Wisdom from an Old Lady

Wisdom from an Old Lady

April 1, 2024

Wisdom from an old lady

By Executive Director, Jannemiek Evelo


8 things I have learned as Executive Director of CHOICE 

Being Executive Director of CHOICE has been the experience of a lifetime. Did I know what I was signing up for? Back then I definitely thought so, yes, but looking back, I definitely did not. It has been the craziest journey, a rollercoaster with many highs but of course also lows. I learned more than I could ever imagine – about being a feminist leader, about running an organization, about the international development and SRHR sector, but mostly about myself.  


I know I am not the only one that has been in this boat. There are many amazing youth-led organizations around the world, and that also means there are many young people who get to be in leadership roles for the first time. Therefore, I thought it would be nice to share a list of 8 things I have learned in my journey as Executive Director of CHOICE – 8 things I wish someone had told me 3 years ago, before I started. Secretly, I think these are things that apply to life in general. So now that I have become an old person as I’m transitioning out of CHOICE, I thought it was a nice moment to share some wisdom! 


  1. Feminist leadership is here to stay. When I started, ‘feminist leadership’ was a concept I had heard of but was not too familiar with. Over the years, I have embraced it and it helped me to dare to be a different kind of leader, based on my values of care, inclusivity and joy.  
  2. Your added value is not that you are the same as everyone else, your added value is that you are different. As director, in more instances than I can count, I have been the youngest person in the room. At first, I was often not only impressed, but also intimidated by others in the room, and wondered how I could ever be like them. Until I realized, my added value as a young director was exactly the opposite. I was not like them, and because of that, I had a lot of useful insights to share. 
  3. Never say: “We didn’t have a crisis in a while”. One will happen immediately. Nothing to add here, just saying.  
  4. Trust your gut. The first months as ED, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of decisions I had to make, and I felt I did not have the time to always research and think through everything. But through my time, I really learned to trust my gut. It’s not always right, but it’s definitely right more often than I expected. 
  5. Starting the day a bit earlier is not a bad idea. This is something that feels wild to say, as I am absolutely not a morning person. But, while being ED, I have actually enjoyed being quite early in the office, before everyone else came in. It gave me the feeling I could get things done before everyone came in with a lot of questions, and because of that I felt ahead during the rest of the day. I'm still not good at getting out of bed though, unfortunately.  
  6. It’s better to do 95% of things, and do them well, than to always keep pushing and aiming for a 100%. Those that know me well know that I am a big fan of cycling, and I actually got this life lesson from a podcast with now-retired cycling champion Annemiek van Vleuten. Once I started applying this to work, it made me feel a lot more relaxed. I felt comfortable in doing things well, instead of wanting to be in control of everything. 
  7. Having a hobby you love (or 2, or 7) is so important.  Okay, I’m cheating a bit here, as I did know this before, and for a long time one of my problems in life has been fitting all my favorite sports, catching up with friends, going to the cinema and reading books in the same week. But during my time as ED, doing things outside of work that I really love to do has definitely kept me sane from time to time. I started climbing not too long before I started as ED, and those nights during which I needed my brainpower to puzzle out routes together with my friends have done a great deal to wind down and de-stress after a busy day.  
  8. Don’t forget to have fun! Being ED before or in your early 30s, and especially of a youth-led organization is really something else. It’s a crazy job that gives you incredible opportunities. Sometimes, in the midst of everything that happens and the stressful situations, I almost forgot how special my job actually was. But then something would always come up – big or small – that reminded me of exactly that. And for the past three years, I had more precious moments than I can count. I will never forget all the laughs we had in the office, the crazy moments when travelling, and especially the amazing people I have worked with.  


I am writing this on my last day at the CHOICE office. It is a day full of different emotions – sadness, joy, excitement, nostalgia and many more. But the most prominent one is gratefulness. It has been a wild ride, a crazy adventure, and I feel in the past 3 years I have become 10 years older. As I now even have some grey hairs to account for it, the time has come for me to move on. And for the future, I know that CHOICE will always be this special place for young people to make mistakes, grow and discover themselves. A place where magic happens. Here's to many more generations of young & powerful!