A full-course meal that is 2022

I genuinely thought I was done with 2022 when the year abruptly turned itself around.

On November 23, I posted a reel (“And with that, the 2022 season comes to an end…“) concluding the year to be that of family, friendship, community, celebrations, explorations, and self-acceptance—all orbiting a core defined by losing Eyang.

On November 26, little did I know, I met someone who thoroughly reoriented the rest of the year, like a sonata selfishly engulfing the rest of the song.

I knew that 2022 was supposed to teach me about how sorrow and joy could co-exist—almost reinforcing each other even—but man I had no idea that a whole other level of happiness existed before you. There’s no way I could have anticipated finding this much comfort again, not after all the pain and loneliness I’ve familiarized myself with lately.

In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking talked about how the positive energy yielded out of The Big Bang is inseparable from the negative energy dispersed throughout the universe. The former could not have existed without the latter.

I’d like to think that your existence is the culmination of every bit of misery I’ve ever had to go through before this point, because how else could I deserve this overflowing sense of contentment?

(In my head, you would say that I deserve all this and more.)

Writing this is a conscious effort to remind myself that this year has been that of a full-course meal, no matter how much more convenient it is to focus on how it’s ending. The journey was kicked off by Sorrow, followed immediately by Wonder, and finished with Joy—so, so, so much Joy.

First Course: Sorrow

I thought I have mastered the art of losing in 2021—but it was dwarfed by what I experienced this year. The universe seemed committed to making sure I did not have a half-baked lesson and let me experience an even deeper loss, that of the woman I love the most in the world. A loss that floored my entire being and completely changed the way I looked at the world.

If you’ve never had a significant other passing away, please know that no matter how prepared you think you were, you could never really be ready for it. The first time I entertained a real possibility of not seeing Eyang in her green room at my parents’ again, I cried so hard I had to gasp for air. Then when Mamah called me at 6AM in the morning, saying that Eyang finally took her last breath after four months of intensely fighting against her failing kidneys, all I could do was sit in silence. When I finally saw her again, all wrapped in white kafan, all I wanted to do was hug and kiss her forehead for one last time, knowing how much I will miss doing that forever. As they slowly lowered her into the ground, all that’s left was peace, imagining her smiling face of reuniting with her beloved husband and daughter again.

Today, seven months later, she is still on top of my phone’s ‘favorite call’ shortcut. I badly miss our weekly calls, her voice when she picks up my call saying “Assalamualaikooommm”, asking me about my latest work trip, me wishing I could take her around if she wasn’t bound to her bed. I miss how she would joke that my jodoh would be both handsome and rich, and how she would brag about me to all of our relatives.

It helps to think that she continues to live in all of our memories, remember how she’d led a full life, and try living by her values every day. I am grateful to find the rest of the family (Mom, Papah, Pap, Mamah, Kakak, Dede, Cici) ever more resilient after going through that together.

Alfatihah untuk Eyang—we all love and miss you so dearly.

Second Course: Wonder

After over two years of staying put at home, 2022 is also a year of (re)discoveries: making new friends, delving into new hobbies, bathing in new forests, strolling through new cities, and accomplishing a major dream.

  • Opening myself up to new friendships has been one of the most rewarding things this year; met a few souls whom I will treasure for a really long time (if not life). The kind that inspires you, that will stick around during bad times (including when you fall sick), that made you grateful it happened instead of fearing that it won’t last forever.
  • I let Dinar drag me to new activities—did muay thai a bunch and was pleasantly surprised to find how my body reacted to beat and music. It turns out I enjoy learning dance moves and didn’t mind that I looked silly while doing it. The dopamine rush that followed was pretty great, too. I happened to also unlock a new capacity to fully appreciate good meals (‘living to eat’ from ‘eating to live’), coached by Florida.
  • Reconnecting with nature has fulfilled my soul. Spending time in the forests (or beaches, alternatively) of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Lombok has given me that singular feeling of being connected with Mother Earth is something I will always yearn for. It’s the year I finally understand that ‘grounding’ myself (in a literal sense) is a necessity for my being, a reminder of why I do what I do.
  • On the flip side, I have marveled over what humanity has been able to achieve—particularly in Madrid and Seoul. Learning the histories of their people, taking pauses to appreciate art—the peace that comes with being a nobody in a whole new city was one of a kind, a privilege that I never want to take for granted. Vaguely in between all of that, I tasted the fleeting feelings of belonging.
  • Finally, after quite the delay, Menjadi got published. Putting on a new onion layer as an author, having all of my good friends at the launch party, and traveling around to discuss the book have brought me some serious wonderful feelings. I’d love to tell my 13 year old self that she’s doing alright—accomplishing her dream(s), one at a time.

