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Return to Self: “the phone call that completely turned my life upside down”

In the coming weeks Myrte will take you through her extraordinary story, about which she is also writing a book, Return to Self. How one phone call can turn your life completely upside down and put everything in a new perspective. In a series of columns she writes honestly about loss, grief, growth, self-development, discovery and ultimately about returning to who she really is. Her story has common ground with the story of all of us: creating a life the way you want it.

And for Myrte, that includes running a business in a way that supports her mission and philosophy to the fullest. Living in places where she can blossom to the fullest. Above all, it is the journey to being happy with, and proud of yourself.

“In the coming time I will take you with me on the physical journey I have made in the past 20 months and especially the journey inward in this. An emotional, intense and beautiful journey back to myself. And of course I share the background of why I went on this journey in the first place.

If you had told me 20 months ago that all these dreams would come true, I would have believed you (I’m that honest), only I could not have told you HOW to go about it. After 20 months of traveling, I do know. I would like to take you with me in this process and I hope to motivate or inspire anyone who needs it to really be and (start) living her deepest self. It’s worth it.”

– Myrte

How it began

I’m sitting in Antwerp, a weekend away with someone I just fell in love with enormously. What a lovely bubble, making plans for the future, daydreaming about what we would do and most of all being very happy together. It had been a long time since I had felt like this and I enjoyed this tender love to the fullest.

This moment made me feel immensely happy, but it also marks a turning point. It is 21 November 2017 around ten o’clock in the morning when, after breakfast, I come upstairs to the hotel room and see that I have missed 10 phone calls from my parents. I know right away; this is wrong.

A few days before we went to Antwerp, I had a very strong feeling about going for a walk with my sister. Just her and me, with the wheelchair through the dark of the evening. She kept clapping her hands and kicking her feet with joy. You couldn’t make her happier than with something as simple as this.

Turns out my sister had a brain stem infarction and my parents and brothers were rushed to the hospital. There it quickly becomes clear that the situation is very critical and the outlook not good. The thing is, an infarction like this is already hugely damaging for you and me, but for my sister, who is multiply disabled (and can’t walk, can’t talk, or can’t take care of herself in any form), the outlook was completely bleak.

Excruciatingly long journey

The train ride took 6.5 hours from Antwerp back to my parents’ hometown in the Zwolle region. The longest hours of my life that I spent crying and screaming. Every fifteen minutes I got an update and at one point one of my brothers broke down on the phone and said “this is not going well Myrt”. All I said was, “Tell her to wait for me, please!”

I was just in time. Fifteen minutes later she was declared brain dead. Fortunately we were able to keep her with us for a while so we could say goodbye quietly. I cherish very fond memories of my last moments with her in which I asked her to pass on her cheerfulness to me. My hands have never been as warm as that moment when I held her hand. My sister, she turned 21.

My new partner at the time had just come out of a very difficult period himself and he actually immediately distanced himself from me and our relationship, purely because of the immense grief he saw. We never embarked on the adventure together that we wanted.

Special message

The first few days after her death I felt numb and intensely sad. But suddenly I heard myself saying to someone who was visiting, “She also gives something, by going.” At first I thought I meant that only for my parents who cared for her full time. Only years later would I find out that these words were meant for myself as well.

After the funeral I was overcome by a feeling of relief. Very strange this was and I was ashamed of it. “This is not normal, is it?” It is during this time that my journey to (re)discovering myself and my own identity began. Only then very unconsciously. What that looks like? Well… Chaotic, frustrating, sad, unclear, restless, anxious and more chaos. It was as if I had entered a roller coaster with a thousand loops and no seat belt. It was scary and unfamiliar. And yet somewhere deep inside there was something in me that said, there is no turning back. 

At 32 I found myself in a situation, let’s call it an identity crisis, in which I had absolutely no idea who I was, what I wanted and what made me happy. Despite the fact that I had already achieved some pretty big successes with my work as a consultant and coach – even won awards for my strategic work! – I was totally ‘Koos Identity-less’ to my mind.

Responsibility of the big sister

I realized that with my sister gone, an invisible pressure was lifted from me. I still remember the little voice in the back of my head saying: no Myrte, you can’t go and live abroad, because what if you have to take care of her unexpectedly? This was certainly not required of me by anyone, only it is something from ‘the oldest sister’, i.e. me and what I have carried with me since her birth.

