Tell me about yourself?
My name is Donna de Villiers. I’m originally from Harare, Zimbabwe and I would describe myself as a bit of an oddball! My parents have always told me I march to the beat of my own drum since I was a little. Not much has changed! I’m happy in my quirky ways. I grew up in a pretty awesome place, with an awesome family, so I consider myself to be very lucky. I have one older brother who lives in Australia with his wife, and my parents now live in Scotland, so we are pretty scattered across the globe. It does open up some awesome travel opportunities! I have had many careers so far. Every job/career change I have made has always been centred around helping people. I didn’t really plan it that way, it just happened to work out like that. I studied Applied Psychology and after some interesting times as a school counsellor, carer, dental nurse, and PA, I now run my own business as a Personal Development Coach. I’m a big fan of mind-body psychology, and anything centred around connectedness. I have based all of my working models on connectedness, with ourselves, others, the world we live in, etc. I’m a bookworm and a huge dork, and I love anything silly! My life revolves around my wife, our families and friends, our dog Jason, and what my next meal will be. I love food, eating it, cook it, sharing it with friends and family. And of course, tea. There is nothing quite like a hot cup of tea and scone! Basically, I’m an old English lady in the making, with a library!
Who has been the biggest influence on your life and why?
As cliche as it sounds, my mom and dad are the biggest influences on me. They are both pretty amazing in their own right and have always been my moral compass through my struggles. My parents always told me that there were two kinds of people in the world, problem solvers and problem makers. What do you want to be? It’s a pretty powerful motto to hold onto! I love it and pass it on wherever I can. Neither of the parents had the easiest times growing up, and they have lived through challenges that have made them truly badass humans. Neither of them actually sees it, which is incredibly humbling and frustrating to witness, and they both have a kindness and generosity that I have found to be quite rare. I am always learning from them, even now, when I think of myself as an adult, they consistently teach me more about how to live a good life. I could write a book on the awesome things they have taught me.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
Gratitude is life. Practice it every day, regardless of what’s happening in your life. It’s easy to be grateful for goodness. We are raised to say thank you, but gratitude requires you to also say thank you for the harder times, the challenges, the drama. To say thank you for the lessons and the tears as well as the good times, and to the people that helped you get there. Take responsibility. Even in situations where you think you are righter than right, you have played a part in the misunderstandings. Life is never one-sided, always ask what you could have done better. Its aim is to bring awareness, not blame, and to help master yourself. Keep trying. I use the old saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ as often as I can. We really live in an age of instant gratification, and it’s mostly unrealistic – if you fall flat on your face, that’s okay. Learn from it, and get up and try again.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
My wife and I adopted 2 shelter dogs just shy of 2 years ago. We have always wanted to have a dog and we were finally in a position to adopt! We recently lost 1 of them, which has been devastating for us. It has also made us look back on her life, short as it was, and realise just how far we managed to get both of them. They were both badly abused before they came to the shelter, and we spent so much time helping them adjust and I’m really proud of what we have accomplished. Our dog Kiana, who passes away, was such a fearful girl. She really came on in leaps and bounds in the last 2 years! When we first adopted her, any man that came to our house terrified her, and a few days before she died, a male friend of ours popped over and she wandered up to him and said hi! Taking home 2 rescues has been the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done! I love every minute of seeing how far they had come. Now we have Jason, our lone boy, and we will continue playing and working with him so he is a confident, happy, pup!
Whenever you come to a setback what do you for your comeback?
I tend to wallow for a wee bit, and then take a moment to figure out what went wrong before, reassess, and try again. I might go at snail pace for a while, but there is always a way to make something work! I’m a firm believer in that. The solution may not be the sexiest, or easiest, but there is always one or two that will work out!
If you were writing the story of your life, how would you divide it into chapters?
I would divide it by countries I have lived in, which is a grand total of 4; Zimbabwe, South Africa, United Kingdom, and Curacao. It would be a starting point anyway!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were young?
I wish I had known that it was better to be myself, and be fully accepted by few, than live to others expectations and be accepted by many. I wasted far to much time trying to be someone else and feeling miserable. I am grateful for the lesson, but I wish I had learned that one a little faster!
How do you define a “good life” or a “successful life”?
To me, success is going to sleep and knowing you have done your best today. I think a good life, is a life lived with doing as little harm to the world as possible. Adding to it in any way possible, and living your best possible life. Every choice we make, big or small, has a consequence. It not only affects us but also the people around us. Being conscious of that, and doing the best you can with that knowledge, is a good life. We all see success differently, or at least we should see success as a personal journey! I have a friend whose idea of success was having his own flat, paid for by himself, being independent, and having enough food in the fridge and money in the bank. That is his success! To have a successful life I think you have to look past what society dictates you should have (car, house, degree, 2.5 kids, a Labrador, and a cat) and define what you want, what makes you happy, and what gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Do you think a person needs to first overcome serious setbacks or challenges to be truly successful?
