Joey McIntyre’s Boilerplate Encouragements

You know the song “Stay the Same” by Joey McIntyre?

I hate it. Hate, hate, hate.

I get that it’s supposed to be uplifting and inspiring, but for me, it smacks of lazy, unexamined, unicorns-and-rainbows positivity. The title suggests that staying the same is the way to go, but the whole song itself doesn’t build on that; in fact, it seems to totally contradict itself. The way the lyrics are written and put together sounds like someone just randomly took a bunch of Hallmark cards, cut them up, and pasted them together to make a rhyme.

The Chorus: A Dangerous Affirmation

Consider the first few lines: “Don’t you ever wish you were someone else; you were meant to be the way you are exactly.” Right there, it sounds like the generic encouragement that a friend who’s only half-interested in your problems would throw at you because he or she tuned out halfway and doesn’t want to bother understanding your issues.

If you’re meant to be the way you are exactly, what’s the point of changing? What’s the point in trying to do anything? Let’s just stay on our comfortable little plains and plateaus built on platitudes, and just take the opportunity to love ourselves. The world doesn’t expect any more, and it doesn’t owe us any less.

Then Joey warbles on: “Don’t you ever say you don’t like the way you are; when you learn to love yourself, you’re better off by far.” The first part, I can get behind because if you let your self-hate cripple you, then it’s all over. I get that. But what I can’t stomach is the sweeping statement that learning to love yourself is better, period. I mean, what if you’re a total jackass or loafer? Are you supposed to be okay with being a pest and a leech, just because you already “love yourself”?

That’s only the first step. You’ve got to love yourself to the point where you realize you can be awesome, you’re not at your best yet, and then work your way up and forward from there. You’re not meant to be the way you are exactly; you’re meant to become.

The chorus ends with “And I hope you’ll always stay the same, ’cause there’s nothin’ ’bout you I would change.” Either that’s a lie, or the singer just isn’t thinking very hard.

The Verse: It Gets Worse

The first (and only) verse starts with: “I think that you could be whatever you want to be.” Sounds promising. Sounds similar to “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”, the line which makes “Back to the Future” my all-time favorite sci-fi movie.

But then the verse goes on: “…if you just realize all the dreams you have inside.” Big problems with that writing. Like, where else would your dreams be but “inside”? Do you keep them outside, in a jar on top of the refrigerator, or in your back pocket where you might carelessly leave them on laundry day? Is your mind outside your body? And the whole statement, “you could be whatever you want to be if you just realize all the dreams you have” smacks of tautology. Of course you realize your dreams when you are whatever you want to be; why didn’t I think of that? Thanks a lot for giving the most helpful advice ever, late ’90s pop song!

And didn’t the song say earlier (at the very beginning, actually), that you shouldn’t wish you were someone else? So why say anything about becoming whatever you want to be? That’s what wishing you were someone else is. What do you want? I’m so confused!

The next lines (“Don’t be afraid if you’ve got something to say; just open up your heart and let it show you the way”) are pointless and just contradict the idea of “staying the same” for me. If you are honest and expressive, don’t censor yourself, and don’t keep yourself closed in, then you open yourself up to conversations, discussions, and ultimately, opportunities for growth and change; the fact that there’s a “way” that your heart shows you suggests that there’s a journey you must take, and you’re not meant to “stay” anywhere. So while Joey tells us to stay the same, he’s still flip-flopping and advising us to not be stagnant.

The Bridge: Taking Us Nowhere

Then there’s the bridge: “Believe in yourself; reach down inside; the Lord above will set you free.” It might be because of my agnostic, leaning towards atheistic tendencies, but for me, you either believe in yourself or believe in the Lord to set you free. Either work your own way through your own problems, or wait for a divine bailout. Any advice that gives both recommendations sounds like a speaker who’s hedging his motivational bets.

The rest of the bridge (“Believe in yourself; you will come alive. Have faith in what you do; you’ll make it through”) seems to hammer home the same point made earlier about getting through obstacles to get to a goal. But again, for me, it addresses a totally different problem from someone wanting to be different from who they are. It’s the last line in a long, meandering, falls-flat-on-its-face attempt at inspiring people to…

…I don’t know, really.