I hope to do more of all of the above next year (including a possible second book?).

Third Course: Joy

[Enter: you.]

You should know that we met at a point when I was done with wanting to be with someone. I was perfectly happy alone; you told me that you were, too. Neither of us expected to walk down a road that leads us here. (Read: nggak jelas banget anjir kamu tiba-tiba muncul entah dari mana mendadak bikin kesengsem dan butuh ketemu tiap hari.)

When people asked us how it started, we would tell them about the dog park. We were temen seangkatan di kampus who somehow reconnected. But I think it started all the way back—it might have even started the days we were born. The scarily similar families we ended up with, where we’re both firstborns with two younger siblings from the opposite gender. Where both our parents decided to call us ‘Dit’ at home and gloriously combined their names as our middle names. The separate but parallel journeys we took that led to the way we think today (gimana ceritanya we both decided to give ourselves a new name made out of the acronym of our full names, or started a business as teenagers, or bought properties just five minutes away from each other in the same year).

When people asked us why, we would tell them how it just makes sense. But I think it also doesn’t make sense how you tick practically everything on my kriteria mangga list. I never dared to think that the imaginary person I created in my head existed, and yet here you are. It is pretty crazy to think how many telepathic moments we had, how you help me with what I actually need not just what’s expected, quite unreal that you often just knew what I was thinking before I said anything.

When my friends told you that I’m difficult, you would tell them that being with me has been the easiest, most natural thing to do. For me, falling is easy when you responded “She overcomplicates things.” with, “That’s actually what I love about her.” Falling is easy when you’re a fierce problem solver—from daily mineal things to bigger, more consequential decisions. Falling is easy when you bring focus to my chaos, clarity to my anxiety, and calm to my worries. Falling is easy when you cooked me fried ox brain ‘just because’ or serenaded me on the piano in the morning. Falling is easy when being with each other’s families immediately felt familiar.

When our friends reminded us that this might just be a honeymoon phase, we would tell them that we are perfectly aware of it. But we also couldn’t deny this is no ordinary ‘honeymoon phase’ by far. I never felt this strongly about anyone, not in the first month of getting to know each other. I never gravitated towards another person this much; I typically would have needed to ‘use the restroom’ during dates just to get a break from hanging out with someone. With you, it still feels like I haven’t had enough, even after spending a whole week together. The intensity, passion, and overflowing joy has been unparalleled.

When our parents would (eventually) ask us when, we would tell them that we are taking our time. Because there is no shortcut to test endurance. You haven’t seen me at my worst, and neither have I you. But to the extent that you have sat with me when I was confused, afraid, jealous, and angry, I am already convinced that you have what it takes. I’d like to think that I have been able to provide you that space to be vulnerable, too.

The fact that two careful people who weren’t ready to (re)commit with anyone else before couldn’t help but talking about forever—just weeks after getting to know each other—is rather unusual, to say the least.

It’s weird how the year started with me crying a lot, and ended with me smiling ear to ear almost every day. Never did I anticipate to find myself being able to be ridiculously in love again, after what I’ve been through.

But that’s life, I guess: nothing’s quite permanent, including this state of happiness. The only thing left to do is to cherish it while it lasts.


2021: The Year I Found Myself

I was dead for over 29 years.

My body might have breathed, moved, consumed—but not quite lived. I have simply been walking down the most obvious pathway that the universe revealed. Born to an average Indonesian family, I grew up into a typical first daughter whose main mission is to make her family proud and exceed expectations, got one opportunity after another that piled up into a wonderful-but-very-much-expected career, and married the very first person who asked. When interviewed about my biggest failure a few years ago, I barely knew the answer, because if I’m being honest, I never really failed, not in a way that mattered anyway, and mostly because I never took a risk—not in a way that mattered.

This year everything changed.

Me saying hi to 2022, finally taking charge of my own fate.

It started with the biggest loss I’ve ever experienced, one that I didn’t think I was capable of stomaching. The person I (used to think I) loved the most decided to leave, practically in a blink, and at the worst possible moment—although perhaps there’s no such thing as a good time to end a marriage.

