Posted on 1 Comment

Dealing with Toxic Voices

Up until my my early twenties I was my own worst critic. I had toxic voices in my head which imprisoned and almost destroyed my life. Now in my early thirties, I still hear that voice sometimes. However, through conscious effort, I now have some tools for helping me deal with the toxic voices inside. Here is what I do.

Identify keywords and phrases the toxic voice uses most.

For me, the keywords are “stupid”, “ugly”, and “not good enough.” The phrases sound like this:

  • I’m so stupid.
  • I’m so ugly.
  • I can’t, I’m not good enough.

Then, I looked deeper into the situation which triggered my toxic voice. I realized that in most situations, the intent behind it was really for my own betterment. However, the critic was not trained to frame the response in a more constructive manner.

Analyze the situation and reframe the statement.

“I’m so stupid” often comes up when I am trying to accomplish a task, but failed. Saying the opposite of the statement (I’m smart) will make me feel better about myself. But it still doesn’t solve the issue. Instead, reframing to “I didn’t know this. Where can I find more information about this?” Then try to find out more sources of information to help in accomplishing the task.

“I’m so ugly” comes up when I look in the mirror and see a physical feature that is not Instagram Perfect. This is very difficult, because pictures in social media are often edited and far from reality. To look Instagram Perfect, what I actually need is a crash course in Adobe Photoshop.

To look Instagram Perfect, what I actually need is a crash course in Adobe Photoshop.

So a possible reframing would be making factual observations. For example:

  • My skin is dry.
  • I have zits on my forehead.
  • I have bags underneath my eyes.

Then to help analyze, I ask the question of Why.

  • Why is my skin so dry? Perhaps I forgot to use my moisturizer. Or perhaps I need a different moisturizer.
  • Why am I breaking out on my forehead? Perhaps I touched my forehead too much with my fingers.
  • Why do I have bags underneath my eyes? Perhaps I didn’t sleep enough the last couple of days.

Everything physical has a cause. If I can find the cause, then I can begin to improve the physical ailments.

Dig into the details and then make sure the conclusion is really your choice.

“I can’t, I’m not good enough” is heard when someone challenges me with something, and I am surprised by the challenge. For example, a colleague asks me to present on a certain topic. My first automatic response is “I can’t, I’m not good enough!” But wait. Let me dig deeper into the challenge. I ask questions like:

  • What is it that I actually have to do?
  • What would I have to prepare?
  • How much time will I need to prepare it?

As you look deeper, you will grasp more of the real demands of the challenge. Then, if you end up not doing it, it will be because you choose not to commit to the preparation which was necessary. Not because you are not good enough, but simply because you choose to do something else with that time.

Do you have strategies to deal with the toxic voices in your heads? Share some tips in the comments!

To learn more about toxic voices, visit this article from Psych Alive. If you need a reminder of your self worth, visit this poem which I wrote.

Posted on 2 Comments

Covid Wedding: Yes or No?

For the better or worse, I’ve had two weddings within the last few years. My first wedding was on 25th of February 2017 to Oky. After his death last year, I started dated Cung, whom I married 1st of August 2020. The first was a huge 2000 people pre Covid wedding, while the second was a small 30 people ceremony held during the pandemic. At first we were a bit nervous about gathering and saying vows in the current situation, but when planned carefully adhering to strict health protocols, we reflected that it was actually very beneficial to get married this year.

How so?

First: Economic benefits.

A wedding can be extremely expensive! Sending and printing invitations, food, parking, wedding souvenirs, all this plus the bill for the organizers afterwards. In Indonesia, a fancy wedding is also a sign of wealth and social standing. Its also a matter of “face” to invite everyone both sides of the family knows. Naturally the guest list increases, adding up to a figure which can be irrational.

Given the Covid situation, you can only have about 30 guests or so. People understand this and won’t get offended, so you can actually save a lot of expenses. Family and good friends still send in gifts in the form of angpao-money in an envelope. Thus the chances are very high that you will end up having some extra cash, which is so nice in this economically challenging time.

The chances are very high that you will end up having some extra cash, which is so nice in this economically challenging time.

Second: Virtual trends allow for more guests.

Broadcasting trends with Zoom, Instagram Live, Facebook Live, or any other technology actually allows you to have more guests at a very low cost! You can invite friends from all over the globe to be a part of your special day. This is a huge benefit because otherwise, it would be a challenge for them to attend your wedding. Of course, if you are the type to prefer intimate private parties, then you don’t have to do this.

With affordable technology, you can invite friends from all over the globe to be a part of your special day.

