Executive Coach, Sue Stockdale talks to Annie Busk Lennert about what it’s like to live and work in Greenland, and how today’s societal challenges impact her work as a psychotherapist and international business advisor.

Tell me about your background and what prompted your interest in psychotherapy?

Annie: I come from a modest background with the well-known challenges and difficulties when born and raised in Northern Greenland such as accidents and deaths at sea of close relatives. My grandparents had 10 children, five of them boys. I’ve lost all my uncles to the sea or in accidents. This is somehow normal in Greenland, because we live in a very harsh environment. My own route into the academic path was driven by my desire to become equal, to be treated equal. I was self-taught in many things when I first stepped into the labour market. As a self-taught woman, I had a natural sense of the things I was good at and a good dose of curiosity and passion, and I’ve always been a quick learner. I soon realized how well, and quickly I completed work tasks and I wanted more in salary, but I was refused again and again, and found – or so I thought – that it was about having education and certifications. And when I had no particular education, I could not get up to a higher salary step. That’s how it was.

My journey into the world of psychotherapy was guided by my curiosity as well as my frustration over the lack of help in crisis situations after my own experiences on top of an accumulation of fatal incidents later in life. There were very scarce resources for offering support and treatment in crisis situations in Greenland. I walked the path of the wounded, as you may say and learned to turn my sorrow, pain, anger and shame, into sources of strength and understanding and compassion. Over the years I have transformed my life wounds into sources of power and wisdom. I believe this is the greatest gift I can give my psychotherapy clients and my students – as well as the chance for them to discover the power and wisdom of their own life journey.

You’ve experienced crisis and turned it into an opportunity for yourself, and that’s how you’ve taken your career forwards. We originally met when you were studying at Oxford Brookes University. What did you learn from your academic program that helps you today in your work?

Annie: I attended the undergraduate program and the postgraduate program on International Business and Management. These courses incorporated a lot of different subjects and modules, which were great, and spanned a wide range of subjects from accounting and finance, management strategy, politics, human resources management to international business management. Prior to applying, I had been speaking to a lot of other people and looking at other opportunities in different countries. But I recall that many other courses were very compulsory, where students didn’t really get to choose any of the modules. And that’s been very nice about my course at Oxford Brookes University where I was able to develop a lot of different skills and learn about new business topics and different views. There was also a lot of transferable skills like group assessment centres, interviews and presentations, whether it’s just doing presentations that build your confidence in public speaking or lead management courses or finance courses. These helped me in terms of equipping me well for my career and my future. Also, at Oxford Brookes, what’s been especially nice is that there was a mix of English and International students and the seminars allowed a lot of interactions. The programme offered a lot of experiences and a lot of different events where you can meet new people, as well as attending business networking events, like the one where we met. After I graduated I’ve been a member of an alumnus, and I receive news, exclusive job postings, webinars, networking events, and a variety of online videos and resources. It has given me a great skills package I have been using in international projects, corporate analyst projects, large scale projects, transatlantic multi-projects, micro projects as well as working with diverse teams across different geographical zones.

It strikes me that being based in Greenland gives you a unique perspective on global issues compared to others. What do you think are the global issues that are important today that any of us should be paying attention to?

Annie: In terms of business, this is the age of the conscious consumer. People are changing and making more conscious choices about consumption around the world. One of my beliefs is, however, that westernized views on things such as healthy food and nutrition, or trends like living a vegetarian or veganism lifestyle do not necessarily apply to the whole world. For example, living as a vegetarian or vegan is not particularly sustainable or particularly healthy in Greenland. One of the traditions is that we have a very animal-based diet, meat and fish. We are rapidly seeing more cases of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and mental health issues. A sustainable and healthy lifestyle and food diet in Greenland is the traditional Greenlandic natural diet, despite the fact that it is a predominantly animal-sourced diet. It has been renowned through generations and generations to survive in the Arctic environment. The changes will go far beyond the common and conventional life and diet recommendations that we often receive.