In Summary…

So basically, that’s why I hate the song “Stay the Same”, and there’s plenty about it I would change. You can still listen to it if you want, but I defy you not to cringe at the message, or lack thereof.

You know what? Just listen to “Man in the Mirror.” Whether you like Michael Jackson’s take or James Morrison’s, it’s a damn good song with a message written right.

The Price of Excellence

I’m currently reading a book written by Ryan Holiday called The Obstacle is the Way. It’s basically a treatise on stoicism, and how meeting obstacles with the right perspective, energy, and will can let you convert them into opportunities. If you’re a subscriber to the stoic philosophy, or if you want to read stories about people from history who exemplified this way of living, then I recommend that you read this book.

Saying that, this is one of those self-help books that lends itself to occasional oversimplification; hard not to do that when you’re making strong, prescriptive statements.

One part of the book I take issue with is its call for people to pursue excellence, regardless of the circumstances. Basically, the author’s thesis for that chapter is that if someone has to motivate you to do something well, then something’s wrong with your attitude. What you have to cultivate is to attack any task in front of you to the best of your ability. You need to bring to bear an excellence ethic, a perspective that says “this is something I made with my hands, a product of my mind, a service from my effort; it must be great no matter what.”

Excellence is a Premium Product…

The thing is, if you’re going to bring heroic effort to everything you produce, then you’re going to run yourself into the ground eventually. Even machines wear out or burn out; human beings need to eat, sleep, play, and fulfill themselves in far more aspects beyond their work in order to be satisfied and productive. So while I do appreciate the romance behind single-focused, eye-on-the-object workmanship, I also appreciate that the worker is a person.

Also, one has to recognize the value of the workmanship in terms of the time value of mastery. No one is born a master, or even becomes a master overnight. It takes a lot of failures to get to mastery, and those failures have a cost that the master happily paid.

…That Clients Don’t Often Appreciate

The tragedy of it is that in a lot of industries, there’s no consideration made for this. Editors, proofreaders, and copy editors (yes, those are different things) are often not compensated well because their expertise isn’t appreciated: experts, the ones who know what they’re doing, should charge more because of their attention to detail, meticulousness, appreciation of nuances in style, syntax, punctuation, and what-have-you. But because clients don’t appreciate the difference between someone claiming to be an expert editor/proofreader/copy editor and someone who actually is one, the truly skilled are forced to compete in a lopsided wage war against those who provide a defective product.

Similar arguments can be made for many creative industries. Musicians have to scrape by for their gigs. There are video editors who are forced to churn out hundreds of videos a month. Many graphic artists, writers, and designers are approached by clients and publishers who have no idea what they want, and want to pay them little to produce it (Internet personality Wil Wheaton has actually spoken out, slamming the use of “exposure on a unique platform” as a substitute for monetary incentives).

In a Perfect World, There’s No Settling for Dirt

There’s a popular story about Pablo Picasso: supposedly, he was once approached by a woman who asked him to draw her portrait, which he did with a single stroke. The woman was delighted at the result, but dismayed when Picasso asked her for five thousand dollars for it. She asked “Why so expensive? It took you only a moment to do it!”

Picasso replied, “Madam, it took me my entire life.”

While not all of us are Picassos, many of us are engaged in some sort of creative work, which clients often take for granted. In the mad dash towards “gaining the edge in customer service,” many companies and freelancers are pressured to sell themselves short. A video recently released on YouTube also calls out the unfairness in the common advertising industry practice of asking for RFS. Check out the video below to learn more about it (in a tongue-in-cheek) way:

In the Philippines, many Filipino workers are concerned about the impending competition that would be introduced by the APEC integration next year. They’re afraid that skilled workers from other countries could easily take jobs away from us because they are more qualified. That may be true, but consider this: how many of them would want to? With our country’s high income tax rate, slow Internet connection, and poor transportation infrastructure, there are many things that would turn off foreign businessmen and workers from entering our job market. I’m sure at least some of them would walk away from invitations from our employers. That’s the kind of leverage being skilled should get you.