The first couple of months was the worst: the titanic pain seeped from my chest down to my torso, limbs, and all corners of my physique. Sometimes I literally couldn’t move out of the bed or floor had it not been for the kindest souls who kept me company. Even then, I was still lost for a little while longer, reaching for worldly things that I thought could help ease the pain. I was too clever to fool myself that they would cure my open-flesh wound of course, but back then I’d take anything just to survive another day.

I’m not quite sure how (perhaps writing my feelings down, talking to my friends, and regular check-ins with my therapist) but slowly and eventually the hurt subsided.

Once that happened, came this long and deafening quiet where I was left alone with myself, bewildered at the sight of an almost completely new person. Something told me she had gone through a war and came back stronger. I could sense that her emotional container expanded, reaching new depths capable of understanding and empathizing better—more so a gentler heart that forgives fully.

It’s the kind of bloom that could only happen through passing seasons.

It came with a brand-new, crystal-clear sight, so sharp and spot-free it’s almost like I never saw before in my entire life (even some things I thought I already knew):

  • Being with someone is not a prerequisite to, nor an assurance of, happiness. If anything, I learned that loving is all about sacrifice. If you are not ready to let go of a certain degree of comfort and compromise on more than a handful of things, let me remind you that being single has its perks. I was pleasantly surprised to remember the refreshing feeling of making my own decisions and owning the consequences, in lieu of having to reach a consensus with another human being every single time.
  • Being with someone shouldn’t mean losing yourself. Entering a relationship often means colliding two previously separated worlds, and when you let it unfold on an auto-pilot mode, soon enough one will be completely swallowed by the other. That will almost always lead to a certain feeling of loneliness or isolation. I finally understood the importance of friendship beyond the one with your partner (even when they’re your best friend) and having your own little territory—literal or figurative—like an activity or circle where you could anchor the self you were before you met them. Remember that you are responsible for taking care of yourself before anyone else.
  • We are bound to project our ideals on our partner, and it takes courage to see what is real. Our deepest urge to be happy often means deflecting our glance from the person in front of us, to a much prettier reflection of them on the pond. But once we rid of that fear and allow ourselves to be honest, both about who they are and who you are, that is when you could truly decide whether you would continue to love—and love fiercely—or not. It is a truly rare thing, to see someone naked in their entirety (literally and figuratively) and still love them as a whole.
  • Compatibility is the work you put in, but there is such thing as a minimum threshold for it to work and self-awareness is a necessary tool. This might not be exactly scientific, but I find this framework quite useful to assess (and therefore achieve) compatibility in a romantic partnership. First, compatibility is comprised of five separate ‘tanks’: intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, and material (not necessarily in that order). Having one of your tanks full is not enough if any of the other tanks are empty. Intellectual compatibility doesn’t mean being in the same academic field, spiritual compatibility doesn’t mean sharing the same faith, and material compatibility doesn’t mean coming from the same socio-economic background. They simply mean understanding and appreciating each other intellectually, having a similar attitude towards faith, and somewhat corresponding visions about worldly possessions. That being said, above anything else, being at the same level of self-awareness is critical. Even when you’re complete opposites in certain areas, having the language and toolbox to talk about it would help a lot. Without it, even the most earnest effort to make it happen is likely going to fail.

It is with these new tenets, that I am starting 2022, whether by myself, with a partner, or something in between. I have promised myself to not just let myself be but actually make the mindful (often difficult choice) every single day, meaning my every ‘yes’-es and knowing when to say no. Listening to my guts and newfound conviction about the kind of fulfilling love I actually deserve.

And with that, I wanted to thank him for leaving, for giving me the once-in-a-lifetime chance for a radical start-over. Today, I am the happiest I have ever been, completely engulfed in the kind of contentment that I would never have discovered had we still been together.

Today, I am taking charge of my own life and actually start living.

2020: The Year I Lost Myself

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I haven’t read Anna Karenina, but that opening sentence had been stuck with me for a while. Last year (2020) was a mess for almost everyone I know (as I realized while scrolling through reflection posts on the eve of December 31), but perhaps it was messy in slightly different ways for each of us. My mess didn’t even have anything to do with the coronavirus per se, although the pandemic might have exacerbated it.

You see, I think a lot. I think a lot about thinking, about being, about why people say what they say or don’t. I do this in my head, silently, making assessments one observation after another. It’s not a brag, not a call for attention, just a fact. Sometimes the thinking gets in the way of doing, but most of the time it helps me come up with a plan/approach which later makes the doing twice as efficient, compensating for the time lost to thinking.

