Questions for Marc Wallert


What does FAQ mean?

FAQs are "frequently asked questions."
"Fun answers & questions" often hits the mark even better ...

The Kidnapping

What did the kidnappers actually want?

Even the kidnappers themselves were not exactly sure. At least, it took weeks for the five leaders of Abu Sayyaf to agree on their demands. Leader Galib Andang, or "Commander Robot", initially tried to pressure the release of his brother in faith, Ramzi Ahmet Yousef, from US custody, who was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Other negotiation goals included exclusive fishing rights or even an autonomous Islamic state in the south of the Philippines. In the end, the Abu Sayyaf leaders agreed on their final demand: ransom.

Why was your kidnapping so prominent in the media at the time?

The "kidnapping of the Wallert family in the Philippines" was THE headline in 2000. The 8 pm "Tagesschau" news alone reported a total of 2 hours about our kidnapping – plus special reports afterwards. This was partly because our kidnappers placed value on international coverage from the beginning: "We want CNN," said rebel leader Commander Robot right at the start. Hundreds of journalists visited, interviewed, and filmed us during our hostage situation on the Philippine island of Jolo. These images went around the world and deeply moved many people back home.

Why did you go on vacation in a crisis area at that time?

Honestly, this is by far the most annoying question of all! Why? Because many media reports from the year 2000 incorrectly stated that the Wallert family had been "kidnapped in the Philippines." This left many people with the memory of an "adventure vacation," an image that still follows us to this day. However, the opposite is true: The island of Sipadan in Malaysia was an exceptionally peaceful place until our kidnapping, where there had never been similar problems, nor were there any travel warnings. We could not possibly have foreseen our kidnapping. We were innocently and suddenly abducted by terrorists to the rebel island of Jolo in the southern Philippines.

Such is the nature of terror: It can strike suddenly anywhere, whether you work in the World Trade Center in New York, ride the subway through London, or visit the Berlin Christmas market – terror does not announce itself, not even on a diving vacation in Sipadan.

Would you go on a diving vacation to Sipadan in Malaysia again today?

Sipadan is considered one of the most beautiful diving spots in the world. The island is now even one of the safest places in the world – a military base. So, anyone who manages to get a diving license here can consider themselves lucky. I myself am not currently planning a vacation on Sipadan. However, I'm also not the type of vacationer who goes to the same place twice.

If you could, would you undo your kidnapping?

No. That would be crazy! The suffering is already behind me. I have survived my kidnapping and have grown from it. I genuinely wish no one has to go through something as terrible as that. But today, I wouldn't want to miss out on this learning experience anymore – it has enriched my life.

About Resilience

What is resilience?

A resilience definition? Well, there are countless ones!
My favorite is:

"Resilience is the maintenance or rapid restoration of mental health during or after adversities." [Raffael Kalisch]

Resilience is the technical term for inner strength or mental resilience. Nowadays, resilience is scientifically better supported. Resilience is based on seven, sometimes eight, and sometimes ten protective factors, also called keys or pillars of resilience, depending on the concept. These factors include acceptance, optimism, and self-efficacy, which also helped me a lot during my kidnapping. You can learn more about resilience in the blog article "What is Resilience?"

A small side note: To this day, my computer's autocorrect suggests changing "Resilience" to "Resistance." And that's despite resilience being on everyone's lips, especially since the pandemic. The suggested change to "Resistance" actually corresponds to the common misconception that many people have because resilience does mean psychological "resistance." However, resistance is not always the right approach when resilience is needed. Sometimes, yielding is in the spirit of flexibility!

Is resilience innate or can it be learned?

Resilience primarily develops throughout our lives. Important foundations are laid in childhood. Even babies develop a sense of self-efficacy when parents respond positively to their crying. These individuals are more likely to feel that they can change their situation, actively develop problem-solving strategies, and are less likely to adopt a victim mentality later in life. However, in adulthood, we can also train our resilience. For example, we can strengthen our optimism by deliberately focusing on positive images in difficult situations.

What are the risks of resilience?

Yes, there are indeed risks associated with resilience. Resilience is often misunderstood as a universal remedy AGAINST stress. However, resilience is about handling stress well. Stress is a survival mechanism. It can be potentially fatal to simply "get rid of" stress. Similarly, job-related sleeplessness should not be "meditated away" or relationship stress should not be "jogged away." While these approaches may alleviate the symptoms of stress, they do not address the root causes. This often leads to the postponement of necessary changes. A good and resilient approach to stress also means using stress symptoms as indicators of impending changes and addressing stressors proactively. This applies both in private life and in the professional context. Some companies may offer resilience training to their employees to make them more resilient to stress, meaning more capable of performing under stress and enduring it. However, this presents a significant risk. Stress symptoms in employees can be a crucial indicator of structural or cultural issues within the organization. For example, it may be necessary to work on the error culture or leadership culture within the company. In such cases, training employees to endure a problematic situation would be counterproductive. While providing short-term support for stress management can be useful, an organization becomes truly resilient when it not only copes with stress but also eliminates its sources.

