Biologist, Paraglider, Annecy, France

Esther took an advanced paragliding SIV course in Annecy, France. I was the impostor who was there by accident, observing and taking a regular course. SIV stands for Simulated Incidence in Vol/Flight, covering training for controlling the paraglider in extreme circumstances. Exercises involve completely stalling the flying wing, plunging down and re-inflating the paraglider, spinning/spiraling and regaining control, and other magnificent and exhausting maneuvers. Esther completed the course, and was always asking the right questions, reviewing the videos diligently and thoroughly. She is a biologist in Holland, but paragliding is her passion. I thought WOW, here is a kick ass chick sitting in a group of 15 guys, full stalling her glider. I need to get more information. That's how this post came about, I followed her on a typical flying day.

1. Name.

Iris Esther Dielissen.

2. Where is your hometown?

Zwolle, a medium sized Dutch city with a nice historic centre.

For paraglider pilots: It is situated between our beautiful soarable dunes on the coast and the best towing spot for cross country paragliding in the Netherlands.

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

Biologist and paraglider pilot.

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?

As long as I can remember I've been fascinated by the natural world around me. I am fortunate to have parents who love to travel and introduced me to other countries and cultures at an early age (for example Venezuela, South Africa, Namibia). My dad is a bird watcher so he taught me how to spot wildlife and notice the difference between species. So I am a biologist at heart, although it took me some time to discover that. I actually applied to study psychobiology at first (study close to neuroscience), but when I was hiking in the Azores, I decided that I wanted a study that had to do more with my natural surroundings, instead of doing research on rat brains in a lab. That moment's decision was very important and I have never regretted it. I now work for the regional government as a consultant in ecology and management of the nature reserves within my province. Before this I worked for a travelling agency for hiking & cycling tours. Paragliding is a (very important!!) hobby now, I don't know where I will end up one day, maybe again in the travelling business.

5. What did you study in school?

Biology with a specialization in ecology and natural resource management.

6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

I didn't picture myself spending so much time in an office, and actually like what I do. My brain is challenged in this job and I can use my skills as a biologist in a way that has impact, which is great. However I still think it should be temporary, say for a few years. The trade off is that my body doesn't get as much activity as it actually requires and majority of the time I am not exploring my surroundings but sitting at my desk. I hope in the future I can do work that is more balanced in both or I just go full force on paragliding and travelling for a while.

7. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?

Getting a permanent contract on my current job as a biologist and to learn how to pilot a wing and fly my first cross country distances.

8. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?

No huge disappointments.... yet! Only small ones, not one in particular that stands out.

9. Advice for other women?

Fear less, don't think things are not for you because you are a woman, take a leap of faith now and then, trust your own judgement and go with your gut.

10. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it for "feminist values"?

I think there is still a lot of pressure on what women should be, especially when it comes to appearance. Prettiness gives a women certain privileges and power over men, however I think for good looking women it is harder to gain respect in a professional career and to get opportunities to lead, especially in male dominated sectors. If you are a good looking you for example may have more chances to get hired, but there is less chance you are hired as a 'boss'. The way forward? I think women should help each other up more. There is too much competition between women, and too little empowerment. This is one of the ways forward, another one is to acknowledge discrimination on gender and on race still exists in modern western societies.

11. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?

In extreme natural environments. This can be in the air, flying but also deep jungles, an arctic tundra, on top of a volcano. The raw beauty of our world in these places is very overwhelming, making me feel very tall and very small at the same time.

12. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

Paragliding for sure. Because it is very mentally challenging, but also graceful and explorative. Before I started paragliding (2015) I tried diving, surfing and was following yoga classes. But nothing has been as amazing as flying a paraglider. It is very rewarding in terms of experiences and I like the mental challenge a lot.

13. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?

I think I haven't found my ideal job jet, or haven't found a way to make my current job my ideal job.

14. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

I would like to learn to trust my own decisions more. I find it very hard sometimes not to be in doubt, and just go for one way or the other especially in my job. In flying it can be hard to see the difference between 'true fear' and just making yourself crazy with scary thoughts that are not rational nor are your gut feeling. This is something that can be trained if you pay closer attention to your thoughts and feelings while making decisions. I hope that by training this while paragliding and being aware of the parallel with other situations in life will help me to grow more self-confident and be more decisive in my work as well.

15. Anything you'd do differently (if you had another go at life)?

Not really, I have very few regrets and am still behind the choices I made in the past because I honestly think they where the best I could do at the time. If I would have a second life to live I would maybe be single for a longer time to see how that feels and how that would influence my self development (I have been in a relationship since 17, 12 years now), but I don't regret any of the choices I made to live the life I have now.

16. What inspires you?

Nature, flying and people that are bright-eyed, enjoying life and create positive impact with their job.

17. What are you hopeful about?

About the fact I still see myself growing as a person even if I don't always know which way I'm going.

18. What are some ingredients to a good life?

Flying, good food, sex, warm relationships and having a job that means something to you and has a positive effect on others.

19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

I have just started reading Paul Auster's 4321, recommended to me by a friend. And I read Classic Routes a beautiful paragliding book with descriptions and pictures some of the most epic and best known cross country paragliding routes in the world.

20. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?

One of my best friends Merel, who a professional scientist in tropical ecology and recently moved to Switzerland for a post-doc. I really admire her take on life, she's very relaxed but not in a lazy way. She works very hard on her scientific projects and has a lot of ambition, still she always finds time to climb (she loves rock climbing), travel and invest in relationships. Bèta science is very male dominated, which makes it less attractive to women, but she is definitely holding ground there.

21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?