The many whys I need and have to answer (2 of 2 parts)

After leaving the “corporate world” in January and before actually starting school in May, I found myself in a refreshing phase in my life — professionally and personally — through which I finally found and made the time to rediscover my strengths that may have been diminished by time itself, create new ones and, particularly interesting, overcome weaknesses, at least the ones I know of, by turning these into a place of strength.

I was involved in several things during this period, but one that is worth noting is how I started my CrossFit journey.

Weightlifting was not my thing, at least for a long time until I started getting trained by a pro bodybuilder in 2013 who worked through my “gym handicap” and dislike for free weights by focusing on the foundations of bodybuilding. After all, I had always dreamt (and still do) of bulking up to a point that I could very well compare myself to popular Instagram athlete profiles.

That remained a dream at least because I knew I was only starting to get into it. Then I worked through this peculiar dislike for weightlifting by taking the leap to getting trained once again, now more regularly and with the intensity that I knew I would not like. Somehow, we were able to achieve the gains I have set for myself as goals, in the short run, by working closely on big muscle groups that I want to grow massively. But the routine became just that, a routine.

Several friends have tried convincing me to look into CrossFit. Without any knowledge of what exactly it was, I always found ways to evade it. Watching videos on YouTube did not help; they were lifting heavy doing mostly Olympic weightlifting in ways I knew I would not be able to live up to. Add to that the always present “MetCon” in a workout of the day or WOD. I knew it was not for me and, besides, I barely had time to regularly workout in my gym with my trainer without making it to the gym late with anything substantial to do but rush through the workout before the lights at Fitness First Aura are turned off.

Given that earlier this year, before studying, one could argue that I then already have the time and not enough good excuses to continue evading CrossFit. After all, the box was a stone’s throw away from where my son studies. So each time I would drop him off school, on the walk back to the parking building, I would see athletes training in the box.

I checked the facilities, spoke to the staff and booked my first workout.

My first workout will always be memorable. In fact, all the sessions I attended on my first few months in the box are memorable. I remember driving to the box feeling anxious each time. I realised that much of the strength, “techniques,” or basically whatever I knew of working out and how my body works through it and responds to it did not matter a lot in the box. In fact, I learnt that, eventually because I went to the box to train everyday (5x a week), it was to my best interest to unlearn much of the bad habits from my conventional gym days in order for me to learn to the max what we were doing in the box.

It is funny that the timing of my trial and regular attendance in my earlier weeks in CrossFit coincided with the CrossFit Open. People I knew at the box were successful in convincing me to sign up online and join the five-week open “competition” in which athletes do a prescribed workout between Friday and Monday; the scores or points or reps earned are then posted online for the global, regional and local leaderboards updated weekly so you get the chance to benchmark your fitness against other athletes.

I was a newbie undergoing through much difficulty in the box as some of the required movements even for my age and level were somewhat or totally new to me at that time that I already needed to perform them.

The Open ended and it was an experience I will never forget for all the fun (through the collective and individual hardships of the athletes) and simple joys of doing (some) things right even as a newbie the Open has given me as a newly minted CrossFit “athlete.”

CrossFit could never have come into my life at a better time. I realised this much: that in order for one to learn and eventually love something that seems daunting or intimidating is to leave one’s ego checked at the door, embrace the excitement of being a newbie again, and maximise every moment you spend now in perfecting a new “craft.”

Whilst I do not mean for this post to sing my psalms for CrossFit, I know this, however, to be true: that I have the ability to overcome difficulty through a fluid process of unlearning, learning, and relearning whilst embracing the things that make me weak in it (i.e. as illustrated in my early CrossFit experiences) because it is precisely this mechanism or approach that has allowed me to turn a handicap into a place of emotional, spiritual, social and, as in the case of CrossFit, mental and physical strength.

We must always strive for perfection, else we stagnate not knowing what could be without trying hard enough and without the openness to failing (i.e. a movement complex in CrossFit). The journey of perfecting oneself demands the full extent that you can afford to subject yourself to this sometimes painful yet ever so rewarding learning and failing continuum.

Almost serendipitously, building new, positive habits through CrossFit articulated to a convincing degree my motivation for deciding to go full time with my Ph.D. ambitions and particularly in Economics granted the conditions that (1) my family supports the decision and (2) I get accepted into the programme are met

So, why a Ph.D.? And, why Economics?

Combining the two elements, therefore, why a Ph.D. in Economics?

Aside from my promise to my family of delivering our clan’s first Ph.D. and setting aside as well my proclivity to teaching as an ultimate profession (a Ph.D. will allow me to teach at the university level in both advanced undergraduate and graduate schools), it was a motivation to address an opportunity to turn a weakness into a source of strength for the many possibilities that may open through it (the process) and after earning it.

