Ad Astra Per Aspera (a.k.a. Afu’s Unabridged Guide of What You Need to Know Before Applying to Harvard: FAQ)

Alright. This is happening.

Kalau teman-teman mengikuti saya di Instagram, kemungkinan besar kalian sudah tahu bahwa saya tidak terlalu senang ketika identitas utama saya diakarkan pada fakta bahwa saya lulus dari salah satu institusi pendidikan paling elit ini. Saya—seperti halnya semua orang—tiga-dimensi, tersusun oleh pemikiran, kata sifat, dan kata kerja yang perlahan-lahan membentuk ‘diri saya’. Karena itu, saya lebih suka menerima apresiasi untuk apa yang saya buat, tulis, atau ucapkan alih-alih nama alma mater.

Pada saat bersamaan, saya juga sadar ada rasa lapar yang tak terbendung di antara pemuda-pemuda Indonesia yang beberapa tahun belakangan ini terbangun dari tidur panjang dan mendadak sadar bahwa kita yang tidak terlahir dari keluarga kaya—dengan kerja keras dan beasiswa yang tepat—bisa juga menikmati pendidikan berkualitas di kampus-kampus terbaik dunia.

Look. I get it.

Karena itu, setelah puluhan (mungkin juga ratusan) kali ditanya, “Kak Afu, gimana caranya masuk Harvard?” saya putuskan untuk menulis blogpost ini sebagai upaya menjawab teman-teman dengan lebih terstruktur dan konsisten.

[Disclaimer: program yang saya ikuti adalah Master In Public Policy di Harvard Kennedy School jadi kemungkinan kurang menjawab untuk program dan sekolah lain.]

[May 24, 2018. One of the best days of my life.]

1. Start with the right mindset.

Frasa Latin yang saya gunakan sebagai judul tulisan ini berarti, “to the stars through difficulties“. Memang, untuk mendarat di antara bintang-bintang, kita seringkali harus melalui berbagai kesulitan.

But here’s the thing: Harvard is NEVER supposed to be your stars. At best, it’s a transit planet that would allow you to fly further, maybe twice as fast. That said, not everyone has to go through the same route—your aim should be much bigger than a transit planet.

Beberapa orang bertanya pada saya tentang apakah mereka harus ikut organisasi X alih-alih Y atau kerja di perusahaan A alih-alih Z agar bisa diterima di Harvard. Bukan jarang, ada yang mendeklarasikan diri ingin masuk Harvard bahkan sebelum tahu program apa yang ingin mereka pilih/yang ada di sana.

Ini cara berpikir yang keliru.

Salah satu alasan Harvard akan menerima orang-orang yang mereka terima—menurut saya—justru adalah karena mereka memiliki (atau setidaknya mulai mencari) raison d’etre alias tujuan jangka panjang yang lebih besar dari diri mereka sendiri. Raison d’etre ini lah yang kemudian memandu keputusan-keputusan besar seperti memilih tempat bekerja atau kegiatan luar kampus, dan tercermin dalam CV/resume mereka. Nantinya, ‘bintang’ ini juga yang menjadi justifikasi untuk memilih kuliah di jurusan tersebut.

Raison d’etre ini bisa berbentuk sangat abstrak—misalnya melakukan ‘pelayanan publik’, atau ‘sektor pembangunan’ tanpa bidang spesifik—karena bagian dari sekolah bisa jadi menemukan astra yang lebih konkrit. Sedikit seperti ayam dan telur, tapi poin saya: see beyond the brand.

2. Know your shit.

Setelah astra teman-teman sudah sedikit lebih jelas terlihat, coba cari tahu kampus dan program mana yang akan membawamu ke sana. Jurusan yang saya ambil di Harvard Kennedy School, Master In Public Policy bisa jadi ada di mana-mana (termasuk di Berkeley atau Chicago), tapi tiap sekolah memiliki menu kuliah yang sangat berbeda-beda.

Beberapa informasi dasar yang mungkin membantu:

  • Harvard Kennedy School adalah sekolah profesional, bukan sekolah akademis. Karena itu, kebanyakan kelasnya bersifat praktis dan tidak teoretis. Tugas akhirnya pun berupa capstone project dalam bentuk analisis kebijakan publik dan bukan tesis master pada umumnya yang menjawab pertanyaan ilmiah.
  • Sekolah ini juga membanggakan diri sebagai rumah bagi para generalis yang ingin belajar sedikit-sedikit tentang banyak hal, alih-alih banyak hal tentang satu topik. Kalau ada spesialisasi, itu dilakukan berdasarkan konsentrasi dan topik tugas akhir yang dipilih (bagi para MPP). Karena itu aku terpapar mulai dari isu pembangunan, growth diagnostics, perubahan iklim, behavioral economics, sampai keamanan. Namun, keterampilan dasar yang dibangun tetap sama, yaitu analisis kebijakan publik—yang di dalamnya termasuk statistik dan econometrics, ilmu ekonomi, ilmu politik, negosiasi, serta kepemimpinan.
  • Program-program yang tersedia—mulai dari MPP, MPA, MC-MPA, MPA/ID sangat berbeda antar satu sama lain. Secara umum aku merasa bahwa jika teman-teman ingin kuat secara kuantitatif lebih baik pilih MPA/ID, kalau MPA lebih keterampilan kualitatif dan pemahaman isu, sedangkan MPP yang relatif berimbang di keduanya.

Two years is a long time to be away from your loved ones back home—make sure it’s for the right reason.

3. Have some work experience first.

Salah satu cara paling mudah untuk ‘menemukan’ raison d’etre kita adalah dengan memiliki pengalaman bekerja terlebih dahulu, paling tidak selama 1 tahun.

