This woman was kidnapped three times

I recently interviewed a woman who is in complete service to what she does and even willing to die for her work. You must know about her! Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist who has photographed women under the Taliban, documented misogyny in the Congo, and been on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11. From capturing the lives of transgender prostitutes in New York to her continued work on Syrian refugees and those displaced by war, Lynsey seeks to do justice for her subjects by capturing the true essence of their humanity.

Listen to the full episode here.

Lynsey is also a New York Times bestselling author. Her memoir, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, is so filled with vivid details and vulnerability, including her very close call as a hostage in Libya, that Steven Spielberg will soon be directing a movie based on her life starring Jennifer Lawrence. Lynsey’s spirit and drive will inspire you to recognize the unique impulses and passions we all have inside of us.

Highlighted Excerpt

Majo: One thing that really struck me about your story, because I work with a lot of women who are finding their path in their twenties, is how you really got in touch with your calling early on. I’d love to read something from your book if that’s alright. It’s when you saw Salgado’s exhibition, and I just love what you wrote here:

Until that exhibit, I hadn’t quite known what that was or could be. I hadn’t thought of photography as both art and a kind of journalism. I hadn’t known that my hobby could be my life. I knew I wanted to tell people’s stories through photos to do justice to humanity, to provoke the kind of empathy for the subjects that I was feeling in the moment.
I doubted I would ever be able to capture such pain and beauty in a single frame, but I was impassioned. I walked through the exhibition and cried.

At that moment, you knew, didn’t you?

Lynsey: Totally. I mean, it was sort of like, I kept knowing. I knew when I started shooting the mothers in the Plaza de Mayo, and I knew when I walked into that exhibit. I knew that was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know if I would be capable. But at the same time, it didn’t matter to me. I was sort of willing to take that risk and throw myself into it because I thought, This is where I want to be and this is how I want to express myself. And I knew that photography would also take me around the world if I could manage it.

Majo: I love the fact that you cried, because I think tears are a good indication that you’re onto something.

Lynsey: Well, I cry a lot (chuckles). It’s funny because people look at me and go, “Oh you’re so tough, you’ve been kidnapped twice, you’ve done this and that…” and they’re always surprised by the fact that I get very emotional. But I think that emotion opens me up to people in a way that opens the story to me. I think it’s very important to be emotional and to be open to what people have to offer because otherwise… I mean, I don’t want to be that person who’s too hardened or too jaded.

Majo: Do you think that has helped you to digest some of the experiences you’ve been through?

Lynsey: I think so. I think talking about them and really feeling them… it’s important to keep that communication open. If I go through something difficult, I keep talking about it and really feel it. I don’t know what the ultimate answer is for processing trauma, but I know what works for me.

Majo: Was there any point where you felt fed up? Like, I’m done with this?

Lynsey: I mean, in Libya… that would have been the moment. Because it was a week of brutal treatment, very terrifying, a lot of psychological torture. You know, repeated execution threats… but there actually wasn’t a moment where I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” There were repeated moments where I thought, Will I survive?

There were times when I thought I needed to step back and reevaluate how I would do this work, but I never thought, I’ll never do this work again. That’s just not me. I still really believe in people. And I believe in the ability to negotiate with people and talk with them about anything, even to negotiate my own freedom.

Listen to the full episode here.

Show Notes:

  • Growing up with parents who encouraged her to express herself, follow her dreams, and learn things for herself. [4:19]
  • Receiving her first camera, becoming a self-taught photographer, and breaking into the business (which involved sneaking a shot of Madonna). [8:10]
  • How Lynsey found her calling early on, and the inspiring purpose that drives her. [12:53]
  • How she furthered her career by asking for an advance on the wedding she didn’t intend to have. [15:31]
  • Bringing milk and cookies to transgender prostitutes: Lynsey’s method of getting to know people before photographing them. [17:20]
  • Going to Afghanistan as an unmarried, American female photographer during a time when photography was outlawed by the Taliban. [22:07]
  • The unique barriers (and dangers) of being a woman photojournalist. [25:43]
  • The brutal week she spent as a hostage in Libya: Being groped and assaulted and constantly threatened with execution. [28:56]
  • Deciding to have a child after surviving the ordeal in Libya, plus Lynsey’s thoughts on living a “dual life”. [34:19]
  • “This job is not about me, it’s about the people I cover.” Lynsey shares how she’s able to continue her work despite the trauma and violence she’s seen. [38:48]
  • An incredible story of kindness from a young boy displaced by war, plus what Lynsey is working on now. [42:59]

Subscribe and listen to the full episode here (you must subscribe to receive latest episode).

