Never let your handicap define you

Never let your handicap define you

In James Hayton, PhD’s post, “Never Let a Disadvantage Become an Excuse”, he provides practical tips on how to overcome one’s weaknesses or handicap in the pursuit of a doctorate degree where one might fall too easily into the desperation that comparison to the benchmark or standards or even other people in your cohort foolishly leads you to experience.

When I started my doctoral journey straight out of a dizzying fourteen-year tour of duty in the corporate world, I realised that I entered a foreign land, a new sport, and a new world. To succeed, one must master the land’s language (math, logic, and the prevailing rhetoric of economics) rather quickly, the sport’s rules, forms, and levels of mastery, and the new world’s complex landscape.

You see, I was never in the Math Olympiad or MTAP as some of my classmates did in grade school and high school. Nor was I the best in basic economics, whether in high school or university. The only math courses I truly enjoyed over two decades ago were Number Theory and Symbolic Logic. Instead, I dabbled with far too many extra-curricular activities believing these give an approximation of how the real world works.

I knew then that my foray into economics came with a petrifying handicap in the very language that models our economic behaviour. I knew too well that the rules of the new sport I so badly wish to pursue at the elite level are different from the distinctly codified culture of the corporate world. I also knew very well that the terrain of the academia which I am now still learning to navigate efficiently given its nuances–its quirks–would be unfamiliar and mystical especially to the untrained scholar.

All of these are sources of handicap in the highest, boldest and, one might say, the crazy pursuit of knowledge in economics. I still wrestle with it sometimes. But keeping my two feet planted firmly on the ground has kept my eyes wide open to it, allowing me to embrace that which makes me weak–to turn the unfamiliar, the new, the challenging into a daring commitment to conquer my handicaps and hopefully transform these into new sources of inner strength and self-mastery.

To deal with my own disadvantages, I work twice or thrice the “minimum” requirement:

– drills on real analysis, calculus—lots of it in between readings and writing even when there were no requirements to be submitted

– read widely about not only the courses I am enrolled in; diversified my reading to include trade books about the latest issues on economics that have reached the mainstream press

– talked to mentors about the quirks of the academic life and sought active feedback on how to be good at it

– sought the help of my classmates, while generally way younger than I am are more experienced in the technical aspects, like math, of the discipline

– kept an open mind that any kind of learning is still learning no matter its size and scope

…all of which have regularly led me to sleep late and work on weekends without an iota of regret.

Never let disadvantages become an excuse–embrace them, so they become advantages. Intellectual humility goes a long way in not only keeping us who are in this journey (and even those who are not). Do not succumb to diffidence; rise up to the call with a clear mind, an open heart and the will to overcome disadvantages. In the end, we have the world to gain and very little to lose, if any at all.

Innovation must not be kept in closed circles of academics

I think there is merit in sharing innovation in closed circuits of academics who understand each other and can therefore help each other enhance the output. This is the case when we share our research in strictly for academics only conferences and drive to publish papers in respected journals that are likewise read by academics too (they are largely not consumable for a majority of folks anyway!).

But, there lies a greater opportunity when academics reach out and participate in industry discussions and conferences, publications, and other fora that are attended (or consumed) not only by fellow academics but by policy-makers, the general public, entrepreneurs, and others who seek to drive change in a given space.

So much of academic achievement relies on the research productivity measure (number of articles published per year) that everything else (e.g., incentives) seems to rest solely on this KPI. Of course, publishing is a necessary milestone. Even I want to get published! It has a key role to play in ensuring we continuously generate original, high-impact research. But, should the buck end there only for innovation to gather dust in archives?

I have asked this so many times before — if we continue to work the way the system of incentives is designed to produce articles, how long will it take for the implications of such great, innovative research to generate social impact? Even graduate studies around the world are anchored on publication counts; as an incentive, once you meet the threshold, you get incentives.

A small faculty of, say, 10 professors hit the target of 1.5 articles per year. That is already, at the very least, 15 original work that can be converted into hundreds of content that can be used to craft new content pieces that can reach millions of people including policy-makers who can enact the conceptual change great research vividly paints.

