I started shaping my life after overcoming a terrible game addiction. I gamed from my 9th until my 19th and felt mentally depressed. The feeling of not being valuable for someone else back then was hard to overcome and between my 16th and 17th. it was the worst phase in my life. My time in secondary school was both turbulent and boring, the first year I was not good enough in planning my homework and I had a big fear of presenting. Putting myself in a crash course overcoming stage fear and took tutoring hours after regular school hours it didn’t get any better. I ended up failing the first year of secondary school resulting in switching schools (from HAVO/VWO to VMBO T). My self-esteem was going down in a downfall because in the first year I was being bullied already, I could foresee a future of being bullied even more…

Due to low self-esteem I was always surrounded by the “nerds” and gamers, the game I started playing (Runescape) from elementary school was played by many of them and I kept playing more and more. Every lunch break I was playing the game with many others in the media library. Because I was following an easier education program everything was extremely easy to finish with good grades but these grades were never as stimulating as leveling up in the game. Every hour I could play I was, competing with game friends from school and from all over the world. Back then it became the most popular MMORPG game with 200m accounts. Every year I got more addicted, played on average 6-8 hours during the week and over 12 hours on the weekends. On the age of 16, I became so addicted that getting food and drinks downstairs was too much to ask. I was getting depressed, had headaches of sleeping 3-4 hours at night, leveling up was getting harder and harder so my gratification from the game was getting less and less. I thought several times of committing suicide after an online relationship ended because the girl I was playing the game with for over 2,5 years was banned from her father to play any longer. Imagine having your complete life inside a virtual game, losing the person you love the most. It hurts… More things broke inside the game, communities felt apart, some of the most active friends bought other games and became less active/quit.

The struggles were getting bigger, my godfather died out of a sudden. He was in his early 50s and was always different than all other family members I had. His death made a huge impact on my self-esteem. Until today I am still crying thinking back. I thought that he committed suicide and was scared to ask this to his brother, my other uncle who got the report from the hospital what happened. I thought about suicide more than ever in the months after that I received his personal belongings, still not knowing if he stepped out of his life himself…

My cousin(s) I hear my mom telling me, were not feeling great mentally, that the oldest attempted to commit suicide and the youngest of 32 taking anti-depressant drugs. Us only knowing them from being extremely good in kart racing. We were blown away hearing the oldest one took an overdose. His funeral completely changed my perspective on suicides. 100s maybe even a 1000 people were there, all with disbelief and tears in their eyes wondering why, I realized the amount of pain the result is of suicide, is bigger than anything else in the world. Especially for my aunt and uncle. I could never do such a thing to my family & from that point, I have never even considered it anymore. The shift in my life had to come…

The year after I hit the 300 days counter in-game play. That is 300 times 24 hours of gaming a single game, Runescape. Even during internships on Centerparcs during my hospitality entrepreneurship course I took every chance to further level up in game, during my final internships at Hotels van Oranje & Lindner Antwerp this had not changed although I developed some soft skills, had to take care of myself by living on my own and found happiness in going out more often. I graduated not knowing hospitality was something I would be working the rest of my life in, moving back into my parents’ place.

After working a summer long in restaurants, I decided to start a completely different bachelor study, I didn’t know anything about the study (ABC) but it did sound cool to further train strategic and creative skills. The uncle that was often at our house, helped a lot with renovating the house. He was a person that was known for being a father figure for the family. Helping many people with technical tasks, he was an all-rounder and was running a cow farm for 40 years already. He gained a lot of respect from me these years, mainly because he was so much caring for everyone and he helped in creating solutions for so many persons. He retired, sold the farm, built his own house and got sick in that order. We soon realized he was having the worst nightmare he could have imagined. He got cancer and they discovered it way too late to do something about it. He was taking into a hospital just before NYE in 2012. His disease got spread to both liver and brain. He was fighting as much as possible against it until this moment that changed my whole life…

My uncle fell asleep in the hospital bed, he experienced a life-death situation when he saw the white light. With this light, he also heard his son and daughter telling him “You can go now dad, you have done enough”. He felt their hands on his shoulder. He woke up later that day and he told everyone in the family that he had this extremely beautiful moment. I had a Deja Vu to my truck accident when I was 9. When I biked to a friend to go swim with them I got stuck in the mud of which this big truck was lifting out of the ditch. He was cleaning both sides and drove back and forth in the mud. I tried to pass it and he drove forward crashing my leg and bike just tiny bits away from driving over my stomach and killing me I saw the white light as well. No gates were open and I woke up realizing the truck drove back only cracking my leg. This day my uncle mentioned the white light I realized that fate does exist, that it was not the time for me back then and he died peacefully in his sleep only a few months later.

It was 1 January 2013. I decided to quit gaming and made the shift in my life. I was not giving up on life and decided to join a competition set out in the real world. This was set up by the European Union with the question to write a science paper about the upcoming evolution in co-creation and crowdsourcing due to the internet. Via my education, I got to know about this and I took the chance to step out of my comfort zone and became the first freshman ever winning a stage with a science paper on this course. I ended up giving a speech in English for 150 professors in Lisbon and this single victory (a valuation from people higher ranked than me) gave me a lot of self-esteem. Overcoming my stage-fear here was giving such an adrenaline kick that I developed an urge to do it more often, for bigger groups about new creations, new knowledge, and future trends/changes in society. I was asked to give all presentations for school projects and every time I felt the fear but it only made me more proud to represent our creations. It resulted in giving more gratification than leveling up in-game. Especially on longer terms because I was able to share it with anyone instead of just an in-game group of people.