Ketika lulus dari jurusan Hubungan Internasional Universitas Indonesia di tahun 2013, saya belum memiliki bayangan sama sekali untuk mengambil jurusan kebijakan publik. Baru setelah bekerja kurang lebih 1.5 tahun di sebuah lembaga riset, saya menemukan permasalahan kebijakan publik sebagai puzzle yang ingin saya pecahkan.

Beberapa pengecualian terhadap aturan ini: (1) jika teman-teman ingin menjadi seorang akademisi, (2) sudah punya pengalaman ‘dunia nyata’ karena bekerja selama kuliah, atau (3) alasan profesional atau pribadi lain yang menjadikan gelar master sangat penting.

Secara keseluruhan, pengalaman kerja sepertinya akan lebih menguntungkan teman-teman daripada kampusnya sendiri. Harvard Kennedy School sendiri tidak memiliki persyaratan tegas (hanya ‘disarankan’ punya pengalaman 3 tahun untuk program MPP, tapi saya punya teman yang langsung ke HKS setelah S1).

Namun, selain sebagai proses self discovery, pengalaman kerja juga memungkinkan teman-teman untuk berkontribusi lebih aktif dalam diskusi di kelas. Seringkali, diskusi yang dilakukan dapat diperkaya oleh pengalaman profesional para mahasiswanya. Kalau belum punya pengalaman kerja, takutnya teman-teman malah tidak bisa berpartisipasi dengan maksimal.

4. Do your research.

Setelah sering menerima pertanyaan terkait proses aplikasi, aku bisa mengkategorikan penanya ke dalam dua kelompok: (1) penanya dengan informed questions, dan (2) dengan pertanyaan malas.

Contoh pertanyaan malas: “Kok bisa masuk Harvard?” (Yang biasanya aku jawab dengan, “Karena daftar.” LOL.)

Contoh informed question—alias pertanyaan yang sudah spesifik karena dilandasi riset sebelumnya: “Di program MPP ada tugas akhir berupa capstone project dengan klien. Itu nanti cara mencari kliennya seperti apa?”

Riset awal menunjukkan bahwa kita cukup berkomitmen untuk menginvestasikan waktu ke dalam proses mencari tahu jawaban. Terkadang, jawaban yang teman-teman cari sudah ada versi lengkapnya di Google.

Percaya atau tidak, semua informasi terkait proses aplikasi yang saya lakukan sampai akhirnya diterima sumbernya dari Google, karena saya tidak kenal orang Indonesia yang diterima di Harvard Kennedy School sebelum saya.

So there you go.

5. Build a solid story arc.

Sebagai orang Indonesia (untuk saya lebih spesifik lagi—Sunda), kita dibesarkan di dalam budaya yang mengutamakan kerendahan hati. Sama sekali tidak ada yang salah dengan itu, namun kita sering mencampuradukkan kerendahan hati dengan rasa rendah diri.

Bagian penting dari aplikasi S2 ke sekolah di Amerika pada umumnya, adalah kemampuan ‘menjual diri’.

Almost literally.

We Indonesians have *not* been trained for this (not to mention the additional English-as-second-language handicap) so half of the battle is about finding that humble-yet-confident voice inside your head.

Setengahnya lagi adalah kemampuan membangun cerita yang koheren tentang ‘siapa kita’. Untuk melakukan ini kita perlu ‘menjebrengkan’ semua hal yang sudah kita lakukan dan capai di waktu lalu, untuk kemudian kita hubungkan sebagai satu cerita keseluruhan yang utuh.

Tentu, secanggih-canggihnya mengarang tidak akan membawa kemana-mana jika tidak ada ‘bahan’ yang bisa dipakai dalam membangun cerita tersebut. Karena itu, penting juga untuk kita ‘menabung’. Buatku yang bisa ditabung ada tiga hal—kredensial, jaringan, dan kapasitas, dan harus dimulai seawal mungkin. Lagi-lagi, proses menabung ini kalau bisa dilakukan karena raison d’etre tadi.

6. Strategize your test preparations.

Sampai di sini teman-teman sudah riset, menemukan program yang diinginkan, dan membangun cerita tentang diri sendiri yang siap dijual. Great.

Bad news, though. There’s still a couple of tests you need to pass: the GRE and TOEFL.

Berdasarkan pemahamanku, HKS tidak punya batas ambang spesifik yang menentukan teman-teman diterima atau tidak, karena setiap aplikasi dilihat sebagai suatu keseluruhan. Dengan kata lain, misalkan TOEFL atau GRE teman-teman kurang dikit, tetep bisa diterima asalkan kuat dari aspek lain misalnya CV atau surat rekomendasi.

Meskipun demikian, penting untuk menyiapkan diri kita sebaik-baiknya dalam menghadapi tes ini. Salah satu strategi yang bisa dipakai, berdasarkan pengalaman saya, adalah melakukan tes terhadap diri sendiri (dengan buku yang bisa dibeli di toko buku impor seperti Kinokuniya atau gratis secara online) untuk tahu di mana kita sudah jago dan di mana kita masih kurang.

Misalnya, bisa jadi teman-teman sudah kuat dalam bagian quantitative dari GRE tapi masih lemah di analytical writing. Lalu alokasikan waktu secukupnya (1-2 bulan?) untuk lebih banyak berlatih di kelemahan kita tersebut.

