As Nicole and I have been working on the project together, I have found myself thinking about all the Finnish women I have met during my 11 years in Switzerland. I want to give them a voice in this project to show my admiration of their skills, attitude and courage.
At Suomi Pop-up in the beginning of November 2019 , I displayed the first 4 of altogether 12 portraits of Finnish women living in Switzerland, sharing their thoughts and experiences on 12 different topics, for example, career, mental and physical wellbeing and self-love.
One much-needed skill in today’s society is the ability to find and maintain balance between the different areas of life, but each one of us needs to define balance for ourselves—one recipe doesn’t work for all. My series of portraits shows women who have found their place and balance between two countries and cultures. Grounded and modest, as Finns often are, they are all ordinary women who have built and defined their own success by using their strengths and believing in themselves.
My wish is for the simple beauty and wisdom of these women to make you take a moment and think about what is important to you. Maybe they remind you of your own strengths, or maybe they even inspire you to work on something you think could be improved in your life.
Sanna Heikintalo, October 2019
I start my mornings with gentle stretching—even when, or especially when, I’d rather stay under the warm blanket. I have always taken care of my body and believed that health is the most important thing in our lives. But, what does it actually mean to be healthy?
I believe that physical wellbeing is the foundation for a good life. Taking care of my body is a routine for me, one that is playing an increasingly important role in my life. I know my body and its boundaries. However, physical strength alone is not enough. Physical and mental wellbeing are tightly bound together. I feel healthy when my mind and body are in balance.
Right now, I’m facing something new, I don’t take health for granted. I live here and now, I’m not hurrying towards tomorrow. I focus on the essential, the things that are important to me and bring me joy. I finish uncompleted tasks today—not because I’m scared of dying tomorrow, but so I can set new goals for myself.
I cannot say that I’m completely laid-back, but I’m confident about my future. The meaning of my morning routine surely changes, but we all face the physical changes our bodies go through over time. I accept them mercifully. Just now, I’m grateful that I feel fit and well. I like my body just the way it is, imperfect but still perfect.
I was four when a new library opened in my hometown. According to the newspaper articles that my mom saved, I was the only one reading books while the adults were drinking coffee at the opening ceremony. I was fascinated by books long before I could read, and looking back, I see my life in periods based on when I have researched different themes, especially through reading. The passion to deeply understand things brought me first to university and later on to an academic career.
In my work as a researcher, I’m continuously meeting the limits of my brain capacity, but it’s these intellectual challenges that have been the main driving force and inspiration for me. The university environment is a natural setting for all inquisitives, and it’s motivating to exchange thoughts with others. It is not the only place, though, where you can develop your thinking. Trying to deeply understand things and diving into different kinds of topics is not only part of my work, but also part of my whole life. Continuous learning brings new aspects to my life and makes it enjoyable and rich.
No one can become intellectual by just reading books. I think intellectuality is multidimensional—it cannot be seen only as learned facts or mathematical or analytical thinking. Intellectuality is broad-mindedness and the desire to understand different points of view, structures, consequences and contexts. It also has a social and moral dimension, which is impossible to measure, and which can only be learned in real life. Intellectuality is cultivating oneself extensively. One who understands how little one understands is wise.
At one point in my life I saw only a dark, dead-end road ahead of me. I had lost my positivity and joy for living, my ability to see the good things in difficult situations. I felt lonely, dismissed, and like an outsider. Something, perhaps Finnish sisu,* would not allow me to give up though.
I decided to find my way back into the light, and I’m proud that I dared to admit that I needed help, that I was brave enough to ask for it and that I was able to receive and accept the assistance I required. My journey has been long and difficult, but I have learned to gently accept it and let it take all the time it needs.
The battle is on-going, but I am constantly moving forward and learning new things with every step I take. Slowly, I am finding a renewed sense of joy and happiness within myself. My experiences have taught me self-confidence, and I am convinced that I will get through any challenges the future may present to me. I have become friends with the thought that, “I am worthy just the way I am.” The most important epiphany has been that, even though I may be incomplete, I can still be good and beautiful.
I have found that the idea of a woman who confidently respects and loves herself can be tightly bound to the definition of beauty. I believe that a person who respects themselves is always beautiful. Besides accepting and loving oneself, another important value I have learned is gratefulness. I think gratefulness brings joy and happiness, which shines through and makes a person all the more beautiful.
sisu* = Finnish art of courage
As young girl, I was interested in colors, textiles and creative work. I became a textile engineer, and also studied marketing, until a strong desire to live abroad brought me to Switzerland. The attitude towards working women here surprised me back then, but I didn’t let it dictate my own thoughts and decisions. I have always believed these two things: each one of us, including women, should be able to earn their living by working, and yet, work is not the only purpose of life.
One job led to another, and I worked over 20 years in marketing with different kinds of businesses. Through lucky coincidences, I would find jobs that fit the situations in my life. I kept doors open for possibilities, every experience brought me forwards, and I always learned something I was able to benefit from in my next job. Still I was missing a deeper, personal meaning in my work.
Now I have come full circle, and my original passion—colors, textiles and creative work—is my profession. I enjoy being an entrepreneur because I can heavily rely on my former experience but also learn new things. I have managed to build a bridge between my roots and the present, as well as between my two home countries. My work gives me complete joy, especially when I can represent Finland abroad. The joy also comes from working with my hands, just like my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Looking back, I think that perhaps the joy work can give you can’t be found early on in your career. Only after all the years and experience, can you know what you are really good at and what makes you happy. My career has not been a well-marked trail to the top of a mountain, but I have found my own path to the best lookout point. I enjoy the fact that, with my life experience, I can trust my intuition. I have learned that life will carry me.