I think a lot about myself. Not in a self-absorbed way (hopefully), but in a way that I have an unhealthy obsession to put a label or to make sense of who I am, what I’m going through, and what I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to do. You might have noticed that throughout this blog-memoir. When I was confused about being both a researcher and a spoken-word amateur, I called myself a nomad. Other times I wrote about what being a bilingual or marrying early means, and about arriving at a state of constant sadness. The first time I read about Hogwarts, I was happy to finally ‘belong’ in a house that appreciates intelligence, at a time when my friends at elementary school nerdshamed me. Not sure why, but I keep having this urge to clarify some sort of ‘scope’ or rules of the game as a way to understand myself.

Last year, however, my brain failed to help make sense of who or where I am in life. The year was challenging for a lot of reasons, but more than anything, I felt lost.

Without warning, I found myself hurt pretty badly at the beginning of this year.

Without going into too much details, I kind of hit a new low in the first few months of this year (way before we all realized a pandemic was coming into the picture). I did not realize I could cry so intensely for a few days straight. And even after that, I cried some more still. I’m not sure if I had properly processed it or I’m simply suppressing something that will bite me back later, but I’m glad I came out the other side. I feel much better now, and while there are some triggers that could put me back there, in most days I simply forgot—it almost feels like nothing happened.

One thing I know is that I would never wish it to happen to anyone. But if it does, I hope they get the help they would need to get through it.

I can’t find my authentic voice and cared a little less.

I don’t even remember when this happened, but at some point in late 2019 (?) Twitter got so toxic that instead of letting me—and many others—learn from our mistakes/translation- and character-limit-related misunderstood tweets—I was ‘cancelled’. I’m still recovering from quite a deep PTSD since then. I now find myself self-correcting more than once, deleting and re-tweeting my carefully drafted sentences, and later just not caring anymore.

Because between the options of being misunderstood or keeping some information/opinion to myself, it turned out I preferred the latter. Perhaps it helped that I have other platforms to share on, be it work or personal projects. But even then, I still felt a little hallow (like a weird limbo) where I’m not allowed to have an opinion because it will only be misunderstood or used to attack me out of spite.

Of course I knew that judgments thrown at you say a lot more about those people(‘s insecurity) than yourself, but your System 1 won’t always remember that. So here’s to hoping that this year I could be a little braver and stronger to be myself again, with all my shortcomings as a human being.


I lost my soul a little, trying to do too many things at once.

I’ve always been an advocate for generalists (including multitasking ones). I think each of us could become more than one thing, be it in parallel or sequenced in a lifetime. We are three-dimensional after all, and shouldn’t be confined to one role. That said, this year I have split myself too many times that I kind of lost my soul in the process (much like what happened to Voldemort and his horcruxes).

Between doing research and building a community, I almost constantly feel like I barely got caught up with everything. I kept having panic attack, feeling like I haven’t done enough, haven’t put my best on both. Not to mention that I have done at least additional 4-10 webinars per month (which I would normally divulge in, but given the spreading myself too thin, they then felt a little suffocating). All of this seemed to have happened mainly inside my head because apparently most of my colleagues thought I was doing quite well: “Mbak Afu hebat sekali bisa melakukan A-B-C, gimana bagi waktunya?”*

[*The truth is, I got a lot of help from Lidia, who is also my hero of the year, introduced by Ogi to figure out my schedule and everything. It’s one of the few things I’m grateful about this year.]

But it’s not just about doing well. In the last quarter of 2020, a friend’s IG story hit me: “Between the scale of 1-10 of being busy, someone needs to be at 6-7 in order to have enough mental space to innovate, to make great things happen.” The truth is that I have been constantly at 9-10 this year, if not 12. There’s no way someone at 12 could lead/drive something—I was struggling and did not feel good about doing the work I normally enjoyed. I started looking forward to weekends, something I never did in the past.

Another signal that I have split myself too thin: I dropped balls a few times—missed meetings or deadlines, which again was so not me. At the beginning of the year, I said I was going to help a mentor with her recent political appointment, but I ended up abandoning the team completely, barely had anything left to offer. I also talked to an editor about publishing a book, and again I ran away. I don’t want to jinx it this year so I won’t even try to promise that I’ll finally get it done this year.

Twenty-twenty was also the year I realized I hated being called an ‘influencer’ (whatever that means), and contributing to the toxic culture of trying to get people to buy something that you post. While I tried to keep an open mind and set a certain criteria (sustainable local products, etc.), promoting products without actually presenting the full options because the competitors did not pay me goes against the very value I believe in: agency. As much as I tried to ‘inform’ instead of ‘sell’ in my posts, at the end of the day I don’t have the full liberty to review as though I buy the stuff myself. Here’s being able to stop doing that in 2021.