Human connection and our connection to the nature and the earth were easier 150 years ago for most modern societies and much less than 100 years for Greenland. We were dependent on each other for survival, side-by-side, hands deep in foraging, caring for sick children together, etc. Today entrepreneurship, the current visions of higher education, our preoccupation with consumption that dominate our modern time, the decline of hunting, agrarian and foraging culture, and technology has pushed the pendulum so far that we are ill – physically and mentally. Psychotherapy is one of the few places left where we can go to rediscover connection to ourselves, to each other and to something larger than ourselves. There is little motivation to act on behalf of global warming and the earth unless we feel, in our bones, how much connection matters. Beneath our intellectual talents and sense of indestructibility, I think we will start to see, and develop views to a more global understanding towards place-centric approaches to life, locally produced and locally available food instead of alienating a uniquely developed lifestyle or a uniquely developed diet and start seeing a deeper respect arising for culturally and locally life and food values that are ethically, socially and environmentally more sustainable to local communities and specific regions than the conventional recommendations.

I’m imagining that having an understanding of the local culture helps you to be effective in your work in Greenland?

Annie: Yes. I have gone through some personal development programs offered by people coming from outside Greenland which has been great, and I also often had a sense of something missing. Because although we do ensure and appreciate global perspectives in Greenland, we do also have some differences in terms of culture and how we interact with each other as well as our language. I even see that within Greenland. I was born and raised in Northern Greenland and went for one of my first business academic studies to Southern Greenland. Even then I realized how different the regions in Greenland were in terms of culture and language.

When you say I went from Northern to Southern Greenland, give me an idea of how far that is?

Annie: You can compare it to the distance from the UK to Africa, around 1600 miles. This is the same distance from Northern Greenland to Southern Greenland.

I imagine Southern Greenland was potentially quite a different world, even just heading to another part of your own country?

Annie: Yes, it was very different, and we would even have some very funny occasions where we would misunderstand each other language wise. Even culturally; I come from a hunting culture. My granddad was a hunter and my grandmother was a hunters wife. And, I remember going to Southern Greenland which is more a farming-based culture, and that was the first time I saw sheep in Greenland.

With the pandemic that’s hit the world globally, how has it been impacting people in Greenland?

Annie: At first, we had a few cases, and as it’s a very small population in Greenland (56,000), we are very protective of keeping our community from the pandemic. Borders were closed very quickly, and we have guidelines to follow so just the same as many other countries. I think the number of cases has been around 11 people, who were isolated very quickly. It has affected us in ways that are very different within our culture and traditions, because we do like gatherings. We have what we call kaffemiks where we go and celebrate, it might be a birthday or a child’s first day of school, and we were not allowed to go to gatherings, or go shopping unless it was very necessary.

As a psychotherapist, what are the typical types of issues that you are dealing with your clients?

Annie: The common issues in my clients are stress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a disconnectedness to oneself, your family, your relatives. Usually I meet clients on a 1-1 basis and when the pandemic happened, I had to put my work on pause. I cancelled all my group sessions. I’ve still been using the phone and video meetings. More recently I’ve had people coming because we now can still meet as long as we keep it on a limited number of people in the same room, as long as we remember to wash our hands and follow the guidelines.

Another global issue that has impacted your country is the environmental issue. How do people view climate change in Greenland? We hear about the ice cap melting and temperatures rising?

Annie: Yes, we are seeing very visible signs of climate change. I was born in Northern Greenland and grew up in Ilulissat from where the Ilulissat Icefjord is known all over the world and I see it with my own eyes, how much the ice cap is retreating. I spent time in the nature like sailing, fishing and hunting wild game for our own personal consumption. We are seeing drastic changes in the weather and now spot new insects coming to Greenland that are usually rare to see. We see new plants growing in nature and see new species in the sea, not to mention the devastating effects on ancient and unique wildlife such as the polar bear and the Arctic habitat. And it does make us think about what we can do to make changes, locally. There are some challenges in how to reuse and repurpose plastic, because in Greenland we don’t really have all the necessary tools or skills, to do this yet. But a lot of resources are being put into innovation into how we can reuse and repurpose such things as plastic, and other environmental improvements. I remember running through the Tube in London once and passing by a poster saying something like: ‘Greenland to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2000-something’. I just had to stop running and go back to the newsagent. I got the poster for free, I believe it was from BBC News and I still have it somewhere. Who knows: Summer Olympic Games in Greenland might become a reality one day.

