The Two (and a Half) Generations of Indonesian High-Achievers

Lately, there has been a plethora of economic discussions upon the power of middle class, how this bulky chunk of market will determine a country’s growth or, even bigger, the future of global power houses. Being world’s 4th largest population, Indonesia has also been enjoying a significant increase of its ‘kelas menengah, demonstrated by a robust, consumption-driven economic growth, owing to newcomers who can now afford things they couldn’t before.

Despite this amplified national productivity, our participation rate in higher-education still hit a low bar of 18%. It means that only 1 out of 5-6 young people you meet had been accepted to pursue a degree from a particular college or university. Now what suddenly becomes intriguing to me, is how there are patterns pertaining to this 18% bachelor candidates who continue their study both domestically and abroad, especially those who are perceived as high-achievers by their surroundings.

I believe that a proper grouping would be as follows.

Price Cutting at the Bottom of the Pyramid1

I. The First Generation High-Achievers (FGHAs)

In it are students who come from either lower or middle class parents who are informed enough about the importance of education, and want their children to perform better in the future. Ones coming from a relatively poor home are hard workers whose nuclear family depends on and simultaneously is very proud of. They are among the firsts in the family tree who have the opportunity to attend undergraduate courses and able to speak English fluently, not to mention their long list of achievements, each of which is a big news to celebrate back home.

Those coming from middle class parents, on the other hand, are often simply bored by mediocrity, and—often stimulated by their environment—challenged to push themselves to the limit while trapped in the addictive happiness of self-actualization. Having a constant, unlimited source of motivation to keep moving forward, these people generally do not find it hard to remain humble, because they know exactly how half of success actually comes from opportunities and they’re simply blessed. Exceptions are always there, however—some FGHAs, drawn into too much compliments, think they deserve all the admiration and go for arrogance instead.

II. The Second Generation High-Achievers (SGHAs)

I love the SGHAs. Compared to FGHAs, they are less roller-coaster-ish, in the sense that ‘high-achieving’ has somehow transformed into a culture in their upper-class family.
At the same time, however, this also means that their overall stories are more boring (*dijitak*) because they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, i.e. granted the access and support from their parents in achieving their ambitious life goals. Let’s not be too judgmental but fair at the same time—having smart phones, notebooks, or cars does make things easier to handle. Beyond this physical, wealth-related facilities, there are also direct moral guidance from a living model of success—a privilege that most FGHAs do not possess. I believe that living with certain kinds of people under the same roof brings a huge difference in the way you think and react; so living with a businessman who spent a couple of years in Harvard, for example, must’ve meant something.

Part of that high-achieving ‘culture’ which FGHAs plausibly have to learn, is that a display of achievements does not necessarily mean that a person is snobbish. I’ve just learned this a couple of days ago. Just as exhibiting a new jewel is normal for English ladies of wealth, for example, the act of ‘letting you know about my latest accomplishment’ is also a mere habit—although a too far generalization should not be made at this point. The luckiest SGHAs (and I know many of them) were raised with virtues, and that includes humility.

II.V. The One-and-a-Half Generation High-Achievers (To Make It Fair)

In some cases, there exists a transitional generation whose parents are too successful to make him/her be categorized as FGHAs, but also not wealthy enough to be deemed as part of SGHAs. These people, if determined enough, are going to be the passage way who will give birth to the SGHAs. Like all transitional categories, the one-and-a-half generation high-achievers can adopt both natures, toss away one of them, or simply combine them into a new mix of traits. I personally see myself as part of this group, all the reason why I insist that this should be added to the initial dichotomy.

Q1: Why Aren’t There Any Third Generation and So Forth?

Good question, self. LOL. Well, I’m afraid it’s because: 1) I haven’t collected enough data to claim that a pattern also exist for third generation youth, 2) if I should claim that such pattern exist, it’s too identical with that of the second generation, or, in a bigger picture, 3) Indonesia hasn’t been prosperous for long enough that it has third generation high-achievers (we’ve only been independent for 67 years after all).

Q2: How Is This Judgmental Postulation Related to Human Development?

What I’m trying to say is that:

  1. All great civilizations root from home.
  2. Macro human development is about producing more SGHAs.
  3. Indonesia has one of the slowest pace in doing this.

It takes an adequate number of FGHAs to produce even more SGHAs. I mean, in order to induce ‘high-achieving’ as a culture in your home you will need someone in that building who has experienced it him/herself (i.e. an FGHA), an essential element that you cannot skip. Consequently, we need to produce more FGHAs. In other words, if Indonesia wants to grow effectively and become a great nation with dignity and big visions, then there’s a process we have to undergo over here.

Having been very happily engaged in inspiring conversations with many FGHAs (and SGHAs), I should say that the hope is there. Seeing Indonesia at full throttle and her best performance is a dream current FGHAs and SGHAs fondly possess in common, I think, and it might take a while but we’ll be there.

P.S. Some one-fifth of this discovery’s credits (as well as 82% of my confidence to publish it) go to Ipeh, Kiki, and Diku for having listened to me during the cinema queue back then as well as yesterday’s Starbucks ramblings.

And of course to you too, for reading it. Good night.


One Comment

  1. Hi there, interesting post about the groupings of the younger middle class generations of high achiever :)

    I’ve also been thinking about the patterns of the sudden high-achievers coming from the younger generation in major cities in Indonesia, I felt a pattern, but you pinpointed it very well imo with the FGHAs and SGHAs, which are very good trend if we look at the big picture. I also share your optimism too that these 18% could be whatyoucallit the “ujung tombak” in the next generation of Indonesia’s leaders and decision-makers, hopefully. I’d say the more that they know, they more responsibility these 18% are bestowed, and most I know are very much are tired with the current condition of the country, and are in their ways, starting to sow the changes for the better.

    And about your statement, which you said “All great civilizations come from home.” ; I just couldn’t agree more. I think that Indonesian people from the major cities who are born around the 80s to the 2000s tend to live in family culture that I’d say rather (more or less) consumerist. Maybe this is influenced by the condition of the former generations, whose lives I guess are not as fortunate as those that are born around 90s to ’00s. And now as they are successful, they want to enjoy life and eventually leads to consumerism.

    Because the basic needs of life have been met without struggle for their kids, including better access to more information/knowledge, might causes the differences between the trend of dreams of our parents when they were young with the the trend of the younger generation, (i.e our parents dream : working in a multinational company, get rich; current youths : be a socialpreneur, change indonesia, etc). I somehow think this is a natural occurences for a country, when they are starting to get educated well. With this in mind, It’s exciting what will happen in the future for Indonesia :)

    Keep up the great posts :D


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