Baik juga untuk mengetahui seawal mungkin apakah teman-teman tipe belajar sendiri atau ramai-ramai. Sesuai dengan kebutuhan, teman-teman bisa bentuk kelompok belajar atau dengan investasi yang cukup besar (sayangnya), ikut kelas persiapan yang tersedia di Jakarta dan kota-kota lain.

7. Don’t pursue a recommendation letter from a famous person for the sake of it.

Aplikasi ke HKS membutuhkan tiga surat rekomendasi, dua dari atasan profesional dan satu dari pembimbing akademis atau skripsi kita ketika S1. Pada umumnya, surat rekomendasi menjadi tempat untuk memvalidasi klaim-klaim yang kita buat di dalam resume.

Perumpamaan lain yang sering aku pakai: kalau kita adalah rumah berdinding, setiap surat rekomendasi adalah jendela untuk melihat ke ‘dalam’ kepribadian kita. Sebisa mungkin, setiap jendela diposisikan di lokasi berbeda agar komite seleksi dapat melihat kita secara menyeluruh, dengan tetap memiliki benang merah yang sama.

Contohnya, kualitas yang ingin ditunjukkan adalah bahwa kita memiliki komitmen tinggi. Penulis rekomendasi A membicarakan komitmen kita di kantor, B di kampus, dan C di kegiatan kerelawanan.

Salah satu mitos terbesar tentang surat rekomendasi untuk keperluan aplikasi sekolah adalah bahwa semakin tinggi jabatan pemberi rekomendasi kita, semakin tinggi pula kesempatan kita diterima. Sehingga kadang aku temui kasus di mana seseorang meminta rekomendasi dari Menteri atau orang penting lain, meskipun baru membantu mereka sebagai penerjemah selama satu hari (which is cool, by the way, but your relationship isn’t intense enough to get you a robust story).

Prinsip umumnya: semakin dekat hubungan atau semakin lama kalian bekerja dengan pemberi rekomendasi, semakin baik. Jika ada dua orang yang kenal pada tingkat yang sama, maka semakin tinggi jabatannya semakin baik.

Kualitas dan intensitas hubungan profesional tersebut menjadi penting karena nantinya kredibilitas klaim dalam surat rekomendasi akan ditentukan oleh banyak-tidaknya ‘bukti’ dalam bentuk anekdot-anekdot nyata. Jadi semakin *personal* surat tersebut semakin baik.

Jika sang pemberi rekomendasi cukup terbuka, teman-teman bisa diskusikan elemen apa yang ingin ditekankan dalam masing-masing surat sehingga dapat tersinkronisasi dengan keseluruhan aplikasi.

8. Write shitty first drafts. Then have your confidants and/or mentors to review them.

Yang juga memakan banyak waktu adalah esai-esai (biasanya ada 1-4 dengan pertanyaan yang berbeda-beda). Kuncinya berasa di menulis draft pertamamu seawal mungkin, karena itu memungkinkan teman-teman untuk punya banyak waktu untuk melakukan revisi.

Penting juga untuk memiliki teman atau mentor yang dapat membaca dan memberikan masukan kepada draft awal teman-teman. Aku secara spesifik berhutang pada beberapa orang terdekat untuk hal ini.

Kadang, kita merasa malu atau protektif terhadap esai yang sangat personal. Karena itu aku juga tidak menyarankan untuk mengirim ke terlalu banyak orang, cukup 1-3. Perlu diingat bahwa ketertutupan itu juga akan menutup kesempatan untuk mengembangkan esai teman-teman untuk menjadi lebih baik lagi.

9. Take your time.

Finally, remember that everyone lives in their own time zone. Some people might do their master’s earlier than others but it doesn’t mean it would’ve been good for you. Maybe waiting longer means you can get more out of your study later.

Point is, there’s no use comparing yourself to others—but it’s generally a good practice to look at how far you’ve grown from your past self.

Sebagai referensi tambahan, aku ingin membagi beberapa tautan untuk mempelajari proses aplikasi Harvard Kennedy School lebih lanjut, serta organisasi Indonesia Mengglobal yang sudah memuat banyak sekali informasi:

Kalau ada tautan lain yang bisa berguna, ataupun pertanyaan lebih lanjut, silakan tinggalkan di kolom komentar di bawah.

I’ll stop here because I run out of points to make. If I think of anything else, I’ll update this post in the future.

Dengan ini, saya mengucapkan selamat dan semoga sukses untuk teman-teman yang, seperti saya dulu, mulai dengan ingin.

You’ll be surprised to find out where that willpower could take you.

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Power Couples: Because Love Does Not Always Belong In Disney Castles

I think we would all agree to call the obsolete line “behind a great man stands a great woman” off. With almost-equal opportunities here and there, ladies who could not make it to the top must either be: 1) not qualified, 2) not hardworking enough, or simply 3) not that brave to let herself lean in. Sorry to break the truth down to you, but we shall all deal with it somehow at the end of the day.

That being said, I think it is fair to shift our admiration from power people (individuals who happen to be talented and luckily achieve stuff while not letting their spouse to get on their way) into power couples: a man and a woman, both of whom involved in a(n arguably healthy) romantic relationship and independently hold high-level, influential careers.

There’s a number of reasons to why power couples are more awesome than power people:

  • Driving a huge truck is something, but driving a trolley-bus (with at least two
    connected cars) is an entirely different league. It is a considerably larger responsibility, requiring a lot of compromises and wider driving-awareness/sensitivity. If one manages to not only move from point A to point B but actually doing it gracefully well, I think he/she deserves a bigger appreciation.
  • Girls have the natural urge to be with someone who beats them in a game or two. To complicate that, however, girls also have the natural crave to be with someone who would let them pursue their dreams/ambitions/career. Statistically, the intersection between categories #1 and #2 does not provide us with many options. Hence, to know that there great women out there who manage to find such rare breed of men could be encouraging.
  • Well, we basically just love fangirl/fanboy-ing over power couples.

