Saturday 8 July 2023

Interview with Ellen Jansen

Monika: Today let me present Ellen Jansen, an inspirational woman from Maastricht, Netherlands. She is a businesswoman and founder of Cheappower4U, a company offering services in the field of energy transitions in residential construction. In addition, she is a coach and speaker, helping people, teams, and organizations with transformation processes. She is the author of "Eindelijk Ellen: ​​De Odyssee van een transgender vrouw" (2023) - Finally Ellen: The Odyssey of a transgender woman. Hello Ellen! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Ellen: Hi Monika! You’re welcome, happy to share my story.
Monika: I am really excited to talk to you. Could you say a few words about yourself?
Ellen: Of course! I am 38 years old, residing in Maastricht as you already mentioned, which in my opinion is the most beautiful city in the Netherlands. I am an entrepreneur at heart and derive a great deal of passion from it. I have successfully developed a product that contributes to the energy transition in the Netherlands. Additionally, as you indicated, I coach individuals and organizations, and finally, I am an ambassador for Workplace Pride, a global foundation that advocates for inclusivity in the workplace.
Monika: You are a successful businesswoman. How did you find your own niche in the market?
Ellen: I noticed a challenge in making sustainable renovations affordable for existing buildings in the Netherlands, particularly those with central heating systems. These buildings are often inhabited by people with a slightly lower income. In total, this represents about 600,000 households, making it a substantial market. Unlike new construction projects, there are limited options available for these residents to make their homes more sustainable. However, once I set a goal for myself, I am determined to achieve it. As a result, I developed a technique that allows these residents to generate their own electricity supply. Subsequently, I obtained a patent for this innovation.
"My coaching revolves around training
individuals with knowledge and
persuasive techniques to become
stronger than these thoughts."
Monika: In addition, you are a transformation consultant. What is the most difficult part of every transformation?
Ellen: As an individual, I have undergone a significant transformation. Likewise, I have had to reshape my energy company multiple times. All these changes have an impact on oneself and the surrounding environment. What I have noticed is that these effects often exhibit the same characteristics. They are simply the same processes occurring in our brains. Whether in a personal or business setting, changes are inherently scary and uncomfortable. It is primarily the fear of the unknown that prevents many individuals and organizations from embracing change.
Monika: Are there some general truths or principles that can be applied to our transitions? When I did mine I guess it was a very chaotic process. I knew where I wanted to be but the whole implementation was full of emotions that did not allow me to do it in the methodical way in which transformations are carried out in business.
Ellen: First and foremost, let me emphasize that emotions are valid and necessary. Fear, happiness, love, sadness - these emotions alternate as we venture into the unknown. You can observe this pattern in all transition processes. The danger lies in our reptilian brain (the oldest part of our brain) taking control and "protecting" us from making wrong choices or facing unfamiliar situations. Essentially, this part of our brain is designed for fight-or-flight responses, allowing us to swiftly escape in the face of real danger. However, in the case of perceived danger, it keeps many individuals within their comfort zones, rooted in their upbringing and familiar surroundings. It keeps them away from those daunting emotions and thoughts associated with the unknown that awaits them. Overcoming this is the greatest challenge.
My coaching revolves around training individuals with knowledge and persuasive techniques to become stronger than these thoughts. Essentially, you train the cognitive brain through information, which diminishes the instinctive reactions and lessens the fear associated with emotions. Ultimately, your brain is like a programmable chip that you can control. However, it requires dedication and self-investment to achieve this.
Monika: When you published "Eindelijk Ellen”, was it a spontaneous decision to share your transition story or you had other inspirations or reasons?
Ellen: Well, my biggest mistake ever was thinking that my transition couldn't be compatible with success. Driven as I am, I always had a bucket list of things I wanted to achieve. I genuinely believed that combining my transition with success was unattainable. That was until I fell into depression and realized where true happiness lies: living according to your true identity. Everything else is secondary.
Ultimately, I spent over 25 years fighting against myself, trying to be stronger than my identity, out of fear of the consequences it would have on my success. It nearly cost me my life, and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone else. That experience was one of the main motivations behind writing my book. By the way, currently the book is only available in Dutch. However, I expect to have the English version ready starting from this fall (2023).
