Ellen's Interview

Ellen's Interview

What keeps you going day in and day out?

I have tons of energy but there are three things I cannot do without: a strong espresso in the morning, exercise and great sleeps.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Something that hasn't happened yet.

What is the most disorienting experience you have ever had?

When I was 15 years old my mother passed away after six years of battling cancer. My world was shattered and I still miss her today. But I can seen now how much that pain taught me as well as the many gifts she offered. She bared her illness with curiosity, she knew how to connect with people, and her sense of purpose and deep spiritual journey enabled her to find peace with her 42 year life.  Witnessing her process and losing her has brought more depth and meaning to my life and my relationships. For all that I am very grateful.

What is the most surprising thing you have done?

Participating in the popular Dutch reality TV show called Wie is de Mol? (Who is the Mole?). On a lark, a friend and I wrote up an application and to my horror and surprise, amongst thousands, I was chosen. For about six months I was recognized everywhere, asked for signatures, followed into the bathroom and received love letters. Just being on primetime television was enough to capture the imagination and attention of millions of people. As Andy Warhol once said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". Well, I got my 15 minutes of fame. Totally bizarre. However, I did get to stand on top of a flying plane as part of the show, which, admittedly, was memorable.

What was your first job and what was its most important lesson?

I found out about a student exchange program called Youth for Understanding and was keen to spend a year in the United States, living with a host family and going to High School. I needed to earn money and I took on several jobs. I was a cashier, did administrative work, cleaned toilets at a camping ground, worked at a dry cleaning facility and stripped beds in a hospital. I was ready to go out into the world and earning money would allow me to make my own independent decisions. That was the main lesson: if you want something you need to work for it, and money brings independence.

What do you have to say to people who are pessimistic about humanity's ability to create just and life-sustaining societies?

I love this quote from Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” To people who struggle to stay positive I’d like to say - choose a cause you care about and join others who feel the same. Our experiences are shaped by what we focus on. Try to experience the world through positive change. 

What cause or issue most motivates you in life?

The cause that most motivates me is what I think will have the greatest transformative potential. It is the protection of our planet and all forms of life. I don't think we will be able to prevent large-scale climate catastrophe, unfortunately. But I do believe this crisis will wake us up and act as an inflection point for humanity. It will help us experience and understand how we are fundamentally connected and will teach us how to live differently.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Find a therapist.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Emma Goldman posterEmma Goldman (1869-1940), I had her poster on my wall for most of my university years. She was a fearless anarchist with an incredible power with words, love of dancing and a radical and inspiring vision. She was born in Russia and at 16 years old escaped her violent father by immigrating to the United States. She advocated for labour rights, fought fascism, promoted sexual freedom for women, birth control and gay and lesbian rights. She served prison terms, was deported back to Soviet Russia and traveled the world. She never compromised her visions. Over dinner I would ask her about this current moment and what she felt we should do and focus on. I would make sure to offer her whiskey, which she used to calm her nerves. And I’d invite a few friends as well and end the evening with a great dance party.

What is your idea of happiness?

Living a life of purpose with lots of celebration and music. 

What is the trait people close to you most deplore in you?

I can be impatient and stubborn (eigenwijs – a Dutch word, says it much better). 

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Patience, because it is not going to get us anywhere.

If travel became impossible, and you had to choose a permanent place of residence, where would you live and why?

This is a difficult one. Ideally it is a place with a great climate, close to a vibrant city and wild nature. But most importantly a place close to loved ones. And my loved ones don't live in one place but all over this planet. So I suppose I would have to find a way to keep traveling. Maybe Start Trek’s holodeck will be a reality by then?

If you could be a world-class athlete in any sport, which would it be and why?

Kite surfing, absolutely. It is complex, involves understanding the winds and currents as well as the techniques of surfing and flying big powerful kites. It builds core strength and at the same time teaches you to move with the forces at play. I have been flying power kites for years and recently had my first kite surfing lesson. But unfortunately that day the ocean was too rough. I hope to go on the water some time this year.

Ellen Sprenger Kite Surfing

If you could be a world-class artists in any discipline, which would it be and why?

Playing Baroque music on the recorder. The recorder has a magical, bird like sound to it. I also love its transportability. And the fact that it’s the underdog of musical instruments, which makes it extra fun. 

If you were forced to choose a single question to ask people for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I would ask: What questions are you asking yourself?