About the Book

Is your book more of an autobiography or a guide?

It's both. On one hand, I take my readers on a very personal journey through my life. On the other hand, I apply the insights from my life crises to their everyday lives. My jungle strategies, such as acceptance and optimism, are well-supported by scientific evidence. Therefore, my resilience strategies are relevant for everyday life, especially in times of COVID-19.

I don't refer to my book as a guide, but rather as an "inspiration giver." There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for resilience because every person and every crisis is very individual. We all have our own survival strategies. However, much of what helped me in my life can also help other people. That's why I share my experiences openly and encourage reflection.

Did you relive everything while writing? Was it distressing or liberating?

The writing process was like giving birth, with plenty of labor pains and fortunately great midwives and helpers. In the end, it was liberating when my book saw the light of day. Reading my own jungle diaries was particularly intense. On hundreds of pages, I could relive in the original words of the time how incredibly nerve-wracking the time in the jungle was. Especially the many little things like "going to the bathroom," which had faded in memory behind the major events like "military attacks," came back to my consciousness.

Even more emotional than my kidnapping, however, was the process of addressing my personal life crises in my career and relationship. Here too, it was good to sort through what I had experienced and recognize what I had learned.

Was it difficult to share your personal life crises so brutally honestly?

Absolutely! It remained an intense process until the last line of the book. There were moments of doubt in between, "Can I publish this so openly?" Then there was the courage again, "Yes, because there is something valuable in it." Baring one's soul is not an end in itself. But if honesty serves insight, then it makes sense.

This is why personal messages from readers always touch me, such as "I found myself in so many of your life crises" or "Your book came at exactly the right time for me and changed my life."

Today, I encourage people to deal with their life crises openly, as they are part of life. Because they often are even a prerequisite for inner growth. Because we can only transform crises into opportunities when we acknowledge them, that is, "recognize" and "seize" them.

How did you come up with the title "Strength through Crises"?

"Strength through Crises" is not only the title of my book but also my motto as a keynote speaker. Almost everyone around me advised against it: "With 'crisis' in the title, no one will book you!", "Choose a more positive title like 'Strong through Optimism' or something." But I stuck to it: I want to call a spade a spade and not beat around the bush. I have a fondness for "crises" because without them, I wouldn't be who I am today, fortunately. I love the creative power of crises, without sugarcoating them, mind you!

Jürgen Diessl (ECON publisher at Ullstein) was one of the few who immediately supported the title "Strength through Crises." A bit of luck is also part of it...

Are there plans for a second book?

Yes. Thoughts flow in every free minute, automatically. I'm curious about this writing journey myself. What will it be about? Certainly not my abduction, but still extremely exciting: it's about THE ultimate challenge: our everyday life!

Did you become rich as a best-selling author?

Haha, I used to think that too! I thought "best-selling authors," especially those who are constantly on radio and television, are financially secure. Fortunately, personal wealth was not the goal of my publication. Because neither books nor being a guest on talk shows make you rich unless you're the author of Harry Potter. Nevertheless, my book and media appearances give my message a strong reach. I'm very grateful for that. As a keynote speaker, the reach helps me because event organizers like to book best-selling authors who are already known to the audience from radio and television.

About the Lecture

Is a "keynote" the same as a "lecture"?

No. A keynote is a type of lecture, but not every lecture is a keynote. A keynote speech refers to the main address delivered by the keynote speaker at an event. It sets the tone for an event, similar to a tuning fork in tuning a capella choirs. Keynotes are often delivered at the beginning of an event, but they can also be used as a closing inspirational talk or even as a motivating transition in the middle of an event. I am frequently booked as a keynote speaker for events with themes such as "Facing the Future with Courage," "Seizing Opportunities and Embracing Change," or "Together We Are Strong." Personally, I don't mind whether I'm called a keynote speaker, lecturer, or inspirational speaker, and whether my speech is labeled as a keynote, inspirational talk, or "motivational speak." What matters is the impact, and I stand by that!

Why does a 30-minute keynote cost the same as a full day of training?

