The morning I interview and meet Monica Valli for the first time is a Friday.
Notoriously, towards the end of the week my energy levels are low – the weekend is just around the corner, but my mood isn’t sky high at the thought of having to catch up on some work.
But then Monica arrives.
Like water flowing naturally from a spring, she overwhelms me with her clear and lively voice; the enthusiasm that animates her is so clean, convincing and unexpected that it leaves me almost speechless. So, I listen to her.
Monica is 46 years old; she has been working for Enel for twenty-six years and lives in Liguria; she has always worked in Market Italy sales, has been responsible for Enel points in Imperia and Savona, and has lived in different cities and travelled a lot. Five years ago, when she was 41, Monica became completely blind due to medical vicissitudes that we won’t go into here. What is interesting and surprising is what happened next. The unstoppable impulse Monica had – I’m blind, yes, but alive’ – and everything that she let flow from that.
‘It was like being reborn. I had to and wanted to relearn everything, to recover what gives me joy and what I consider beautiful: walking, eating, reading, watching movies, travelling, going to the theatre… I learned, all over again, how to enjoy beauty.’
Monica never once complains or protests, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She talks about how everything has changed, certainly, but without bitterness or exasperation, only with the lucid awareness of a woman who has chosen to put all her energy into starting over, building innovative approaches, new spaces, new possibilities.
‘If I had to say what has really changed in my life, I would mention two things: my relationships with others and how I enjoy my passions.’
‘In what way, how?’
‘I have begun to interpret relationships with other people in a complete, 360-degree way and have found that opening up to others uncovers wonders! Every day is a continuous confirmation that so much can be done, and the discovery is that I can do it.
Sight is one of the senses we use the most to absorb beauty, yet it is not the only one we have at our disposal. Learning to enjoy beauty in different ways allows us to discover unknown worlds that are, in truth, close at hand.
It’s a constant and challenging journey, but I also draw on what I’ve known, seen, learned… and sometimes even the places I’ve travelled to.’
‘Like: I visited Japan a couple of times and have a small collection of hashi (chopsticks) at home. Now I realised that I have a tough time eating my salad with a fork, because it escapes all the time. So, I tried using hashi and I’m doing much better!’ Monica is a constant surprise.
Even her self-knowledge is different from what she had before. Monica thinks about it for a moment, then says, ‘Now I know myself better, I perceive myself more completely.’
How many of us can say the same?
She continues: ‘It is also the same towards the world around us. I have always loved nature, the sea – which is nearby – walking… and I haven’t lost any of this, now I simply have a new way of perceiving it. A different way of experiencing beauty, even without seeing it.’
‘What about work?’ I ask. After all, I got in touch with her thanks to Enel …
‘Going back to work required a good amount of training to develop a memory that was different from my visual memory, to learn how to use the available accessibility tools, which are skills that need to be acquired. There are many, they are useful, and they are necessary. This process was possible because I am lucky enough to work for a company that is very attentive to inclusion and diversity, which over the years have become pillars of the group’s culture. Being open and getting to know the people who work at Enel, who all have different characteristics, creates value and enriches each of us. This is how we create a winning model that allows people to feel like they are a part of something that unites and does not divide.’
And it is also for this reason that Monica found, upon returning to the office, a confident team of colleagues willing to support her in what turned out to be a continuous exchange of skills.
Today she is in charge of training – still in the market area – in the northwest territorial macro area, which is not new to her and where she moves around with confidence.
‘I’ve been put in a position to continue working and to do it well, and to try to get around obstacles with the tools I have at my disposal, mixed with the memories I’ve collected and which – this is not for everyone, I know – help me visualise situations, contexts… or even simply the computer screen. And this continuous challenge makes me feel alive, spurs me to keep going with enthusiasm, to work on my possibilities and to build, day by day, this new life.’
Even being independent at work has to do with beauty for Monica, it’s obvious.
The only thing I feel the need to add to such an engaging and light meeting is that I hope that the enthusiasm and skills Monica is developing can also spill over into ‘designing’ a more equitable and inclusive world, where people like her, who are competent and enthusiastic, are directly involved, consulted and called upon to co-build increasingly accessible contexts and places. For everyone.