Available via
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Ellen: Let me begin by stating that every choice we make in life comes with consequences, both positive and negative. There are pleasant outcomes and less favorable ones. Ultimately, this is an inherent part of life. However, if we remain within our comfort zones and avoid making choices, we will never truly become the ultimate version of ourselves—the hero of our own story. Yes, I experienced the immense pain of losing my fiancĂ©, and I went through a challenging time with my mother. Fortunately, my father supported me from day one. Over time, my mother came to realize that this is who I have always been and that my true happiness lies within this journey. Every parent wishes genuine happiness for their child.
Unfortunately, I know that many people do not have the same level of support and may indeed lose individuals in their lives. Thankfully, besides my fiancé, I haven't experienced such losses. I can only say that it is crucial to take people along on your coming out journey, helping them understand the profound reasons that have led you to where you are. After all, an entire film has already played out in your mind, and as the director of that film, it is essential to ensure that your loved ones understand what is happening within you and why you make certain choices. In doing so, you will attract those who follow you in your film. Those who don't are simply not meant for you and should be released on your path of personal growth.
Monika: Why did you choose Ellen for your name?
Ellen: That was the name my parents had chosen for me in case I had been physically born as a girl.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Ellen: Well, when I shared my story with my parents, they started to view many things from my childhood in a different light. Many puzzle pieces fell into place for them. However, they hadn't thought of it themselves; I believe they were simply too close to me to see it. And I am also partly to blame for this because I never told them anything and always secretly dressed up as a girl. I kept that hidden skillfully.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Ellen: I certainly relate to these feelings, but I have worked incredibly hard on myself in this regard. A combination of hormone treatment, intense physical exercise, healthy nutrition, and mental training has literally transformed my body and mind. I sense a new aura, partly due to the hormones. But also, through taking good care of my body, I've noticed that my cells have been able to rearrange themselves into the woman I've always been on the inside.
Ultimately, from a physical perspective, we are simply a collection of cells driven by hormones, in my opinion. You just need to lend a helping hand to those hormones by pampering your body with a healthy lifestyle. A waistline emerged, I grew beautiful long hair, developed curves, and acquired that feminine energy (which men find quite attractive). It takes hard work, but it leads to a certain radiance and self-assuredness. People can feel it when they see me, and it has a magnetizing effect. Whether 100% passable or not, you largely create that perception yourself. In my opinion, a significant portion of how others perceive you is within your control.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Ellen: Yes, that's definitely the case, as mentioned in the previous response.
"I know several transgender women who
have successful jobs and careers."
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person that opened your eyes and allowed you to realize who you are?
Ellen: Yes, that was Kelly van der Veer who participated in Big Brother, she was one of the first transgender women on Dutch television. I was still a teenager at that time. It was then that I suddenly realized that my dress-up activities might not just be a hobby.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Ellen: During my early days of transition, I had the privilege of having a close trans woman friend. Our friendship was significant as we navigated our personal journeys together. Although our paths eventually diverged for reasons unrelated to her gender identity, the experience allowed me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the challenges faced by trans individuals.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of getting to know several trans women on a personal level. However, I no longer make a distinction between my cisgender and transgender friends. To me, they are all my friends, regardless of their gender identity. I value them for their character, shared interests, and the meaningful connections we have established, rather than focusing on the way they were assigned at birth. Inclusivity and acceptance are fundamental values that I hold, and they shape the way I approach my friendships and interactions with others
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Ellen: I think we can consider ourselves fortunate in the Netherlands for the opportunities provided by our healthcare system, as well as the legal possibility to change one's gender. I know several transgender women who have successful jobs and careers, so I believe that ultimately anything is possible. You just have to believe in yourself, pursue your dreams, and work hard. I believe that this applies to everyone, regardless of being transgender. In my personal experience, being transgender doesn't hinder success, especially not in the country where I live.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Ellen: Yes, fashion has become a tremendous passion of mine. A few years ago, I went through a sort of second puberty, where I had to rediscover myself completely, including in terms of clothing. Personally, I'm a huge fan of Sandro and Maje, two exclusive fashion brands. I consider myself fortunate to be able to afford their clothes, although I had to work really hard for it. I enjoy following the fashion they offer, and I don't have a specific preference in terms of clothing type. Usually, it's a slightly sportier style, not too frilly. That's just not me. You can see plenty of it on my Instagram, ellen_in_maastricht!
Monika: I remember copying my sister and mother first, and later other women, trying to look 100% feminine, and my cis female friends used to joke that I try to be a woman that does not exist in reality. Did you experience the same?
