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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Practical advice on how to overcome the Impostor Syndrome

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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.

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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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Review: A weekend full of surprises in Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa

Review: A weekend full of surprises in Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa

Rhex and I have always loved the Shangri-La whenever we go to Boracay. We choose it over Discovery for the same reason that most people do not like it for: it is far, isolated from the main beach’s craziness and massive throngs of people. We don’t mean to be snobbish — we only love our privacy and quiet time each chance we get to enjoy it in Boracay and there has never been a better place but Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa.

What we have always loved about Shangri-La Boracay, aside from its isolation from the main beach, is the superior level of attention to detail the resort puts in making your stay memorable and hassle free. After all, it is the little details that make a stay wonderful. From booking to transfers from the airport to the resort, to check-in, to the daily turndown service to check-out. After four stays each with a minimum of three nights, we could truly say, Shangri-La Boracay is one of the finest in the country, and definitely better than Discovery Shores and the best choice when in Boracay.

To spend my birthday weekend as well as attend our friend’s wedding in Boracay, we booked our stay in Shangri-La Boracay for June 26-29. We reached out to the resort’s General Manager, Amit Oberoi, as we always did when we were booking to stay with them but we found out that he has already transferred to another property and no longer manages Shangri-La in Boracay. Our booking was then handled by somebody else — no problem at all.

We advised the reservations manager through email that we would be arriving earlier than  the usual check-in time. She promised we would be prioritized for an early check-in. Anything before 2PM would be great, of course.

When we arrived at the resort and have gone through what seems to be an irregular way to check-in as we have always been used to doing the check-in “process” in our room, we asked Tatiana, the lady handling our check-in, if we could do an early check-in as promised by the reservations manager. Much to our surprise, Tatiana said she will check but cannot guarantee it because she can’t do anything about it. Of course we understand that she cannot guarantee it, but to say that she can’t do anything about it was surprising for us.

We found our interaction with Tatiana very cold — way different from our past check-in experiences where the front of house staff were very welcoming and accommodating. I am not sure if this is because she did not have the “Filipino touch” or was not trained to have it.

Anyway, we went straight to the private beach to hang out whilst waiting for our room to be ready. Tatiana offered to let us know through the bar staff when we can pick up our room key. After a little over an hour, we were informed that our room was ready, although we let the bar staff inform Tatiana that we would stay at the beach as we were already there enjoying the much needed sun. At around 3PM, we went to main lobby to get our room key from Tatiana. Again, much to our surprise, Tatiana had a sharp quip on well, the room has been ready for hours! I said, well we decided to stay in the sun since we were there already and had no time to spare just doing nothing. I thought again that was cold and strange for her to say like it was the guest’s fault to not have gotten the room earlier.

At this point, it already felt like we were going to have quite a different experience in Shangri-La Boracay.

We went to our room and the welcome fruit platter, as expected, has been laid out with a Golden Circle card welcoming us back to the resort. Just a little surprised though that there was no birthday greeting whatsoever (not that I was being anal about it, and maybe we just got spoiled by Amit and his team before!), but that was alright.

On our second night, after attending our friend’s wedding at Discovery Shores, we went back to our room to retire for the night. This is when I get a little bit more anal about the little details — the turndown service should be impeccably executed. And this means, water should have been replenished, curtains drawn, the room fixed, the bed in its turndown form. I noticed so many misses in the turndown service of the room this night:

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The hotel binder which I used the night before for in-room dining was still on the daybed in the balcony.

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The ironing board we used to press our clothes for the wedding was left there. Untouched almost like to room was not put in order for turndown.

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All the fruits taken away from the fruit platter yet they found a reason to keep the utensils there. If fruits are not going to be replenished at least take the utensils away.

We called in-room dining for a midnight meal — we were somehow still hungry after feasting at the wedding. Perhaps it was all the dancing and the booze. Rhex also asked in-room dining for a slice of cake and a candle since it was already my birthday, it was midnight of June 28.

We were surprised again, however, that little or no effort was put in the in-room dining food that was brought to us. For adobo with rice at P800, one would not expect to see rice presented just this way (with one weird slice of tomato and cucumber):

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And if someone asked (ordered, and paying for it!) for cake with a candle, it means that somebody might be celebrating his birthday and one wouldn’t expect to see his cake this sad or depressing (like no one cares about you):

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So having seen all these — bad in-room dining experience and turndown service — I called the guest services hotline to complain and asked if the manager on duty could come to our room to talk.

