Dear me in 2016,
You enrolled in this MSc Strategic Studies program hoping to be able to contribute to your country’s national security. You thought you would become a strategist, someone who could help Indonesia in its time of doctrinal stagnation. You had high hopes for yourself that you would come home and be there for your country, even when they rejected you twice.
This is you a year from now. You are exhausted yet you have matured. You no longer think that devising security policy is a simple matter of getting the right people and place; it is much more complex than that. You no longer think everything’s simple. The process of getting policy right is always convoluted, so much so that no amount of your writing will ever do it justice. You no longer think in the short term. Changing the way a country does things always mean you need to be set for the long-term.
Looking back on those long hours you will spend in the library reading one book after another, writing notes in more than five notebooks and 1 blog throughout the year, getting Computer Vision Syndrome because you spend too much time writing (and playing Overwatch)… you won’t regret it. It will teach you to persevere. There will be times when you think “Why am I even doing this?” or “Please kill me”. You should remember the words of cyber monk Zenyatta, “Repetition is the path to mastery”. An often under-explored part of one’s success is the process.
You will get discouraged when comparing your term papers to those scholarly articles in academic journals. You will think to yourself that you’re a shitty academic and you might as well be flipping burgers. You will get discouraged when looking up those authors online. They’re usually tenured professors or PhD candidates. Seeing their magnificent list of achievements, you can’t help but think you’re a small, vulnerable, and unwanted potato. That’s ok. You might not know, but those people have gone through the same process as you. They were once students as well. Toiling over a burgeoning reading list, wrestling with difficult concepts and words, getting back pains because of too much sitting, and probably hitting the drink once or twice. You shouldn’t compare your start with others’ middle. Your struggle is only a vignette of an academic life should you choose it. In retrospect, I would urge you to pick up coding or learn how to make games.
But never ever feel that this Masters’ was useless simply because it doesn’t match with the job preferences of global capitalism. You came in with a passion and though global capitalism’s preferences are a real bitch, you’ll one day find a perfect match between passion and money.
If I could go back in time and change one thing, it would be the amount of time I spent in the library. Of course, getting that reading list done is important, but so is maintaining a network of people you can trust and help you grow. If I could turn back time, I would be out at more seminars and actually talking to people. You can’t always play the introvert card like you did back in undergrad. You don’t need to talk superficially with everyone there. Lock your sights on one person and have a meaningful conversation. Like that one time you talked for hours about defence robotics with that guy doing a PhD in Engineering. You could’ve gotten his name down though, but hey, you talked to someone for an extended period of time!
And don’t forget to bring business cards. You always forget those.
All in all, the year that you will go through will not be an easy one. You will face a lot of hardships, both physical (ok, most likely minor back pains and 2 bouts of flu; nothing a steady gym routine can’t fix) but mostly mental. Writing Bernard’s term papers come to mind. And that one time you had to go through microfilm archives at ISEAS to get precious data on the Indonesian Navy for Geoffrey Till’s paper. You will stress out during exams. The GPO may and will frustrate you (except when Roxanne’s handling stuff, she’s ok). And you won’t be doing a dissertation. But that’s good for you, since dissertation will be hell.
But you will make it through. I know; I’ve been there. You’ll have amazing friends who will help you out (especially when you’re drinking). You’ll have professors that will teach you a lot of stuff. And most importantly, your family and loved ones will have your back.
You in 2017
P.S. Remember to start job hunting in Term 2 or study harder in Term 1 so you can do the dissertation!