I was eleven when she was born and the years for self-development and identity were just ‘ahead’ of me. It just turned out differently and I only realized that after her death. I did not know who I was and now there was room to find out. And this while I had been continuously building identities for other people, entrepreneurs, leaders and organizations since I was 23 years old with my own company. The irony.

Two weeks after her funeral, I was going to travel to Australia for five weeks. This had been planned before her death. I hesitated and found it difficult, but I did go. And as you might expect, this did not go well. How alone and lost I felt. I broke off the trip after three weeks. I was completely exhausted. The year 2018 had just begun when I landed back in the Netherlands and I had no idea what I wanted to do. How could I deal with this turmoil I was feeling?

Step by Step

When I think back to this uncertain time, I see strong similarities with Bambi before me. From the death of my sister in November 2017 and throughout 2018, I tried little by little to get my feet back under me and move forward again, step by step. I staggered, but I stood. In the song I played for her at the funeral (I believe in happiness – Guus Meeuwis), he sings: 

I am not defeated

Went down eight counts

Just lay there

I’ll be all right later

My work as a Strategic Business Coach & Advisor continued as usual, because “there must be money on the table”. Working for e.g. the boards of soccer clubs, the KNVB, teams of BDO, but also municipalities, start-ups and (solo) entrepreneurs, I picked up my normal life where I left off.

And then came that turning point

“Ha,” thought the Universe. “But we’re not going to do that anymore lady.” Because, if you do what you did, you get what you got. Simply put: the Universe had other plans with and for me. Maybe you recognize it that at a certain point you feel that your life is going to take a turn, but you only get the details along the way.

At that moment I had no idea which life transforming roller coaster I had landed in. When I wrote above, “She gives something, by going,” I was referring to my freedom. And of course there are multiple factors behind that, but her passing was certainly a major influence. And not even physical freedom, but, I think, mostly emotional freedom.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the year 2018, except that I just kept going on autopilot. With survival, with work and with existence. Just not with living.

Next week: how one conversation gave my life a totally different turn.

“I can still hear myself saying, ‘well then she’ll just move in with me…’

A teenage girl of almost 16 for whom there was literally no other – better – place than in my house.”

Myrte’s next column is scheduled for next Wednesday, February 2. Will you be following her in the coming weeks?

More on Return to Self

Myrte: “Way before the year 2020, I was lost. But the thing is, I didn’t know I was lost. I didn’t know that I put on a mask my whole life and I just settled for what life gave me. Never realizing that those were just crumbs. Never realizing that I could also choose not to settle for that. I was not myself and lost in the labyrinth of my own soul and my own daily life.”

“Until my sister passed away suddenly at the age of 21 in 2017. She was a multiply disabled girl who could not walk, talk or take care of herself. My parents always took care of her with all the love and attention she needed and deserved. She was certainly the light in our family, but I was also confronted with an unexpected new vision of her presence. This was the start of an intense journey of discovery back to myself.”

In early March this year, my book, Return to Self, will be released. I’m launching this one – online first – as I take to the big stage for the first time, in Paris, to speak about female leadership and how to build a successful business without sacrificing your real self,. “About creating a life the way I really want it. Running a business in the way that maximally supports my mission and philosophy. Living in places where I can blossom to the fullest. And above all: a journey to being happy with, and proud of myself.” Exciting! Will you follow me?

About this ‘Wereldwijf’: Hi, I’m Myrte. Founder of The Purpose EmPowerment Program for people, businesses and organizations who want to make a positive change and impact to improve the lives of others. Entrepreneurship runs in my family, but social entrepreneurship is a different profession. Since the age of 22, I travel and work a lot with, and in, other cultures. To make an impact, you start with yourself, something I have had to shape myself. How? You can read that in part in my blogs for the Wereldwijven and soon on my new website,

Hello, I am Myrte!

On this blog page you can read more about my personal and professional journey as an Impact Player: I'm on a mission to help as many like minded people further in building their social impact business. I travel the world as an inspirational speaker and I run my own "Purpose EmPowerment Program" for people on a mission to improve the lives of others.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

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