It's not the effort (time) but the impact (value) that matters when it comes to lecture fees. Just like with medications. It's not about the manufacturing cost per pill (low), but about effectiveness. "Small pill, big impact" is the result of years of multi-billion-dollar research and development. My "pill" is called a "keynote." It contains a unique blend of leadership and abduction experience – 20 years condensed into 30 minutes. Complex messages are digestibly compressed, and positive insights are delivered in the highest possible dosage.

I develop my speeches over years and tailor them to each client. This requires continuous education, such as my recent certification as a resilience trainer or as a professional speaker (GSA).

Event organizers love short, impactful messages. They save their participants' precious time while achieving maximum impact. Imagine you have 300 employees, and you want to inspire them or motivate them for upcoming challenges during difficult times. You certainly want to ensure that a professional truly connects with your event attendees emotionally! And you'd prefer it to happen within half an hour (19 person-days) rather than a full day (300 person-days).

By the way, my effort for a 30-minute speech amounts to 1-2 days. I tailor each speech to the audience and the client's situation after an intensive briefing beforehand. Proposal preparation, scheduling, tech checks, travel time, billing, and more are just some of the many invisible "time eaters" in the background. But as I mentioned, that's not the point. I'm happy to do it because, in the end, it's the message and its impact that matter – and I stand by that!

Are your presentations interactive?

I love interacting with people in the audience. Therefore, I always look forward to it when my clients schedule a question and answer session after my presentation. Often, it becomes a highlight in itself with surprising questions and very personal answers. During the presentation itself, participants initially dive deep into the jungle with me. This journey follows a well-crafted dramaturgy through ups and downs and ultimately ends in freedom – emotionally as well. Based on experience, the listeners are so engrossed during the presentation that they prefer to save their questions until the end.

Do you prefer online presentations or being on stage?

On one hand, I've always been at home on stage – as a musician. I love the atmosphere and the direct (eye) contact with the audience. On the other hand, I have become a big fan of online presentations as well. Even digitally, the famous "goosebump effects" occur, as enthusiastic clients often report to me. This is, of course, also thanks to the exciting story I get to share. But the video technology also plays an important role. In my modern digital studio, I have been using state-of-the-art greenscreen technology since April 2020. It allows me and the participants to virtually immerse ourselves in the jungle – a highlight for many who are tired of online work in their home offices!

Digital presentations bring me great joy. My family is equally happy when Dad is traveling less and at home more. And the less I travel, the better it is for the environment!

Do you also offer resilience training?

Yes, upon request from companies, I provide resilience training for executives and teams. However, I do not actively offer seminars and do not promote them. Due to high demand, I am currently focused on keynotes and online presentations. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I cannot fulfill many requests for individual coaching sessions at the moment. I look forward to the time when I can offer coaching and training with more flexibility in the future.

In the online lecture: How do you actually project yourself into the jungle?

When I look into your eyes digitally, I stand in my digital studio in front of a green screen, just like news anchors. The images of my kidnapping are digitally inserted using modern studio technology (ATEM mini mixer). Modern lighting, audio, and camera equipment ensure an appealing overall image and rich sound. I prefer to handle the direction myself at the moment because it allows me to switch flexibly between different sequences of my image-supported presentation.

Personal Matters

What fulfills you the most personally?

Personally, I live my dream as a happy family man. The journey to get there was long, as I describe in my book.

Professionally, I have realized myself as an author and keynote speaker. What fulfills me the most here is the moving feedback I receive from readers and audiences, such as "I recognized myself in your story," "Since reading your book, I take cold showers every day ;-)," "Your presentation made me think," "Goosebumps-inducing speech, touching, thank you!"

How are your parents, Werner and Renate Wallert, doing today?

My parents still live in Göttingen, and they are now proud great-grandparents five times over. They, like me, are grateful for the second chance at life we were given. They are enjoying good health.

Why don't you want to be referred to as a "kidnapping victim"?

When people hear "kidnapping victim Marc Wallert," they tend to feel more pity than interest. However, my goal is to inspire people with my experience, not elicit sympathy. That's why I prefer to call myself a "kidnapping survivor" - a much more positive term! And it's also more accurate. If someone had a serious car accident 20 years ago and recovered well, we wouldn't still refer to them as an "accident victim" today, would we? In my case, despite the extreme hardship of my kidnapping, I have learned a lot from it.

Was the kidnapping your biggest life crisis?

Yes and no. Being a hostage in the jungle was a life-threatening extreme situation that was certainly unique in its own way. However, emotionally, relationship crises and my burnout threw me off track even more. In the end, I learned something about myself from every life crisis. Without them, I wouldn't be living such a fulfilled life as I do today.

© Marc Wallert 2024. All rights reserved.