Basically, there’s just one point that I think should be made about excellence: No one is asking anybody to be all about the money. No one is saying that your excellence should only be pursued when there’s an incentive to pursue it. However, you also have to respect yourself enough to know when someone isn’t recognizing the worth of your work.

Lies Are Powerful… Especially from You to Yourself

If you happen to leaf through a copy of Seth Godin’s classic “All Marketers Are Liars” (that’s the original title; the updated edition has “Are Liars” struck out, and replaces it with “Tell Stories”), you may make it to the first chapter. If you do, you may come across the part where he discusses why people lie to themselves:

Everyone is a liar… The stories we tell ourselves are lies that make it far easier to live in a complicated world… We tell ourselves stories that can’t possibly be true, but believing those stories allows us to function. We know we’re not telling ourselves the whole truth, but it works, so we embrace it.

It makes sense. You can’t go through the world knowing everything about everything, continually updating your data silos, plugging that stuff into your decision-making algorithms, and always expecting your decisions and outcomes to be corrected right away. You’re not a supercomputer, and you’re definitely not a god, so you’ve got to accept your limited capacity for knowing and correctness, and just get by cutting corners and drawing simple trendlines.

Telling ourselves lies, however, doesn’t always work out so well.

Lies that Undermine

Take the case of addicts. These individuals (through some fault of their own, or perhaps due to unfortunate and uncontrollable circumstances) basically let their obsession and craving for one thing control their entire lives. Whether it’s pornography, drugs, alcohol, or gambling, it’s not inconceivable that someone can get unhealthily addicted to something that brings pleasure or satisfaction.

The thing is addiction is not always physical; it doesn’t always involve a substance that acts as a chemical hook, or some other factor that is in and of itself irresistible. Many times, it’s a matter of mindset that drives the habit. It starts innocently, a way to escape, then little by little the person lets the cycle spin faster and faster, gathering momentum, tightening into one focus until it becomes like a drill that pulls them down into the deep underground. (It can be argued that an addict’s circumstances can affect his or her mindset or behavior, making him or her more prone to addiction; journalist Johann Hari delivers a great TED talk that touches on this idea).

Somewhere in the middle of that process, the individual builds a system of lies that justify the addiction. They know that what they’re doing is self-destructive; hardly anybody lives in an information vacuum anymore, at least as far as addiction is concerned. But because of their need to continue the habit, they have to concoct something to convince themselves that they’re still on a good trajectory (calling it a story is generous as it doesn’t have to have any consistency; more often, it’s a patchwork of lies). If you watch and listen long enough, you can more or less get the gist of the internal dialogue: “I may be going underground, but I bet there’s oil or gold down there somewhere.”

So here’s the question: How do you distinguish a useful lie from a self-destructive one?

Ditch the Deceit

I’m not a big fan of religion, but I am a big fan of gaining perspective. Whether it’s through prayer, meditation, travel, or advice from friends who know you well, there is always value in examining your life. If every day feels okay, but your life overall feels somewhat of a mess, it’s best to find a way to step back, go outside yourself, and try to find out what the truth is.

Metaphorically speaking, make it a point to face a mirror. Take a selfie. Ask someone how you look. Do something.

The truth may be inconvenient; it may sting; it may necessitate drastic, painful, amputation-level change. However, disposing of an ugly lie is better than letting it fester and rot you from the inside. Or, if you prefer the words of a famous writer, we can go with Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.

Of course, keep in mind Seth Godin’s input. After all, a marketing guru probably does a better job describing people’s behavior than a titan of literature does prescribing it, right?

Be a Workaholic for Today

Manic Monday. Hump Day Wednesday. TGIF.

We have all these expressions that connote one statement: work sucks, and you shouldn’t want to do it.

Of course, that’s not always true. If you play your cards right, you will most likely end up in a job that you enjoy on a career track that’s fulfilling. However, because life is life, we know that there’s no way a high can stay. What goes up, must come down. And the struggle through the down days can be really, really exhausting.