Everyone experiences setbacks and challenges in life. They are unavoidable. But not everyone is successful. I think to be successful you need to learn from the challenges, and through the learning process, you grow the success. While it’s easy to say they are linked, I think you still have to push a little further to achieve success.
If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be and why?
I think I would go for the lack of tolerance that is taught to people. We aren’t born with prejudice and a lack of tolerance for people’s differences. It is a learned behaviour. How different would the world be if we were more tolerant? I don’t know for sure if you could eradicate all of the –isms, but in my head, it would be really wonderful to try!
How have your dreams and goals changed your life?
I never imagined how much my life would change when I started studying psychology. My goal was to get qualified and get a job. I saw it as a subject in the beginning, but it turned out to be a tool for self-discovery. It helped me accept that I am gay, even when I really, really didn’t want to. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it! I never imagined that moving to the UK would change my life in quite the way that I envisioned! I went to see what it was like, travel a little, and figure out my next move. I have gifted so many opportunities whilst living there. I wasn’t even sure if I would like living in there, as I had heard from so many other Zimbabweans how much they didn’t enjoy it. I was actually worried about moving over. Turns out, I love it! I met amazing people, lots of crazy people (usually the best kind of people), and with all of the ups and downs, I wouldn’t change the experience for the world! All of the little steps I have taken over the years to better my life has had incredible results in some cases. In others, there have been unforeseen impacts that I wouldn’t change. I have learned a lot about myself, other people, and hopefully how to tread more carefully in the world. I’m far from perfect and I forget to tread with care from time to time, but I do my best to learn from the mistakes and try again! Simple goals like saying yes to social engagements more can have some pretty awesome consequences! There are just so many examples of this in my life.
What do you do for fun?
I really like surfing! I’ve only tried it a few times and I’m still getting to grips with windsurfing, but I really like it! I’m a big bookworm and devour books on anything and everything. I love cooking and baking. Mostly because I love eating! I’m a big fan of a long walk. Now that I have a dog for the company it’s even better, but spending a day wondering is pretty spectacular!
What’s your favourite book and why?
My all-time favourite is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. It is such a captivating story and has some historical fact behind it. I love to lose myself in a book and this story was just so easy to do that!
How did you decide what you wanted to do with your life? How do you feel about that choice?
When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do, or where my life would take me. I worked for the British Embassy for a year straight out of school, and while I was working there, one of my colleagues was having some trouble with her son. Her son was a few years younger than me, and I felt I was able to help her at the time by chatting to her and helping her figure out ways to help her son. I decided after that incident that I really wanted to be a counsellor. So I found the college I wanted to go to and I went to South Africa for an interview. It has taken me a few years after studying and a few changes to get back into the field of helping people, and I’m really glad to be back here. Even though some days are really challenging, there is so much satisfaction in hearing how well a client is doing and seeing someone conquer their goals! I made the right decision.
What do you think are your three best qualities?
This is such a tricky question! In no real order:
My silliness! Life is too short to be serious all the time.
My optimism. I always try to find the silver lining in every situation.
My can-do attitude. I am a firm believer that anything is possible if you want it badly enough!
What are you working on to become a better YOU?
GRATITUDE! It really is life. I do my best to practice this constantly. I mess up a lot and make many mistakes, but I always aim to have gratitude in my life. Before I go to sleep every night, I make a list in my head of all the things I’m grateful for. I am also working on mindfulness and living in the present moment. It is so much harder than how they make it look in the movies! For example, I hate doing dishes, so I practice mindfulness when I’m doing them. Instead of scraping my hatred into every plate, and grumbling about doing the dishes, I focus on saying ‘i’m washing my plate’. It sounds silly, and the first time I did it, it felt weird, but I’m getting the hang of it with less ‘chatter’ interruption. It’s definitely a work in progress!
Do you have any special sayings or expressions?
I have a huge amount of silly things that I say, but they tend to be at the moment! I make up songs for my wife, usually about ridiculous things, and usually to the A-team theme tune. The rest of my expressions tend to be very crude and too naughty for here!
What place does religion have in your life?
I’m not religious. I went to a Catholic school for my entire education, and I found the rigidity of religion is not for me. I love that science allows us to question, and that there are so many unanswered questions out there to explore. There is also a quiet collaboration between quantum physics and spirituality which I follow because it shows the connectedness that exists in the world. I don’t have blind faith in anything, and I am so grateful for being able to question!
If you could possess one superhuman power, what would it be?
I would love to have a super brain! I would learn everything there was to learn and more.
Who was the biggest influence in your career?
Marisa Peer and Louise Hay have been two that stand out of the crowd. Marisa Peer’s methods are awesome and I have used some of her techniques on myself to boost my self-esteem. Louise Hay’s book, ‘the power within you’ was a game changer for me because it talked about loving yourself unconditionally. I had heard of Louise Hay and had put her books down to fluffy stuff I wasn’t into, but when I read it, it really helped me to see a different side of things. I don’t have quite the same spiritual belief, but I really love that the aim of everything in that book was just to learn to love yourself.