References:

Lynsey Addario’s website (check out her work!)

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (now in paperback)

Music:

Lucia Lilikoi at lucia.bandcamp.com

Episode Sponsors: 

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What is "leadership coaching"?

There are traditional definitions of leadership that don’t really resonate with me. They have to do with climbing the ladder, being more persuasive, and/or influencing others. Don’t get me wrong, these are all beautiful goals if they make you feel fulfilled, but leadership is deeper than that.

Leadership is about knowing what you want, who you are, and allowing that to have expression in the world. It might take many different forms: writing a book, having a baby, starting a business, getting promoted, making art, etc.

Leadership is about being, as much as doing. It’s about who you choose to be in every moment. It’s about being vulnerable, authentic, and sharing your true gifts.

Despite all its traditional connotations, “leadership” is the only word I’ve found that really captures all of this, for it speaks to both parts of a woman: her desire to be inwardly fulfilled and her desire to be outwardly successful. Often, what we learn through leadership coaching is how becoming your version of fulfilled is the real success you’ve always wanted.

What’s the bigger picture here? Women are still underrepresented in conventional leadership roles, and outside of that, women still prioritize the needs and dreams of others above their own. A study by Melinda Gates found that in every country in the world (even the U.S. and Canada), women still do the majority of unpaid work and labor that makes society function. That is, women are not using their minds, imaginations, and geniuses as much as they could be. Instead, they are spending most of their time cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. That’s a fact. It’s in the data.

Note: If a woman finds these tasks the most fulfilling, then by all means, there’s no problem. But it’s when women are confronted with a lack of choices and/or opportunities that the injustice becomes so clear.

In the West, we have more choices and opportunities. But our culture – starting from when we’re little girls – still conditions us to be modest, quiet, invisible, small, and receding in the background. Our culture also encourages a scarcity mindset that leads to the kind of comparison and shaming that undermines leadership. In my opinion, this conditioning is stronger for women. Leadership coaching is about reversing these learned ways of operating.

Let’s talk about coaching. When I first started this work, I despised that word. “Coaching.” First, I was very proud and thought of coaching as sort of belittling (sorry, have to admit it). I imagined sports coaching, thinking to myself: “I didn’t go to one of the top schools in the country to become a coach!” I can laugh at it now. And I do, I laugh hard. I had to let go of that pride and ego bullshit and see coaching for what it is. “Coaching” is the best modern-day word to explain the facilitation of a transformative process. In other words, supporting someone in going from point A to point B.

What I love about coaching is that it is a co-designed process. Each woman I work with has just as much power and say in her transformation as I do. We work together to come up with a plan that works best for her. I keep her accountable, and support her with a box of tools and tricks to make it really work and stick. But she’s in the driver’s seat, and that’s very empowering.

Many clients come to me seeking answers and handing over their power (I’m guilty of doing the same thing with so many of my teachers, coaches, and mentors over the years). They’ll ask me questions such as “Should I…?” or “Do you feel that…?” or “What do you think about…?” Sure, I can give them my best opinion and share my intuition, but real coaching is about supporting each woman to access that powerful part within herself, the part that can answer those questions.

By the end of coaching, you are more confident, more willing to be vulnerable, and more trusting of yourself. You are wiser and more powerful.

So, if you’re curious about exploring leadership coaching, here’s what I need to know – are you tired of...

  • Feeling out of touch with what you want instead of what's expected from you
  • An inner critic that operates from scarcity – not enough time, money, energy, resources, talent, and spinning the story of “not good enough” or “not ready yet”
  • A definition of success you've inherited from culture, society, parents...one that isn't letting you be the fullest expression of yourself
  • Overthinking and spinning ideas in your head instead of taking real concrete action
  • Feeling torn by so many passions, unsure how to give them all expression, how to prioritize or integrate them into a career path and lifestyle that feels good
  • Trusting others and external information way more than your own gut
  • Being hard on yourself all the time for not doing or being enough...
  • Every day that goes by feeling like underutilized potential

If this sounds like you, request a free consultation. I would be so honored to chat and hear more about your story.

Here’s to you sister,

Majo