Among many, these are the top 5 power couples of my pick (some of which are fictional):

1. Francis and Claire Underwood

House of Cards, TV

I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood,” Frank told us once.

The word ‘romantic’ might not fit them best—if anything, their marriage is mostly platonic. But I swear to you there is something inexplicably intimate in those looks they exchange every now and then throughout the series. Frank, a Democrat with big ambitions (he went from being a congressman to vice president in just one season) and Claire, a cold president of a non-profit organization, makes a perfect combo for any political geeks. They are not particularly ‘decent’—together they manipulate the people around them to grab influence and prestige (although Frank orchestrated most of the work) and they might be united merely by their common hunger for power but I think it makes their relationship even more profound and realistic.

2. Samantha Power and Cass Sunstein

Samantha

In the same realm of politics but the real version of it, there’s Power-Sunstein duo. Started off as a journalist, Power is now the ambassador for United States to the United Nations. She won a Pulitzer, graduated from two ivy league schools Yale and Harvard, as well as served as a professor at the latter. In 2008 she met Cass Sunstein when they both helped Obama’s campaign. Sunstein then worked for the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and taught at Chicago’s Law School for 27 years. Despite getting married to a divorcee when she was 38, Power (who, if you notice, retains her name) seems to be very happy, and they’re now both overjoyed with two kids. Just imagine all the insider’s news and high-level gossips they might be discussing in the bed.

3. Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale

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Is it just me or are awkward relationships cute? If you watch Newsroom, you would probably agree that McAvoy and McHale’s under-the-table fondness for each other is just adorable. If Frank and Claire has that indisputable connection, I cannot exactly speak the same for this couple. Instead of trust or overflowing affection, their relationship is full of doubts, anger, and disappointments. That and my hunch about how Aaron Sorkin set them up with similar names aside, I love how they both worship the true goal of journalism i.e. to educate American people through relevant facts and stories. In News Night, Will acts as anchor and managing editor, while MacKenzie was invited back as executive producer. Although they fight a lot on the surface, deep inside, they share the same idealism of what journalism should be, and nothing could tie two people stronger than that.

4. Bill and Melinda Gates

(FILES) Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (L

The billionaires who save the day would probably be how we call them. Melinda, hired by Microsoft in 1987, met Bill four months later when they were seated next to each other at a press event in New York City. Since the day they got married in 1994, Bill and Melinda have funded countless projects in the domains of health, education, as well as global development in general, creating tremendous changes here and there. It was all kicked off when Melinda shared her travel stories to Bill, explaining how women and men in Indian villages suffer. Today, their joint leadership has given billions on helping individuals in need in various parts of the globe. How blessed, don’t you think, to have matching vision (that is also noble) as well as the resources to actually make it happen?

5. Hilary and Bill Clinton

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 1.48.58 PM

Enough said on this one. Both possessing sharp brains—essentially what it takes to lead the United States—they might as well end up being the first president-president couple in the near future. (Don’t jinx it. We’ll never know.) Looking at the picture from their youth time and the fact that they’re now married (still, despite the Lewinsky scandal) with Bill declaring his support if Hilary runs as the 46th, you sort of wish you were one of their college friends who said, “I saw this coming!” But no, darling, nobody saw it coming. One could only hope.

Bonus: Kate Middleton and Prince Wiliam

Okay. Maybe, just maaaybe, love ends up in Disney castles and still deserve to have that ‘power couple’ title. I mean looking at this one, it’s pretty singular, isn’t it? He’s the Duke of Cambridge, she’s the Dutchess—and they both live up to their names. It makes sense that an article once called them, ‘flawless royals who handle scandals with class’. Their power comes from the English monarchy, but it doesn’t mean they don’t work for for it.

***

I would love to also include, of course, Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. Remember that part of the book where Watson says, “For Sherlock, she has always been the woman.” I think to have found an equal, the way Sherlock found Irene and the other six men and women above found theirs, is the most rewarding experience one could ever have in their life.

(Let alone actually living the rest of your life with them.)

The Sign of Four

To all Sherlock fans out there: apology—this post has nothing to do with that Jonathan Small case. It of course does not altogether mean that you shall not be interested in reading it through. For what it’s worth, it’s gonna try to answer (or at least start a discussion about) the mystery of constantly repeating quartet patterns around us. You see, sociology has probably explained so much about human’s dyadic (consisting of two people) and communal (typically uncountable) interactions, but little effort has been put into shedding more lights upon bonds between four individuals.

The more relevant question to begin this with is probably:
do such quadrangular connections actually exist, or is Afu just completely wasting my time into a delusion of a non-existent order?

Top+5+Attractive+web+Patters+3

Well, my shallow belief contends that either you’re part of one, or you know a group of four close friends who seem to be a real match to one another. I don’t just mean any random friendship of four, but a strongly-tied relation whose balance is reached exactly because there are four nodes and not less or more. Shall one of the people in the group leaves, things don’t seem to work out.

