Why I said ‘yes’

This is not a love letter to my groom-to-be per se (sorry to disappoint), but I write this mainly as a reminder to you—my future, overthinking, ever-anxious self—of why. Of what went on in your head when you made this call. Because it’s one thing to love someone, but a whole other level to commit to a marriage. I know us too well to guarantee that you’re going to have doubts and second-guess your own decision (perhaps because we did it once, and now we’re a lot more risk-averse). So let me tell you this—your expansive brain would again run around to different corners, dark and light, playing and replaying scenarios of the best and the worst things that could happen, but in the end, you’d come to the same conclusion: that it only makes sense to be with him. No matter how many times we do this.

(Unless of course you’re presented with new data points that fundamentally changes the outcome, we’re too Bayesian to ignore that.)

So here are five reasons why—hold on to them whenever that fear comes to visit:

  1. You were both whole before you met each other. He wasn’t looking for someone to fix his life, and neither were you. He and you are only doing this because you both genuinely believe that being together makes it possible for you to go farther than you would on your own (even though that would’ve probably been fine, too). You weren’t under any pressure to get married and therefore could walk away at any time in the relationship, yet you both choose to be together and for the right reasons.
  2. You’re fundamentally compatible. Things that other people find difficult about the two of you are what you enjoy about each other. Your shared ‘logic base’ a.k.a. the ‘container’, makes it not only easy but also rewarding for you to think things through, even when the ‘content’ a.k.a. our interests in life tend to vary. On Day 5, he made an excel sheet to score himself against your random list of 60+ criteria I want from a partner and passed with flying colors. (Not to mention all the scary similarities we share—down to Di Pematang and Anugerah yang Indah.) On Day 6, both of you spent three hours in the most beautiful braindance you’ve ever done with anyone and come up with a whole framework just because you disagreed with how people thought you were moving ‘too fast’. On Day 25, he told your friends your overthinking was actually what he loved about me (although he has yet to understand the full extent of it haha). You have to really make an effort if you want to offend each other. Being with him is easy because you could talk about anything—menial and principal, you never had to translate your soul, not really. You never had to perform, but you allow the space for ‘mutual impact’ and for the other person to grow individually—all the while growing together.
  3. You have the toolbox to overcome anything. Even when things go awry—as they have, and they will again—the two of you have what it takes to deal with them. Your superpower is in how you communicate: you take turns in being grounded when the other person’s triggered, and on rare occasions when you both were, you love each other too much to try your best to be the one staying on the ground. He told you he never had to be a different person even when you’re emotional—he could say what he means and it is precisely his reasoning that fixes the problem (which sometimes ended up making things worse for others). Is this what they mean when they say, being with the wrong person would make small problems big, yet with him, even the biggest problems seem chewable? On Month 1, he kept you calm through something that otherwise would’ve made you panic big time. You don’t always agree on everything, and this is the part that bothers you the most, but as he would always remind you—you could just talk it through. And the two of you have talked through a lot of things, you know you’re pretty good at it. Through every fight, he knows that it’s never the two of you against each other, but it’s the two of you against the problem. You love how you always resolve your fights, and hopefully, the record will stay this way.
  4. You make an effing great team. You’re both terrific problem solvers—when you think about how life gets so messy sometimes, it calms you to know that he’s got your back, and you hope that he knows you got his. No matter what. Professionally—which is not why you’re doing this, but also something important to both of you independently—you have complementary skillsets: he knows many things that are in your blind spots, and you his. He taught you about things you never thought about, and you’d like to think that he learns a thing or two from you. You love how you would strategize together you before going into a battle, how you both provide a safe space (the ‘castle’) for each other before you leave to your respective wars.
  5. He loves you the way you want to be loved. You know how other men have told you they loved you before and you always had a hard time believing them? You haven’t quite figured out why, but when he tells you this, you believe him. Maybe because you feel that he understands you. Maybe because he loves you as a verb, the way you want to be loved. How he protects you, takes care of you (especially when you’re sick), builds you up (though also teases you down, sigh), how the look in his brown eyes makes you feel seen. You hope that he knows that you love him so much too, even on the days that it was difficult to.

More importantly, you’re a much better partner now—more self-aware of your own issues and baggage, more compassionate about your and others’s struggle. You have significantly evolved from the first time you said yes. You’re still not a perfect partner by far, but for now, you’re pretty convinced that this relationship/partnership/soon-to-be-marriage is important enough for the two of you that you will put all the work necessary into it. It will not always be easy and rosy, but as long as we commit to always learning (about and from each other) and growing, things will work out in the end.

