Paraglider, Teacher, Annecy, France
I met Benedicte in Annecy, in fact stayed with her, and got to know her through a paragliding connection. She is so kind but at the same time no nonsense kind of woman. I appreciate that very much, because there is no tip toeing around. Everything is in the open and no misunderstandings. Benedicte's answers are so honest, that they sort of cut through the BS. I also appreciate that, in fact am inspired by her very much. I was left with her advice to "be what you want to be. Move on, learn from your failures and be happy!"
2. Where is your hometown?
Menthon St. Bernard (near Annecy) France, but I grew up near Chambery until the age of ten and then Paris suburbs. I am 53 and I have a twin sister and 3 brothers. I have two children age 25 (daughter) and 22 (son).
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am a graduate in agricultural research, and have several MSc in finance, sustainability and education. I worked as a trader-arbitrageur for 12 years in the City of London as a first career and stopped when my children were born. I then trained as a ski instructor, and did some property development for a few years. I also trained in sustainable development in mountain areas and worked on the renovation of mountain huts here in Haute Savoie for a while. All in all, I lived on and off 25 years in the UK (in London) until I had the opportunity to do a supply teaching job for a few month: this lead me to take teaching as a new career in 2006. I am UK-trained and teach Biology, Physics and Chemistry to high school seniors.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?
It was a mix of opportunities to understand who I am and what I like. I am bright and have a lot of energy, and this is not quite common in girls of my generation. I certainly did understand that going back to the (London) City in 2005 was not what I wanted: arrogance and chauvinism in this environment is what I have seen worse on this planet so far, especially if you have children.
I understood that the value of a person is not how much she earns, but the projects for the others she creates and leads to improve our life together. Mixité (eng. diversity) is the real value of humanhood: colour, race, gender, age… racism is present everywhere although these differences are what makes us able to be so efficient. Why do we deny this so often?
I have also regularly been involved in voluntary work: I broke an ankle really badly in 2003 and helped for two years a Charity looking after young adults and children with varied life problems (health, unemployment, jail, drugs…). I have also been involved from 2013 to 2017 in the female commissions of the French free flying federation, starting a strong female dynamic to train women pilots and help them nurture their self-esteem through paragliding. I am still strongly involved in this project.
My work as a science teacher is mostly with young women in the social and health sector: it is really overwhelming to be able to make a difference for some of them. As an educator, my work involves to teach them skills but mostly to help them understand the talents they have deep inside them and increase their confidence and self-esteem. “you are fit to succeed, even if you do not feel so yet!"
5. What did you study in school?
Natural sciences mostly, but really I am interested in everything. I speak 4 languages fluently and understand a few more properly; I like geography, history, linguistics, social sciences, and I love to have the opportunity to train again in more subjects. I have lots of projects for when I have more time, to learn more, for my retirement.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
Very different although competitive sport is still a leading thread: I used to compete in sailing from 17 to 21, and then skiing from 37 to 45, and I am now competing in paragliding since 2007 (ten years already and the last five in the Word Cup). I was the youngest trader in the City of London at the age of 21 and a star then, among the “golden boys” clique: I will write a book one day about these days! I was so young, my skirts were short and nothing could beat my innocence!
7. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?
My divorce was a really important decision, as I freed myself from a very controlling person after 18 years, and learned to make my own way. I have been a free mind since! I do not rely on anyone for my living nor my decisions and I cope with my choices. This complies with the choice of paragliding as a sport: you make your own decisions, you cope, you win, you loose, and you reflect.
8. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
Sexism is really hard to understand. It is mostly education lead and this will take a couple of generations to change. Yes, guys (but also some girls…), it is possible to be a clever, hardworking and witty girl, and to be pretty and feminine, and to be successful and strong-minded. No, we are not here for your pleasure. I have lots of difficulties to accept these people and it took me time to understand that they are wrong, not me.
9. Advice for other women?
Be what you want to be. Move on, learn from your failures and be happy!
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”?
It is a difficult issue. Situations vary a lot in today’s world so there is not a straight answer. But yes, women are as gifted as any men, and there is room for everyone to succeed with their own skills. The best skills that are used in teamwork don't depend on gender, and this means diversity in the project: any diversity (gender, age, race…), if possible with gender parity.
11. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
Outside in the wilderness, in the sky (paragliding).
12. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
My achievements in paragliding, skiing…. my life style, my relationship with my students.
13. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
Be happy. (PS, at 53 I am not growing up anymore, I might actually reduce in height now :-)
But I have more interests for when I am too old. I have no real project, but always look for opportunities to move on.
14. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
Money issues, being able to sustain my lifestyle much longer, staying cool in front of a real macho.
15. Anything you'd do differently (if you had another go at life)?
No looking back, I have already learned from that, I learn everyday.
16. What inspires you?
Other people around me, young women, my students.
17. What are you hopeful about?
The human race.
18. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Challenges and opportunities. No fear, go for it! “le monde appartient a ceux qui se levent tot".
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I love historical stories, police investigations, anything that requires curiosity and thinking outside the box.
20. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?
My daughter. She is amazing! Bright, beautiful and daring. I love her to death.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
Facebook, mostly for my personal life, with a rather modest friends circle. I do not like to appear as a person, I prefer my work and achievements to appear. I do not need the others’ approval/judgement to know how I am doing.