Who am I?
A few years ago, I didn't even know the answer to that question.
After 40 years in a cult, followed a long journey of discovery, looking for a way back to a normal life, learning to love myself as I am, that is the background for what I write about in my books and talk about in my lectures.
I had a unique and unusual childhood
I had a rather unusual upbringing. I was born in Addis Ababa. I grew up in Chicago and Geneva and moved to Bergen when I was 11.
The teenage years that followed were difficult. I had a hard time adapting. I was bullied and had no friends. I did everything I could to be liked and accepted, but it didn't help. I didn't belong anywhere.
Picture: Me, as a young boy in Ethiopia, making friends.
For 40 years I lived as a member of the Children of God
One day in January 1972 I met members of the Children of God sect. I was easy prey for the exuberant joy they had and the care and love they showed. It didn't take long for them to convince me to give up all my possessions and move into their collective.
It took 40 long years before I found the courage to leave the infamous sect.
I was looking forward to starting over. What I didn't know was that I was so brainwashed by the years in the cult that it would take another ten years before I was able to come to terms with my past and finally start living my own life.
Picture: Teaching a Bible class to one of our visitors.
I became fascinated with personal development
In the cult, obedience to the leaders was absolute. To ensure that we would never have negative thoughts about the cult and the leaders, we always had to make sure that we were empty of our own thoughts and opinions, and fill our heads with positive thoughts from God's word and writings from our leader. After I moved out of the cult, for the first time in 40 years, I could start to think for myself. Maybe that's why I was so fascinated by personal development.
I read countless books on the subject, and I took courses with, among others, John Maxwell, Tony Robbins and Brendon Burchard. I was convinced they had the answers I was looking for, and for several years I tried everything the gurus said would help me.
Picture: Tony Robbins helping me see the importance of identity.
I was born a butterfly but lived like a caterpillar
It helped a little, but most of all it was frustrating. I didn't understand why, after all my efforts, I was still stuck, why I still had so little self-confidence, why I couldn't change.
I felt that I had lived my whole life as a caterpillar, and I longed to be able to transform into a butterfly.
One day I understood I had it all wrong. It was not possible for me to become a butterfly.
Why? Because I wasn't born a caterpillar. I was born a butterfly. I was born me, and I didn't need to change. I just needed to be myself.
All my life I had tried to fit in, to be liked, to be accepted. That was also why I had not told anyone that I had lived so many years in a cult.
In the process, I had forgotten who I was.
I set out on a journey to find myself
That revelation helped me start the journey to find my way back to who I was.
This journey of discovery began with a TED talk in Stockholm where, for the first time, I had the courage to tell the world that I had been a member of a cult. The journey continued, more like a rollercoaster, and it took several years to become comfortable with being myself, to be happy with who I am. I realized that it is not what others think of me that is important. It's what I think about myself.
I describe much of my life and this journey in my first book, Instängd, and even more in my soon-to-be-published new book in Norwegian.
Picture: From my TEDx talk in Stockholm.
What do I do now?
What has amazed me the most when I have told my story is how many people relate to what I have to say. They have never been in a cult, but have had similar experiences, whether at work, with friends, at home, or in relationships. Too many people struggle to enjoy the life they have.
That is why I want to do what I can to help others who are stuck in one way or another, to understand that there is a way out, that it is possible to be free, to be themselves.
I can't give you a secret key that unlocks the life you dream of. But I know there is a key that can help you unlock new possibilities in your life. And I'd love to help you find it.
I am also passionate about the fact that together we can create a world, or circle of friends, a workplace where no one feels left out, where they do not feel that they have to change who they are in order to be understood and accepted, where they can feel free to explore their identity and become a better version of yourself.