The many whys I need and have to answer (1 of 2 parts)
One of the common questions I get asked these days starts with why.
I think why is the all-important question that need to be answered, more than what and how. Why allows us to provide a reason to everything we do, say, or even think of. Addressing the why affords us a time to contemplate in the hope of arriving at an answer that illuminates the many things that make us wonder, that bother us, or make us jump out of our seats.
Perhaps the most common why-question I get these days is: “why Economics?”, which is immediately followed by “why Ph.D.?”
I suppose that the people who ask me these questions either care about me or honestly do not know my motivations for choosing this route at a time that seems to necessitate a different choice, i.e. go back to work, earn a high salary, enjoy the (fringe) benefits of being in a corporate job that comes with a flashy title and, maybe, even a shiny new car.
I guess, before I answer the two why-questions above, it is important for me to explain its (lengthy yet essential) context first.
I left my last job in a surprising twist of events late 2017 culminating into an official “last day” in January 2018. This very well deserves a separate post, but for the sole purpose of this entry, I would say this much: the universe conspires for us — whether we like it or not — always for the better. I am a firm believer of this. Sometimes we see it coming, oftentimes not. But whatever the outcome, in the long run, and when I look back at things from a different view, I know my life had turned out quite well and constantly for the better.
This time in my life has proven to be one of the most rewarding. In fact, since leaving the agency, I had the privilege of meeting people, teams, investors, companies in fascinating ways that I would not have experienced had my circumstances not changed. I have met people who took genuine interest in the potential and real value of innovation and customer experience in their organisations.
I have met CEOs who believed that the only way for their business to survive and thrive is by changing how they thought, worked, and approached their business. These were people — giants in so many ways — who lived their lives as leaders with both their eyes open and feet somewhere in the midstream of leaping forward into something new and important. I even sat in a couple of board-level meetings to just “listen in” and give unfiltered advice to a select few.
Working with a team of very talented and passionate professionals, this time in my career also saw the birthing of many amazing new things set out to introduce change that is much needed in the industry (whether supply or demand-side): among them, Delta and Partners MNL, a hybrid of an innovations consulting firm and an agency. We like calling it an ‘un-agency.’ (This too will have a separate post here in the future.)
I have also been offered some roles, a few of which I truly enjoyed exploring. More than the actual job offer, it was the stories, the people, the unsaid stories, vision, and opportunities — even new acquaintances turned friends — that I appreciated in the process.
I realised that whilst some people have a poor understanding of what ought to be, there are some who embrace it because it is what the integrity of their leadership demanded. These leaders, some of them CEOs, knew that only by welcoming change and standing by it that change would, even in the short run, pay off and reap the rewards of the pain from the friction of having to just do it (and do it right). The candidness and honesty in all of these conversations were essential to taking the first step to knowing whether there is an alignment between what I may be looking for and what their organisation needs.
Having all these options in front of me made me happy, yet I was in no position to rush into anything, at least not as hastily as I may have been in some of my decision-making in the past (although for the record, none of which I regret). I also felt that, whilst most of the roles I looked into and have resulted into positive offers were good, there was still something that was missing. At that time, it was hard to put a finger on it, but it was there — something was always missing.
Somehow, I attribute the culmination of this story to a time last year when the idea of going back to school resurfaced again after almost a decade of it being tabled. I received an invitation to study at an Ivy League school, but the clincher was that I would have to take it as a program in residence. The economics of it felt discouraging: the tuition was something I could not take a loan for, at least not here in the Philippines, and all the other costs summed up would not allow me to take their invitation. Add to that, more importantly, the emotional cost of having to leave my family here for 13 extremely long months.
That reality may have hurt me somehow knowing that I could have been an Ivy Leaguer (which I never dreamt of even when I was young); although, the consolation was that I knew that I did not want a MBA degree anyway. (I have this belief that a MBA is earned by experience and may be needed by those who do not have the ‘corporate’ experience yet, i.e. technical experts who want to take on leadership roles may need a MBA to grow vertically and horizontally.)
So, I took this opportunity to revive an almost 10-year old thread with UA&P, where I took my undergrad and have, in 2008, applied for a seat in its prestigious Strategic Business Economics Program (SBEP). Whilst they recognised my achievements about a decade ago, they had to defer the decision until I reach 35, the “minimum” age to qualify for the program aside from credentials from the corporate world (i.e. minimum VP level of an organisation). Of course, back then, I did not appreciate why the minimum age had to be 35.
I reinstated my interest in the programme and have been officially accepted by the school. Interestingly, in the process of applying for this programme, my research led me to several Ph.D. Economics programmes of the different universities here. UP, DLSU and Ateneo all have a straight Ph.D. programme. Then that was when I started digging deeper into it only to realise that, ultimately, a Ph.D. is what I have always wanted. In fact, in my younger years, I even promised my Mum that I would deliver the clan’s first Ph.D. ever. I recall all these and combined it with my ultimate career ambition — to teach at the university, to go back to writing and, contrary to what popular belief might hold, live a simple, happy life with my family.
-End of Part 1 of 2-