ANDRETA LIVENA: “SUCCESS IS A TRICKY WORD”

I am Andreta Livena from Riga, Latvia. I entered LCC in 2000, right after everybody realized that we survived the change of millennia, and I graduated on 1 May 2004, the day Latvia, Lithuania and 8 other countries entered the European Union. My major was in theology and my minor in psychology. I continued my theological studies also on the graduate level, and in 2012 and 2013 I received my master’s degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Latvia, and later completed also a hospital chaplain residency program. Currently I am serving as the head of the International Cooperation Department of National Health Service of Latvia.

Why did you choose to study at LCC?

My story might be somewhat surprising. After twelve years of schooling, when people around me tried to excel in cheating, I had decided I am not going to play this game anymore. I didn’t see the point in students pretending that they are studying and teachers pretending that they are teaching and giving fair grades. For a few years I was just working and enjoying it. Then some friends decided to apply to LCC, and I also agreed to give it a try – wondering if it would be different! And it was, and for the first time in my life I really enjoyed studying! I was encouraged to explore and wonder, and question and challenge. It was so much fun!

Can you tell us more about your current work?

As the head of the International Cooperation Department of National Health Service of Latvia I am responsible for Latvians being able to receive health care elsewhere in Europe and persons from other EU countries being able to receive health care in Latvia. I am leading and supporting a team of ten people. There are many important and challenging projects that we are working on, but my favorite part is working with people, inspiring them to learn and grow. I am also learning a lot, aspiring to do the impossible – make a difference in helping to build and transform the health care system in Latvia.

In your opinion what was the key to your success in getting where you are right now?

Success is a tricky word. I don’t particularly like it, and I think that I have never really used it in relation to myself because I tend to look at myself as a person in process, on a journey. I heard somebody recently say that all our victories and successes are not trophies to collect, but stepping stones to keep moving, growing and learning. Maya Angelou wrote, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” It is about finding home, being at home with ourselves, with what we do and how we do it. The key to that is knowing ourselves, gradually learning to accept ourselves and maybe even like ourselves.

What was the biggest challenge in your career path?

I don’t know if I would call it the biggest challenge, but for a long time in one way or another I tried to find a place to fit in. Parker Palmer in his Let Your Life Speak writes, “As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots.” I was trying hard, but painfully realized that I do not fit. And it was the most liberating moment, when I realized that I do not need to meet anyone’s expectations, but to live this one life that is given to me as the unique person that I am. In some ways I have always done that, but maybe it is about this journey of becoming more of who we really are.

How did LCC influence you and what skills did you develop during your four years of studying here?

LCC was academic heaven for me. Reading, thinking, writing, exploring – I loved it all! I suppose those were skills that were strengthened and nurtured at LCC. Critical thinking stands out as one specific skill, which I actively employed as a student by critically evaluating my own academic program. After all these years mostly the overall feeling of deeply transformative experience is there.

How do you think your degree at LCC helped or is helping you reach your goals?

My theology degree invited me to think deeply not only about the texts we were reading, but also about my own life and the world around me. But it was not just the academic degree, but the whole LCC experience and atmosphere that felt warm and nurturing, encouraging and challenging. I am grateful for knowledge and skills, but mostly for that sense of home, where I was loved and seen.

What is the most valuable lesson that you learned at LCC?

Listen. “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Many of my classes started with these words of Frederich Buechner. Listening was not an intuitional value, but along the way I met amazing people, who listened to me and encouraged me to listen to myself, to others, to God, to life.

What are your most important values in life? Did your experience at LCC help shape your values somehow?

In our fast-paced and disconnected world one of my most important values is being present to the moment, to other people, to myself here and now. I am sure that my LCC experience nurtured that – all the amazing supportive relationships of long walks and talks. Obviously, awards were given not for being present and listening to lonely souls, but for doing great things, but even that reality strangely helped me to become even more committed to who I was called to be. LCC for me was a fertile soul, where I could put down roots and grow and flourish and bloom.