In a previous post, I touched on the concept of lying to get through a grind. That got me thinking about the different ways we lie to ourselves: self-lies make us feel good about ourselves, drive us to make certain purchasing decisions, and direct other aspects of our behavior. So, why can’t we take some of those lies, tweak them, and use them to make ourselves more productive?

“I Can Quit Anytime I Want”

Do a Google search on addiction, and you’ll eventually find some resources that talk about how much addicts lie. They use these lies to support and justify their addiction. Whether it’s gambling, alcohol, drugs, or anything else, many addicts are characterized by how untruthful they are—to others as well as to themselves.

So, here’s one thing that may work for you if you’re struggling to get through the workday: do a little bit of roleplaying. Pretend that you’re a workaholic. Try to visualize yourself not as a working stiff, but as a productivity-driven madman who can’t get enough, who needs to stay busy. Imagine what it would be like, and think the thoughts that would motivate such an individual. Below are a few suggestions:

“I can quit anytime I want”: this one’s pretty common, and it’s pretty powerful. Addicts often go for one more hit, one more smoke, or one more round at the table, telling themselves it’s the last one and they can then quit. So I believe pretending to be a workaholic involves the same kind of self-negotiation. Tell yourself you’ll just finish one more report, one more job, or one more task, and then set to it. Then when it’s done, tell yourself that again. Keep making incremental progress, and you’ll pretty much make it through.

“Other people don’t know what they’re missing”: Sometimes it’s easy to get affected by others’ opinions of a job. They may say that it’s useless, or fruitless, or otherwise a waste of time. Instead of getting bogged down by other people’s negativity and low morale, try thinking about the job as a fulfilling endeavor. Maybe there’s a rush you get from getting the formulas in a spreadsheet to add up right. Maybe you get some kind of high from spotting an incorrect use of a semicolon or apostrophe in a report or a piece of creative copy. The point is, if you look hard, you’ll probably find something about your current job from which you can derive satisfaction, and you can cling to it like no one else can.

“There are other people who do more”: A lot of addicts will use this defense, saying that they are not as bad as others who do more drugs, gamble more, or otherwise indulge more in the addictive habits that they are accused of submitting themselves to. They say that they’re still okay because they haven’t hit rock bottom yet. In the context of work, we can flip this by thinking about other people who have worked harder or achieved more. Compare what you have done with what others have, and see if you can match their accomplishments. On the flip side, if you respond more to negative, cynical viewpoints, maybe you can look at how much worse other people have it; maybe they have to do more work, or their tasks are more demanding, so you should consider yourself fortunate.

When Lies Don’t Work, Go with Mantras

If you don’t want to identify with addicts and their self-lies, that’s okay: there are still some thoughts you can use to get yourself through the ennui and tedium that work sometimes brings.

“Someone’s got to do it”: I have a colleague at work who describes himself as having a “Superman” complex, and I can see why. The guy basically does a lot of different tasks covering a lot of different functions. He’s basically a jack of all trades, and not a week goes by that I don’t admire his tenacity, and his determination to help the team. So that’s one thing you can tap into. Don’t do it for abstract concepts like KPIs, or distant targets like quarterly sales goals. Do it for your team.

“Work gives life meaning”: Realistically, it’s quite possible that you’re not engaged enough in your company to care much about your team. In that case, you can just try to convince yourself to ignore everything else, and just do the work for the work’s sake. No man should rely on the world to reward him unconditionally; one must channel his talents, skills, and knowledge into a worthy endeavor that adds value to the world. No matter how small your job is, believe that it contributes to society in some way, and doing the work adds more to your character than leisure or laziness ever will.

So, when you find your motivation waning, try changing your mindset. Pretend to be a workaholic, even if you’re not. Maybe you won’t believe it all the way, but then again, you won’t believe how far it can take you, either.

Why More Workers Should Be Astronauts (Figuratively Speaking)

Why More Workers Should Be Astronauts (Figuratively Speaking)

The man in the clip is Robert Zubrin, a staunch advocate for the exploration of Mars. I don’t remember when I saw this video, or how exactly I stumbled upon it; all I remember is how I responded with admiration and sympathy. Here we see a man who grew up with a vision, one that was snatched away, which drove the driven man into becoming an angry man. Carrying a torch whose flame was ignited by betrayal and is sustained by discontent, he fights to regain what he sees humanity has lost: the thirst for exploration. The spirit of wonder.