My insights on the valuable things in life grew by this. It grew a lot more when my cousin gave a speech on the funeral of his father. He pinpointed the fact that his father never lived up towards his dreams of becoming an inventor. He was so nice to take over the company back then and died without pursuing his passion and ambitions. After some studies I was shocked that 91% of people working are not engaged with work in the Netherlands. 70% globally not living towards their passions. That’s way to many people working for extrinsic reasons.

I realized that the next points are very important to live a healthy and successful life, that you are able to shape the way you like it:
– A sense of belonging (instead of giving grades & critical feedback, compliments on the good things you did)
– Sense of being valuable for your context (like direct feedback after you have helped someone)
– Sense of feeling accepted (no prejudgements and acceptance to communicate to one another that is listening)
– The power to create (being able to craft something, have the resources to do so)
– The basic needs: food, shelter, access to education (to survive and be able to give to others)
– The ability to make your own decisions without having to defend them to anyone (decide no matter what status, income levels, group pressure, looks and diseases where you want to head towards)
– A goal/big dream in life you wish to pursue (for example a global problem you wish to solve)

After participating in many challenges, presenting in many stages I was asked for co-writing a book about bottom up organizing. A dream came true and I started to believe in bigger dreams. The year after in 2015 I was asked for an interview by the biggest bank in the Netherlands (Rabobank) to share my lessons after researching new ways of (alternative) education in primary school. Right afterwards I started organizing my first hackathon around further developing education. A milestone for me being non-technical and setting up a complete event on my own for 100 people for zero costs instead of the calculated 65.000 Euro it would cost on conventional ways. That year I started to setup my own consultancy as event organizer and trendwatcher. I got small assignments and was able to quit as a bartender just before my final internship at Jaarbeurs. Just before I got this internship I was asked to give a TedxYouth talk about my journey and was living like my wildest dreams: the best stage I could dream of with an audience over 350 people!

I discovered that the only thing that gives me more energy than gaming was to step out of my comfort zone and take a stage, to co-write a book even though I failed at Dutch, to start blogging and sharing experiences to many people I don’t know online to inspire others and get compliments years after or on a birthday from people as a surprise for me that it helped them become a better person and helped them communicating about pains but also about successes more often. This gratification of doing new things resulted in doing things no-one ever did, most of it with technology like brain controlling a drone or using Thync to boost my energylevels. Helping in setting up the first European Drone championship, helping in setting up the first edition of Campus Party in the Netherlands (the biggest technology festival globally). Actually helping others to get the most out of themselves is in the end what I feel gives the longest term gratification possible. Nowadays I spend my days for 80% in helping others, I develop methodologies, organize events and stages for young people (of which most of them face a similar addiction to either gaming, consuming media or coding)to help them in becoming entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs with the skills and talents they have developed.

Recent projects are all focussing on enabling people also since I have set the bar high on the goal to help a million people turn their passion into their job. What happens is that I am now training teachers to offer learning by doing formats to their own teams and their students in the form of hackathons / designathons / challenges and talent programs. I am writing courses and handing out “how-to’s” in organizing hackathons and do innovation management & design thinking. I am crowdfunding a book as inspiration and toolkit for schooldirectors and teachers that want to change as in many schools less than 70% is motivated enough to finish school with outdated learning materials and uninspirational, non-human working environments. Also my first tech startups are getting prototyped and built now by my colleagues all based on the vision of solving a big local issue like loneliness, dementia, integration, unemployment, generation gaps and sustainability. One is a gamified map full of city challenges provided by municipalities and problem owners which can be awarded by local businesses with credits and discounts/goodies. The other is an app – similar to Pokémon Go for lost and stolen items to return these fast(er) and I am the first person that is 3D printing an IoT sensored tree for a plaza to enable local citizens to improve their region.

Is it making me rich? No, but it gives me gratification and lots of voluntary support next to working for 20% on payed consultancy that pays for the bills and development of the project. So does it creates a successful career? I think that when everyone can spent 80% of their time working on helping someone else by doing stuff you love with all of your heart that the world can solve any world problem within 20 years. My research shows that 85% of people that initiated their own business works in it with intrinsic motivation, in comparison with how many people work for a boss with intrinsic motivation: 9% in the Netherlands, 11% on average in Europe. This means that they don’t even want to promote the brand they work for, don’t feel engaged with their tasks and are probably doing lots of reproduction work because creative work and “creation” in work gives people a lot of energy and gratification.

It is like having to go to school. After I asked 440 students on secondary education who went to school because they liked it only 8 hands risen up in the sky. When things become “a must”, so without asking people if they want to go by themselves people tend to get drained in energy and loose their ability to create. Only personalized learning based on growth mindset is in all research the answer to a flourishing society of talent. That means figuring out someone’s incentives to learn, asking deeper questions to discover and explain who he/she is, what problems they wish to solve, what role models they have, the problems they were able to overcome, what they love to create, what gives them positive energy and what they remember as a beautiful experience is the start of how learning and working can get there. Giving people the space and time to answer all of this, document and forward this to new coaches and facilitators of the learning process is something many schools and businesses still have to discover how.

So don’t you have the answers to all of this yet or do you want to work in a different environment that gives you energy and do you need help with that? I am able to offer you a toolkit to do so that you can use in any project, team, organization or system you work in. Today 20.000 people I have helped with it intensively or based on answering their entrepreneurial questions. It’s not a magical toolkit at all, it are just helpful tools for me and the people I have facilitated in the past, I still have to adapt tools to new situations, still have to create new tools and find ways to make it even more simple to do it yourself. The more people who test it the better I can change it with all people involved. Nowadays I leverage all platform tools to help boost 1 million people their self esteem to make a positive change on the lives of someone else. Want to help? Check out my latest TEDxTalk about the Era of Digital Twinning below.

Thanks for your time to read this. Want to know more about specific projects or steps I took, please do not hesitate to contact me or go to the toolkit4change page.