Third: Facing the reality of life together.

For me, this is the most important benefit of a Covid wedding: getting married during a hard time forces you to truly think about the reality of your lives together. Real life has been very difficult this year, but guess what? That is the nature of life. In a couple of years another crisis will come along, whether it’s your personal life, work life, political emergencies, natural disaster, or some other global crisis. Living through this year’s adversity side by side and making the decision to get through future crisis together as a team, is priceless. You will be able to look back and say: we survived the pandemic together. We can survive more things together.

Getting married during a hard time forces you to truly think about the reality of your lives together.

So, Covid wedding? If you are ready to face the realities of life together, then yes. Go for it. This year is as good as any year.

To read a comparison of my first and second wedding, visit White Heels and Avocadoes.

Have you attended or perhaps had a wedding in this time? Do you know a friend or relative thinking of getting married under the current circumstances? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear them!

Posted on 5 Comments

Super Heroines of Classic Young Adult Fantasy

Growing up with my nose in books, fictional characters were as real to me as everyday people. Their wits, courage, and attitude facing adversity inspired me during my moments of challenges. Here are five of my favorite super heroines of classic young adult fantasy.

5. Matilda from ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl

Matilda Wormwood is considered a misfit and a failure by her irresponsible parents.

Often neglected, she learns to take care of herself with the resources available to her which included intelligence and telekinetic powers. She also shows some leadership skills when she rallies her classmates to defend their beloved Miss Honey from the evil principal: The Trunchbull.

4. Princess Eilonwy from ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ by Lloyd Alexander

“I’m Princess Eilonwy. And you’re in bad trouble, aren’t you?”

The headstrong, talkative, kind and brave Princess Eilonwy of Llyr is definitely someone I would want on my team, whatever the adventure is. She is an enchantress by heritage. Her relationship with Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper is interesting because it develops from friendship first and evolves into a romantic relationship as they grow up in the course of the five books.

3. Hermione Granger from ‘Harry Potter’ by JK Rowling

JK Rowling is currently under a lot of heavy criticism about being a transphobe (someone who irrationally fears a transgender).

Her devoted fans have turned against her, including many actors from the movie series. This gives me many mixed feelings, as I literally grew up with the Harry Potter books. In the end, I decided to keep Hermione on this list because she is surely one of the most brilliant witches in the history of magic! On top of that, she is also loyal to her values even when it gets really tough.

2. Miri from ‘Princess Academy’ by Shannon Hale

Miri and her sister Marda come from a small village on Mount Eskel where the community mines for a living.

When the Capital decides the next Queen is to come from the mountains, a temporary school is set up so the mountain girls can be educated. Here Miri learns to read for the first time. Hungry for more, she digs into history and learns some truths that eventually save her village. The heart of the ‘Princess Academy’ trilogy is the importance of education. Freedom is freedom to learn, and a woman can be powerful when she has the necessary knowledge.

1. Sophie Hatter from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Dianne Wynne Jones

I am a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Guess what, so are authors such as Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Robin McKinley, and JK Rowling.

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is one of her most popular fantasy books, especially after being made into a box office animation by Studio Ghibli. Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters. In the land of Ingary, this means she is cursed to live a dull life at home. She is doubly cursed when the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. Sophie then goes on a journey to find the Wizard Howl to help her lift the curses. In the end, it is Sophie that lifts her own curse while saving Howl in the process.

Who are your favorite fictional heroines? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on 1 Comment

How to Say “NO” to Figures of Authority

Girls that grew up in conservative patriarchal societies will be told by their parents, teachers, community leaders, and so on, to “be a good girl, and obey.” Children will carry this way of thinking until adulthood, unless they have very special parents who raise them to think critically and question authority.

Be a good girl, and obey.

The problem arises when figures of authority abuse their power and ask you to do something which you really do not want to do. When this happens, how do you say “NO” to these figures of authority? How do you disobey “orders” when you have been conditioned to blindly obey them your whole life?

Watch this video tutorial, and I hope this is helpful if you often deal with these situations in your daily life.

Send me a message, or leave a comment about how you say “NO” to figures of authority around you. Visit this post for the Box Breathing Tutorial to stay calm in stressful situations. Visit this article from World Health Organization on statistics of violence towards women in Southeast Asia.

Posted on 4 Comments

How to Stay Calm During Stressful Situations with this Breathing Technique

four rock formation

Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing, is a deep breathing technique that will help you stay calm in stressful situations. It is especially useful when an emergency arises, and you really need to stay calm instead of panicking. With a calmer attitude and clearer mind, you will be able to assess the situation at hand and see what needs to be done.