And the spirit of exploration has not just been lost in the context of space exploration. We see it every day. We see it in the way we choose fast food, the easy, convenient, and readily available foodstuff, rather than discover the joys of cooking (the only way you can every truly “have it your way”, despite what a certain burger brand says). We see it in the way certain fashion brands dominate the local Philippine market, despite their pieces being obviously made for much more temperate climates.

And we see it in the way people choose jobs.

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A lot of us employees have lost that hunger, that almost reckless pursuit of something that we love and can be great at. “Career” has become nothing more than a buzzword, splashed onto resumes, parroted in interviews, all in the hopes of getting a job. The focus is on pay, not promise. Perhaps we are forced to compromise to survive circumstances beyond our control. But sometimes, the circumstances we currently face are not something we actually have to.

Consider the movie Interstellar. In the film’s establishing sequence, we see that humanity is in danger. The earth, its mother for so long, is starting to cross the line from “life-supporting” to “uninhabitable”. Dust storms sweep the land on a regular basis. The staple crops of mankind–wheat, potatoes, rice, and corn–all start to die in succession due to blight. The educational system is pressuring more people to become farmers rather than engineers (not to say that farming is an unimportant career choice, as the movie itself stresses). The dream of space exploration is dismissed as nothing more than a fever dream.

The story moves forward from there, leading the viewers down a path of coincidence and deduction, which concludes with the discovery that the dream is still alive. NASA is not defunct; it’s just gone underground, toiling away, in the background, as quixotic an institution as any you can imagine. On earth, humanity wages a war against extinction; while that war is fought, NASA is engineering a fallback.

And so it is with your job.

Sometimes, you just need to jump ship. Maybe the company is folding, and you can’t be around for the end. Maybe you’re not getting a high enough salary, or maybe the prospects for career growth are weak.

Or maybe it’s just not a good fit for you: you find that you have to contort yourself the cog-shape needed to make the corporate machinery run, and it’s deforming you day by day; you can’t breathe normally; you can’t stretch; you can’t stand; and you can’t stand it.

This is not to say that the automatic reaction should be to escape. Of course, there are still reasons for you to stay and persevere. You still have to fulfill your duties to the company; you cannot simply leave your co-workers hanging; and there may be clients who are counting on you to come through for them. The point is, you should be able to come to a point where you can deliberately launch yourself towards a new stage in your career, and a new opportunity for growth and exploration.

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Of course, not all endeavors end up successful. Not everything is in our control. Sometimes the journey doesn’t end well, and you, the explorer, are stuck in a less-than-ideal situation.

In The Martian, an astronaut is left marooned on Mars. The Red Planet is uninhabitable: no food grows there, the atmosphere cannot support life from Earth, and it seems all circumstances and conditions are conspiring to ensure that he does not survive. However,  through ingenuity and determination, he improvises, conceiving and implementing a survival strategy (growing food) and an exit strategy (reaching out to his fellow astronauts so they can rescue him). I can’t say much more about the film, since I haven’t watched it as of this writing, but that’s the gist.

So that’s what employee-astronauts should do when we end up in a company not suitable for them, but cannot leave it immediately. When they find themselves in that situation, unable to set off on a new leg of their career (whether due to a training bond, financial pressures, or something else), they must rely on our existing skills and talents. If they started their career path right, their skills and talents will be adaptable in most, if not all, of the companies they end up in.  So while you’re in a poor-fit company, make the most of it. Do a bit of terraforming where you can. Survive (and thrive, if possible).

At the same time, keep your options open. Maintain communications with fellow employee-astronauts. Eventually, when the opportunity to leave comes, one may just get a useful referral from one of them and end up in a more habitable place. Of course, as professionals, employee-astronauts should also be prepared to suggest opportunities for others. It’s all about paying it forward.