The manager, Jeszreel, came to our room and got it from me. I enumerated all the misses in the turndown service, showed him pictures of the in-room food we just got and asked him what was going on as this no longer seemed the same Shangri-La Boracay we knew.  I asked him if water should have been replenished, the fruit plate taken away but the utensils kept, the hotel info book left in the balcony, the ironing board left out of the closet, the room not being in order at all. And to each, he said, no this is not it is supposed to be.

I said, we love Shangri-La Boracay and we choose Shangri-La over other options all the time but things seem to have changed by a lot since Amit has left the property. We thanked him for coming to our room to hear our complaint and asked him to kindly relay our feedback to their management and the divisions handling in-room dining and housekeeping. He promised he would and took his leave.

The following morning after breakfast, we were greeted by numerous staff a good morning and I a happy birthday. Staff seems to have been briefed and perhaps reminded of the kind of service and experience only Shangri-La could give. When we got back to our room after breakfast, the room was already in order with some surprises to come with it.

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Room put in order with a personal note from housekeeping saying that they noticed we have a lot of used clothes on the tub and they suggest having them laundered (promo rate of P999 for one laundry bag)

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All our personal effects have been organised and laid out on crisp white linen in the bathroom, by the bedside and even on the writing desk.

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All our personal effects have been organised and laid out on crisp white linen in the bathroom, by the bedside and even on the writing desk.

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All our personal effects have been organised and laid out on crisp white linen in the bathroom, by the bedside and even on the writing desk.

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And fruit platter replenished, water bottles refilled and utensils cleaned and put in order as well.

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And a surprise cake — now no longer expected but still appreciated — from the staff.

Here I saw the hotel is making the effort to set things right by bringing back these same elements and attention to detail and personal touch we have always loved about Shangri-La Boracay.

On our way back to the private beach for some sun, we were greeted by Keith, one of the senior leaders of the resort, who checked in with us on how things are and once again apologised for the misses that we saw and thanked us for giving them feedback. He asked us what we had planned for the night to celebrate my birthday, we said we didn’t have plans for the day except to take it slow and easy by just relaxing the whole day. He then invited us to dinner and asked if he could arrange for it at Rima at around 7PM. We accepted and thought it might be a good way to cap our weekend in Shangri-La Boracay.

We went to Rima and were welcomed by the staff there who walked us through the tasting menu for the night and informed us that Keith has put our dinner on the house as a treat. Now this was a lovely surprise — we didn’t expect this gesture to truly set the record right on how a Shangri-La experience should be.

We were treated to a five-course dinner complete with some amuse bouche and sparkling wine to open the night. View from the Rima is outstanding as you get a sweeping panorama of the sea from a high vantage point. Service was excellent, and the food was equally outstanding. Everything fell into the right places at Rima.

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Rhex and I preparing for Rima

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Time for sparkling — to celebrate

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Rhex and I at Rima 

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Yellow fin tuna tartar, caviar, avocado, clear tomato jelly

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Caramelized pear, Foie gras and raspberry sauce

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Homemade ravioli with liquid parmesan, zucchini and capsicum sauce

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Slow cooked suckling pig for 16 hours, red cabbage, shallots and mustard demiglace sauce

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Enjoying my birthday with Rhex at Rima

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Hazelnut praline mousse, black sesame sponge with yoghurt ice cream

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And another surprise cake from Rima!

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I asked for the menu card for the night — they gave us a menu signed by the chef himself who also came out to talk to us and made sure we were having a good time and introduced the main course 

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Rhex and I having a good time at Rima

There are two things I learned from this experience:

One,

An excellent stay is always a collaboration between guest and the resort/hotel. Topnotch services thrive in good feedback from their most loyal customers. If we do not give feedback, how can service improve to exceed our expectations? If we truly care about our experiences, shouldn’t we go out of our way to build it together with those who work so hard to provide it?

Two,

What sets the mediocre apart from the best is the ability to turn things around and set the record right. This requires agility to respond fast, the leadership and will to exceed expectations. The ability to correct what was wrong and go beyond simply meeting expectations and leave a lasting impression that it has done well in doing so — that’s what sets the benchmark high that only a few can do.

Shangri-La Boracay has turned this around on its head making sure there is no such indelible bad experience it will leave behind, uncorrected.

We thank Shangri-La (Keith, Jeszreel in particular) for caring so much to turn feedback into action and for exceeding expectation when it corrected what was wrong, an authentic move to admit fault and set the record right.

The dinner was a bonus, a delighter that sealed the weekend off in a truly memorable, surprising fashion only a Shangri-La could provide.

Till next time.