Eleven Lessons of 2018

Last year had been a lot of things: humbling, elating, upsetting, overwhelming—sometimes all at the same time. It was also one of the most formative years of my life, one where I felt like I became a fuller human being with a little bit more compassion, self-awareness, and less anger. Against my wish, however, the moments kept fleeting before I could properly imprint them in my memory (taking pictures helps, of course, although it often gets too interruptive and energy-consuming).

[Disclaimer: this post is about me and my experience throughout 2018. If you want to know what happened in the world (including the unfortunate series of disasters in this country that broke our hearts multiple times), I recommend this 5-minute video by Vox instead.]

Quite a large number of strangers seem to learn about me for the first time this year and to you, I’d like to say hello. Surprise: my thoughts and I had been around before I started studying abroad or made video essays with my husband. This blog had been home to those thoughts for almost eight years now, and if I hadn’t said this already: welcome.

(Oh and yes, by the way, I use more brackets, em dashes, colons, and semi-colons than your average writer.)

That said, if you’re part of the smaller crowd who were here last year or the many years before, here goes another one of my annual reflections. As you’re probably familiar with, there’s a pretty big chance that it won’t be relevant to your own lives, but if it somehow amuses you, read on: 2018 seems like as a humongous bag of lessons, and this post is a peek inside.

1. Fulfillment: A Dream Degree and Generous Friendships

Given my unhealthy obsession with completions, this year’s highlight is the fact that I finished my master’s program. (And with a distinction grade for my capstone analysis on village fund too!) Although it was pretty heartbreaking to leave the quiet city that had become home, I am mostly grateful to have had two years packed with learning not just about public policy, but also myself.

I tell friends that I wouldn’t mind another semester at Hogwarts—which is true—but at the same time, I’m also glad it went the way it did. I did not get all straight As, but I get just enough to prove that I tried my best, while also spending an ample amount outside the library to make some of the greatest friends in the world that I will forever treasure.

2. Confidence: A New Medium to Braindance

Ever since Wikan and I started Frame & Sentences in August 2017, we have had an insane amount of fun. While I loved the space that writing had provided for my ideas, it is pretty exhilarating to be able to share my thoughts to a significantly larger audience just by switching the medium. With op-eds or blogposts, roughly a thousand-something people (?) would take the time to read each piece, probably not thoroughly either. But thanks to Wikan’s videography and editing skills, now I get to reach over 20 times that number for each episode.

It’s not the same, of course, but I ended up enjoying writing video essays a lot.

Having known that many channels had to work really hard and produce regular (almost daily) content to get where they are, we are blessed to have collected over 108,000 views and almost 6,000 new subscribers from just uploading four videos this year. F&S also got interviewed by Indonesia Mengglobal and Magdalene, which is pretty cool. We are behind our own production goal, of course, but considering the significant transitions in our personal lives, I’m thrilled that we did at all.

People’s reception to the videos we make—especially from our closest friends (you know who you are)—has allowed me to enter a new level of self-assurance that what I have to say matters somehow. That there are people out there who care enough to watch every second of our 12-minute-long video.

That it is crucial for us to keep making them. (And, probably even more importantly, for us to not let this inflate our ego!)

3. Voice: A Stage to Speak Up

Beyond the screen, the second semester of 2018 was also full of in-person sharing: thanks to the invention of electronic calendars, I could track that I have been to exactly 23 speaking/teaching/moderating engagements before roughly 2,500-3,000 people spread throughout four islands—Sumatra, Java, Lombok, and Papua. It took almost all of my weekends, which means that I probably need to slow down and rethink my priorities in 2019, but for now, I’m just pleased to have all these opportunities to give back.

From all these talks, the pinnacle was my TEDxUIWomen speech (video coming soon!). It was one of the best 10 minutes in my life, and I am deeply thankful to have been given the stage to share my genuine thoughts with the world, highlighting the need to talk more about gender-based issues in professional settings. I summarized it here.

I’ve also rediscovered my joy in leading classrooms—this year I conducted several half-day workshops on argumentative writing and fundamentals of negotiations. Above anything else, what I always look forward to is when, at the end of each session, my students snuck up and told me that they learned something new. That specific moment made it all worth it.

4. Responsibility: The Expectations to Live Up To

Apparently, probably thanks to point 1-3, I now get noticed by random people in the unlikeliest places—during a lone stroll in a museum in Makassar, a Ramayana ballet dance in Yogyakarta, cafes, cinema studios, and concert halls in Jakarta, even on a deserted beach in Lombok. While I should probably be cooler about this, these encounters always leave me awkward, unsure about what to do/be.

