I am an Nth-grade citizen in the globalized civilized world, and that is annoying. Okay not really, but I think I should lay down what has been on my mind and how I got to where I am right now.
- During the “I am throwing away all my identity” moment I had a few weeks ago (which I should get around to writing more about), I decided to throw out one particular identity that I didn’t know I was holding as strongly as I was, which was that I consider myself quite a staunch nationalist. I’ve been distancing myself from that identity to see where it came from, what purpose is it serving, and do I want to still hold on to that identity.
- I’ve been thinking about money again. In 0015 – mapping the medium term future, I wrote that I want to start earning money again. As part of the thing you do when you think about work and jobs and earning money (which is asking how do you create “value”) I got around to asking about skills that I have and the things that I can help contribute with. Of course when talking about contributions, my heart goes out to education first and foremost and I started thinking about why I’ve been averse about putting entire body weight in it.
- The outcome of that strategic thinking about money turned me back to tech, with plans to return back to Data Science and those kind of works (at least for a time). Main deal was ?? tech money ??. I know tech money is ludicrous and it’s even more insane when you look at PPP (Purchasing Parity Power). This got me wondering about what my aversion was to working in tech, and why I haven’t been doing anything to move me there even though I have the skillset to do so.
- Recently I’ve been on a streak of great meetups with SEAPOT people and I really really really really really really really really (insert more really) like hanging out with them. In order to do more of that I need to have money. I need to be able to fly to Singapore and Manila and Darwin and Texas and Lisbon and London and wherever my friends are at the moment so that I can hang out with them. They’re great not just vibe wise, but they’re all super smart and super competent at what they do and I want to make and do things with them.
- I have learned how to “enjoy the moment” and “be content” but it didn’t come with a basic level of ambition, so all I got was a more polished version of learned helplessness (I really like Scott’s post about Epistemic Learned Helplessness) about the world and I accidentally had my desires producing nerves either cut off or euthanized. The past six month or so have been mostly me trying to restart the part of me that wants things, and that require me finding things in my life that I’m not enjoying and doing the work to change those things.
- I’ve been rereading the book I wrote, Pembelajar Mandiri, and there was this one chapter about my failure during the open source programming contribution competition, Google Code-in 2018. It was I think the biggest blow to my ego and skill, and while I didn’t completely swore off programming due to that, it certainly dampened my interest in programming. I thought I was pretty smart and knowledgeable about programming, but my local friends who were there won and they were leaps and bounds smarter than me. I haven’t thought about that moment and that day for a very long time, but rereading it reminded me of the reason I told my parents I wasn’t interested in pursuing tech anymore. “I don’t think I will be the 1% of the tech world and therefore I shouldn’t put my life there.”
- One of the value instilled into me by my parents can be simplified as “find the niche that you can excel and be the 1% in” which is tangentially similar to the whole concept of finding your Ikigai and is also somewhat about Visa’s riff about market fit. That value stands as the axiom of my decision making and it has been fucking me up because I have been hitting walls here and there about the idea of excelling in things and being “the 1%” of things and also about the scale of the game that I want to be playing in.
- I was raised by my parents with what I can only describe as “western vibes” with some strong Javanese and spirituality values underlining it. What I mean by “western vibes” is that I was raised with English as a native second language (my parents spared what income they had to give me and my siblings English cable TV and lots of English books pre-internet), they value science and education highly which isn’t very common where I’m from, and they taught me how to utilize the internet to gain knowledge. This hodgepodge is probably why I fit in a lot with my friends over in the Ingroup, and it places me very as a citizen of the world.
And then things clicks. I’ve been going around in circles because I think I’ve seen the upper limit of what is available in Indonesia for the time being and it’s insufficient, but I don’t think I could join in the upper reach of the international community because I’m just “not that good”.
What do I mean by this?
Well, a quirk in my upbringing gave me the opportunity to experience what it is like to reach the status of niche celebrity. Parents wrote a lot about homeschooling, there’s not that many people who do that, they manage to corner the market and became one of the big names that talks about it here, now my dad basically know most of the high name practitioner in not just the alternative education scene but the general education scene as well. That high status lets me get a glimpse of what is happening around, and while it is cool, and great, and fun, it didn’t really scratch the itch that I had.
The education scene is filled with either Old People™ or “young people” who are very much still very new to the scene. I put a ™ on Old People because they’re like older than my dad old, and I put quote marks on young people because when I say young I mean like people in their late 20s and early 30s, and not gonna lie I’m still in need of peers of the same age to hang out with and if I end up putting my entire weight on education I will have to wait around like 5-10 years before I can find people who I can comfortably call peers. That observation shows also that the education field isn’t very scalable because of the nature on how different nations do their education systems differently and therefore unless you’re doing something very specific (classroom improvement, subject teaching specialization, ideological movements), the international field situation is quite similar to what we have here. Also pay is like, almost non existent. You gotta make do with what you got.
