GUESTview/ My Awakening Year

In the dark and light. A contemporary dance performance at GEOKS in Bali.

In the dark and light. A contemporary dance performance at GEOKS in Bali.

Ubud, 31 December 2015 — Guest Post by Soemantri Widagdo: As I reflected on my experiences in 2015, I realized how I have stumbled on to my Awakening Year. It all started in late 2013 when I was asked to give a speech at my alma mater, to share wisdom to the next generation of chemical engineers on how to get to the top of their career ladder.

As I was preparing this talk, I knew that I wanted to do something more than reminiscing on the journey of my career and my accomplishments. I asked if I could be the last of the five invited speakers, and I chose to talk about a bigger quest, entitled “My Journey to Personal Happiness.”


During my self-discovery process in preparing my talk, I reviewed my career lessons and life experience, and I realized how I had learned to consider personal happiness (inner peace) as a prerequisite for a successful career, instead of the other way around, which is what most people believe.

For a long time, I could not answer the question of what makes people happy—what makes people achieve inner peace. Rather, I discovered a common root cause of unhappiness: our human response to the discrepancy between what we wish for and what we have. For most people, this is the barrier between them and their personal happiness.

So how should we deal with this barrier, this discrepancy? Finding a way to eliminate it would help us avoid unnecessary disappointments. I saw two choices to achieve this, and I will use the analogy of steering a ship to describe them.

With or without engine

In the first option—which is to forego the need for having a dream—we choose to go with the flow and surrender to wherever our life journey takes us. This is like switching off our ship’s engine and sail through the ocean of life.

Taking this option, it can feel scary as a leader to live life without steering your way to your destiny; to completely give up the need to control the direction of your life and the life of those you lead. The rewards are, however, that you can land on uncharted shores you stumble upon, even those which you would have otherwise have consciously steered away from.

In the second option—where you have and hold on to a dream—you “create” your own destiny with a sense of “control.” This is when you keep your ship’s engine switched on, set your course regardless of the wind, and make sure you have enough fuel in the tank to reach your destination.

Taking this option, you will need to face up to the challenge that there is often a long distance between where you want to reach and where you are right now. In the face of this challenge, it is easy to get discouraged. What is needed here is to muster the courage to accept reality and forge ahead into the unknown to make your journey and navigate each challenge as you encounter it.

Reflecting on these choices helped me prepare a question for the graduating students: what choices do you see for removing the barrier between you and your inner peace and happiness?

My mission in life

Going a step further in my journey of reflection, I explored how being authentic—true to yourself and others—is a necessary and sufficient condition for personal happiness, and thus for a successful career. Is there a purpose to my life? What is actually my mission in life?

It took me two years of soul searching and self-discovery to answer this and realize that my mission in life is “to bring out the best of others to fulfill their full potential.” In other words, to help people realize their dreams and personal happiness! I have come to see that making other people happy and successful is the key to fulfill my purpose in life.

After completing my corporate career, and through this amazing process, I feel as if I have come full circle to put aside my needs for others, discovering about giving myself (knowledge, wisdom, wealth, etc.) unconditionally and fully for the betterment of my fellow human beings. What a wonderful and fulfilling mission it is, I realized in 2015.

I now ask colleagues, partners and fresh graduates what they have discovered about their mission in life, to reach their personal happiness? What is their personal brand of leadership and how will they live by the promise of their brand?

For me, going into the New Year, I have resolved that I would like to help one person smile each day, until the day that no one is left without a smile. 

Soemantri Widagdo has distinguished himself as a leading innovation scientist, international art curator, and social change maker, and is affectionately known to his friends as Pak Tri.  

Read his Asian leaders story here.