It is very flattering that people (usually young girls) approached me and said that I am their role model, someone they want to become when they’re older, that I have inspired them to study or work harder. (I always tell them that they shouldn’t want to be ‘like me’, because fixating your eyes on a single path might lead to oversight on other opportunities from the specific quirks that only you have).

At the same time, however, when the same conversation is repeated dozens of times, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of duty that prompts me to be more careful at what I say and do as it might affect these people more than I think. Furthermore, although it is wonderful to receive these messages, I worry that people will be disappointed when they find out that my introverted self is not as welcoming to small talks or spending time to share wisdom 24/7 in real life. While I try to practice kindness as much as I could, I’m also generally impatient and not the friendliest person.

That said, I almost always, always appreciate long, thoughtful messages through direct messages or emails—which I have been showered with throughout 2018. If you’re one of the people who did this, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

5. Peace: To Forgive Ignorance

Needless to say, putting your thoughts out there also means that people will disagree with you, and people have disagreed with Wikan and me at least a hundred times this year through F&S’s comment box :)) Of course these dissenting opinions take many different forms: some are genuine questions I was more than happy to answer, some are good counter arguments founded with logic and data (my favorites), but the hardest ones to deal with came from people who were, for whatever reason, triggered and didn’t have any agenda other than channeling their own furiousness.

When F&S received its first thumbs down in 2017 or any time someone completely misunderstood our point in the past, I used to be outraged: “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST AGREE? HOW CAN YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THIS SIMPLE IDEA?”

Throughout 2018, however, fundamentally thanks to the adaptive leadership course I took at HKS, I have effectively stopped being angry at ignorance. This shift is rooted in the realization that we are all just products of the environment we were raised in, which informed our loyalties and the ‘voices inside our head’. The people who leave condescending, thoughtless comments might have done so without the awareness of why they believe what they believed, let alone the impact of their words. So why should I be triggered by these trivial responses?

I consider this as my biggest achievement of 2018 and have made it my personal goal to keep making content that will bring people to the same space.

6. Anxiety: An Abundance of Choices

Another low point of the year is the fact that I wasted 70 good days of 2018 in limbo: I put my life on hold just because I could not quite resolve about how I want to pick up my post-grad school career (and have written about this at length, so I won’t talk about this too much here). If you watch The Good Place [mild spoiler ahead], there’s a character whose biggest problem is his indecision, such that he made the lives of the people around him miserable. I was that guy in 2018.

In addition to my inability to choose a professional trajectory among all the available options, I realized that people have invited me to speak/moderate/teach on hardly coherent themes: sometimes it’s climate change, sometimes it’s gender, youth, education, peace building, the list—if anything—only gets longer over time.

I consciously picked the path of a generalist, but having been trained in public policy analysis, I can’t help but worry about all the opportunity costs from all of these identity ambiguity. When people ask me, “What should we put as your title?” I always end up stuttering because I’m not quite sure myself. I am sometimes a research analyst, sometimes content creator, sometimes youth organization co-founder; never consistent.

Maybe I should embrace this as a strength instead of weakness because it allows me to be more agile in joining many different activities. That said, it might simply be a symptom of my cowardice to bear the consequences of making a choice, something that I want to work on in 2019.

7. Courage: A Jump Into the Unknown

My first attempt to stop being afraid of leaving the fence is by actually making a decision (face your fear, etc.). So in August, I finally made the call to join an old, massive international organization. The nature of my new workplace is the opposite of where I had always been before: small (and therefore agile) organizations at the early stage of their growth.

The rationale behind this verdict was simple: I didn’t want to be the smartest person in the room. I feel like two years was not enough to learn, and my thirst for growth prompted me to look for places that will give me the steepest learning curve.

In the beginning, this made me nervous: I wasn’t sure whether I would be useful (or how), and there were adjustments in expected coordination and overall process. Although I knew most of it already from my research about the culture and have been here for over four months now, there are still many things I have to learn.

A good friend told me to make decisions that are driven by hope instead of fear. This was a wake up call because I almost leaned into decisions because I was afraid of missing out, of not working with the same familiar faces, of being left by the train, but I’m glad that at the end of the day I chose hope (to build an expertise in something, and to continue to learn).

For 2019, I pray that this courage will stay with me.