TL;DR; because maybe—just maybe—we have what it takes. Bismillah.


Confession of an Impostor

A few years back I came across this term—survivor’s guilt—it’s the “mental condition of a person who believes he/she has done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not”. Probably at a very different scale and form, but I think I have been carrying a very similar feeling for a while now—that of being undeserving. I later learned that it’s probably linked to having privileges and another term: Impostor’s Syndrome.

Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome - The New York Times

Not sure when or how it started. Perhaps it was when I was almost the only person in among my SD friends (who came from economically vulnerable families) to make it to Bogor’s best SMP, and it snowballed to where I am, with a dream degree and job. At almost every turn, I feel like I barely worked hard enough compared to my peers, but I always got in while they didn’t. It came with a weird survivor’s guilt too—how do I survive (sometimes thrive) when others struggle, why is the universe kind to me for no reason?

Come to think of it, I almost always had it easy. With no intentions to brag (why would an impostor brag), I listed down some evidence:

  1. On the day I competed in the first round of a national mathematics olympiad for junior high, I came unprepared, having done a sleepover at a friend’s the night before. Yet somehow I made it to the final round, and eventually won a gold medal which led me to a three-year scholarship at an international, English-speaking senior high.
  2. At senior high, I happened to be good in Turkish, went to an international language olympiad, practiced but really was just having a lot of fun, won another gold medal. That, together with another silver and bronze I got from international science project olympiads, apparently can be exchanged with an invitation to go to one of the country’s best universities. I remember feeling deeply guilty, seeing some of my friends at the dormitory studying their asses off and barely made it or did not make it at all. Why me?
  3. During undergrad time, I had so, so many windows of opportunities opened for me—organizationally, competition-wise, while maintaining a 3.8 GPA. Sure, it was stressful, but it also really wasn’t. I looked around and see some friends struggled here and there. How was I fine, barely affected with all the pressure—if anything, thrive? Still unclear.
  4. I stumbled upon my first job, which turns out to be a dream role where I could combine research with impact, and it also happens to pay really well. It was the first time they decided to hire an Indonesian-based intern, and I happened to come across the opportunity and got it, ended up being hired full time, learned a lot for almost two years, before…
  5. I got into Harvard the first time I applied. Did not even take a real course for my GRE. Got almost perfect score on my TOEFL. Sure, the preparation took a lot of time, but also it was fine. I did my best but I also did not want it so badly. There, I got the internship I wanted, approved the capstone project I wanted to do, won things, and overall did quite well.
  6. When I got back, I knew I wanted to explore the World Bank. Apparently someone forwarded my resume from a previous round of application, went through two interviews, and voila. Most people had to wait for a while before they get upgraded from a consultant to a full time position—I got that within a little over a year, for a position/title someone would normally have a lot more years of experience for.

Why does the universe love me so much and why does it bother me???

I have experienced so much joy, I have seen so much of the world, and the only feeling that now left me with is how much I wish I could have my family with me the whole time. I wish my parents were with me when I got to explore the United States. I wish Eyang could’ve visited the Louvre Museum with me. I wish my brothers could’ve seen Hogsmeade with me. After everything they’ve done for me—every single sacrifice—how am I the only one in the family who gets to enjoy all of that???

Sometimes, when a close friend of mine goes through a hard time, I deeply share their pain, but they also come with more guilt. How am I happy and well? Why can’t everyone in the world be? Shouldn’t celebration of anything be banned as long as there’s someone else sad in the corner? Can’t we do something about poverty and inequality once and for all? (Is it possible that I’m simply in denial with my own problems and struggles?)

I’m still learning to make peace with this guilt. One thing that it does is I constantly try to give back—with my time, energy, and resources. But it never feels close to being enough, while I keep feeling burnout in the process. Somebody told me it’s a Messiah complex/first daughter thing?

Anyone going through a similar thing? What’s your trick?

Here’s to Not Being Stuck in the Hallway Forever

Remember that time when the only hard choice you needed to make was between ‘Paddle Pop Pelangi‘ vs. ‘Fantasy Anggur-Jeruk‘? No matter what you ended up with, there were almost zero consequences to the people around you—except for the rare occasions when you caught the flu.

I’m fully aware that what I’m about to talk about is going to sound ungrateful and borderline arrogant. You might say that being able to have a choice at all is already a massive privilege that some people could only imagine. But man, I will be lying if I say that the past two months had not been tormenting. That is, having to pick a path that will shape my long-term career trajectory. Basically, the first steps toward the ultimate destiny of how people will remember me.

