"The One With The Voice“

3E Story Blogathon Post #13 by Isabella Mader

For Day 13 of the 3E Story Blogathon, Isabella Mader shares her story of how she lost her most powerful skill (voice) and how she successfully overcame the trauma.

At a Conference in Vienna I had to give a speech on platforms and business models. The conference room was full – and the audience heard some strange, very rough, still not very loud but really bass voice coming out of a blonde, slim woman. Some of the audience didn’t know me but later on the aisles I heard people talking to each other „the one with the voice brought interesting aspects …“. I thought that, well „the one with the voice“ must be me then. 

Flashback: Some time in late 2010 I was hosting panel discussions at a large 2 day conference and found it hard to bring out the clear voice I was used to. I did have a cough since August and thought it might well be I was not fully fit yet. Guess I should have another few quiet days to rest. 

The next day I suddenly did not have any voice at all. So I thought, okay, let’s take it slow, you live on this voice, lecturing at universites, speaking at conferences, moderating … take good care of this voice and give it a rest. This is what I did. Inhalation, warm scarfs through the night, honey, thyme, medication … Trust me, I had them all. Effect: nex … nothing, no change. 

Long story short: in May the year after, after it got worse and worse and some already suspected cancer I was sent to the hospital. To my friend I said: I think I need Dr. House. Tell me ‚bout it: I did meet the real Dr. House. An ingenious surgeon, infection specialist, drew quite a large range of blood samples and had them tested for …I don’t know what. Everything. Some younger colleagues looked at this lot and said „Why so many, who needs this?“. Well, it turned out it was needed – because the clue was exactly in those tests, he found what it was. A very rare resistant type of bacteria was busy eating me up. It had started „eating“ at the vocal cords and had made its way into the lungs already. I was sent to a sonar check, the surgeon who saw this large „hole“ in my lungs had this shocked expression on his face saying „you’re not going to make it“ – he really said: „You’re in the best hands“. 

Back with Dr. House I first had an operation by another ingenious TNE surgeon, the female Dr. House, doing the impossible saving my voice eventually … and we started a rough medical therapy that was supposed to affect my eye sight and the liver and the nervous system. Dr. House said: „We are going to throw these germs with canons until we can be sure they’re dead.“ – with a little reservation „… but of course what is dangerous for the germs isn’t going to be fun for you either.“ I did feel like an 80 year old woman during the time … 6 months therapy. But I had set my mind that I would win. 

After the 6 months the final checkup and lab tests: Dr. House emailed them to me, expressing that the results were surprisingly good – not a single test result was outside the recommended healthy range! Typical Dr. House: „Your lab results display a certain cheekiness: how dare you be so healthy?“ 

This was 16 months ago. Asked many times afterwards „Oh poor you, you must have suffered … taking away the voice that you earn your living with …“ and so forth - I still fail to see why I should be depressed. So I am not. To me this turned out as a major source of strength and relativizes a lot of pseudo problems we have in life. Ever after I now find myself looking at challenges with greater ease and a few days ago a colleague from a project said: „Maybe this explaines your chilled management style.“ I found the expression very entertaining and charming. 

Asked by a student, himself in a personal crisis, if this wasn’t a really hard burden I said „Well, it was tough, but I found many beautiful people as new friends who I would have never met, I proved to myself that miracles can happen if you trust they can and my view of problems has a new perspective. Problems suddenly look rather small compared to what I’ve seen already. And: it could have been worse, so I am happy having this „problem“: I survived it.“ 

I like to view it like Viktor Frankl who was asked by his students how they can be respected – they do not have such an extraordinary destiny like he managed to live through. He said to them: Look, everyone has his own greatest problem or life challenge. Find it, solve it. This will qualify you and earn you the respect you deserve. As long as you make recommendations second hand while your own problem remains unsolved – you will not have the depth and trust you need for your profession. Go out, find your greatest problem and solve it.“ I can say: Yes, it is so. Solving your greatest problem adds so much substance that it feels like you have more gravity, and gravity draws more and more great people into your life and it becomes more interesting every day. The best thing is that suddenly your advice is of more value to others, because they KNOW you made it, you did it yourself and it is possible. So it becomes possible for them, too. 

I want to thank all the great people who cared and helped on the way. The very best way to express it came as a message from a dear friend, thank you Klement – he’d sent this quote by Charles Bukowski: "What matters most is how well you walk through the fire."

Isabella Mader is CEO of NetHotels AG, university lecturer and public speaker with a main focus on IT strategy, communications, knowledge management, media literacy and business development. Recently, she has been awarded top CIO of the year 2013 in Austria. Before her current position she used to act as a programme director for a Master of Science Programme (Communications 2.0) at Danube University Krems while running her own consulting firm. Her academic background is Business Administration and she holds a masters degree in Strategic Information Management. She co-authored two books, one on Blended Learning 2.0 (Technology & Collaboration) and one on Business Networking with Social Media.
She used to work for the Vienna Municipality in the field of communication & information for more than 10 years and for the United Nations in the field of methodology development for several years. Her main focus lies in strategy development, where she still acts as an advisor to a limited number of public and corporate clients. Learn more about Isabella here


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