8. Conviction: The Ability to Say No

Flash news: I’m Leslie Knope (from Parks and Recreation)—or at least that’s how I think of myself. In one of the episodes, Leslie sat down with her boss Ron Swanson, who reminded her to ‘never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing‘.

While I don’t know if I could ever ‘whole-ass one thing’, this year I have accomplished the difficult task of reducing my urge to ‘multiplieth-ass tons of things’ to just ‘whole-ass two (three at most) things’. Had this happened in 2017, there’s no chance that I would be able to say no to a free trip to Israel, to several speaking engagements, and to a number of paid buzzing opportunities (unless the companies’ values align with mine).

In quiet, underneath my newfound ability to decline invitations, I can hear the vague sound of conviction that I recently discovered. This might be part of growing up or my training in school of government, but I can now give people advices with significantly more confidence than I ever had.

9. Patience: The Fortitude to Wait

The first five years of my post-college-life had been very full life-changing events and instant affirmation. I got an offer to my first job before I even finished college, helped the institute grow more than four-fold, led a national movement of political education for youth, got accepted in my dream school, got married, and already got a second degree under my belt. All of this conditioned me to a certain pace and somehow hungry for immediate gratification.

Because of this, last year I forced myself to have more patience. By choosing an organization where people take their time to perfect their work, I have come to see the beauty and sound of silent growth, day by day. I have also understood how not knowing could open doors and that, even when nobody’s looking, you know you’re growing and that’s enough.

This year I aim to invest my hours in slowly building my expertise and to specialize in certain skills that make me an even more effective generalist. I want to learn more about macroeconomics and fiscal policy, I want to become fluent in both languages of development and environment.

If I’m lucky, I might find just the right way to marry them.

10. Guilt: The Pressure for Presence

Although Wikan and I had been married for 2.5 years now, this is the first time that we are in Indonesia as a married couple. At the same time, 2018 was also the year that my little brothers left home (one for work and the other for college), making my parents’ home emptier than ever.

The theme of separation—especially between children and their parents, including the story in Ralph Breaks the Internet—always ruined me. I think it’s one of the saddest tragedies in life, and I wish it never had to happen to my aging parents. But of course it did.

The year had partly been about making peace with the fact that I could not always be there for them. At the same time, it is also a year of doing my best to be a good daughter, despite my shortcomings.

11. Love: The Forever and Ever

Above anything else, however, I am grateful for all the love that I received throughout 2018. From the daily dose of companionship and understanding from Wikan, to my family’s patience about us not wanting to have a child yet, to kind words from F&S subscribers, the colleagues and mentors at work who forgive my uninformed comments as a newcomer, over and over.

Here’s to 2019 filled with even more love and lessons. Onward!

P. S. I’m considering to resign from Instagram for a little while. I believe that this will allow me to look at life in a picture much bigger than simply a stitched sequence of story dashes. Should you need to reach out to me, please consider Twitter direct message or email instead.

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Semester 4

Manusia terbiasa melihat genap sebagai sepuluh, atau selusin. Tapi mengakhiri di angka empat seperti janggal. Mungkin itu sebabnya aku merasa ada yang belum tuntas dalam hubunganku dengan kampus, dalam upayaku membuat otak penuh. Alih-alih merasa lengkap, benak ini seperti diisi kekacauan-kekacauan yang belum terjawab.

Jika dulu aku titik koma, bukannya menjadi titik, sekarang aku malah menjelma menjadi tanda tanya.

Dalam salah satu kuliahnya, dosenku mengingatkan tentang paradoks ‘merasa tidak tahu’ sebagai indikasi ‘mengetahui’. Suatu ketibaan di pulau ‘ketidaktahuan yang diketahui’ (known unknown) yang tadinya cuma sebuah titik di kejauhan.

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Bukan ingin menyangkal bahwa aku memperoleh 1-2 pengetahuan baru—tentang bagaimana melakukan analisis ekonomi atau kebijakan publik, serta kemewahan memiliki bahasa untuk mengkomunikasikannya—tapi itu tidak ada apa-apanya dibandingkan yang masih kupusingkan tentang bias manusia dan betapa sulitnya mencapai kesepakatan yang menyenangkan kedua pihak di tengah perbedaan ideologi.

Sampai heran, bagaimana bisa aku sempat merasa terbebani oleh banyaknya ilmu pengetahuan yang kumiliki ketika sekarang menjadi jelas bahwa itu semua cuma ‘ilusi keahlian’.

