by Liz Jansen
Last week I asked for your help in preparing a simulated interview. They’re great questions and a tough interview! Here are my responses to your answers.
How does your family respond to your riding and your writing?
I began riding a motorcycle on the family farm when I was sixteen and my younger brothers bought a Honda Cub. My parents didn’t blink an eye. They had more pressing concerns, like making ends meet. My five younger siblings grew up with me riding, so to them, it was just another thing I did.
Now it’s been part of my life for so long they’d think it odd if I was without a motorcycle. They do get concerned when I head out on long solo journeys but know it’s futile to try and persuade me not to go. I don’t know what they think of my writing.
What do you consider to be your greatest 3 accomplishments either in in your personal or professional life?
- Getting over my phobias of flying and cats. Both used to strike terror in my heart. Now I love2 cats and tolerate flying.
- Leaving my marriage and then my corporate career eight months later (2002/2003). As my spirit awakened, both decisions were part of the same overhaul, and necessary for me to thrive.
- Completing the quest I wrote about in Crash Landing. It reconnected me with who I am.
Tell me why you are such an ardent motorcyclist?
Being out on the open road on my motorcycle feeds my soul. It introduces me to the most amazing people and experiences—that includes fellow riders, and the curious people who approach and share their stories with me—moto and other. It challenges me, pushes my comfort zone, and makes me grow. It opens my heart. It teaches me about life and myself, and gives me stories to write about. I experience life and the landscape I’m in, rather than being an observer.
How did you morph from your corporate/nursing career to writer of self discovery-type books?
Nursing was my first career and I entered without giving it much thought. After working in hospitals for five years, I morphed into occupational health and safety and from there into corporate human resources, and training and development. It took many years for me to realize the roles I was in weren’t a fit. Once I let my heart have a voice, everything changed, but aside from the dramatic transitions in my marriage and career, which were catalysts, the rest was an evolution.
I started my new life doing motorcycle tours, with the intent on creating the space for others to experience the same expansion, confidence, and personal power I became aware of through riding. Those assets don’t disappear when you get off the motorcycle and I became aware of a deep desire to help others discover their gifts. The writing came unexpectedly and I have two people to thank for getting me started: Claude Aumont gave me a chance to write for Ontario Tourism/Destination Ontario, and Mark Richardson, then an editor with the Toronto Star, kindly published an article I wrote. It took years for me to find my writing voice.
How did the crash change your life, your perspective, yourself?
It’s been the biggest change of my life. It made me accept the futility of thinking I’m in control. I learned planning is overrated. I still plan and follow through on my intentions, but am open to whatever happens. Experiencing how quickly life can change was sobering. It brought me face to face with the “crashes” of my ancestors (although mine paled compared to what they went through). I understood better why they believed and acted as they did. It showed me how values like stoicism, efficiency, and the need for achievement can be both assets and detriments. It consolidated and strengthened my values.
Why did you want to take the trip? What were you hoping for?
I was searching for an answer to who I was and what I was on earth to do before my culture gave me their answers and tried to shape me. Who was I under all the layers of roles and expectations? How could I live my greatest potential in my remaining years?
The answers, I thought, would come from two sources: exploring my lineage and visiting the lands my ancestors had landed on as they established themselves in Canada, and a better understanding of earth spirituality through Indigenous wisdom.
I thought what I’d learn about what the earth has to teach us and from Indigenous wisdom would be far more insightful than a deep exploration of my ancestry. That I could research through stories and family and cultural records.
Did what you hoped for come in a different way or did what you hoped for change?
It absolutely came in a different way. I thought I knew how the answers would come and that they’d come from outside of me. But it turned out I had them all along. I just had to listen and know where to look. What I’d hoped for didn’t change but how the understandings arrived was unforeseen. They were also far more profound and meaningful than I could have imagined.
What was the hardest part of the crash and how it impacted your body, your life?
Losing my mobility and independence, even temporarily, was very difficult. Having to ask for help was humbling. Living in relative stillness, having so much time for thoughts to wander in and try and mess with my mind, was a challenge. I had to come to terms with them, which turned out to be a big step forward on my journey.
What happened that you could not possibly have foreseen?
The response from people when I spoke my truth, with honor and respect, without worrying about how it would be perceived. Reconnecting with extended kin reacquainted me with a powerful heart-bond. I learned that when I gave my heart voice, other hearts responded in kind. Entrenched fears dissolved. Relationships deepened to a new level. Understanding the stories behind dysfunctional beliefs dissipated their energy. It made me aware of how easily I judge without understanding the full story.
What are your dreams for the future? and everything else!