In case you’re none-of-the-above, then here are some fictional references of the Great Division of Four (different personalities):

  • The four female characters in Ayu Utami’s Saman surely have something in common, but they are four different animals by nature: Shakuntala the undomesticated, Cok the ever-thirsty, Yasmin the spoiled, and Laila the curious.
  • In Candice Bushnell’s Sex and the City, each of the foursome stands out with their own, unique qualities (Carrie Bradshaw the columnist, Samantha Jones the businesswoman, Charlotte York the art dealer, and Miranda Hobbes the lawyer) but they are also a perfect combination for one another and make a greater whole than sum of its parts.
  • Lastly, the fact that all of us feel like we belong in either of the houses in Hogwarts (Gryffindor the courageous, Ravenclaw the clever, Hufflepuff the nice, and Slytherin the ambitious), must mean that somewhat there’s gotta be an explanation behind J.K. Rowling’s division of four.

Have psychologists came across this interesting pattern?

Well, the truth is, they have. Despite the fact that it is not their mission to untangle the mystery of human interactions (since they usually focus on self-discovery or person-per-person psychoanalysis), they have—through the ages—been coming up with personality categorizations that focus on four quadrants:

  • Time-traveling back to the ancient times, there was Hippocrates who came up with four temperaments that he thought shaped us all: the Choleric, the Sanguine, the Melancholic, and the Phlegmatic—each of which reacts differently to various stimuli. Now I’m not sure why exactly he got the four combination, but it is interesting to further look at.
  • Only recently, psychologists develop personality test for companies/organizations to figure out what condition suits their employees best—it says that we’re either one of the four colors: blue (the relationship way), gold (the action way), green (the logical way), or orange (the organized way) in day-to-day working situation. Knowing this, companies/organizations can set up better, enabling conditions that would allow them to be more productive.
  • Last but most compelling to me, is the famous Myers Briggs Test Indicator (MBTI), which puts us in four major boxes: the Idealist, Rationalist, Artisan, and Guardian. It revolves mainly in four elements of personality: 1) introversion/extroversion, 2) intuition/sensing, 3) thinking/feeling, and 4) perceiving/judging.
    Later this builds up to 16 different combinations of personality that explains (or even predicts) an individual’s behavior.

Now literatures might not offer the same level of wonder since we can simply blame the authors for arranging stories around the omnipresent four, out of personal, arbitrary decision. But those psychological theories, typically based on close observation of human behaviors, really fascinate me.

Having said this, however, I would still have to say that the difficult part is to connect the dots in real life. Luckily enough, my laboratory for social experiment sits right here in my own friendship. Let me quickly introduce you to Diku, Kiki, and Ipeh—three girls who probably have the biggest impact in my life, especially for accepting my unusual obsession towards patterns. (Trying my best to maintain the scientific tone of this post and not get all emotional here.)

So one day Kiki, Ipeh, and I had a dinner where we laid out our MBTI results (after some 30-minute rants on boys and politics), which looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 16.37.51

Now I would lie to say that this finding did not excite me. As I’ve been repeatedly saying, yours truly is pretty much a bitch for patterns (why do you think I bother to make this post from the first place), SO YEAH IT DID REALLY THRILL ME TO HAVE THIS DISCOVERY!

From then on, some derived premises have been knocking on my overthinking brain’s door:

  1. It is not that the four of us happen to like the same things or possess identical personalities; rather, the four-node balance is formed because we are both similar and different from one another. To be precise, each of us is actually excluded from the rest at one specific aspect—Ipeh for being the sole extrovert, Kiki’s rather extraordinary sensing ability, Diku’s feeling-based rationality, and my, well, slow progress toward making conclusions (I have a subconscious tendency to keep things open-ended).
  2. We dig into really engaging conversation when we are together because there’s a shift of balance of power (a.k.a. topic-driver) every now and then, making a dynamic to its flow. Imagine if we’re all thinking machines or sensing analysts—our friendship might not be as exciting (and enriching) as I remember it now.
  3. Our friend (Diku’s boyfriend) Sindhu, later convinced me (through Diku) an alternative view: that we’re a circle of clicking personalities. It goes Diku-Afu-Kiki-Ipeh (and goes back to Diku). This would explain not only why Diku-Kiki needs me to connect, me-Ipeh needs Kiki to connect, and so on, but also how Kiki connects best with me and Ipeh, or Ipeh with Diku and Kiki.

Ah, patterns. I could continue talking all night but I’m sure you’re starting to lose interest at this point, so I’ll just stop. I also know that these are all premature hypothesis—ten years from now, I might find this post obsolete or the four of us might actually stop being friends to one another because we lose the balance (psychology does support the idea that personality is ever-changing). But even then, I would be grateful to ever experience being part of a sociological artefact that could explain the link between quadrangular personalities and sociology of four.

Even then, I would cherish this little infinity of (almost) five years we’ve been together. Cheers, girls.

***

Thought-bibliography:

  • Sindhu, for coining the phrase ‘sociology of four’ and being our first and so-far-only interested observer who came up with the proposal from the first placealthough, to be fair, I had it at the back of my head since the time of Ayu Utami and Candice Bushnell (long before we had our first conversation).
  • Diku, for shoving Sindhu’s staggering (yet effortless) examination into my head, and adding a lot more sense to it through your advanced comprehension upon human behavior and outstanding ability to elaborate.
  • Kiki and Ipeh, for simply being yourselves and finding us at the right place and the right time—you know how obsessed I am with patterns and your mere presence is already a gift (note that this is a sociological remark, of course you bitches mean a lot more).
  • Rizky (and plausibly two currently-non-existent boyfriends of mine and Ipeh’s as well), for stimulating follow-up questions in analyzing our respective counterparts—to be curious about whether or not a pattern of eight puzzle pieces exists at all.

Repetitions, Dragons, and Why People Make Excuses

Repetition, according to Hegel, plays a crucial role in history:

…when something happens once, it may be dismissed as an accident, something that might have been avoided if the situation had been handled differently; but when some event repeats itself, it is a sign that a deeper historical process is unfolding.”

