Jantien Aerts has had a successful career in consulting, management and many more roles, which she has now left behind to start her own non-profit and Kickstarter campaign for her 9-year old autistic son. His incredible artwork has been printed on beautiful porcelain travel mugs. The proceeds of this project will go to creating a platform where children with autism can showcase their talent. Jantien has been a member of the WorkZoku community for a couple of months.

WHAT PATH HAS YOUR CAREER TAKEN?

When I think of my career, what comes to mind is an image of Icarus flying too close to the sun…

While still at university I became a serial entrepreneur, having started and sold 3 companies. This entrepreneurial spirit was exactly what Bain was looking for when they hired me in 2008. My strategy consultant work brought me to ING where I prepared the company for the split between bank and insurance – the biggest carve-out in Dutch history. This resulted in becoming a partner at a boutique consulting firm specializing in financial services. I was then asked by a private equity firm to become interim CEO for one of their portfolio companies – a medical game start-up. In my final job – Program Director of Strategy at the Dutch Flower Auction – I was responsible for overhauling the tariff system of this EUR 4.6B turnover company.

All these years I was working 80+ hours a week, resulting in my body protesting. I did not listen, so it did the only thing it could do; it went on strike. My first burn-out was a fact. It took me almost a year to recover. Yet I did not learn my lessons and before too long I was back in my old habits. In 2017, after a particularly trying time at work and at home, my body refused any further service and followed was a second burn out. Now I was listening… These last years were cathartic, to say the least. I realized and accepted that I could not do what I did anymore. I also realized family is so much more important than work. Recently I’ve been lucky enough to start a new project with my son.

What’s your current/newly discovered go-to product, service or app you would recommend to others and why?

Earlier this year our 9-year old autistic son Quinten came home from school, where he had made the most amazing drawing. From then on, he kept making one drawing after the next.

Many people asked if they could buy his drawings, but Quinten couldn’t part with his originals. So we teamed up the Dutch Association for Autism and had his artwork printed on Special Edition porcelain Tea Travel Mugs and set up a Kickstarter campaign where you can pre-order these gorgeous travel mugs.

The goal of this project is to show that children with autism also have beautiful talents. With the money raised a platform will be created where children with autism can showcase their art.

How long have you stayed at Zoku Amsterdam/What is your relationship with Zoku, and what were/are your thoughts?

Earlier this year, when I came to Zoku Amsterdam for the first time, it took me about 5 minutes to decide I wanted to become a WorkZoku member there. Its inspiring and light surroundings and even more inspiring Community members made me feel embedded and at home.

What brought you/brings you to Amsterdam?

Ah, this Is such an interesting question for me! Although I was born In Holland, at 16 I was awarded a scholarship to enroll In a United World College (UWC). These colleges were set up by a German after WWII with the idea of bringing together 16-18-year olds from different cultures to understand each other’s differences and to prevent a future war. The Dutch National Committee sent me to the only UWC in Africa, in a tiny country called Swaziland, by South Africa.

So there I was, 16 years old, and thrown into a completely different culture without my parents, attending a British boarding school. These 2 years were the most transformative of my life. The situation in South-Africa was tense, sometimes dangling on the brink of civil war. The friendships I made there have proven to be the most Important ones in my life and are unshakable.

After school I was awarded a scholarship to study in the US, but due to circumstances, this fell through. And so, contrary to what I had in mind, I was on my way back to Holland. I decided to relocate to the most international hub – which was (and still is) Amsterdam.

I always thought I would move abroad again at the very first opportunity, but somehow got rooted. Love can make you do strange things… Now I can thoroughly say I call Amsterdam my home. I love the vibrancy, the easy-goingness, the creative buzz and the energy. It’s an amazing place to live, and I feel like I’ve become part of the furniture after living here for 24 years!

What does home mean to you?

I think the above just says it all!

What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Be happy with yourself, and to feel as comfortable in my own skin, as I do now.

What’s a life-changing song, film, event or book you’d like to recommend to others?

One of the most revelating moments in cinema for me, was in The Matrix, the moment Neo realizes he doesn’t have to try hard to dodge the bullets, but becomes aware of his limiting beliefs and then stops the bullets racing towards him in mid air. That moment had a much more lasting impact on me than I thought, as when he was trying his best, his own mind was blocking him, but only when he started believing in himself and put his own doubts aside, was he able to accomplish the impossible.

What is one piece of advice or tip in your field of work that you want to give to people?

Forget perfectionism.

I was my own source of stress, worried about what could go wrong in future scenarios. These anxious thoughts were in fact bullets heading right for me. What saved me was that I became aware of my own limiting beliefs. Awareness of your inner critic is the first step to better understand the source of your stress.