I don’t have specific dreams. My intentions are to follow my heart (with a little input from my mind), be open to any possibility, and not put up roadblocks induced by fear—and follow where that leads. I know that when I do that, magic happens, beyond anything I could dream up!
Where in the world would you like to ride if money and time were no issue?
I’d love to travel to Russia, Ukraine, and Poland—the lands my ancestors called home for centuries. Besides money and time, I need to consider the condition of the roads in the area I’d be traveling in, and whether I have the skills to navigate them.
What little luxury would you never set out on a bike trip without?
My sleeping cot and/or mattress.
When are you coming to Europe and what is your favorite coffee/cake?
I’d love to get to Europe but don’t see it on the radar. Yet. These things can change on a dime. My favorite coffee is organic herbal tea. I avoid wheat/sugar/processed food so that rules out most cakes.
What was your motivation to start writing about your riding experiences?
When I left my corporate career in 2002, I had the good fortune to work with an executive coach. In response to her guidance, I wrote out five and ten year goals for anything I wanted. Somehow, writing a book got on the 10-year list. Before I could start such an aggressive project, I needed writing experience (and courses). My riding experiences, the people I met through riding, and what those things meant to me were what I knew. They also became the subject of my first book: Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment.
I would love to know more about the solo aspect of traveling and camping as a female out there on the road. Things you look for to be safe and helpful tips for ladies that are thinking of doing this.
It’s an amazing experience and I highly recommend other women (and men) get out there and try it. Make sure your riding skills are up to the conditions you’ll be in. Have an understanding of basic mechanics. Start with a one- or two-night ride. Ask for help when you need it. Most importantly, if you want to do it, get out there and do it! Have fun! I have many articles about how to do this throughout my blog.
How is aging changing your approach to adventure?
My definition of adventure has changed. I’m more conscious of staying healthy in body, mind, and spirit so I can perform at my best. When I’m riding my motorcycle, I don’t push myself as hard as I once did, or try and wring as many miles out of a day. My stamina and strength aren’t the same as they once were, nor is my reaction time, so I adjust my riding style accordingly. I want to live life to the fullest, to embrace each moment, and to ride a motorcycle for as long as I can. If anyone asks me about retirement, I tell them that means new tires on my motorcycle.
There are other ways I have adventures, but motorcycling is the most demanding, thus more susceptible to potential effects of aging. I know I have more days behind me than ahead of me and I want each of them to count!
What is something you wish you could have told/asked your younger self about life and some of the preconceptions/assumptions you might had then?
Be who you are. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart. Listen to your intuition. Don’t be afraid of what other people think, or what you think other people are thinking. They have their own hopes and fears. Share your gifts with others. That’s where you find the most meaning and how you can be of greatest service.
What are questions you wish you could ask your future self?
How am I doing with living my fullest potential? Want to go for a ride? 🙂
While you were writing the book, did you continue to gain a better understanding of yourself, your family, your lineage? Did more of your story come together as you were writing; things you didn’t realize become more clear?
Yes on all counts. When I started out to research my lineage, my expectations of what I’d learn and how I’d learn were very different than what happened. I didn’t expect to crash and that changed the whole course of my story—in a good way. I started off expecting to write a historical non-fiction book about my Mennonite experience and ended up with a very personal memoir, with universal messages. So much became clearer during the writing, and my whole perspective changed. It had a profound effect on me. Through that, I was finally able to reconnect with who I am.
As someone, familiar with your upbringing, I’m curious as to how your family reacted to your fiercely independent self! What pressures, if any, did you feel regarding a single, non-traditional lifestyle…..eg a motorcycling woman doing her own thing?
The only pressure I was under was to attend church and adhere to traditional religious beliefs.
It’s ironic. On a collective, cultural level, Mennonites have always prided themselves on being different from “the world”, so while there have been expectations around cultural conformity, that independence is woven into the fabric of those born into it.
I come from a long line of independent women. The following examples don’t begin to tell the story. My paternal grandmother, Liese, defied the Tatars when they invaded her home, and did what she needed to do all her life to survive. Susa, my maternal grandmother, (and her twin sister Anna) did not give in to the church’s demand to get rebaptized when she married because she came from a different branch of Mennonites than her husband. That would have been a big deal!
My mother was determined to have a nursing career, even if it meant alternating years of work and school to get there. Although both my parents were involved in church activities, they enjoyed personal and professional activities outside the community. They loved to travel to foreign countries and try different things. My dad gave up stable, well-paying employment for the uncertainty of farming. My parents encouraged all of us to be work hard and be self-sufficient. Once I was on my own, they were unconditionally supportive of what I did. They may not have envisioned where life would take me, but then, neither did I.