Ellen: No, I don't really relate to that. For me, dressing as a man in the past felt incredibly unnatural, so in a way, it was like coming home to myself from day one. It felt natural and right for me quite early on.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Ellen: I think everyone enjoys that. But indeed, when you receive compliments on something you've longed for, it might be even more fulfilling.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Ellen: Not really, I have my own business so I don't have experience with that. However, I do remember the conversations I had with clients and partners during my coming out. It was a very special period in my life that I will never forget.
"Stay true to yourself and act from your
own personality and strengths."
Monika: When I came out at work, my male co-workers treated me in a way as if the transition lowered my IQ. Did you experience the same? Do you think it happens because we are women or because we are transgender? Or both?
Ellen: No, fortunately, I can't speak to that. People saw the same person with the same product they enjoyed working with – clients and partners. They just saw me becoming happier and radiating joy, and everyone sincerely wished that for me.
I think the reactions you described often stem from a lack of understanding of the subject matter. Fear of the unknown can lead to (often unintentional) instinctive reactions from our reptilian brain. That's why I placed so much emphasis on an extensive coming out period where I explained in detail to everyone how things were for me. This was also one of the reasons why I wrote my book. My advice is to always ensure that, as the director of your own film, your environment understands what's happening in your mind. That responsibility falls on you. 
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Ellen: Stay true to yourself and act from your own personality and strengths. The ultimate power lies in authenticity. By staying true to yourself and living authentically, you will ultimately have the most strength in your life. If a company doesn't want to hire you, then keep searching. After all, they're not the right fit for you. You shouldn't change yourself to fit an employer's mold, as that will inevitably lead to a burn-out. This unfortunately happens all too often and is not exclusive to being transgender. Do the things that align with who you are and seek alignment with a company that accepts that version of you. That's where you'll thrive, and your employer will benefit the most from your success.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Ellen: No, unfortunately, my schedule doesn't allow for that. However, I am an ambassador for Workplace Pride, a global organization.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Ellen: Love is certainly important to me. I am grateful for the love of my parents, my many girlfriends and friends, and other relationships. I have a wonderful support network around me, which makes me feel blessed. I am currently not in a romantic relationship, but I believe it will come in due time. I meet plenty of great men, but I think all women can relate to the fact that you don't meet Mr. Right Guy immediately. That is unrelated to being transgender, I believe. As for the men who have an issue with my background, well, it's similar to the situation with that employer. It's best to move on quickly and leave them behind because they are simply not the right people for you. My advice would be not to dwell on it for too long.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Ellen: It's hard to say. My life has changed tremendously in recent years. In addition to running my business, I started coaching individuals and organizations (especially in personal growth and change management), became an ambassador for Workplace Pride, wrote my biography, and occasionally do modeling work. None of this was planned. So I try not to make too many plans and instead enjoy the opportunities that come my way. My advice is to focus on yourself, and you will see that your environment and opportunities will follow. People naturally gravitate toward someone who is strong, happy, and radiant, based on my experience.
"It is primarily the fear of the unknown that
prevents many individuals and organizations
from embracing change."
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Ellen: Follow your heart above all else. It is your compass in life, nothing else. Don't let yourself be guided by your surroundings or fears. Of course, by following your heart, you will encounter challenges. After all, you are venturing into the unknown. And challenges are always present in the unknown, regardless of being transgender.
However, the fact remains that true freedom and strength lie beyond that "comfort zone" in which you currently reside. Overcoming these fears and getting closer to yourself will bring you the energy and joy of living that you would never experience otherwise. Over time, you will hardly be able to imagine that you were once so uncertain that you didn't dare to choose your own happiness. You will become the hero of your own journey, the ultimate goal of my coaching program. 
Monika: My pen-friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Ellen: I believe that going through a transition can bring you home to your own life, if it is truly what you desire. With the profound effects it has, both physically and mentally, in my experience, you enter a phase of life where your long-held desires become a reality. In my perception, once you have faced that confrontation with yourself, you can handle anything. Television appearances, speaking to large groups of people, photoshoots - nothing scares me anymore since then. As I mentioned before, the power of authenticity and living beyond that comfort zone is boundless!
Monika: Ellen, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Ellen: The pleasure was all mine!

All the photos: courtesy of Ellen Jansen.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

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