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“I had to be in enough pain to start doing things differently”

“I had to be in enough pain to start doing things differently” “I had to be in enough pain to start doing things differently”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Archive Jorien Knevel/Observant

Alumni about their dreams: Fasos alumna Jorien Knevel

Life has calmed down for her. Working as a programme manager at a coaching business, being with Onno (“I met him at the pub on my 31st birthday”): the past years have been the happiest of Jorien Knevel’s life. Getting there wasn’t smooth sailing, though. She enjoyed studying and working well enough, but she lacked a sense of purpose, “meaning something to others”. She often wrestled with questions about life and her dreams for the future. What do I want to achieve? Who do I want to be? That’s when she suffered the worst setback – a burnout.

August 2015, a sunny Monday morning. After attending a workshop at her employer ABN AMRO in the heart of Amsterdam, she took the lift down and walked to her bicycle. Looking for her key, she suddenly froze. “I couldn’t remember what I was doing.” Tears streamed down her face. “I went to see the company doctor a week later. He quickly diagnosed me with burnout. I wouldn’t wish a burnout on anyone, but its effects changed my life for the better. Apparently, I had to be in enough pain to start doing things differently.”
Did her job cause it? Not necessarily. Knevel worked as a change consultant. “I worked on interesting projects, we had plenty of budget and my colleagues were nice.” Above all, it was her old thought pattern that wore her down. “Feeling like I never did things well enough. Always wanting to do better.” She lacked inner drive and longed to have an impact on other people’s lives instead. “No matter how you look at it, banks are always about profit.” Her job demanded a lot of energy, but Knevel just kept going, filling up her weeks. “I was studying alongside work, doing a project for the university, volunteering, exercising a lot…” On the other end of the line, she falls silent for a moment. Then, she says, “Listening to myself now, I’m thinking: ‘Unbelievable. I must’ve been exhausted.’ And I was. I was running on adrenaline.”

Foreign reporter

When she was seventeen, Knevel moved from Amersfoort to Maastricht to pursue a degree in Arts and Social Sciences. “I was interested in the subjects as well as the interdisciplinary approach of the programme.” She specialised in political culture and subsequently enrolled in the master’s programme in European Studies. Knevel also threw herself into student life and wrote for Observant for almost four years. “I have fond memories of that time. It enriched my life, even if I had no idea what I could do with my degree. We had this catchphrase, ‘Is there life after Arts and Social Sciences?’ Many people didn’t think so.” She laughs.
We’ve dug up an interview that appeared in Observant fifteen years ago. As a second-year student, Knevel won the Veerstichting prize, founded by students from Leiden University to promote the debate between students and ‘designers of society’. Her essay on new social structures was selected from 250 submissions. The essay, in which she writes about the differences between her life and her options compared with her grandmother’s, was published in Observant. In an accompanying interview, Knevel was asked what she wanted to be: “A foreign reporter, reporting on the presidential race between Bush and Kerry”, or maybe even a war correspondent. Ah – so there was life after Arts and Social Sciences after all? Knevel can laugh about it now. “Life would be grand and exciting. I had so many options, the world at my feet. At the same time, I felt a certain amount of stress – pressure to choose the ‘right’ option.” She didn’t end up going into journalism, although she did write regularly, jotting down her thoughts on paper or sharing stories on her personal blog. But she didn’t become a professional journalist.
She obtained her degree in the summer of 2008. “The labour market was a mess.” At 22, back from a trip to Mexico (“I’ve travelled a lot – I went to Mexico a few times, but I’ve also been to Nicaragua, Thailand and Vietnam”), she got a job at the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency. “It was terrible.” She quit after eight months and decided to enrol at the University of Amsterdam to pursue a degree in Political Science, focusing on governance and policy. In the years that followed, she held various business positions, often working at the intersection of policy and personal development and leadership. Her relationship with Mattijs, whom she’d met in Maastricht, didn’t stand the test of time.


Knevel had to find herself again after her burnout. “I was always in my head. I was very adept at analysing my thoughts, but I had no idea how to connect to my heart and listen to the signals my body was giving me.” She began to learn more about the subconscious, followed a course in hypnotherapy and ended up at coaching business Unlimited People. “That’s where I found the missing link – it’s about the whole person, body and mind. This multidisciplinary, holistic approach fascinates me.”
She now works as a project manager at Unlimited People and is currently training to become a ‘breakthrough coach’. One of the best-known programmes the business offers is a programme for people with burnout. “We also have a programme for cancer survivors, for people who thought they were going to die and fell into a dark place after their treatment.”
Would the people she used to work with at Observant recognise the new Jorien? “Of course they would. At my core, I’m the same person – busy, pensive – but I’m much more mindful of my own boundaries now. I don’t want to keep piling things on. I’ve learnt how to relax on the weekends when I’m tired. That’s something the old me would’ve been ashamed of. But I now know that people will still love you even if you’re not constantly striving for achievement. It’s a life lesson I’ve learnt.”

(Un)fulfilled dreams

In 2003 we interviewed UM students about their dreams for the future. Now, in 2019, it’s time to check in with them and see where they’re at. They’re about forty years old now; did their dreams come true? We’re using this special year (Observant is celebrating its 40th birthday!) as an opportunity to find out. Former student journalist Niels van der Laan, who wrote the majority of the interview articles in 2003, is writing a fair share of this year’s articles as well. In addition to the previously interviewed alumni, we’re interviewing former Observant student journalists about their fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams.




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