Indeed, graduating from a generalist school opened dozens of doors—including some I didn’t even know existed. But with more doors, comes a humongous question of ‘what if’. Naturally, I made lists, tables, and talked to almost everyone I trust to get their perspectives. But the trade-off between choosing one career path over the other is too complicated; my head got so shaken up it led me to multiple emotional breakdowns.

Should I try out the private sector world for a bit or should I stay in the great organization that had brought me where I am? Should I enter the public sector now even though I will have to make some compromise? Or should I make a mediocre choice that does not really make me excited but at least does not have any red flag?

After 70 tiring, winding days of indecision, I’ve finally settled on a door. There had been some casualties on my way there—but it’s the door I opted. I knew I did not want to be stuck in an endless search or got stuck in the wrong place for short-term impulses. Maybe there never will be a perfect option. Now I just have to commit to my choice and deal with any repercussions that come with it.

If you’re one of the people affected by my confusion and hesitation in the past two months: I apologize. And if you’re one of the people who spent time and energy to talk to me: thank you. Not sure what mess I would have been without you.

Now I’m just excited about starting anew.

August 2016 was the month I ditched home to learn in a land of uncertainties, but I guess August 2018 will be the month I make peace with all the uncertainties that come with being at home. Wish me luck.

P. S. To understand the analogy of doors and hallways, watch this very relevant speech about ‘infinite browsing mode on Netflix’ by Pete Davis from the Harvard Law School during our commencement ceremony last May.

The Bilingual’s Balancing Game

I was 16 when they sent me to compete in this Turkish language olympiad. At the end of our final training day, oğretmenim jokingly told me I wouldn’t be able to win unless I could dream in Turkish that night. I guess it would signal that my mind had stopped translating for me and instead started to think in the once-foreign language, designated it as the ‘primary’ one. The next morning, I woke up vaguely recalling our (short) Turkish conversation in my sleep, and a week later, I flew back from Istanbul carrying a gold medal.

I haven’t been dreaming much Turkish these days, but between Indonesian and English, I could sense that my mind has been struggling to figure out which channel it should let take over as the alpha.

I used to compartmentalize them into my ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ languages. English was simply a language for writing emails at work, for tweeting ideas, for presenting research findings, for thinking about complex frameworks that Indonesian does not have a word for. Meanwhile, my (obviously self-proclaimed) funnier personality was a lot more accessible in Indonesian—I could relax and make deadpan jokes all day long. It was not difficult for me to switch between one track to another; my environment would cue me in and like a chameleon, I would have eased my way into one track.

This line began to blur when I moved to the US and have to also use English to socialize with fellow students. Underneath all the interactions, my English brain has been stretching herself in an attempt to enter an unknown territory and transmit sentences I have never delivered in English before like, “Can’t believe winter is just around the corner!” or gossips about certain professors.

My first semester of graduate school, therefore, had been slightly more exhausting than I expected it to be. I talked to people but felt like I could not fully express myself, such that initiating friendship became futile. The struggle was so real I made myself read a spoken word poem entitled “To the Phantom Jokes that Never Got Out of My Mouth” in front of a school-wide talent show. The first sentence of that piece read, I wish people knew how funny I am in Indonesian.

(By the end of that semester I have made four close friends thanks to negotiation class’s final memo assignment and I have been much happier at school now that I have my support system, but that story deserves its own blogpost.)

I would say that I had been much better at ‘informal English’ today compared to 15 months ago—but it also means that my mind has been thinking a lot in English and I could sense that I would have a ‘reverse struggle’ going back to Indonesia. Not to mention that I had been studying all these cool new theories, frameworks, and concepts for public policy in English. Already, I could feel my brain muscle pulling itself to translate phrases like ‘administrative and political feasibility’ or ‘behavioral nudge’. While living with Wikan helps in maintaining my ‘informal Indonesian’, my English brain has become much smarter than my Indonesian brain, and I worry if she couldn’t catch up.

This winter break, I am going back to Indonesia to do field research for my final policy analysis, which would require me to talk to dozens of Indonesian officials and staff in local organizations. The way I see it, it could be the perfect training lab to help my mind’s Indonesian channel readjust before I come back to Indonesia for good in June. Wish me luck.

P. S. If you happen to be a subscriber to Frame & Sentences video essays (setengah #kode), you may notice that I had been primarily using English. Again, it’s not because I haven’t tried, but the few times that I did, it had always been a nightmare for me to try to convey the same ideas in Indonesian. (We literally have to take 5 times as many shots because I kept making mistakes.) I don’t think it’s because I don’t love my country etc., but because my mind couldn’t access the same depth of thought process in Indonesian. I am working towards changing it, but thank you for understanding. Hope the subtitles help!