By Loren Snel
“I love UCU,” says Jeroen as he seats himself down on a couch engulfed by the mess that is BarCo’s office. He has just chaired a debate in the bar after giving a lecture on his new book ‘De prestatiegeneratie’ (see below). “I feel so happy being here again. That debate after my talk was awesome. That’s what UCU is all about!”
“I was a huge maximizer. I still am.”
Jeroen is a 2011 graduate. “I came to UCU because whilst I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I did know I wanted to be surrounded by motivated students.” As everyone at UCU has experienced the upsides of our college’s motivational environment, the downsides have also recently been discussed. It wasn’t any different for Jeroen. “I didn’t detach myself from the pressure. I was a huge maximizer. I still am.”
A maximizer, a term Jeroen borrowed from psychologist Barry Schwartz, is someone who always strives to choose the best option. This perfectionism, which goes beyond healthy ambition, may also sound familiar to you. “Since there is so much to choose from at UCU, you can’t avoid rejecting some options. But if you’re trying to excel without knowing exactly how, closing the door on a possibility can be extremely difficult.” This is, as Jeroen experienced himself, what can make being a maximizer at UCU so stressful.
Jeroen suggests that the Dutch political discourse may play a significant role in the perfectionism he feels pervades his generation. “In Holland, the idea is that we should have a culture of excellence. But if you only measure excellence by academic success, income and status, the bits of mediocrity we all experience can become hard to deal with.” Jeroen feels it is wrong to present a Liberal Arts & Sciences education as the best option. “People can reach their goals without attending UCU, too. This college should not be seen as the best, but as another way of doing something.”
Jeroen wrote a newspaper article that would eventually, after he finished his studies, turn into his book. “I started noticing something was off when I graduated from UCU and visited a huge Career Fair in Amsterdam. Based on my resume and grade lists, I got to wear a golden lanyard instead of the ordinary orange one.” Labeled as a high potential, Jeroen was invited to have a chat with big firms such as McKinsey & Company and KLM.
Around that time Jeroen participated in a consultancy training course at Bain & Company. “We were in the boardroom of the Rembrandt Tower and I felt as if I was on top of the world.” Yet he realized that being a consultant would not be his destiny. A couple of his friends did. “If the consultancy profession suits you, that’s of course perfectly fine. But some people find themselves working way too hard at a firm whose famous name once attracted them.”
When asked if he has minimized his maximizing by now, Jeroen says: “Well, I didn’t become a consultant. Instead, I’ll be doing a PhD in neuroscience in Nijmegen.” He laughs and adds: “That may not sound so modest, but doing a PhD is not considered to be an excellent choice in my environment.”
Jeroen does believe that there is a way out for maximizers. “Try to settle for something and be content with it. If you maximize, there is always a better option.” This doesn’t mean that the solution is to lie down on the job, but rather to stay humble in our urge to achieve. “I liked the conclusion of the debate in the bar,” says Jeroen, pointing at the ceiling, “UCU students shouldn’t try to achieve being the best, but ought to try being the best they can be and to help improve society.”
In March, Jeroen will give a speech at the Socrates Award. This award is given annually to the best Dutch high school student – the one with the highest GPA, that is. It seems ironic for Jeroen to attend an event focused on rewarding excellence. “No, trust me, it will be fun. I’ll them to not go for the money. I’ll tell them about noblesse oblige!”
Een pleidooi voor middelmatigheid
THE GENERATION OF OVERACHIEVERS
A plea for mediocrity (Atlas Contact)
In his book, Jeroen van Baar attempts to explain where his eagerness to excel comes from. He does not merely assess himself, but his entire generation. From high potentials to the hipsters of Amsterdam: they all play a role. Why does everyone want to reach the top? In his plea, he discusses parents, ‘excellent’ studies, relationships, career fairs, the well-educated and less well-educated, Facebook, the C- culture and the inconvenient truth. The book offers some welcome reflection for all the twenty-something’s of today.