I have been worrying a lot about my family(ies), sometimes it’s numbing.

As millennials entering their 30s perhaps could relate to, we switch roles with our parents. With COVID-19 being around and them being more vulnerable, I worry about my mom, who is still telecommuting Jakarta-Semarang for work. I worry about (but also am proud of) my dad, who has been making peace with his Parkinson’s Disease. I worry about my little brother who was brave enough to decide about what he doesn’t want to do (and consequentially what he does).

I worry mostly in silence, sometimes through sending stuff home through e-commerce. Some nights these worries could be numbing. I hope that this year I could manage these worries of mine, and simply support and be happy for them.

I was late to realize that staying in touch with art could’ve helped me remain myself. I found a new solace in nature.

Art had helped me process my anger, my fear, and hidden feelings in the past. Back in the days I would write fictions/spoken word poems here. Each time I performed (and listened to) a piece, I felt recharged, I felt that my anger, fear, and hidden feelings were understood. One of the symptoms of my losing a state of balance this year is the fact that my last spoken word poem was from August 2018.

I am grateful, that said, that Hamilton Musical was made available on Disney Plus this year, because I finally get to sing along to Lin and the original cast performing what used to just be iTunes albums I listened to on repeat on long drives. Is it weird that I found myself both in Lin (“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?“) and Angelica (“You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied.”) Can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so we could organize a Hamilton singalong party soon.

Another special part of this year is rediscovering nature in all its glory. Between long staying at home periods, we took a break and hiked Mount Pangrango. It was over 18 hours of going up and down, overcome major obstacles and at the end accomplished something I never thought I could. Can’t wait to do more hiking sessions next year.

I look forward to rediscovering (if not reinventing) myself in 2021. Cheers.

A Decennial Self-Audit

What would my 18-year-old self think had she met me today? Would my somewhat inflated vanity disgust her? Would she take me as a superficial woman who is not sophisticated enough to deserve her respect? Which parts of my life would she approve and others she despise? But more importantly: why should her opinion matter?

Several days ago, I came across Mbak Ayu Kartika Dewi’s video about the importance of ‘auditing’ your friendships. She asked the audience to list down 10 names of the people they interact the most with on a daily basis, and identify which ones make you feel good vs. bad about yourself. Based on this information, restructure some of those relationships strategically—basically cut off those who have been toxic to your well being.

Beyond auditing friendships, what the post effectively did was prompting me to evaluate my entire life instead, which sent me only half an inch away from spiraling into a whole other level of anxiety on whether I have the life that I wanted. This post is an attempt to regulate and put some of those thoughts into perspective.


First and foremost: I’m married, have been for almost four years. I remembered being adamant about exclusively marrying my twin flame when I was younger (used to have really looong conversations with Diku about this), but I also remember tweeting a lot about Alain de Botton’s ‘compatibility is an achievement’ tenet. I must say, if twin flames are what twin flames supposed to be, I did not end up marrying my twin flame (although Wikan doesn’t believe in this astrological nonsense). Wikan and I are almost exact opposites in many ways, and while we therefore balance each other almost perfectly, sometimes it will take a lot of work for us to meet in the middle. One thing I never had any doubt on, however, is that we love each other (the kind that runs way too deep to ever change regardless of the circumstances; the kind where I will still love him even if we ever get separated), and that we are both committed to make this work. Over the past four years, we get better and better at post-fight making up, and to quote de Botton again—he’s the only person with whom I could “negotiate our differences intelligently”. Wikan is the rock that gave me the strength to soar, to grow, and to become who I am today. We may not have the same topical interests (books and research vs. music and filmmaking), or communicate in exactly the same way (lengthy written words vs. oral and visual) as spiritually connected twin flames but we share the same taste, we care about the same things, and we both have strong bullshit radars. So yes, he might not be my twin flame, but he is exactly what I need and I’m grateful that we stuck together. So yes I’ll take some credits for that.