As mentioned in a previous post, I was not the best student in my many math subjects in the past (most of which I took up to advanced levels in Manila Science). In most cases back then, I prioritised my extra-curricular activities over my academics. After all, I knew that my strength was primarily in things other than science and math, i.e. in leading orgs, editing for the paper, and whatever opportunity I saw as a way to get my ‘edge’ sharper over the academically stellar students who always aced anything and everything the curriculum threw their way.

My dream then was not to graduate with a gold medal; I knew then it would be impossible. My dream was to get honours in a different form.

Working on earning a Ph.D. would allow me to course-correct that, a chance to do it right and eventually excel at doing it right first by embracing my weaknesses and putting in the hard work doubly over the others who are arguably, naturally already gifted with the technical skills the programme demands. That is one point. It may seem trivial especially if viewed from the outside, but it seems to matter to me more importantly so these days that I transcend my own barriers and be great at it. It is almost like saying, “it’s payback time!”

A Ph.D. also allows me to go outside my consistently comfortable situation in the corporate world despite the hours and intensity inherent in almost all the leadership roles I have taken thus far. A Ph.D. not being a walk in the park instantly zaps me into a vulnerable position, and constantly so, I would suppose, in which I will be forced to strive better and harder to achieve a dream and eliminate the weaknesses that act as a barrier to being stronger and eventually achieving a dream.

I would like to think that 14 years of industry work have taught me a lot about myself, the marketing profession, the “corporate world” and people that when combined with a terminal degree of Ph.D. could prove (fingers crossed) invaluable to organisations later on.

Whilst much Ph.D. work is concerned on gaining the deepest knowledge possible in a given field, I hold the belief that there is no amount of theorising that would change the world (or teams, organisations, communities…) without application and discipline that industry experience have a profound influence on. I would like to believe that this combination could be powerful in introducing positive solutions to the many pressing problems we face today, whether in our organisations, communities and, ultimately, our country and the world.

I also have this tendency to aim for the highest in the things I either love doing or challenge myself to love doing. It was Leo Burnett who said this: “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” When I decide to get into something, and I know myself quite well on this regard, I would look for the most challenging terrain ahead of me and take it not only for the reasons I described above, but also because I think these are the kind of tough experiences that reap the most reward and impact.

I could very well fail in it, of course, being human with finite limitations just as well. But, in the long run, whether I succeed or fail, I can only get out of it a winner and better than when I first entered the programme. No one goes home a loser. I am most certain I won’t.

So, now why Economics?

Superficially, it stems from my job search that have taken place over different times. I always checked opportunities to work at the United Nations where I am certain there is a need for professionals with extensive experience in marketing, communications, design thinking, innovations, technology and even running a P&L. In those different times that I did, I discovered that whilst I meet most of the preferred qualifications in any of these roles in the context of the United Nations, I fail to meet one: a preference for, in some cases, a master’s degree, but also in some cases, a Ph.D.

There was a time, around 2006, when I came up with a concept of “balancing off” my marketing and communications industry experience with something more theoretically and empirically demanding. At that time, I was interested in taking a Masters in Financial Engineering. I thought that the fusion of marketing and something as finite as Financial Engineering would give me a competitive edge by converging, arguably, both sides of my brain. I did not pursue it as I had to leave for Vietnam to work there.

Today, I could not think of a discipline, field, or space that addresses that “balancer” with marketing than Economics (a friend told me that, and I totally agreed, marketing is, in fact, applied Economics where marketing is the design and economics is its physics). I look at the various options on the table and I have come to conclude that Economics not only complements my marketing industry experience, but it also gives me an opportunity to blend the two to deliver impact from innovations done at scale. After all, it seems to me that, living in a time of nearing absolute uncertainty, we can turn to both empathy (which is inherent in the practice of marketing) and foresight with a high degree of exactitude (which is inherent in economics) and use these to deliver innovation to the most number of beneficiaries possible. What good is innovation, if it is one all, if it only serves a select few?

I like it that economics is constantly concerned with reaching an equilibrium; and, one could argue, that the how of it would demand a great deal of understanding and empathy for the human condition. The latter is or should be, in principle, inseparable from marketing. After all marketing is primarily concerned with people being at the centre of all commercial and non-commercial endeavours.

Many studies have revealed that future job prospects require higher order faculties, skills, and talents (imagination, creativity and strategy, as Harvard Business Review argues) that robots or AI can never be good at. Future roles demand a convergence of the left and right sides of our brains; or, more precisely, the entirety of our humanity. I tend to believe that this could very well be my starting point in my new journey as being both a marketer by profession and, in the foreseeable and hopefully not too distant future, an economist seeking to affect change at scale.

That is my why — it never was simple to begin with, but as with most “whys” we have to deal with in life, it beautifully ends simply.

–End of Part 2 of 2–

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