Untungnya, sebagai penutup semester, dosenku yang lain menyampaikan (sambil setengah bercanda dan disadur sekenanya):

Harvard Kennedy School adalah institusi di mana orang-orang dengan ‘kelainan mental’ ingin menyelamatkan dunia berkumpul. Ketika pulang ke rumah masing-masing dengan gelar baru, sangat wajar jika kalian tergoda untuk menjadi orang yang terpintar di setiap ruangan, untuk selalu memiliki jawaban bagi setiap pertanyaan. Tapi kenyataannya, kalian tidak berada di situ selama berbulan-bulan ke belakang. Karenanya selama 1-2 bulan pertama, izinkan rasa ingin tahu kalian untuk memimpin jalan. Dengarkan suara-suara yang muncul. Izinkan kalian untuk lebih sering bertanya daripada menjawab.

Kuliah umum ini menjadi semacam resolusi untukku, dan aku bertekad untuk menahan diri dari dorongan-dorongan intelektual tersebut. Sejauh ini, aku sering gagal, tapi kutulis ini juga untuk kembali mengingatkan.

Belum lagi, aku merasa belum sepenuhnya mawas diri bahwa sekarang aku sudah kembali ke Indonesia. Badanku ada di sini, tapi entah bagaimana sebagian pikiranku masih merasa bahwa aku akan ‘pulang’ ke Cambridge. Mungkin itu pertanda bahwa aku akan kembali dalam waktu dekat. Mungkin juga, itu semacam penanda bahwa kota yang anginnya tidak kenal ampun itu sudah menjadi rumah permanen, terlepas di mana aku berada.

Kata orang, seharusnya aku mulai merasakan reverse culture shock—geram karena orang tidak mengantri, transportasi publik yang tidak nyaman, atau mobil yang tidak berhenti ketika hendak menyebrang di zebra cross sekalipun. Namun, perbedaan-perbedaan perilaku itu sepertinya tidak terlalu berarti untukku, jika dibandingkan dengan besarnya kerinduanku berada di ruang kelas dan mempelajari hal baru.

Perasaan tidak nyaman yang familiar ketika ingin mengangkat tangan untuk bertanya atau menawarkan perspektif tapi takut terdengar bodoh. Ketakutan sekaligus kehausan mendengar opini dan analisis cemerlang dari mereka yang usianya tidak jauh dariku.

Saking tidak ingin lupa, kadang aku memutar kembali sekelebat ingatan dari pengalamanku di sana. Aku seperti ingin meyakinkan diri bahwa itu bukan mimpi, bahwa aku benar-benar sudah melalui semua proses pembelajaran tersebut, dan bahwa itu semua akan menjadi bagian formatif dalam kepribadianku.

Pada saat bersamaan, semakin aku bertahan untuk tetap berada ‘di sana’, semakin lama pula perjalananku ‘di sini’ akan dimulai. Sepertinya, jika ingin maju, aku harus perlahan-lahan melepas genggamanku. Bukan karena menyerah, tapi karena percaya bahwa aku akan selalu bisa kembali. Bahwa komunitas yang sama (terutama teman-teman terdekatku) akan selalu ada ketika aku mulai menjelma menjadi orang yang tak kukenal, atau lupa akan tujuan akhirku.

So here I am, loosening my grip, trying to embrace the new chapter. Let’s see where this one takes me.

 

Semester 3

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(An unfinished post written 7 months ago—when my hair was still green.)

Being in graduate school has interfered with my sense of time. The 15 months that had passed since the last time I saw my friends and family at the airport felt like a very long dream that started just yesterday. But in a bizarre way, I’m also very conscious about the 400 days that I’ve spent away from home—almost obsessively trying to store as many new memories as possible in my mind keepsake.

Coming back to school as a second-year student had been a very distinct experience. I was stronger, more intelligent, and somewhat less affected by my environment. Not in an ignorant way, just more resilient. Having a support system, being someone’s support system, knowing what you like, understanding the pace you’re comfortable with. That kind of stuff.

One thing I learned: sometimes, it’s not about you. People have all sorts of baggage and biases. Every now and then, they dump it on you when you least expect it. Being raised as an Asianno, Sundanesewoman, it had been very tempting to think I was to blame. But more often than not, it’s really them.

I ended semester two with a sense of responsibilitywhat am I gonna do with all this overwhelming knowledge? This semester, however, had been a humbling journey where I realized this is not about solving all the problems. Not immediately, at least.