That said, I think I have phenomenally failed at being a good friend. Or any kind of ‘friend’ for that matter. I even lost a few of the closest friends I had at the beginning of the decade. Poof. Sometimes there’s a clear stopper: roommateship that didn’t quite work out, one confrontation that did go where it should have, and a move to a different city for school or work. But others are more elusive: it wasn’t quite clear what happened, or who did what. I often resort to blaming my two years in Cambridge as the reason why I lost constant contact—as an introvert who feels really uncomfortable about picking up calls but has no time to write long emails, no facetime almost means like a death sentence to the friendship. I used to think that I could pick it up right where we left off—but maybe it’s not that simple, maybe you could also grow apart. It also applies the other way around—now that I’m back in Jakarta, it’s been hard to maintain connection with the family and friends from Cambridge time.

These days, there’s been a lot of second-guessing what the other person feels about our friendship, how they already have much cooler friends now, how our conversations did not spark the same way it used to. It is possible that I don’t enjoy some of these friendships as much as I used to, as I’ve become more obsessed with work. Although maybe, I have been distracting myself with work just so I didn’t have to face how lame I am to my friends? Does it have anything to do with the fact that I’m married? Has my complete vulnerability to Wikan effectively disabled me from being emotionally available to others? The possibility is endless. Recently someone I considered a best friend even told me that I didn’t care about him as much as he did about me, that I did not make time for us—and the part that hurt the most there was maybe the fact that he’s right. The truth is, I miss my friends, but I also know that it will never be the same as our lives have fundamentally changed. Maybe I should accept that the things I could afford—like periodic Instagram DMs and modest lebaran hampers—is what friendships in my late 20s look like, and that it’s okay. I should say though that my younger self—who was all about grand gestures and treasuring friends—would probably say that I could do a lot better on this aspect. Point deductions for me here. Sorry, self.


Next, career. I feel like this is one area where there’s no clear benchmark and hence there’s no way that I would let my younger self down. I know 18-year-old Afu would think that working where I am would be just as respectable as anywhere else, as long as I do what I love(d) doing: tinkering with knowledge—its creation, transmission, and more importantly finding ways to use it to drive impact. I know that some people really have strong opinions about the institution I decided to work with: some think it’s the best place to produce robust research and influence policy, others think we have some hidden agenda to advance capitalism. Let me just say that I’m fully aware that it’s not perfect: there are trade offs between working for a massive international organization with the government as your direct client vis-a-vis working for a smaller civil society organizations. It’ll take working for both to really understand how complex it is. What my younger self should probably be proud of, however, is the fact that I know myself enough that I turned down the temptation of trying out the private sector when I finished grad school. I am one heck of an indecisive mess, but at least I knew that I would probably despise working just to sell products (even when the products ought to improve lives).

On a slightly related note, I also just realized how I keep doing the same thing in the past 10 years: use my extracurricular time to build organizations that empower young people with knowledge—it used to be Indonesian Future Leaders (2009), Indonesia IR Students (2012), Parlemen Muda Indonesia (2013), Podium.ID (2015); none of them quite made it but they also lead me to where I am now, and I have a good feeling about this one. All those other products that allowed me to learn enough about what we did wrong, about unfounded conceit. With Think Policy Society, I will now take my time, which is only possible because I have amazing people who to build it together with. So stick around, self, as we are barely at the beginning.


One thing she will perhaps be deeply disappointed about is the fact that I have stopped writing in the traditional sense of the word. Yes, I write every day at work and publish papers, but I don’t really blog (except for these personal journaling), and I don’t share my authentic voice on printed media anymore. What she might find hard to accept, is that I know that people don’t really read these days, and that it means I have to choose a different medium to say the things I would’ve said in a written form: speaking forums, video essays, and podcasts. I hope she finds solace in the fact that quite a handful of people see value in my content regardless of its forms. She would probably have mixed feelings and told me that they’re different, and that I written thoughts are irreplaceable, that I should write anyway. “And what about that book you’ve been trying to publish since you were 18?” Well, between making a home, excelling at work, being a mediocre friend, building an organization, and speaking up, I only had a little time left to write. And frankly, I wonder if at this point publishing a book is just fulfilling an ego to see my name on a shelf of Gramedia or actually getting my point across to reach as many people as possible. Because if it’s the latter, I really should just keep making videos with Wikan, shouldn’t I?


I want to close this reflection with some thoughts about my family, and how I have been as a daughter and sister. I put this last because it’s the most difficult one, the one I’ve been trying to avoid. I am not sure how I could be a better sister and daughter. There, I said it. I know that my parents want some things I could not give them. I realized that I don’t check up on them often enough. I tried to make time for my little brothers but we never really open up to one another that much. Even though I know we love one another in the family—I’m still one lousy daughter and sister by regular standard. I warned myself that I might be stuck with this label for a long time. As I traced back, I realized that I’ve been an outcast since they put me in boarding school when I was 14. It’s possible that I left my nest way too early to have roots that grounded me. I’m the only third-culture child in the family—when my brothers left for college, they went to schools with similar values (I’m the only one who took liberal arts and spent another two years in the US). I’m a chameleon who could fit perfectly at home, but with the painful awareness that I could never really connect at a much deeper level with them the way some siblings or families do. I’m sorry, self.