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One definition of career is “a job or profession that you have been trained for, and which you do for a long period of your life”. A lot of us remember that definition, and we let it shoehorn us into staying in a particular company, or a particular occupation, longer than we really should.

Another definition is “To move forward at high speed, often with minimal control”.

Which sounds more exciting?

Thoughts on Happiness and Cheerdance

Full disclosure: I graduated from UP. You may believe I’m a little biased. That’s possible. But just watch the videos of the routines for yourself, and make up your own mind.

Also, I watched only the top three winners on YouTube. If you think there was a performance that didn’t place but should’ve, feel free to let me know.

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“Ang puso… ialay… sa laban… kapalit ay tagumpay!” (“The heart… should be sacrificed… to the fight… you’ll get victory in return!”)

So goes the SpongeCola song that was part of the UP Pep Squad’s music tracklist.

I watched their routine after seeing the reactions on my Facebook feed: a barrage of posts, seemingly unanimous in their disappointment and outrage. One says in jest, Guys, kain na tayo, tutal nagluto na rin lang.” (“Guys, let’s just eat, after all there’s cooking going on already.”)

I had slept through the cheerdance competition. Well, not really; around 2 PM, we were watching the AlDub kalyeserye with our mother. With the badly cross-dressed men, shoddy lip-syncing, some missed cues and forced ad-libs… not saying I could put a better show on myself, but if we’re being honest, it’s not the best production by any means. However, there are some bits that work for me through sheer irreverent absurdity. And I see how the segment manages to promote values such as “waiting for the right time”, even if it does so through the crackling megaphone of satire. Plus it makes a lot of people happy: who am I to decide how shallow or deep people’s happiness should be?

Like the cheerdance competition. If you really think about it, it’s pure spectacle too: loud music, tight outfits on tight bodies, dance routines, drums and shouting. It would be too easy to quote the Bard here (“full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”), though I think he wrote that about life in general, so that would be unfair.

And in total fairness, a lot of the stunts people witness there are quite spectacular, obviously the product of hours upon hours of practice and personal risk. I remember reading once that in the US, cheerleading is actually the most dangerous high school sport, even more so than football with its reliance on padding, mouthguards, and helmets to dull the impact from any collisions that occur. Seeing how high off the ground the UP cheerleaders went during their routine, I have zero trouble believing that.

“Ang puso… ialay… sa laban… kapalit ay tagumpay!”

UP did it again. Invoking national pride through their typical use of OPM, they pull off stunts and lifts that push the limits, swinging and flying and catching one another, grace and courage in full display. The floor dances were high-energy but not messy, engineered to get any audience member fired up. The mashup of Awit ng Kabataan (Anthem of the Youth) and Liwanag sa Dilim (Light in the Darkness) hit me right in the puso (heart); endorphins triggered an eruption of gooseflesh all over my body. A second eruption during the rock anthem version of UP Naming Mahal (Our Beloved UP). There were some mistakes, I admit, that made me wince for them, but overall, the performance was excellent.

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I then watched the routine of the NU squad, the winner of first place for this competition three years running.

The theme: caveman times. The performance was plagued with gaffes and miscues. It was obvious when the movements didn’t sync. A lot of lifts didn’t work; pyramids didn’t hold. To be fair, there was a gutsy partner stunt around three minutes and twenty seconds in that impressed me, the one where female cheerleaders stood and then flipped into a handstand supported by people underneath (though UP did a better handstand-to-standing-position partner stunt around four minutes and fifty seconds into their own routine). But overall, there were just too many mistakes to make it a stellar performance; some would even call it crude. Again, not saying I could do better, but that’s just how I see it.

After the competition, it was said that the difficulty of the stunts was taken into consideration in scoring. I’m no cheerleading expert, but it just felt like NU’s performance was a whole bunch of what-could-have-beens, and it didn’t deserve first place. It was a “pwede na” (“good enough”) effort, with obvious blunders that can be explained away by saying they “aimed too high”–a common self-handicapping tactic.

Why did they win? One can only speculate.