There’s so much more I need to learn and it feels like my time is tight, but isn’t learning is supposed to be lifelong?

A Blazing Summer

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The past three months had been overwhelming: I finished an internship at the UNFCCC Secretariat, made new friends, and most exciting of all, launched a video essay YouTube channel with Wikan. We named our little brainchild Frame and Sentences because that’s what we think we’re respectively (somewhat) good at: taking pictures and putting words together. If you’d like to know more about the channel, we shared our background story through an interview with Swedian from Dialogika Podcast.

There are times when I feel like life has given me too much I might explode.

That said, August also marks the month that I left Indonesia last year. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I’m not sure if I can say the same about this damned country of mine. Now when I say that, it never means that I’m not going back home. In fact I’m very much looking forward to dipping back into a sea of problems that is my nation and try to discover a little space where I could make a difference.

For now, my home is Cambridge/Boston. Despite their ruthless winter, they have become a city of comfort. A place where people are warm anytime you’re in need of companionship, but provides caves of privacy when you need some lone time.

Speaking of home, last weekend Wikan and I took the train and bus to visit Göttingen, a city my family used to call home in 1998-1999. Things did not change that much; they simply shrank. The playground I used to hang out a lot at is now too small, though my elementary school somehow looks exactly the same.

I’ve come to like Bonn, too. The city’s weather never stays for more than two days, but maybe it’s just looking for our attention. It’s kind of cute, if you think about it.

Oh we visited Rotterdam and explored it on a bike, too. It was lovely.

Overall, it’s been such a rewarding and lessonful year. I look forward to what the next cycle has to offer.

On an unrelated note, I love how seasons come in four, and with this fourth blogpost, I have come to complete my seasonal blogpost series. I look forward to communicating my opinions and ideas visually, whichI’ve come to learnis a completely different animal.

I surely hope that this does not mean that I’ll stop writing, though. Video essays are the new cool guys I’ve been hanging out with, but I know my first love will always be a long, pictureless, sometimes structureless, good-old blogpost (just like this one). Onwards!

A Glimmer of Spring

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[A stone’s throw away from home.]

Sometimes I pause and wonder about what I have done to deserve everything that I have today. I’m never the most hard working student in the classroom, not the best friend/protege/leader, not the most devoted daughter at home, and my husband is definitely the better half in our partnership. And yet here I am, attending a ridiculously expensive university without paying a single penny, accomplishing almost every plan on my list, and supported by a family with unconditional love every step of the way.

Other than a few romantic heartbreaks, I almost always get what I want—friends, grades, schools, organizations, awards (not necessarily in that order). I have heard and sympathized with stories of failures before, of course, but the magnitude of how it shapes a person never really hit me. For so long, I have lived in my privileged bubble and remained clueless about living any other kind of life.

Until I get to know my husband, and with him his past failures that I have come to admire.

When he first opened up to me about the failure after failure after failure that he experienced, I was in denial. How could it be? He has passion, infinitely talented, and not only dares to dream big but also works hard to accomplish it. Compared to the indecisive me, he knows what he wants. He could be so certain about what he wants he decided to quit college. Yet across the table, sat me, almost taking all of my achievements for granted.

I thought, he must’ve been perceiving these events under the wrong framework. Maybe what he thought were failures are simply smaller-sized successes that help him learn. Like when he did not make the cut to the city’s baseball team despite training for months, it just meant that he was finally good enough to be in the semifinals. Or when we could not fundraised for our little short film, we could’ve focused on the fact that we got more than a handful donors that trusted us with their money.

Only later I realized that taking your failures into such perspective takes not just a discipline mind-training, but actually knowing that you will succeed at some point. I came from a position of privilege to be able to tell him that his pain is temporary, that it will pay off someday, as long as he keeps trying. It’s like telling violent crime victims that he/she was going to be okay—they might be, but what just happened would stay with them for a while.

Over time, I also learn the possibility that the only reason I haven’t truly failed (in a way that matters) is because I have avoided all the scary fights. I have told people I wanted to be a published author practically forever, but I have not finished a manuscript until this very day. I very rarely take a chance in anything that has even a glint probability of rejection. I never run as a president of anything in my life, and I only led projects when I know I have the resources and capacity to deliver.

On my wedding day, I told everyone how Wikan keeps me grounded, and I meant it. He reminds me every day how whatever I achieve in life is nothing but a privilege, allowed by the never ending support from my family and the people around me.

Here’s to growing even taller in the summer.