With that, I’ll maybe give myself a score of 2.5 out of 5? But my baseline is somewhere in the minus area so I’m actually doing pretty well? Regardless, I have thoroughly enjoyed this self-audit and think that maybe I should do this again in 5 years. What about you? Where are you guys in terms of self-audit score? Feel free to share on the comment section if you feel like it.


The Homes of 2019


Between feeling grateful and undeserving, I have spent this year subconsciously waiting for someone to give me the permission to be happy. On the surface, it may seem like I have quite accomplished a lot in 2019: (1) an unexpected promotion to a dream title, (2) a brand new home we get to call ours, and (3) a community where I found purpose. Underneath, however, lingers layers of guilt—mixed in a bowl of sadness. Apparently ticking certain boxes others define as ‘success’ does not mean that you’re protected from a different kind of pain that comes with adulthood.


2019 is the year with many good byes. One of my best friends moved abroad indefinitely. He was a non-judgmental confidant and a competitive board game partner, although we still couldn’t explain why or how we ended up as friends. We still chat regularly slash respond to each other’s Instagram story with an emoji, but it’s not quite the same. I’m just glad that we got to say an intimate good bye that I still cherish to this day.

Just a couple of months later, my mentor-friend followed his lead, although not to the same country. He was an office neighbor who used to stop by just to talk about animals, and from time to time invited Wikan and I for dinners. After he left, I effectively lost the anchor that had allowed me to not just survive, but actually navigate the new habitat I moved into. I hope he knows that he trained me well, because I have made a home out of the winds blowing my ship to various directions since he left.

Other than these two, at a different scale but still very much felt, I had to bid farewell to an officemate from whom I learned a lot (one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever known), two passionate environmentalists slash boss women I look up to who took me under their wings and opened doors for me, and an old friend who’s now conquering New York as a law school student.

Meanwhile, the two best friends who actually came back home to Jakarta this year, I feel like I keep failing to reconnect with. Maybe it was because I worked too much, or they worked too much, or both. But truth be told my biggest fear is that maybe in the three years we stopped hanging out, we simply grew apart. If that’s true, I hope they know that I still love and wish the best for them regardless.

All in all, it’s been a relatively lonely year. There are glimpses of moments when I got to hang out with friends in one-on-one lunches/coffees/dinners or big groups, and I cherish those deeply.

Like that time Wikan and I got to host a Hogwarts-themed party.


It is also an important year when I’ve tried to figure out what being a ‘married daughter’ means. As my dad got diagnosed with parkinson’s disease, I started wondering about what that would mean to us as a family, how we could be the support system that he needs us to be (or not to be). Reading journals and watching videos helped, as I understand that other families have found ways to make sure that their diagnosed loved ones could still have a full life. But even after all that, I still couldn’t settle down with what counts as enough. My worldly ambitions had defined who I am, but they now seem arbitrary in comparison.

That said, just last weekend (last of 2019) a good friend reminded me that maybe my parents’ happiness stems from mine, so as difficult as it is, I still want to pat myself in the back for several good (great?) things that actually happened to me this year. They mostly come in the form of ‘homes’—some more literal than others.


The first ‘home’ began with an Instagram story that grew into a group of over 100 passionate individuals and growing. It was an evening after the head of International Relations department in my alma mater asked me, “If we were to invite you (to guest lecture), what exactly would you like to share about?” Her question helped me realize that what I really want to teach about is public policy—i.e. the art of creative problem-solving in the public sector.

Since she obviously wouldn’t let me do that in her classrooms (and perhaps it’s my way to cope with rejections), I decided to just create my own classroom. One thing leads to another (including a nagging, amazing old friend who showed up to actually drag me to do it), and suddenly almost 600 people applied to what was a pilot series of 12 classes (we had to select 30 of them). From then on, one by one more people have come forward to kindly say that they have faith in this movement, and by doing so gives me the conviction that we have to move forward. 2020 will be an exciting year full of possibilities. Lin-Manuel’s Hamilton puts it best: just you wait.