What are your final reflections for us?

Annie: I have lived in many different countries and I’ve also studied in different countries. I feel very privileged that I have been able to make a living here because it’s different from living in larger cities. It’s limited in some entertainment, for example, but whilst it might feel limited in terms of network, it’s very helpful having the technology that close at hand nowadays, which enables me to feel very close to likeminded fellows and my international partners. Speaking of technology I use it in a limited extent and try to live as technology-free as much as possible.

Relating to social and environmental issues these are some real and deeply complex issues that we all are facing. Issues that challenge us to globally come together for a common goal, to bridge differences, to look deeply into what is best for ourselves, our children, humanity as a whole, and our planet. First and foremost, I encourage all of us to go outside each day – to use nature as a place to re-source and re-connect. When we stay connected and grounded and live our lives in integrity, people will naturally be attracted and want to know more. As coaches and therapists, we can use our role to educate and inform people about societal and environmental issues through teaching and nature as a resource. Honestly, I think the more that therapists can help folks get out of their story, off their sofa and back into the natural flow, the more we can make the changes we wish to make. First on a personal level and then with others. If we want to become the effective agents of change then we have to simultaneously heal ourselves, grow, find balance and wake up. Psychotherapy helps individuals and groups of people to look at themselves with greater awareness. With awareness and consciousness, change can take place. It can be easy to avoid painful truths and self-medicate with the joys of the modern world, but this only contributes to unconscious suffering.

Psychotherapy can also increase our ability to feel compassion, not only for our own suffering, but for that of our humanity as a whole, our planet and the future of humanity.

In order to address societal and environmental issues with business issues I believe that corporate leaders need to be emotionally equipped to face such a complex and daunting challenge. One of the greatest benefits of psychotherapy is learning how to be with what’s difficult. This means regulating comfort zones and developing a greater tolerance for uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and even physical sensations, which increases resilience and the capacity to face life’s challenges. Psychotherapy can also increase our ability to feel compassion, not only for our own suffering, but for that of our humanity as a whole, our planet and the future of humanity. We play a vital role in teaching people how to move beyond denial, fear and helplessness that societal and environmental crisis often sparks, into compassion, acceptance and much-needed action. Psychotherapy empowers people to act in accordance with their integrity. Our deep integrity is concerned with much more than the little me; it is interested in wholeness. It is quite a direct link. Finally, psychotherapy can help people move past anger and despair and constructively engage and confront individuals and institutions that are in resistance in a way that lays emphasis on empathetic understanding and avoids unnecessary polarization and help us face reality and develop the inner resources of kindness, clarity, and courage to meet this new and extraordinary challenge.

Thank you for interviewing me about these interesting themes. I hope it will spur a continued conversation and debate, as we need to learn more about the world, and the world needs to learn more about unique cultures. I believe that we as world citizens will be better equipped to meet the great challenges of the world when we talk to each other and work together. It’s not of great importance to me whether you, as a reader, agree or disagree with me. What matters and what I hope is that what you read in this article somehow hits you and makes you further interested in the world around you. I want to thank you, Sue, for your invitation, your care and your endless patience with me.

Sue Stockdale is an international executive coach, facilitator and author of a number of business books including Cope with Change at Work, and Risk. She is podcast host for a number of podcasts including Access to Inspiration and Coaching in the Workplace. 

Annie Busk Lennert is a Psychotherapist, Arctic & International Business Specialist & Advisor on Large Scale Projects, Mega Projects and Micro Projects. She is a modern Greenlandic woman, living and working through travel and time zones, and exploring what makes life exciting, meaningful and authentic.