Almost two months ago, I got back to Melbourne from my intense experience overseas. The next morning I woke up, I sat there in bed, taking myself to this imaginary time machine, traversing my own memory. Of course, I recorded my day-to-day in my journal, as always, but it didn't mean that I understood what I had gone through, because you know - you only start to comprehend when you look back from the present.
So, I turned my journal over and I unfolded it with my left hand. On the very corner of the first page from the back, I started writing the '10 major things I learnt from January 2018 - March 2019'. I had been meaning to expand what appears to be a list, into a beautifully curated blog post - but, oh dear, I just realised how much my talk is just a talk. So, after almost two months, I decided that a list is 'okay enough'. If I could advise you, please, when you read this, take a minute or two after each point to 'digest' it - or perhaps, to generate your own thoughts!
So, here is the list.
1 When the unexpected happens, I shift my question from "why is this happening to me?" to "what are the opportunities that are carried by this?". I have been surprised too many times by how much the unexpected has challenged me to grow beyond what I thought I was capable of. A hint of pragmatism allows me to enter a new world that I would have never expected I would enjoy.
2 If it is true that most failures are inevitable, it does not mean that it should be the reason we settle for less.
3 I have learnt to look at myself from the outside in the hardest way I can imagine. I realised that I am enslaved by my own ego. The freedom that the world offers does not free me from it. I have observed that this, too, is so often the root of major human problems.
4 Questions lead me somewhere I have never expected I will discover. Questions allow me to sail to the land of the impossible.
5 In the self-entitled world where people are demanding freedom, it is too easy to overlook responsibilities. In the world where people are trying hard to pursue happiness, it is too easy to forget to seek (or question) meaning.
6 Writing is like having a conversation where I can set my own parameter and where I can control where it goes. It allows me to structure my own thoughts. Receiving information doesn't always mean that I understand it. Understanding it doesn't always mean that I am able to conceive a conclusion.
7 Committing to wake up at 6 and actually doing it don't only mean waking up at 6. It trains self-control.
8 Reading is like traveling in time and space. Or better - it allows me to borrow someone else's eyes and mind for a little while.
9 Most of the sophisticated-appearing people I have met are those who avoid to (or almost never) talk about others - not even when it's positive. They tell that to their faces.
10 It is difficult to actively listen, without building up something in our heads.
By Sheilla Njoto
“When I see things from the present, life seems like a maze of doors. One door closed, another one opens up for you, and another one, and another one. But when I look back, it all happened for a reason—choices that I made and what I ended up doing.” he smiled.
Let me tell you a story about a guy I know. Let’s call him John.
Wearing his ripped red shorts and dirty white shirt as his primary school uniform, John got up, ate up half a plate of rice with sweet soy sauce on top and a traditional garlic cracker for his breakfast.
“If I could have half a fried egg on top of my rice, it would be the highlight of my week” he said.
As always, he would eat up alone. His oldest sister and second brother were away for work and his first brother was in Bandung for college. John's mum was rarely home, traveling back and forth for work to Mojosari, a little town that was a 3-hour bus ride away. Meanwhile his father slept the whole day and gambled the whole night.
“You know those trucks in the CBD with those little kids secretly climbing up the trucks from behind and shouting excitedly just because it’s fun? I used to be one of them.” he added.
His school wasn’t too far away so he walked. Sometimes he would meet his classmate along the way and walk together.
No, he never had books with him because he could not afford one. All the things he had in his mended bag were found somewhere in the corner of his classroom.
He didn’t mind.
“I remember how embarrassed I was when I was a kid when a friend invited me to their birthday lunch because my school uniform was the best outfit I had.” he chuckled.
He was supposed to finish grade 5, but his marks were so poor that he couldn’t move up to grade 6. Usually, when his mum came back to Surabaya, she would spank him and lock him up in the bathroom because he did so poorly at school. This time was different—he was actually failing. His mum begged the principal of the school to let him have a month of probation in grade 6 and see if he could continue.
Afraid of disappointing his mum, John elevated his grades exponentially and started being involved in school extracurricular activities, including basketball.
This was the starting point of his journey. In high school, he was recruited in a basketball club and he started playing nationally. He became a national basketballer. For this reason, he could still continue his high school despite his financial issues because he attained a scholarship by working with the club. As a consequence, he had to juggle with school and travel intercity and inter-province all the time.
After he graduated, he started dating a lady he met at high school.
“The first time I saw her was when we had mixed-class exam. Her cheeks were very rose pink. I was there and I was wondering how could someone be as beautiful.”
Planning to marry her, he needed a decent job in order to support his future little family. He started working as a labour worker at a textile company. A couple of years after, he was promoted as the cashier. And a while later, a salesman.
Having to juggle between basketball, relationship commitment and work, he needed to rethink his decision. He left basketball for good.
When he was 25, he married his wife. Ten years after, he provided his director with a business proposal to be partners in building a new textile company. He approved. Now he’s a co-founder and owner of 13-branch textile company around Java.
John is my dad. His real name is Anton.
Every once in a while he would talk to me and say, “what are you most grateful for in life?”. What is it, indeed?
Any other day he would tear up thinking on his own—with all that he has had now, why can’t he be completely content with himself?
“I remember when my happiness was only playing in puddles with my friend and taking a bar of soap and running outside naked when it was raining so I could wash myself in the rain.” he said. “Who would have known a silly kid like that can teach me something greater than what I know now—joy and gratefulness.”
When do we ever feel enough? Contentment and thankfulness. With these can we start to receive by giving instead of demanding to receive and receive.
How many people out there who are down to do anything to be in our place? To have good education? A loaf of bread with peanut butter and jam? I even have a relative who teared up smiling when she touched my iPhone for the first time.
I once asked my dad, “papa, what can I do to be as successful as you?” He laughed and said, “What is success to you?”
In that moment I realised--isn’t success about being content and being grateful? And being grateful leads you to do your best because you know that’s the least thing you can do to express that? And what you achieve is only the fruit of it and not the other way around.
What have we really done as a contribution of our own thankfulness of what we have had so far? It’s too easy to think that it’s only us and we don’t have enough to give.
Since people love numbers, I will close with this:
According to Social Policy Research Centre (2016), Australia's poverty line for a single adult was $426.30 per week. That's way above the internationally accepted poverty line of about $2 per day. Even with this high of a poverty line, only about 13.3% of the population were living under the line.
According to Asian Development Bank (2015), Indonesia's poverty line, based on its government, for a single adult was USD 25 per month, that's about 82 cents per day. When that line was used, about 11% were living in poverty. If the internationally accepted poverty line of $2 per day had been used, 40% of the population would have been living under the line.
“If you ever had the chance, go. Go and try wearing their shoes. Try walking their walk. See how they think when you ask these little kids what they wanted to be in the future and they answered back ‘I want to be a president but—it’s impossible’ and laughed at their own dream. Then you will appreciate your place.”
We often think we give to give but we end up receiving. We often think we teach to teach but we end up learning.
Asian Development Bank 2015, “Summary of Indonesia’s Poverty Analysis”, ADB Papers on Indonesia, No. 4, October, Philippines.
Social Policy Research Centre 2016, Poverty in Australia 2016, Australian Council of Social Service, Strawberry Hills, Australia.
We have different pairs of shoes but we'll let you borrow them!