A space of possibilities


The more literal home, however, was slightly more planned than that. For so long, Wikan and I had known that we wanted our very own house, as homemaking has always been our favorite project as a couple. After busting our asses off and saving up for the past few years, we finally had enough to make a downpayment and signed a mortgage for the perfect house in May. As a nomad of a little over 13 years (4 of them with Wikan), finding relative permanence was a great deal of blessing.

We moved to the outskirt south of Jakarta in October, and since then we have been mostly occupied with the business of homemaking. Between dining table and bedsheets, the highlight for yours truly had been the three white bookcases that we won’t have to knock down in twelve months, where I could take out my books from their boxes and organize by genre/author. At the end of 2019, after three stressful-yet-enjoyable months of figuring out furnitures and layouts, we finally arrived at a place where the building felt like ours.

We now have a 5-10 year long mortgage and commutes are much longer now, but hey, we don’t have to worry about not getting security deposit back if we nail the walls. What I do worry about, however, that having a home will start a sequence of much bigger changes we don’t know yet about.

Non-fiction on shelf #1, fiction on shelf #2, and the rest on shelf #3.


When I thought two were more than enough, the universe surprised me with one last trick up her sleeve—maybe because good things come in three (although maybe so do bad things). On September 25th, I received a call that allowed me to do what I’ve wanted to do for so long: telling the economic story of the environment. After being a research consultant for a little over a year in the organization, I finally was offered a term position as an environmental economist. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first (and perhaps still don’t until today) but one thing I do know is that it allowed me to finally belong. A new team I get to call home.

Since that call, there has been a lot of figuring out to do: as the new girl I did something wrong without knowing it, did something knowing it would have consequences, and sometimes they’re both a little mixed up. In the beginning I felt lost, unsure whether they’ve made the wrong decision (especially since they rejected me at first), but it always helped to remind myself that so many women before me doubted themselves after they asked for more, but with hard work and the right support system, they made it work. So will I.


Finally, 2019 was a year of many first times. Beyond the ‘three homes’, it was the year when I joined my first (and second) public protest in Jakarta: the first one was on plastic waste, and the second was one of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. On both, I was moved to see how some people really care, but more importantly, I was reminded that taking up public spaces matter. I always feel like it was an experience taken away from me during my undergrad, because I was too focused on the academics.

It was also the year I got to be on podcast interviews, which turns out to be quite enjoyable. I especially appreciated the interview with a friend on public policy, and one with another one on critical thinking and privileges. The hosts of both shows have helped me realize that good questions come from a place of empathy.

What protests look like in Jakarta

Among the many speaking engagements I had this year, one stood out. It was when I visited Semarang and met one of the most charming, kindhearted young women who called herself an admirer. I was moved by just how pure her intentions was, how genuinely she expressed her appreciation, how she hugged me, how I felt seen because she’s read almost everything I’ve written online. It’s the first time I feel like I’ve affected someone’s life so deeply. At the end of our encounter, she gave me a long letter she’s written, which I promised to treasure.


Too many MRT rides (one of 2019 highlights!) and evening showers were spent thinking about whether I deserve any of it at all. Sure, I’ve worked hard for it, but so has everybody. Having an awareness about ‘the system’ and the socio-economic constraints that come with it, I know that none of these accomplishments are mine alone, and if anything they’re reminders for me to give back as much as I could. I know that I owe much of them to my parents, to Eyang, to Wikan, and to friends who are one Telegram/WhatsApp chat away. Without this amazing support system I’m blessed with, I would’ve crumbled down into pieces.

That lingering feeling like there’s an impending bad thing to make up for all the good things this year

I wondered if this guilt/undeserving feeling had anything to do with my childhood and upbringing, how my dad never quite allowed me to be proud. If I came home with math score of 90 he would’ve joked, “Maybe it was a typo!” When I won a gold medal in a nation-wide math competition, he brushed it off with, “They must’ve mistaken you for another Andhyta!” Looking back, I think it trained me to never take my achievements for granted, and to never feel entitled. Or maybe the guilt had to do with my being a Sundanese, with my tendency to over-empathize, with my bring a confused human being.


It would’ve been a lie to say that 2019 has not been a good year. Feeling guilty about the good things that happen might be a “non-issue” for some of you or, borrowing a friend’s line, “a good problem to have”. I am grateful—immensely so—but it’s still a dissonance that occupies my mind.

For 2020, I wish to stop being apologetic, I wish that humility will stay a company, and I wish to finally find a way to be both a good daughter and a woman with ambition for myself.

Happy new year!