Cleopatra‘s beautyfor instance, wouldn’t have gained as much acknowledgement had she not turn a queue of men with gallantries into falling for her. I would complement Hegel’s point by saying that luck and success are separated by a span of repetition–and hardwork, probably. The following article is going to discuss about, basically, ideas that have been self-repeating in my head for the past, wait, 38 days of my blogging hiatus.

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1. Why Not Head of Dragon?

I am pretty sure you’re familiar with an old analogy which proclaims (if not ‘assumes’) that being the ‘tail of a dragon’ is much better than being the ‘head of a snake’. People often relate this hypothesis with the options of struggling hard in a competitive community over playing it easy in an underdog team.

This morning, Iman came up with his usual confidence, inquiring upon, “Why not head of dragon?” Well because, I would rebut, not everyone knows what they’re really good at and brave enough to test the water with the inherent risk of being horrendously defeated. Because some people–yours truly included–are just too coward.

Researches (I know this from Pak Kun–a head of dragon himself) show that only 0.0003% of the entire world is blessed enough to champion that prestigious title. These are CEOs of multinational corporations, world political leaders, globally accepted artists, and Nobel Prize winners. But then again, you’ll never know if you’re one of them unless you’re ready to lose at some point.

Once you get there, Iman would say, don’t forget to share your magic and help other snakes to grow into invincible dragons.

2. Leaving or Losing?

Being a free-thinker who’s too proud to rely on religions also means losing your ground–it involves endless questions on what’s gonna happen after we leave this ephemeral realm. Death, therefore, becomes scarier for its extreme level of uncertainty. Until today, I’m still (trying) to hold on to what Islam has been telling me: that good deeds will be rewarded and bad people will have to pay something off. But that is just a tiny part of what death is really about.

Two weeks ago, I finished both reading and watching Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close–a wonderful story about how a(n extremely incredible) boy named Oskar Schell had to deal with his father’s death over 9/11. It took him months of investigation and discovery until he came to accept one bitter truth: that death is real–and it takes your beloved away. Now that, is what death is mostly about for me. Either leaving the people you love–or losing them in pain. The fear is twice as big on me because I’ve never lost any significant other in my life, which gets me used to take them for granted. I just hope that even if we have to part temporarily, we shall meet again in the Afterlife.

P.S. The story as a movie is as enjoyable as it is as a book, in their distinct way. It’s a shame if you miss this five-star!

3. People Make Excuses Because They Love You

Some of you are probably checking out this blog to find a mood lifter after your great fight with someone whom you really care about–you hate them for having lied to you, for making excuses when all you need is an honest apology. Well, I would ask you to humbly forgive them, because maybe they did it all because they care about you, too.

The concept of any ‘excuse’, as I’ve been observing, roots back to necessary (not always hidden) motives or justification for things we should’ve (or should’ve not, in some cases) done. Excuses are heavily influenced by the kind of emotional and/or professional tie we share with the subject. A student makes excuse to his teacher because he still shows some respect. A husband makes up a story about traffic jam because he’s sorry he has made his spouse wait for two hours.

People make excuses because they love you–otherwise they’ll hurt or leave you directly. Of course some would argue that true love appreciates honesty yada yada yada, but at the point that the other party does not want to hurt you–I think it deserves some forgiveness and celebration.

4. Ideology Puts People in Boxes, Deal With It

Quick update: I’ve been (illegally) attending classes at one super awesome philosophy school, cordially abducted by a senior, to which I really am grateful for. In the past weeks, I’ve been enlightened by great Romos about quite a list of ethics’ distinct proponents. They introduced me to a Christian version of Sartre, Levinas, and other distinguished thinkers.

Last Monday, Romo Magniz invited us to see the idea of ‘ideology’ differently: What is it? Why does it matter? Does Indonesia need one? Is Pancasila an ideology? If yes, is it the most appropriate one for our country? What about religions? Are they another form of ideology or–as Marx puts it–false consciousness? What does it have to do with ethics?

In the end of that long discussion, a new mystery evolves in my head: if ideology is a strong ground from which human thoughts can depart and develop, how can you be sure that it doesn’t keep you from truths burried down under that ground? Simultaneously, when would you know that you should stop digging? What basis can one use to clarifies that freedom and liberty is a basic right? Why can’t we debate on that cause?

This puts me in despair: if every consciousness is based on another constructed consciousness, then where is truth? My senior said that each of us need a set of glasses to look at the world–unfortunately, the factory is not capable of producing standardized, identical commodities. That’s where constructivism fills in and try to explain everything–and compromise should hence take place.

If there’s only one thing I know about truth-seekers, it’s that they shall enjoy the most when proven wrong. But the sad thing is, they’ll never know when they have to halt their efforts. Maybe truth-seekers should just keep looking…

5. There Is Such Thing as Historical Necessity

Yesterday, a friend came to me and consult if she should join this prestigious competition which at one side excites her very much, but at the same time forces her to face her own insecurities: meeting even greater candidates. I said if s

he really wants it, she should go for it.

Let’s look around. You’ll find that people regret more because of things they did not, rather than things they actually did. Melissa taught me this. Out of life’s most terrifying failures, there will always, always be a lesson learned. Most of the time, it does not come in a singular form. Fiascos teach us humility and help us jump higher the next time.

Most devastating failures is a historical necessity. Edison would wholeheartedly support me on this. Rather than secretly cursing on people we conceitedly think we’re better from without being able to prove so, I’d rather discover that I’m inferior to them, accept it in peace, and move on to the next opportunities with new hopes. In Rocky‘s words:

…Whether in front of our laptops making sense of the world, doing something for it out there, or both. We all have our places.

