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.

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!

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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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Hello, 35.

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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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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.

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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 howWhy 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.

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