Good afternoon, YouthMundees! After pivoting from a career as an elite swimmer, Rebekka Gustafson now works to connect people from around the world. She strives to utilize media to transform, working with social impact-centered brands and covering topics from mental health, social justice, and music on her podcast Let’s Talk About It. Apart from her podcast, Rebekka works with female empowerment organization The Soulfuls, HON, and in public speaking. In the very first edition of the re-redesigned Global Spotlight, (previously Artist Spotlight) Rebekka talks with Global Spotlight Magazine about how she believes storytelling can fuel empowerment and her journey/
What have you taken away from your experience as an elite athlete?
To me, being an athlete has shaped me in so many ways, and I dare say I would never have gotten to where I am today without that experience. In a sport like swimming, you train so many times a week and your whole life and being becomes centered around the sport. It can be difficult to separate yourself from it – at least in my experience. But, swimming has taught me a lot about fighting for my dreams, how to take charge of my own life, and working with my mind and body to accomplish my goals. The sacrifices you must makes as an athlete reveal what is ultimately important to you and what is not, which is something I carry with me every day. I know what I can do, and what I am not good at. I also know what I need to do to make things happen. Even though there is much out of my control, I understand what exactly I can control and not.
Do you see yourself returning to the world of sports at some point in your career?
It funny now that you mention it, as I have been thinking a lot about this since the Olympic Games. I would love to do more for athletes, especially around the topic of mental health. What we have learned the past months with incredible athletes leading the way (such as Simone Biles & Naomi Osaka) has made me realize just how far we have to go in viewing athletes as human beings and not just medal-winning machines. I would love to explore how we could change the narrative around these stars and unfold the person behind the athlete.
Did you find any surprising similarities between the world of sports and entertainment/social change?
Yes, very much so. To me, both are centered around performance, and this is where my passion lies. As a swimmer, I was fascinated by how my hands would flow through the water and how I could move my arm position just slightly to get a whole new expression. There is so much technique and mind work in swimming, and I experience to be very much the same in the entertainment industry. Both sports and entertainment also teach you a lot about delayed gratification and staying in your own lane. I have been fighting my own battles (not without help, of course) and had to continuously work on myself. I learned to trust my own process rather than constantly compare myself to others. You never know when you will hit that right opportunity; all you can do is continue believing in yourself and trust that you are doing your best every day.
Photographed by Naomi Axinte
You did a 360 degrees switch from sports to entertainment and social impact. How did you end up where you are now, and do you believe this is your true calling?
I am honestly not there, where I can fully say I have found my place in this world. But I have my moments where I get that feeling. It took me a long time to realize that, for most my life, I had neglected my creative side. I believed that I couldn’t find success in my creativity, that I simply wasn’t even creative. But after experiencing depression and anxiety, I realized that I had been suppressing this very important part of myself. I was 17 when my body told me that I could no longer be an elite athlete, and that was a big defeat to me as I had no clue about what else I liked in life. I am very much a multi-passionate and I still get overwhelmed about all these different directions my mind takes me in, but I try to trust in my path and very much believe in there being a higher power guiding me.
Also, during the pandemic, I finally embraced that I am a Highly Sensitive Person. I am born this way, and it means my brain process feelings, stimulants, and information differently than the neuro-typical brain. I’ve had to change my entire life to be in alignment with this trait; otherwise I end up constantly anxious, overwhelmed and depressed. But it was in this storm that I also reconnected with my creativity and intuition. I realized that I had been suppressing a voice inside telling me that all I want to do is perform. Singing on a stage, dicing into character, telling another person’s story or giving a speech makes me feel like I am in another world! I get the feeling that this is what life is supposed to be like – at least for me.
What do you think is the biggest impact of your work?
I have to really think about this question because I believe there is a difference on what I hope is my biggest impact and what it might actually be. I hope that my biggest impact with my work is that I create a space for people to fully be themselves, with all that it entails, and know that they deserve to live their best life. I want to tell stories of humans in all their imperfections and glory; the good days, bad days and all in between. Life can make us very close-minded, and I want to open my viewer’s minds to all the possibilities of life and what it means to be human. Saying this aloud makes me realize how big this sounds, but honestly, this is my dream.
You run a podcast- can you recall a specific moment that was especially impactful for you while running the show?
Hearing how these stories have impacted and changed people’s lives has been incredible. I stepped into the podcast space with a dream of widening my own horizons and hopefully doing that for others as well by telling stories about things we do not talk enough, therefore the name: Let’s Talk About It. Doing the podcast made me realize just how powerful our stories are, and by sharing them we can have a great impact on others. I am eternally grateful to all the amazing people who shared their stories on my pod, and that were so honest, authentic and were not afraid to go deep and be vulnerable. That was all that I dreamed off.
Photographed by Naomi Axinte
Any hints of what we can expect from Season 2?
Season 2 is going to be all about youth. I am focusing on give a platform to all the young change-makers out there as well as just talk about what it means to be young today. We have just started recording with some incredible guest that I never thought we would be able to get on the pod, but it has happened! This season we will also have episode in Danish (my native language) as well, and I have seen the past year how much my birth country needs this, but in its own tone. I am excited to see what impact that can have in Denmark and also open myself up to tell stories from my home country. I always tend to go outside of the world where I come from, so this is truly new to me- it almost feels more intimate and scary. So I can’t lie, I am quite nervous to share the Danish episode and hope people will welcome them with an open mind.
Do you have any words of advice?
I want to let you know that I am just a human being like you. I struggle, I fail, I cry and make mistakes – lots of them. I truly believe life is what you make of it, and I try to put as much love as I can into the little things every day that makes me happy. So I hope that everyone who is reading this might read this article as an inspiration and an open opportunity to connect (I keep my DM’s open). Take with you the parts that resonate with you and just leave the rest. This life is for you – let it be just that.
Finally, can you tell us what is next for you?
I have just stepped on as a co-city-leader in Copenhagen for the Global Female Network, HON as well as received a seat on the Youth Advisory Board at an incredible organization called the Soulfuls. I am very excited to help create more opportunities for women and girls, especially those of coming from a minority background. I realize I come from a very privileged background, and I’d like to utilize this to create as much positive change as I can. For the past year, I have been hosting a talk show in Denmark called ‘Droemmefanger’ together with an incredible youth foundation. We are currently planning the interviews for the rest of this year and the future of the show, which I am very excited about. I am also hoping that I within the next year can get back to acting and singing as I have been a little away from these fields, and I’m crossing my fingers that I can make that happen. Oh, and I really want to start a YouTube channel before 2021 ends. This has been on my radar for years, but I finally feel like now is the time. It’s never too late to start, and I have been feeling called to this the past year.
Thank you all so much for your continued support. We look forward to bringing you the voice of more inspiring artists and changemakers in 2021.