Do a quick Google Scholar search on any given topic and you will see hundreds of pages with links to scholarly work. One can’t help but wonder the degree to which these have generated some impact in the real world. We’re sitting on a lot of content which we can attribute to the effectiveness of the incentives to publish. But what’s next?

Not everyone gets to be a Nobel laureate that every time they publish an article, there is some direct impact to policy generated. A vast majority of academics never gets a Nobel. So the question we must ask ourselves is, how can we drive impact for the research that we do beyond publishing for our own communities of fellow academics?

The academe is home to an insane amount of intellectual and creative horsepower. The opportunity is in how we can get that intellectual and creative horsepower to change the world. There is a lot of great work being produced in the academia, now how do we use these to actualise the change we want to see in the world?

The JSTOR Daily is one such awesome initiative that tries to bridge scholarly work and the general public. Its proposition “where news meets its scholarly match” addresses the opportunity to convert what otherwise would have been kept within the same closed circles of academics to knowledge that is relevant to more people.


We need more initiatives like this. And new forms of pushing the work towards real social impact beyond closed-circuit knowledge creation.

IESE, Harvard and Joy: win or lose, it’s a win.

Just about a couple of hours ago, I submitted the last of my applications for a PhD fellowship overseas. This one is for the possibility of continuing my doctorate at the University of Navarra. I do not want to end this phase, one that is invariably dependent on luck meeting opportunity at the crossroad, without thanking everyone who helped me go through the process of submitting applications that are well over 200 pages when the submitted application proof meets the printer. I wish to thank my five recommenders who, by writing their letters of recommendation, have made our lifetime mentorship official.
Nevertheless, I am happy where I am and what I am doing with my life now. It is not one without its struggles, but it certainly gives me a renewed faith not only about the world around me but also in my notion of selfhood. A sense of personhood that now needs to be stronger than ever because I finally have the rare opportunity to create and share knowledge to those who, in the future, I wish would lead us to even greater heights. My doctoral studies this term combined with my teaching responsibilities give me a kind of joy that invigorate me each day morning I wake up to it. I treasure its moments, its challenges, and its wins. Being instrumental to the formation of minds and hearts devoid of ego and pride is thoroughly inspiring. It makes me smile, laugh, and enjoy life in its awe-inspiring simplicity.
Should luck and opportunity and the blessings of my Creator and those whose intercession I ask for my wildest dreams to come true make it possible for me to conquer fantasy make the impossible happen, then I would gladly accept the calling and embrace it fully and wholeheartedly. Should these wildest dreams not occur, nothing is lost as everything great has already been gained and more to come, I believe.
Wherever the roads lead me, I promise to serve and push the boundaries that have so long limited the potential of many. They say that to think is to create. The past months have been about more than just thinking; it has been about dreaming and achieving them one wish at a time.
The choices I have made in my life may seem bizarre to some especially with regards to giving up a life of corporate success in the pursuit of greater knowledge that we can create and share for the good and welfare of more — ideally all — people. Now that may sound something too idealistic for some, but it sure seems like how we must function, every day, in the real world. I think that one could never go wrong being on the right side of knowledge under any given circumstances.
If these fellowship applications were like a game, then I’d say this: win or lose, we can rest well and celebrate the fact that it has already been won even before the final verdict is cast.
Again, thanks a lot to those who have given me support towards my doctorate, my professorship and even the possibility of winning a fellowship in the future. You have made my idealism grow stronger just as my sense of reality has become more grounded in real aspirations for even the loftiest goals of a better world and a better life for all.

It’s a wonderful time to explore and be scientists!


We live in an era of either having so much or so little, but one thing is certain: we live in a world in which it feels we are dealing with a lot of things all at the same time so much that we barely have time to ponder on where we are in life, where we are headed and its contrast to where we actually want to go.

We have a love-hate relationship with being busy (or we use ‘being busy’ as another excuse that has been socially made legitimate because everyone says it – and anyone who says he or she is too busy must be an important person). We have thus created this new reality in which being busy is an indication of being important regardless of whether one is genuinely busy or simply busy just because.

