How Bali taught me to Celebrate Everything.
When we started Bali Secrets in 2015, none of us had any idea what we had signed up for. To source and produce natural deodorants in Bali is quite different from sourcing and producing in the USA or Europe. It quickly became clear that our expectations around timeliness and productivity were highly unrealistic, given that we were in a culture that proudly prioritises holidays and ceremonies.
It was only when I tried to create a project with timelines, milestones and dependencies that I learned how many holidays there actually are on this beautiful island. And unlike in Austria, my home country, these holidays are deeply embedded in the daily life of the Balinese people. While I was prioritising my life around my work calendar, my Balinese collaborators were following their traditional lunar calendar. Whenever there was an important event – and there were many – they took time off to connect with their community, see family and friends, attend ceremonies, and simply celebrate being alive.
At first, I felt confused and somewhat frustrated by these different priorities. I wanted things to happen on time according to my master plan. More than once demand increased and our products went out of stock. Despite our urgency, production was halted due to holidays. Little by little, however, I learned to relax. I stopped sweating what I initially perceived as lost productivity, and started to appreciate the Balinese attitude towards celebration.
A Culture of Celebration
My first ceremony.
It was in 2010 when I was traveling around Bali as a tourist for the first time. I had no concerns with production, dates or deadlines. Instead, I was drinking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this intoxicating island. On a warm, tropical evening on the streets of Sanur, a beautiful beach town on the southwest coast of Bali, I had my first encounter with the Balinese attitude towards celebration.
As I strolled the streets, in the distance, I heard echoes of foreign, hypnotising music. Following the melody to its source, I discovered a small temple gathering. Balinese people of all ages sat on the floor of a pavilion-style building, dressed in bright, vibrant colours. The rich fabrics of their garments and the noble, ornate headpieces made everyone look like royalty. I remember thinking how incredibly fortunate I must have been to witness such a rare and auspicious gathering during my short stay on the island. Little did I know that these majestic happenings were an almost daily occurrence.
Everyday is a Ceremony
Offerings big and small.
Even after a couple of years on the island, I am certainly not an expert on Balinese culture. Still, I’ve benefited tremendously from my experiences and the lessons the Balinese community around me has been generous enough to impart.
One thing I have learned, it that in Balinese culture the sacred and the profane go hand in hand. The average temple ceremony is both spontaneous and structured, casual and ritualistic. Kids roam the temple grounds playing freely, young men sit chatting in a bale (an outdoor wooden structure for gathering and relaxation), while the high priest conducts blessings and the gamelan orchestra plays melodically, and the roosters crow in the background.
After several years on the island, this intermingling has become normal to me. I have come to expect my landlady giving me regular updates on the week’s ceremonies. I’m used to the traffic jams that form behind ceremony processions. By now, I’ve learned to patiently wait and admire the beauty of the rituals and the dedication towards them. These rituals come in all sizes. For instance, the daily flower offerings – a small handwoven basket made from leaves, adorned with petals, incense, and sometimes cookies and sweets – are placed near doorways and in small shrines around the house. I’ve gotten so used to these offerings that I now notice when they are not there. As a result, I’ve started to take my own daily rituals more seriously.
Are the Balinese the most celebratory people on the planet? I don’t know. Living on the island, however, it’s impossible not to absorb this atmosphere. To witness this seemingly ongoing celebration, I can’t help but feel my spirits uplifted by the positive and all-embracing magic.
Holidays. Holidays. Holidays.
As I’ve become more accustomed to the rhythms of Balinese life, I’ve personally claimed the title of ‘International Holiday Manager’. It is almost a full-time job to keep up with the many Balinese celebrations, and other diverse religious holidays observed on the island and across Indonesia. That’s even before considering all other holidays around the globe and their impact on shipping and delivery times.
All these experiences taught me and the team to ‘Celebrate Everything’. What started as a kind of coping mechanism eventually become a core essential part of Bali Secrets’ values and philosophy. It’s easy to celebrate positive developments, such as becoming the best-selling deodorant on Amazon, receiving a love letter from a customer (when was the last time you sent a love letter to your deodorant company?), or launching a luscious new fragrance. It’s less easy to celebrate the challenges and fuck-ups.
We’ve handled packaging problems that resulted in a shipment of deodorant traversing the Pacific Ocean in broken bottles. We’ve had more lost shipments than we can count. Competitors have written vicious reviews. Small adjustments to the formula warped the balance and made the batch unsellable.
At this point, we’re well practised in celebrating even the torturous moments that might otherwise cause someone to scream into their pillow. Instead, we share annoyances and hiccups openly in our meetings, laugh about them, and learn to appreciate the lessons they are trying to teach us. Sharing challenging moments openly can create more closeness and understanding within the team. Slowly, steadily, we’re getting better at appreciating the present moment, whatever it may bring.
Mistakes and unexpected situations are part of life and business. As much as I want things to be predictable, some things are simply out of my control. And sometimes events that initially seemed like a catastrophe become blessings in disguise.
So, let’s take our cue from the Balinese and sometimes prioritise togetherness and ceremony over calendar entries and timelines.
And most importantly: Celebrate Everything.
CEO & Co-Founder
Dancing Salsa, reading books or lost in nature, Katie is always passionate about her adventures. For Bali Secrets she keeps the overview, communicates with suppliers and logistic partners and takes on the serious role when the men in the team get a touch too playful.
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