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Looking further into the results, I learned that UST’s Salinggawi dance troupe clinched second place. My older sister graduated from there (here’s her blog, btw), so I guess she’d be happy that they placed. On the other hand, she’s never been big on the whole school spirit thing, even as a student. Neither was I. I guess we’re just that kind of people.

I then watched their performance online.

While UP went up with their routine full of tosses and lifts, I saw UST’s performance to be a little more down-to-earth. They mostly stayed closer to the floor, carrying their routine through dance with quick steps and nimble rolls, rapid bursts of movement punctuated by deliberate shows of grace and strength. Not to say they stayed low; they also did their fair share of carrying and tossing and lifting, which they executed to great effect. It was a very polished and very well-choreographed performance, one you’d expect from a troupe that, even in my college days, were known for their predilection for and proficiency in modern dance.

Plus they showed a picture of a tiger, which was awesome.

I can see how they got second place. In truth, perhaps they should even have gotten first place. But being an alumnus of UP, my thoughts kept gravitating towards my alma mater’s effort, and my brain kept putting it and NU’s winning routine side by side.

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I saw two visions of the Philippines.

In one, we’re all united, working in sync, each person moving fast, faithful that his or her perspiration will contribute to something that will induce inspiration. Banners wave and music blares as Filipinos rise and fall, taking risks and ultimately landing safe in the hands of their brothers and sisters, a bold and death-defying work of art that culminates in the formation of one heart.

In the other, we’re in the Stone Age.

In my mind, the real one won.

But we shouldn’t lose heart. Wag mawalan ng puso. Just because reality won today, it doesn’t mean ideals can’t win tomorrow.

This Wasn’t on the Program

“I haven’t heard anyone say anything bad about him. He’s never caused any trouble.”

That’s essentially the comment I remember reading from one of my classmates in the closing days of high school. Graduation was looming, and people were going around saying their I’ll-miss-yous and this-isn’t-goodbyes (and, in some cases and in hushed tones, good-riddances). In our class, one of our closing exercises was to write whatever you could say about your classmates and give it to them on a strip of paper. I forgot how exactly, but we did it in a way where the person will not know who wrote the comments about him. Lots were involved.

I struggled to think of things to say. I was never one to mingle or mix, electing instead to stick to my primary role of studying;  looking back, I’d probably describe myself as a ghost, following rules and staying out of people’s way just so they’d stay out of mine. It was the courtesy of giving space, the practicality of avoiding friction.

I don’t remember what I wrote about others (though I know I didn’t think or say anything bad about anyone). I don’t even remember what people said about me, exactly. But that one sticks out.

At the time, I was proud of that.

***

“You can’t live your life in the baby seat,” the Barenaked Ladies sang from the radio as I drove around campus (slowly, because I was a newbie driver), collecting the various signatures that I need to get cleared. It was time to graduate again–this time, from college. Earning my degree had been a challenge, sure, but it had not felt like an ordeal, exactly. It was just another item to check off on my what-you’re-supposed-to-do-in-life list.

Was I happy about it? It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was staying with the program. Keep your head low; nose to the grindstone, eyes on the books; keep your GPA up; don’t let others down; don’t rock the boat; don’t push other people; don’t invade others’ space; keep your elbows in, and don’t shove as you walk through the crowd.

I drove back to Albert Hall, where I got the last set of signatures I needed. All the blanks were filled.

Mission accomplished.

***

While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and in our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.

I read that passage from Dan Pink’s book Drive, and it hits me like a liver blow. Three decades in, and I still haven’t found what I’m looking for–mainly because I haven’t thought about what it should be yet.

Around me, I see people getting married, building careers, making names for themselves, nurturing connections.

“I noticed tonight that the world has been turning while I’ve been stuck here dithering around,” the frontman of Keane croons through the speaker of my smartphone.

Dreams, it turns out, are not distractions. They are not beside the point. They are, in fact, the point.

***

So to you, whoever you think you are–brother, sister, friend, lover–I say: learn the lesson I did not. Don’t build your life around the convenience of compliance and avoiding offense. Wander a bit, determine your passion, and don’t waste your opportunity to pursue it…

…because “I haven’t heard anyone say anything bad about him” makes for a poor eulogy.