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6. Why Self-Wander When You Have Friends?

I’m not anti-social, you see. I enjoy other people’s company in a social setting, but I do have to admit that–most of the time–I draw my energy from solitary spaces. Some (self-proclaimed social) people might see this as a problem, but I argue otherwise. Quoting Tintin’s post, being alone and lonely are two different affairs.

In a more specific scale, I enjoy wandering off alone. If I can add to Tintin’s list of why solo traveling, I would come up with this:

  • When it comes to difficult options, you don’t have to suffer from knowing that you’re wrong, because there’s no second opinion. (Familiar with “Tuh kan, udah gue bilang!” phrase?)
  • You don’t have to deal with people rejecting and/or proposing crazy ideas under the name of normalcy and/or fun. (I once randomly approached a girl in Citos offering her a discount coupon because I failed to find an urge to buy anything and it expired the next day.)
  • You can laugh by yourself because someone’s joke suddenly pops up in your head and you don’t have to care if anyone is curious enough to find out why because you’re just ‘some stranger’.
  • You can pretend that you’re a tourist from China and see if Jakartian people are smart enough to not get fooled.

Last and least, not that much of compromise is needed. Well, I enjoy hanging out in groups, too, but I a balanced portion of both sounds nicer.

7. Iconoclasm Is Depressing

Are you one of those hipsters who enjoy doing something before it was cool? Well, I am. It does feel good when you think you’re the only person doing something, right? But let’s wake up: we never are. Bearing in mind that Earth today is filled with over 9 billion people, somewhere in another part of the world, someone else might have the same idea with you.

That’s why iconoclasm or, as Dictionary.com defines it, attacking or ignoring cherished beliefs and long-held traditions become more and more depressing today. With social media and such, new values can be easily spread and voila, in a mere week your ‘hipster-ness’ will be part of the mainstream. Sad, huh?

One can indeed contend that iconoclasm is a stupid and narrow way of life because, looking at the bigger picture, one should not become different just for the sake of being different. But then again, is that not mankind’s natural instinct? To be recognized as a unique self?

8. Songs with Good Lyrics Are The Best

Girls have different resons to fall in love, you see: some of them will stick with the guy who’s always there for them. Some others can handle minimum amount of interaction for various illogical reasons. Some others fall in love with the kind of endless disputes they have on a daily basis. In the case of songs, I fall in love with the ones with good lyrics. (A big leap of logical fallacy, much. HAHAHA.)

Jason Mraz (in addition to Jason Reitman–my so far favorite script writer) has been my sole favorite lyric-producer (throw a listen to A Beautiful Mess and Love for a Child) until I met Ingrid Michaelson’s You and IIts simple yet very meaningful lines instantly stick in my head since the first time I listen to it.

With that, I would end this lengthy–but hopefully not pointless–post. Download the song, and have a good, long (and religious, for Christians) weekend!

Is Grey a Disguised Black or a Deceived White?

Some of you might disagree: since thousands of years ago, the most difficult quest of human being is to solve the never-ending riddle of our own complex sets of brain cells.

It is hard, my dear friends, because there is no such thing as a finish line which we can visualize in the end of the road–ergo, it would take perpetual endeavours to do so. Let’s admit it once and for all: our mind evolves. What used to be a ‘truth’ is now a ‘lie’ (Remember when church was the only omnipotent institution?) and, to add an external problem which makes the game even more intriguing, the shape of our world is constantly altering.

Having known that the possibility of discovering a completely satisfactory answer to the mystery of human’s elusive mind is near zero, most of the people fleed to the study of secondary questions: natural science. These people try to explain how atoms react to each other, how numbers have a certain pattern that amaze us all, as well as how carbons are processed in our body. Natural scientists are blessed to experience a temporary happiness of being able to produce knowledge and mastery through experiments–but deep inside, I believe that we all keep that drop of curiosity to find out how mankind produce thoughts.

Social scientists are therefore, brave intellectuals who dare themselves to shed some light on the primary inquiry: how does a person think? What can be the raison d’etre behind one’s action? Why not the other way around?

Some of them are labeled as psychologist, communication expert, theologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and–top of all–philosophers. One tries to explain what comprises fondness, another elucidates the idea behind one community’s political preference, while the rest analyzes our society’s consumptive behavior. If they’re stubborn enough, they might as well go to the extend of explaining why human needs a God–and religion.

Within the past fortnight of not posting here, my brain has been producing quite a list of points to discuss about. Most of them involve human’s idealistic notion of romance, but I also spare enough space for daily observations:

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1. In a ladder of fondness, admiration stays at the bottom.

Fahmi and I once debated on whether admiration comprises tinier particles of love or is it admiration that contributes to the bigger building of love. He confidently suggested that love is just 1% of admiration (I’m pretty sure he had Real Madrid in mind when he said ‘admiration’!), while I contended elseways. Unlike admiration which focuses you on one’s fine traits, love helps you see perfection in their flaws.

So, here goes my proposal.

There are at least 3 distinct verbs to express different levels of fondness: admire, like, and love. Of course, English is generous enough to leave us quite a collection of alternatives: adore, care, appreciate, adulate, worship, and the list goes on–but for now, we’ll just stick with the trio.

At the lowest floor of the pyramid, is when you admire a person because you find them attractive. The popular word for it might be–to have a crush? You just seem to notice a certain trait, degree of cleverness, or physical appearance that interest you–thus captivate your attention at some level or another.