This breathing technique is also useful if you have a high pressure job that needs extreme concentration, or when there is a high stake moment like an important sales pitch coming up. Resetting your breath and grounding your mind will relax your body, which will increase your performance. I myself use this breathing technique almost on a daily basis.

Watch this tutorial to understand how it works. When you try it, make sure to expand the rib and the belly as you are inhaling. Shallow, fast chest breaths will only cause you to panic more. Repeat as many times as you need.

The relaxing music in the video is by Bensound. To read more about deep breathing techniques, visit this article from Medical News Today. To read daily habits for improving self performance, visit this blogpost.

If you have found this video useful, please leave a comment, share, or subscribe so airinefferin can visit your inbox!

Posted on 3 Comments

Signs of Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Emotional abuse can occur in dating, family, or even work relationships. If you are not aware of the signs, sometimes it is hard to tell when you are being emotionally abused by a lover, parent/sibling, friend, or colleague. It happens more often than you might think, and its very likely that you will come across emotionally abusive people several times in your life.

Emotionally abusive people are usually after dominance and control-of you, of the group, or of the project. Often abusers are active substance addicts or have disorders such as psychopath, pathological narcissist, or borderline personality disorder. First impressions of them can be great, as they are able to be very sweet and accommodative at the beginning. In fact, they can come across as too charming or too good to be true.

I have experienced being in emotionally abusive relationships, so this is a sign I have learned to look out for.

In fact, they can come across as too charming or too good to be true.

What are some other signs?

  1. I was constantly unsure of myself. Did I say the right thing, do the right thing? Would he/she be angry at this text and ignore me, or would he/she forgive me and carry on?
  2. I was always so exhausted. I felt drained emotionally, mentally, and physically. Sleeping held no relief, instead it made me more tired because there were constant nightmares.
  3. I took no joy in my accomplishments. On the contrary, I felt guilty for outshining the partner/colleague/friend.
  4. I felt so powerless. As if there was nothing I could do to change the situation, and I had to either accept it, or leave.
  5. I spent more money than I should have, because I wanted to make the other person happy.
  6. My world got smaller and smaller and smaller. All other relationships were considered a threat to the current one.
  7. The consequences of my mistakes were amplified and used as a tool to punish me. It was my fault things went awry. I was the one who messed things up.
  8. I did not feel comfortable being near them. In fact, I was afraid that at any moment they could blow up and physically hurt me, or someone else around them.

What should I do if I am in an emotionally abusive relationship?

If you think you are in an abusive relationship, I heavily suggest seeing a therapist or talking about it with a trusted adult. Neutral third party observations can help you see things from a different perspective. Create boundaries, build a support network for yourself, make an exit plan, and get the heck out. Don’t hang in there because you think you can fix the person, or because you love the person, or because you owe them your successes. Don’t try to understand or justify their actions.

This is easy to say, and I know from experience these actions can be incredibly difficult to do. Try to be brave for yourself, and take the first step: talk about it. As Fred Rogers said: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”

Fred Rogers

Remember that you deserve an amazing relationship, and an amazing life!

Featured image photographed by Chameera Laknath during Southeast Asia Leadership Academy January 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

To read more on emotionally abusive relationships, visit this article from Health Line. If you need a reminder of your worth, visit our core beliefs.

Posted on Leave a comment

I am Giving Away a Free Sample of Nisha

I grew up reading fantasy books with strong heroines. These stories planted seeds in my mind that girls did not have to grow up just to be what society wanted her to be. She could grow up to be whoever she herself wanted to be. This is a radical notion if you are from conservative origins.

The coming of age novella titled Nisha is my own addition to the collection. It is set in a fantasy world with witches and wizards, but also incapable leaders, annoying brats, and a girl who is trying to figure out what is happening around her.

A good friend then suggested I record a narration. Hmm!

So, just about a month ago I brought the manuscript to a studio, took a deep breath, and recorded myself reading it out loud. As promised, click here to download the free sample of Nisha (audio).

Posted on 2 Comments

Lessons from Indonesia’s Richest Woman

One of the most illustrious women I have the privilege to get to know is Giok Hartono, wife of Budi Hartono, the richest person in Indonesia. He is listed on Forbes with a net worth of US $18billion, most of the fortune coming from their family business Djarum clove cigarettes and stakes in Bank Central Asia. His wife is well known to love and support a wide range of the arts from visual to performing. It is through her philanthropy in music that our paths crossed.

