Life history

As a teenager, I wanted to become a journalist. I loved writing, was critical of society (i.e. my parents and family) and felt that becoming a reporter would be my way of contributing to the world. When my mentor and history teacher learned in the summer of 1995 that I was planning to enter the School for Journalism in Utrecht, he called me. He advised me to go study Societal History (Maatschappijgeschiedenis) in Rotterdam. He strongly believed that it would give the same if not a better background in becoming a reporter. He found the university a more suitable environment for me.

I changed my plan, went to Rotterdam, fortunately missed out on all the uncomfortable social introductory programs and found myself in academic lecture halls. Nearing the end of my studies in 2000 – yes, I had taken up organizational responsibilities and had spent a trimester abroad which in those days granted students extended time to study – I had started dreaming of writing a dissertation. Especially after reading ‘Manly Women’ by Geertje Mak, I felt a deep need to try and write such a wonderful research project myself. I had fallen in love with studying history.

Before I finished my doctoral, the old-fashioned version of a Masters degree, I was already hired for my first official job as a research assistant. Detouring for a while – the jobs prior to my PhD position felt more like a detour than a journey – I worked as a history teacher at a secondary school, (the toughest job I’ve ever had…) and in politics as secretarial support staff and later on as personal assistant to a Member of Parliament.

Then, I got to start as a PhD student at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. I had been an intern there as a student, and had dreamed of working there on a proper contract. Compared to the other PhD students who were years younger and had managed to start immediately after finishing their studies, from the first day of my contract I felt I lagged behind, that I had entered the field too late. I tried to compensate by working crazy hours, starting earlier, finishing later in the day.

Just like with my doctoral, somewhere I strongly believed that I would never finish my doctorate. Believing that I could not do it, had become part of my script circle in studying. A type of reversed psychology: as long as I believed I couldn’t do it, I would be able to manage. As soon as I started believing in myself, I started to drop the ball. (Which was kind of problematic when I was a night driver for the PTT, the postal service…). We all have our incantation rituals, I believe, in embarking upon journeys that will prove to be trying. And this had been one of mine. That, and hot cups of coffee. Whenever I had to start writing, placing myself behind my computer, I needed a hot cup of coffee. And if a colleague dropped in during this ritual, I would throw the coffee away, and start over: with a hot cup of coffee.

During my PhD project, I was offered a chance to start teaching at the University of Amsterdam. I was over the moon with creating courses and teaching them. I was amazed with how much influence I had on the level of interaction between the students and myself, and also the depth that we could arrive at if I really took my role seriously. ‘If you choose to study history, dear students, please: study,’ I sighed one day after finding out no-one had read the assigned literature. The next week, we had such an amazing and rich session together.

During my academic career, I grew into being a teacher who inspired students to analyse, think critically, write eloquently and create projects and even events around their research projects. I loved teaching. And I strongly believed in training students to become all-round. Not just clever minds, but also organizers of events, to make their academic efforts matter in a broader sense. Organizing film nights, symposia and debates, while arranging the means to finance them, were part and parcel of the courses that I taught. I also loved reaching out to students who proved that they needed more time or more coaching to get their studying done, creating ‘Plus Courses’ for these students to approach their studying more mindfully. 

Besides teaching, I grew into training younger colleagues in teaching history. Though I can’t remember why I at one point gave a presentation about teaching at a staff meeting, it turned out that my story about what to teach in which part of the program was felt as incredibly helpful and clarifying to my younger colleagues. Together with a mid-level and senior colleague we developed a ‘Teaching History for Beginners” program.

Training, coaching and mentoring had always been the parts that really appealed to me in my academic positions. And as the pressure under which students had to study intensified, I started to feel increasingly conflicted about teaching and being part of what I felt was a repressive regime in which no intellectual development could seriously take place. As a teacher I started training students in ‘how to study’, ‘how to stay sane’, and how to either get in touch or remain in touch with their potential, with the reason to have started history in the first place. In the end this felt untenable, I was not doing what I was paid for any longer. I was increasingly more interested in how students were studying than in what they were studying and producing.

When it was time to call it quids, I decided I needed a career change. I enlisted as a student once more, to get training in professional counseling, and start doing what I had loved most the years of combining teaching and researching: coaching and training.

Not least important, I longed for something more permanent. To invest in something that would endure. I had become seriously tired of working on fixed contracts as lecturer and postdoc researcher. I wanted a position in which I allowed myself to really start creating something that would last. Hence, after lots of hesitation and not knowing what to do exactly with my dream of counseling and coaching, I opened my private practice in September 2018: Academic Authenticity. If I was going to have a thriving counseling practice at 60 years-of-age, it was time to take the first steps at 41 years-of-age.

Coaching groups of academic peers (e.g. PhD students, postdoc researchers, lecturers/researchers), guiding academic leaders and MT’s and counseling individual academics. Supporting them to re-member the academy on the best possible terms, enabling them to reach their highest potential.

How?

Simply by helping them re-member their inspired selves. Sometimes academics just need a little help in figuring out how to allow themselves to work in an inspired manner and serving their own highest potential.