical leadership workshops.

The second phase begins when they return and it is designed as a platform for them to experience their own leadership. Again, what they can in fact achieve. They are matched with a mentor from the live it up! network and work for the next six months to create a project that they design with the purpose of improving their community.

The goal is for each participant to come to understand her own vast potential and realize that she is capable of doing so much more than she ever thought possible.

Completely Uncomfortable Environment
Karen Holst knows what it means to push your own limits. She knows firsthand the challenges each of the young women will face who brave the Pole Circle as she herself has been in that position. But she also knows the life-changing potential of the outcome.

The young women who participate in live it up! programs experience themselves as leaders: they learn to make charge in their own lives. Photo live it up!

Some years ago – shortly after giving birth to her first child – she took her adventure in pursuit of expanding her journalism skills. She accepted a position with an adventure film school, packed her bags and headed to the backcountry of Peru. Her thinking was that if she could wield a camera in the toughest of environments and in severe conditions, she could handle a camera any where, any time regardless of the challenge.
During our meeting, she confided to me, “One of my biggest fears in life is actually not living that full life.”

Truth be told, she was completely uncomfortable with the adventure film school before her departure. She didn’t grow up with an outdoor lifestyle. In fact, she had never spent a night in a tent and didn’t even own a pair of hiking shoes – just like the young women she now leads via live it up!.

Bringing out the Leader
While the adventure phase is central to live it up! programs, so is the true development of the young women’s leadership. To Karen Holst a leader is someone who is called to push beyond their own comfort zones–whether it is to lead their own lives with passion and purpose, or it is to inspire others to bring out the best in themselves.

True to her on-the-go energy, Karen doesn’t give leadership a static definition. “ Leadership is a fluid, organic term – it’s fascinating they way it constantly changes and evolves from person to person based on their experiences and key learns. We aim to teach the girls that leadership is a process with constant growth rather than a final destination.”

The young women who participate in live it up! programs experience themselves as leaders: they learn to make charge in their own lives, which can be a major step in some families given the varying cultural contexts. They also learn how to drive change in their communities, improving the lives of others.

Creating a Vision for Life
One of the topics included in the live it up! leadership program is Vision: how do you actually have a vision for your life and for change?

Karen Holst says: “The hope is that if you can begin to strengthen the individuals, helping them to create a vision for themselves, then eventually that attitude of ability spreads as people around them witness things happening.”

live it up! has designed a way to help inspire this motion. Participants have the responsibility of spreading the seeds of their new knowledge gained from the program to others in their communities. Each participant is required to replicate one of the live it up! workshops for 50 other persons, presenting what they feel is one of the most powerful from their experiences with the organization

On this adventure they change the way they see themselves. They rise as role models, mentors and examples of what is possible. Photo live it up!

Ultimately, as these women progress through a live it up! program, they are creating projects that are changing lives, systems and norms in their communities.

“They also change the way they see themselves, the way their families see them, they way their communities see them. They rise as role models, mentors and examples of what is possible, “ says Karen.

Participating full throttle

Karen Holst is herself a living proof of what people can achieve when they push to reach their full potential. Sitting there at the café I feel truly inspired by her level of energy and passion – not only for live it up! – but for life itself. It’s contagious.

In a few months, Karen Holst will have her third baby. While some may regard that as a challenge or even a limit, it does not stop her from driving preparations full throttle for the Polar Edge 2016 program as well as the future of live it up!  But, she goes one step further, venturing into a space that  most would not have the courage and strength to do. The baby will join the week’s adventure in November, traveling with Karen to the north of Sweden , as part of a normally planned and operated program. Of course, the baby will go. With Karen, all things are possible.


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