Tante Giok (or Auntie, as I called her) was a patron of Cascade Trio, Indonesia’s premiere piano trio which I co-founded, active around the region from 2014-2019. In addition to financial gifts, she also opened her private facilities for us to rehearse at while we were in Jakarta. There are only so few Steinway pianos in Indonesia, and to be able to practice on one was an unimaginable luxury. Needless to say, her support made a huge difference to our musical careers.

From several conversations with her, I observed some daily habits which I have since tried to implement in my life.

1. She takes cold water showers every morning.

Although this sounds like self-torture, it actually has health benefits from increasing endorphins, improving metabolism and blood circulation, all the way to beauty benefits for hair, skin, and scalp. Tante Giok looks about 20 years younger than her real age.

2. She exercises at least one hour every single day.

I will never forget how in my first meeting with her. She proudly told me that she could still do the splits, and promptly demonstrated it right in front of me. I was speechless-not just because she was so flexible at her age, but more because I certainly did not expect the wealthiest lady in Indonesia to be so…unorthodox.

3. She always responds to her WhatsApp messages.

She might not respond immediately, but she would respond at least within 1-2 days. For someone like me who has done so much fundraising (this is the reality of a musicians’ life), I have gotten hundreds of rejected asks, and even more ignored asks. I was used to being disregarded by “important” people who had a lot of money. From getting to know her, I learned that truly important people don’t make other people feel bad. On the contrary, they make YOU feel important. Her default mode is treating everyone with respect, even the lowest person in the social chain.

I’ve been very lucky to be able to learn these lessons from Tante Giok Hartono. Are there super successful people that have surprised or inspired you with their daily habits?

Featured image: Giok Hartono as the goddess Dewi Banowati with Ali Marsudi as the heroic Arjuna in a wayang performance, December 2015. Photographed by Romli Sawunggaling.

Posted on 2 Comments

You are Beautiful

You are beautiful

no matter that you gained some kilos,

or that you keep losing weight.

No matter that you are forty and still a virgin,

or that you slept with people who took advantage of you.

No matter that you focus on your career,

or that you are broke and in need of some help.

No matter what happened to you

or who happened to you

No matter where you are right now in your life.

You are Beautiful

Posted on 3 Comments

Find What Makes You Happy

hands hand notes music

In spring 2008, I won a music competition at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I was studying piano performance. Now it is called Calvin University, but back then it was one of the finest private liberal arts school in the States. A liberal arts education meant the school offered well-rounded approach to the undergraduate degree, equipping the student with various disciplines of knowledge not only the major she / he is pursuing. For someone like me, this meant that even though I majored in music, I also had to take classes in world literature, philosophy, sciences, psychology, and even fun sports classes like tennis and karate.

The piece I won with was the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich. I worked on this piece intensively with my piano teacher Ms. Hyesook Kim. By intensive I meant 6-8 hours a day, no matter what day, for about a year. I remember one cold winter-and winters are FREEZING in Michigan- when I was practicing with my eyes closed to focus on memorization of the piece. I felt the piano keys getting sticky, and when I opened my eyes I was surprised to see blood on the white keys. My fingers were dry and the skin was cracked. The vulnerable skin must have gotten caught while doing fast passages on the wooden keys, causing them to bleed without my notice. That was how much effort I put into the concerto.

However that year for me was especially meaningful not only due to winning and performing the piece with the Calvin College Orchestra (under the direction of Robert Nordling). It was important because that was the first time I really focused and worked SO HARD on something, with amazing results. For the first time in my life I tasted the feeling of satisfaction and how good it felt to have my hard work acknowledged. “Success breeds success” is a well known Suzuki concept in the music education world. For me, though, the success was more than musical.

For the first time in my life I tasted the satisfaction of having my hard work acknowledged.

For the first time in my life I tasted the satisfaction of having my hard work acknowledged. I had been a bulimic since my junior-high years in Bandung, Indonesia, way back from 2001. I tried to stop, but was constantly met with my own failure. In 2008, my daily piano practice routine was mixed with hours of binging and purging. I go into more detail in another post about my journey of healing, which included loving friends who struggled side by side with me. What I would like to point out here is that my success with the piano concerto boosted my confidence and happiness. The more I played piano, the happier I became. A happy Airin grew to be a strong Airin who would eventually win her 10 year battle with the disorder.

In 2018, exactly a decade later, Maestro Robert Nordling invited me to perform this piece again with the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra in Illinois. The performance is available here for your listening and enjoyment. The blue haired pianist is happy, strong, and very proud of herself.

Do you know what makes YOURSELF happy? Do you remember moments when you were very proud of your hard work?