If you could write your own life a narrative, would you put yourself playing a role as the victim? Has it crossed your mind that we could be a hero, even if it’s only in your universe?
As I work in Catalyst Strategy, a company that creates a strategic narrative for leaders or companies, I realized something. Do I personally have a good strong narrative in my life? If so, do I get empowered with that message? Does it represent me well? Was it reflected in the way I think, behave, or every decision I make?
Before answering these questions, I reflected on the journey which made me to this point.
Since I was at a younger age, I had always known that I would become a mom at a relatively young age. I was 24 years old when I got my first son. That little creature suddenly occupied my life, took over my freedom, but I did nothing but surrender. Consciously, I made him the center of my universe. I lose count of how many times I put down my job over him. If I think my job had been too much, I would resign and become a full-time mom again.
It happened again when I had my second kid. After accomplishing an important project from my company with an excellent result, I emailed my boss my resignation letter. It was an extreme decision I took under the guilty feeling that covered me as if I had abandoned my baby for my job. While doing the job, I was busy making excuses (for myself) that she is okay, my husband and nanny got me covered. But after the project ended, my conscious mind returned to my ultimate life goal: to be a mom.
Long story short, we then moved to Amsterdam, when my kids were 8 and 3 years old following my husband’s new business. The journey to becoming a full-time mom had finally come. I never regret it one bit. In between taking care of my children, doing house chores, learning the Dutch language, making new friends, I still had time to check if my sanity was still under control. I used to stroll the city and checked out some vintage shops scattered in Amsterdam.
I got mesmerized by the enchanting façade of old buildings, the beautiful and serene canals surrounding the city. I had koffie verkeerd met pannenkoek (hot latte and Dutch thin pancake) in a chic petite cafe. I enjoyed the four seasons because I could wear long coats and boots in the winter (who is with me on this fashion statement? lol). Those were the things I took pleasure now and then.
Besides the beauties, the struggles were also real. I had a tough time keeping up with the language (if you listen to Dutch, you’d probably think they were murmuring instead of talking). Rules and laws were shockingly different, and most importantly, I missed the street foods in my hometown, where I can yell out of my window to call the seller.
And then one day, out of the blue in a clear, bright sky, I was struck by a lightning thunder. My husband left us to go back to our hometown for his personal interest.
Nonetheless, kids and I chose to continue our life in Amsterdam. I took over the steer of our little family. The three of us made a strong bond to overcome every struggle and triumph life had given us. Not every day was honey, but lemon can also taste sweet when you add some sugar, right? When I was overwhelmed, inevitable tears streamed down and my kids knew how to comfort me. One would hand me a box of tissue and the other passed a glass of water while giving me some space. When I had the urge to hang out in the evening with some friends, my son offered to look after his lil sis, so I didn’t need to hire a temporary babysitter.
When we went for holidays, we decided which places we want to visit, and we share tasks fairly according to one’s strength. For example, my daughter can remember a location, street, and whereabouts instantly, so these are her tasks. My son used to read maps and he was very calm, as I was so easy to panic and always lost.
Only very closed people knew that behind all the positive vibes and wide smiles I shared with the world, my mind was full of fear, self-blaming, overthinking, and anxiety. When I slowly got myself together and was able to stand on my feet, I recreated a better version of self-narrative. Little did I know, having an empowering self-narrative could boost my self-esteem. It manifested in my behavior, the way I perceived things, and to every decision I made. Dare I claimed I was a strong-willed, determined, goal-oriented person yet very passionate about life and its surprises.
Life gave me many thunder and storms, but the harder the rain, the brighter the rainbow appears afterward. As my children grew older, it was rather easy for me to manage them, our relationship became so thick. To my surprise, in my 5th year living in the Netherlands, I got hired by a company, a Dutch School called Taal en Coast Opmaat. Having an office job in Amsterdam was harder than finding a needle in the haystack as I didn’t possess the most wanted labor skills such as IT, accountant, or engineering. Yet I walked with my head up, boasting my triumph to family and friends. Hell yeah, I made it this far! I was entitled to be proud to acclaim all of the achievements I made to this point.
Fortunately, my story has not ended yet, otherwise, how can I now live back in Jakarta and work in Catalyst Strategy Consulting Firm. I will continue the saga if you’re interested in reading it (haha).
Most of the life values and wisdom that Catalyst shared seems to relate to the journey of my life. From the various books that we picked for our 15.15 book club sessions, some have opened up my horizon. Some tickled every cell of my mind and body, who never ceases to wonder what is our purpose in life. What is the core of one true self? If our complex mind is unfolded layer by layer, what could be the core of it? Would it be the happiness among all that every single person pursues in his/her entire life?
“According to Buddhism, most people identify happiness with pleasant feelings, while identifying suffering with unpleasant feelings. People consequently ascribe immense importance to what they feel, craving to experience more and more pleasures, while avoiding pain. Whatever we do throughout our lives, whether scratching our leg, fidgeting slightly in the chair, or fighting world wars, we are just trying to get pleasant feelings.”
“The problem, according to Buddhism, is that our feelings are no more than fleeting vibrations, changing every moment, like the ocean waves. If five minutes ago I felt joyful and purposeful, now these feelings are gone, and I might well feel sad and dejected. So if I want to experience pleasant feelings, I have to constantly chase them, while driving away the unpleasant feelings. Even if I succeed, I immediately have to start all over again, without ever getting any lasting reward for my troubles.”
Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Had I not joined Catalyst, I might not have been exposed to Harari’s book. I may not know that one can change one’s narrative, from fear and despair to hope and empowering narratives (and I believe it is a lifetime process and will continuously get better once you are in!). I would be stuck in a fixed mindset that I could never understand how digital marketing works, which surprisingly is the sector I am working in now. I would always find reasons to blame everyone but me for my own miseries. I would play as a victim instead of choosing to be the hero in my storytelling.
Nevertheless, I would never know that happiness is the feeling of contribution to others. Or most importantly, that I can be happy now. I don’t wait to be happy later when I live in my own house with a huge island kitchen and an extensive garden overlooking the mountain. I don’t wait to be happy until I meet my other half, nor will I wait until my kids are big, successful, and independent so I can fully complete my task as a mom.
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
I choose to be happy now, at this very moment, while putting those dreams on the back of my mind.
Because having a dream makes us motivated, but enjoying our present makes us more alive.
If one must live like one’s dancing, I choose to dance the tango with the universe as my partner.
Be authentic, be you
Lisa works in Catalyst Strategy, a strategic narrative consulting firm based in Jakarta. Catalyst Strategy helps leaders create a better world through better narratives.
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