The next step is when you like them, triggered by further interaction with this individual. It is, however, a bit tricky, because there comes the two-prone possibility of either losing the interest completely because he/she doesn’t meet your expectations, or falling even deeper into their charm. To ‘like’ does not, however, provide the quintessential tolerance for weaknesses. You simply live in your nice imagination of him being the perfect prince–or her being the most beautiful lady.

The bad news? They’re not. They are, as a matter of fact, just human beings with flaws. There goes the key to get to the next, final level: acceptance.

Have you managed to take these imperfections–be it false tunes, covered wound, or stained habits–as an inseparable aspect of your beloved, you are ready to love them. Indeed, the wind blows tighter up there: every event just seems to reveal itself as a potential threat for your feelings. You will, by then, get familiar with anger and jealousy which are, surprisingly, the validating properties of your fondness.

2. A true leader climbs their ladder.

After a long, midnight discussion with Jessica (while recalling lessons from my Management Principles course a year ago), I realized that a leader is just a person who is foolish enough to admit that he/she is.

You see, being a leader is just a role that human chooses to take from time to time. Some of us needs it to achieve a vision, some of us wants it for money, but it doesn’t matter, really, as long as we understand that being trusted as the leader is never a means to prove that we’re better than anyone else in the team.

It rather means that the rest of the people in the team are better than you in preparing the events, in fundraising, and in doing the publication–but in the end, you get some of the credits because it’s you who decides to stay there, stick them together, stand up and motivate when everybody’s down, and take the blame when a decent coordination does not take place.

We further agreed that a true leader climbs their ladder in order to have a first-hand experience of being a follower. This idea has also been approved theoretically, where leaders are ought to be a staff at their first years so that they can understand the grassroot situation before getting to lead anyone else.

3. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

…including uncertainty. My English teacher once said that in order to survive, human needed a fair, balanced amount of certaintly and uncertainty. A man, for example, needs to be assured that he can eat in the next morning, but at the same time life would be too boring for him if he knows exactly what food he’ll be eating everyday. This has been a very interesting concept to me, and I’ve been trying to find other examples ever since. I take ‘job’ as certainty and ‘projects’ as uncertainty–or ‘marriage’ as certainty and ‘love’ as uncertainty. In this regards, surprises at birthdays still make sense despite the fact that they are very predictable, because the time and place will always remain as uncertainty.

4. Books are sentient beings. Period.

A friend shared me a link to Mortimer J. Adler’s prose on How to Mark a Book. To quote his exact words:

I contend, quite bluntly, that marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but love.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait in there, Mr Adler, did you just say that smearing books with symbols all over its pages is an act of love? I think I have to stand against that idea. He did

make a valid point when he says that:

…But the soul of a book can be separated from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini’s score of the C-minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it.

Then again, music scores are nothing like idea-condensed books. (When I said ‘books’, you understand that I refer to thoughtful ones, not some market-based sets of words, right?) No matter how much you love–or hate–a book, it is a sentient being who deserves to be treated well for it is a physical manifestation of thoughts. Great conductors do not make notations on lines of magnificent sentences–they compse new symphony through marking scores.

I say, if you fail to appreciate the body, you can hardly understand the soul. Although in the end, people might express love through different ways,
tee-hee!

5. God must be hiding a happy-ending scenario behind the existence of these conflict-triggering religions.

As much as I have this tendency to invent confusing questions about–and for–God, I apparently am still the very conservative girl back then who has an auto-pilot that drives herself into possitive assumptions about Him.

Rumor has it, God closes certain people’s heart from receiving the light for particular religions. My brain has it, it would be a too shallow, and poor, description for Him.

You see, I possess this preposterous habit of watching people walking down the street from the window of my room. One day, it just came up to my mind that each of them–destined for a different story and religion–must play their unique role in God’s master plan. As quoted from Cin(T)a:

Why would God create us different, if He only wants to be worshiped in a single way?

I once said to a friend over coffee that I would feel awfully betrayed if God does not own any happy-ending scenario behind this diversity of religions He has created on Earth. At the status quo, I can say that I still am very much disappointed to the existing conflicts it triggered.

My most favorite story line would be Dwinta’s concept of ‘destination’, while the second-best alternative would be this: God’s actually playing a trick by designing us with a limited container for faith but endless curiosity for truth so that we would ask one another, share ideas, and basically, interact. Because otherwise we’ll just stay at our safe houses of unitary religion.

6. Movie is not a character-killing product.

Instead, it’s a character-producing one.

I wholeheartedly believe that there are many of us who have been let down by novel-based movies, and I’m not proud to say that I used to be one of those furious audience. Harry Potter, Sense and Sensibility, One Day–you name it–true readers don’t really fancy movies.

Of course, I truly understand that movies are intended to please our audio-visual and not mere imagination, and thus are challenged to be eye-and-ear-catching, which are still very tolerable, until I met (the movie) Sherlock Holmes (last year) and Professor Moriarty (yesterday).

Here is all I need to say: my handsomely smart English man has turned into a laughing stock while the brilliant antagonist does not have the fierce expression I expected. So no, people, I won’t take it anymore. I decided to reach out for acceptance through seeing Sherlock (the movie) and Sherlock (Doyle’s) as two different persons.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I rest my last case in 2011. I don’t even know what point I was trying to make back there, but always remember that getting lost in a bookstore might still be the best bliss that we can get so far.

Oh and for 2012, let’s keep my friend’s idea in mind: dreams are not genetic and self-driventhus–before it’s too late–let’s revisit our old dreams and see if we can make them come true (like having http://afutami.foreignpolicy.com–HAHA). Happy new year!