In tech, Indonesia is not really a forward field. We’re a third world country with extremely subpar tech knowledge and implementation capabilities, and therefore it’s not that difficult to reach the 1% here purely out of pure size of nation. But unlike education the upper bound of what is available to tech is much, much, much higher. Not even talking about extreme forefront tech like AI, ML, AR, or VR (whoa ma look at them buzzwords), but also for things that are more lowkey like database management or documentation systems. They are hyper specialized and the greatest mind of humanity spends their time improving them. The greatest and smartest people from different fields from mathematics to material scientist collaborate to push mankind forward. This is where a lot of the world’s greatest minds congregate, and where they go the people who are in the periphery are also immensely great. The pay is also absurdly large.
Now I don’t think I can join that 1%. Opening possibilities that I’m wrong about it, but the fact that I’m thinking about it like this probably means I shouldn’t try to be that 1%. The thing is, in order to experience untold benefits that the tech industry have, I don’t have to be the 1%. I don’t have to earn $120,000 a year. I could literally earn half of that and have a very luxurious life (reminder that the average annual salary of Indonesia is around $10,000). But in order to be able to start playing in that field and earn something that will actually finance what I want to do I would have to spend a considerable amount of time and energy investment.
This is where my whole “I’m content with what I have” and “I am a staunch nationalist” thing come into play because they serve as the only truly strong signal I have and therefore for me to go through what is basically the meat grinder for a few years while also fighting those values is asking for death, especially if I have other issues going on in my life. Personal experience have shown that I can do more than survive and be happy with around $7,000, which is around double the minimum wage, which honestly seems super easy to do with the skillset that I’ve build across the years. Sure I won’t be able to save much and I probably wouldn’t get a house in the Greater Metropolitan Jakarta area, but I don’t really have any needs for those things.
The staunch nationalist part is telling me things like “everyone else who have similar upbringing as yours would probably go and do a masters outside and then spend their time abroad and not returning, you should be different and invest in helping people here” because that is what I saw. It seems like the coolest and most promising people (looking at you LPDP people) end up not coming back from abroad. Their rationale make sense, there might not be any job here for the kind of things that they’re specialized in, or the opportunity cost just doesn’t make sense. Completely understandable. But also like, that part of me is whispering like “I mean if all the people who can do stuff go away then no one will build things that will make other cool people wanna do stuff here”.
There is also a long game argument to be made here, in that I am here playing the long game and that me spending time in Indonesia is part of an investment I’m putting in this magnificent country of mine and that I am making space that is cool so that I could get other people who are cool to come here in the future and when that comes I will have a lot of leverage and also like I could be someone who is responsible for bridging that gap. Lots of long game argument that I’ll probably will have to elaborate at another date.
But… this is also fear talking. Because there’s not really any good reason for me to not do both. To earn the money and to play the long game. I can still be invested in Indonesia without sacrificing my ability to earn the truly big bucks. It would do me well to be actually well-versed in the way of the world, meet people outside of the country, live abroad and see how others live their life, learn how to properly organize and coordinate at issues, and more importantly, stretch my muscles and start to git gud.
Seeing post of actually good cities and people doing cool things in their cities also made me realize that maybe I shouldn’t let myself be content with Jakarta because it’s better than literally any city in Indonesia. I shouldn’t be content with having a single MRT line, a Commuter Train line, and one barely silver tier and a bunch of under silver BRT lines, all which only exist in Jakarta with some barely noticeable caveats. I should learn and experience actually good city planning and vibrant youth culture and proper public transport. I shouldn’t let myself be complacent because the city I live in is better than other cities. Jakarta may be the best city in Indonesia, leaps and bounds compared to others in the country. But compare it to what it truly is, an metropolis, it sure as heck is only a third-grade metropolis. This metaphor extends to my qualities in relation to other people.
In summary I was afraid of actually taking any risk and testing my mettle in the competitive field. Rather than compete I would rather just fuck around and do shit, but those two things are not even remotely incompatible with each other. But in order for me to be able to do more of the fun stuff that I want to do, I can’t just sit around here. I mismodelled who I should’ve considered to be my peers, and I should have aimed and tried higher. I shouldn’t have been satisfied with what I have because other people think it’s cool, I should have tried to reach for the absolute edge of what is possible for me.
Instead of being comfortably miserable as a 1st-grade citizen of a small pond, I should go and try my mettle at reaching a high number Nth-grade citizen of the international humanity.
notes: i wanted to write more but it's like 3am and I've ran out of steam and also i didn't expect this to run this long and also it's still very much not long enough. oh well, if this comes up again i will probably try to either condense it or elaborate more (there's like multiple back stories unexplained here)