We also all too often ‘busy’ to reflect on how exciting life is even in the most uncertain of times. We just keep doing what we ought to do, rinse and repeat, without an ounce of reflection in our daily routine.

Having been on this journey for just barely half a year of being a full-time PhD student from a so-called glamorous life of corporate work, I realised that, indeed, we have an alarming scarcity of time everywhere.

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Practical advice on how to overcome the Impostor Syndrome


A couple of factors make my Ph.D. experience unique.

One, I am doing a Ph.D. on something I never practised before in the field — not without considering marketing is actually applied microeconomics or treating communications as a signalling device. After 14 years of working in marketing and communications, diving straight into a Ph.D. in Economics is deemed by many a crazy move. In the first place, it is also a shift from full-time work to full-time studies.

Two, I often find myself in the company of classmates who are mostly way younger than I am. As some classes are shared by masters and doctoral students, the diversity in age and personalities is very pronounced. These heterogeneous classes would have, in some cases, a 20-year gap between the youngest and oldest students in class (I happen to have a 15-year gap with the youngest; so even then, there’s still someone older than me most of the time). This diversity has mostly positive effects that I appreciate; one of which is that young guns and the old ones seem to share complementary roles in understanding issues where the old ones provide some wisdom, the young ones would easily and confidently assemble in mathematically superior arguments. What the older students like me lack in mathematical tools is compensated by real-world experience. Conversely, what the young ones lack in real-world experience is compensated by their strong mathematical dexterity.

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Hello, 35.


As I am now a day older being a 35 years young, I wish to thank everyone who greeted me on my birthday. Whether my 35th is a milestone birthday or not is up for debate, but I think that as I look back at the past twelve months, the last ten, twenty years ago, I begin to think it might be even more a milestone birthday.

The last twelve months have not been all chipper, that’s for sure. It is a mix of victories, losses, highs, lows, happiness, sadness, and many stories of redemption. In fact, I am starting to think that my horoscope last year (I was born a pig, the year of; mind you) could not have been more accurate. In 2016, forecasting for 2017 beginning Lunar New Year, almost everything it said happened to an astonishing precision. Maybe the stars and the universe do conspire to make the publishing of horoscope books every CNY a profitable enterprise for astrologers and geomancers. Feng shui stores and bookstores sell them at a premium!

My 35th feels like an entirely new chapter and I welcome it to be one leaving no time nor space (in the mind and heart) for any regret, angst, or hateful (or bashful) feelings anymore especially that, speaking of conspiracy, it seems that all my prayers have been answered. The universe is listening and has never failed to give what it thinks we truly deserve. So much so that strange occurrences that may cause us harm or to be hurt become essential to usher one along the right, prescribed, and well-deserved path.

Looking back, maybe there would not have been any better way to experience life but exactly in the way that I experienced it because it allowed me to discover a formidable inner strength that has, so far (at least), helped me weather the challenges I faced and emerge unscathed, happy, and content. I realised through real life experience that I am only as strong as my principles are. It allowed me to see past the people who have hurt me and to forgive them for good just as it gave me the courage to forgive myself for the things that make me fallible, irrational, imperfect. And with that, I learnt that the best way to enjoy life’s most precious gifts is to simply let life happen almost short of saying, ‘go with the flow and be free.’

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What is all these for?

Below is a modified transcript of a talk I gave to senior students at the Mapua University on June 16, 2018. It is part of a student-organised event entitled: One Up: Exceeding the Vision.

I wish to credit my teammates and friends at Ignite and Delta and Partners MNL who continue to relentlessly pursue the meaningful and all-essential drive for igniting Mega Manila through what we call the Ignite OS of Genius, Purpose, Shared Mission, Collaboration, Innovation and Impact. 

This talk uses the OS and is directly inspired by the Ignite Manifesto, which is quoted in-text below. Ignite is undertaking major strides in the industry in bringing real innovations that have the highest potential to impact lives of thousands, if not millions, of Filipinos.

I encourage you to join one or two of the many platform events that Ignite regularly holds or to find out how the OS can help you and your organisation by checking out the links above.

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