Wil Kilsdonk | Be Enthusiastic and Stay True to Yourself.

An Interview with Kat Mische Elle

Wil, Where were your born?

I was born and raised in a small village in the Netherlands. I could not wish to grow up in a better place.

It was in a working-class neighborhood. Each household had two or three kids, more or less my age. We grew up on the streets, all playing together. My Family and I were familiar with all the people around us. It was a close community where I had been inside all the houses at one time or another. As a child, I was too adventurous and knew one day I would leave this safe place and fly away.

My father worked in the Air Force but was not a typical soldier. He was always thinking outside of the box. He was open-minded. He was a poet, but also the manager of a Dutch singer and the treasurer of garden grounds where people could grow their crops. What he taught me was that you can do whatever interests you. You don’t have to put yourself in a certain box for the rest of your life and stay there. 

Unfortunately, my parents’ relationship had its ups and downs, which resulted in my mom divorcing my dad. I was 12 years old when their marriage ended. It happened on my 12th birthday. When I returned from school, there was a note on the table written by my mother saying that she had left the family. 

My two-year older sister and I figured things were going in that direction but didn’t expect it to happen like this. 

How did their divorce play a part in shaping your life?
My father took 100% responsibility for caring for us. Since my father was managing the household, he also gave my sister and me tasks to help keep the home running like normal. So, I became very independent and responsible at a young age. The three of us—my father, my sister, and I—had to manage everything in our home. There was no other support. 

That discipline also created the person I am today. It taught me to get things done. I learned that I could complain about something for hours when being asked to do something, or I could fix it in half an hour.

I learned that life was about taking responsibility for something. You don’t walk away from responsibilities. You don’t walk away from challenges. That is something that I have never done as an adult.

You were probably on a mission quietly fueled by your subconscious mind to not be like your mother in the way she walked away from her responsibilities. 
You know, I did not think of it like that. But I can see how it could relate. If I give you my word, you will see me follow through with it. That’s who I am. I want people to know that they can rely on me.

At a very young age, I also realized that if the person who loves you the most in your life is leaving you, well, then you’re on your own. That is the message I received. So, being resilient, resourceful, and ambitious in life was also instilled in me in those early years.

I always wanted to challenge myself; I wanted to exploit things. To pioneer.

I needed to challenge myself because I knew I had the perseverance to achieve. And if I didn’t reach the exact goal I was focused on, what I learned along the way would only strengthen my ability to accomplish my next challenge. 

In 1986, when I was 19, there was a vacancy for a Ministry of Defense position in El Paso, Texas, on the Mexican border that my father was interested in pursuing. He was hired for the position, and we moved to the US.

I stayed there with him for almost three years. When I was around 22, my dad and I were going through a phase of not getting along, and we decided that I was going back home to the Netherlands. 

With only $2,000 in my pocket, I returned to the Netherlands without a plan or a place to live. Soon after I returned, I got a letter from the Ministry of Defense saying I had to fulfill my draft. A recruitment officer advised me to join a special section of the army. After I completed the extreme military training, I became part of a special reconnaissance unit. Jumping from aircraft was one of the regiment’s specialisms and a mandatory program.  

A thought came back to me, and I realized that when I was around ten years old, I made a list of what I wanted to do in life, and traveling and skydiving were on that list! 

I have an old globe made of glass that I would stare at as a kid. I always played with the globe with my finger going over the edges. I remember thinking I wanted to travel the world and help people with my knowledge and skills.

I wasn’t sure what job I would have in the future, but I knew that I wanted it to be where I could step onto a plane, land somewhere else, and do the same work in my life from anywhere. 

After I left the service, I was hired as a marketing assistant at an IT-company listed on the stock exchange. But the job in this office did not satisfy me, and I resigned. I called my friend living in the Dominican Republic and asked if he would mind if I visited him. He happily welcomed me to make the trip. I bought a one-way ticket. When I arrived, I was hired at a surf school where I was not a surf instructor; instead, I did mountain bike tours that I had encouraged them to offer. 

It was suitable for a while, but I was not advancing in life the way I wanted to. I chose to get recommitted to myself. I knew I could use my mass communication degree and my natural gifts for connecting with people for something big. 

I returned to the Netherlands and applied for a producer position at a TV-production company. 

What inspired you to move forward with that desired career path?
I like to organize and be creative and connect with people. And in television, this all comes together. I had already developed a natural ability to work for television or radio in the US, but I was more motivated by the television broadcasting tasks. I applied at an independent production company for an assistant producer position. I knew I could have the opportunity to learn fast and get the experience to make a career. 

I started as a “runner.” I was fine with that; I knew that I could prove what I was worth. Five years later, I was a Production Manager for big studio shows and live events. Then I was promoted to Executive Producer. My next goal was where I wanted to be, and that was becoming a consulting producer and starting up productions abroad. I was an Executive Producer for four and a half years. And then they offered me the job of becoming a flying producer for many big shows. And I have been in that position now for fourteen years. This role has given me the possibility to travel to over 50 countries and meet new people and cultures.

I have an old globe made of glass that I would stare at as a kid. I always played with the globe with my finger going over the edges. I remember thinking I wanted to travel the world and help people with my knowledge and skills.

What is the best advice for building a successful career without compromising integrity? 
I think it’s important always to be enthusiastic, be yourself, and stay close to who you are. If you never lose yourself, no matter your career path, many great things will come to you. I have always been myself, and I embrace challenges. I do not give up, and I always volunteer extra effort. 

Do what you like to do and do it with passion. Walk the extra mile, and then success will follow automatically. That would be my advice. To embody those characteristics and take charge of your dreams.

What in your life has been your finest moment? 
It’s hard to pick one since I have been living with embracing my life’s momentum. But it was in my early twenties when I got the Green Beret. The combination of accomplishing incredibly tough military training and belonging to a small elite group of people who have also achieved this it’s such an honorable thing. 

It was the first time in my life that I realized I had truly achieved something special. 

Who do you give your gratitude for learning the steps in your career success? 
First, my father. He showed me during my youth what it is to take responsibility. He taught me to think and dream big. He showed me that someone could be a poet and an Air Force man. He showed me how to live honestly. Because that’s what you always carry with you, your integrity is valuable. And the importance of working together as a team. That is what my father has given me. Those lessons are what I took with me on all my adventures throughout my entire life. 

So, whatever chapter of life you were living in, you took that foundation and applied it in every scenario, and it continued to add to your prosperity.

I am also grateful for my director for a long time; we have been working together for 25 years at different companies. She has always believed in me and has given me the opportunity to grow. 

And, of course, my wife Juulka. She has always been an incredible support system. With flair, she manages the household, our two teenagers, and her own real estate agency.

What is the best way for people to reach you?
The best way is through LinkedIn.

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