29 in 2019

One thing remained consistent from the moment I turned 20 until I crossed 29: I never felt truly adult. I am an adult now by virtue of age, but there’s so much I haven’t done that in many ways I feel like I’m still not old enough. I’m quite convinced that it’s either the height of my successes or the weight of my failures that would make me think, ah I’m a real adult now. I just don’t know when that height will be tall enough or that weight heavy enough to make me feel a lot less like Peter Pan.

Maybe I’ve been looking for adulthood in drastic changes in my life. The transition from an emotional early twenties to a calmer mid-twenties didn’t force any grand changes in personality or perspective in myself. More responsibilities and weightier decisions make me feel a lot more adult than usual, but I hadn’t made big risks. I haven’t made legal commitments like marriage, I’m not responsible for a life, and I haven’t committed wrong decisions that would’ve put me in debt. At this point, it’s easier to say 30 is the new 20 because I’m fairly behind the experiences and sacrifices my parents have achieved at my age. With a fairly sheltered upbringing, my journey in achieving adulthood feels glacial in its progress.

My early twenties was a balancing act of fun, focus, and failed friendships. I was a bit like the typical shounen protagonist — prideful, temperamental, and stubborn — minus the superpowers or luck or fate or a special destiny. Unlike Naruto or Ichigo, I didn’t exactly defeat my demons. Flight was easier than fight and I left my issues behind, literally, by moving overseas. Honestly, that wasn’t very adult-like. But I was young and a dreamer so I forced my way into a new arc by relocating.

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And the next, and the next

It’s been seven years since the last Game of Thrones novel was published. That’s as long as my career. While I was traversing through startups, clients, and countries, George R. R. Martin has been trying to write what happened after a certain someone was stabbed and fell onto the cold. That’s how far behind the novel is from the TV series, and it feels like the same distance I am from where I want to be in my career. I’m beginning to think that maybe the next big step in my life will happen when he publishes The Winds of Winter.

I take that back. If that’s the case then I’ll never progress in my career.

These days I’ve been feeling like I’ve been running. I’ve gone on a sprint then slowed down, but I’m still running all the same. There was only one instance during university days that I did anything remotely close to exercise: for one semester I ran a few rounds at the university’s “oval” (a small indoor track, really). I ran twice a week with a friend who laughed at me when I confessed that I only managed to finish the rounds because I’d imagine there was a strip of ribbon at the end, marking the finish line. That friendship ended long ago, but the running never ceased. I was running to lose weight, then for love, then for dreams. Now I feel like I’m running after ‘success’, whatever that means. It’s such a narrow word for such a subjective term. And in this new country, I’m running alone. I observe other girls who seem to be running the same race, but I’ve left my ‘exercise buddies’ back in Singapore.

December’s halfway done. On a new notebook I’ve recently bought, I penned milestones I’d like to achieve next: career goals, financial goals, skin goals, weight goals. I didn’t want to wait for a new year to kickstart resolutions. Instead, I’ve been applying the concept of Objectives and Key Results to life outside of work. I’ve been aligning the things I’m doing towards those objectives. This is how I’ve been running these days.

I feel a little anxious. I don’t know what will happen next. I don’t know if I’ll tick off the little things I’ve already set myself out to do. I don’t know if I’m doing the right things.

I know I’m not going to wait. I know I’ll keep moving. I know I’ll be unhappy if I don’t. Sometimes it gets a little lonely, sometimes it gets a little tiring, but the world doesn’t stop moving just because I want a little break. I just keep on running towards my next objective, and the next, and the next, and the next.

The more there is to miss

Nostalgia is a sickness that hits harder as I’ve grown older. Music is the worst offender. A few seconds in, the first few notes of music is all I need to trigger even the smallest wave of nostalgia all over.

Today it was Utada Hikaru’s First Love while having tempura maki over dinner. It’s one of the many unintentional moments that make me go, aaaahhhh, this reminds me of high school innocence. For a short moment, I’m pulled back into a smaller world where everything I knew and felt were experiences with friends, or from Japanese drama, books and manga. A time when things were less complicated and relatively easier to handle. Happiness was simple; life was less cynical.

The older I am, the more there is to miss. When I was 16, there wasn’t much to miss about being 12. At 22, I was too busy running after dreams to reminisce. But at 28, going on an imaginary trip with the feels is a different story. Now people have come and gone, doors have closed and opened, paths have twisted and merged. Age blesses a person with wisdom (if you’re lucky), but that comes with the burden of knowing — what it feels, what it means, what it’s like. Ah, the burden of experience. Somewhere along the way, I became old enough to feel a twinge of sadness at moving on beyond a life of school uniforms, of structured schedules, of silliness, of old friends, of happiness within a smaller world.

On most days, nostalgia ends almost as soon as the last note plays. I’m back to the present day, to present worries, to present dreams, to present joys. Just like that.

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The second love story

The closer it is to December, the greater my fears are. Like I’ve done so little, and I want to be so much, and aging is a curse happening every second. Maybe it’s just because I don’t feel fresh, or I’m full of self-doubt, or I link my self-worth to many external things, or all of the above.

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Hello world, 2018

It’s the last quarter of 2018 and I’ve finally punched the keys on my keyboard, and would have this published online in the next thirty minutes (best scenario). I’ve thought about reviving this blog many times. It’s been approximately 798 days since I last blogged. That’s two years, two months, and seven days ago.

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Rebuilding Confidence

This year, I’ve been thinking more about the kind of career I want. It’s becoming less hard for me to think of what my long-term goals are in the next 2, 3, and 5 years but I have a weakness that has been pulling me back: my lack of confidence. I’d describe some of my flaws as a mix of meekness, passiveness, and a lack of trust in my abilities. I am surrounded by friends who are supportive and aren’t shy in giving compliments, and it makes me even more aware of our difference in perspectives. How could they think I could accomplish so much, and why could I only see myself as so little? Losing that belief in my skills as a designer was a change that gradually happened, and I haven’t even noticed until earlier this year. I became determined to rectify it, and I’ve made some decisions that are helping me regain that confidence back.

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Find a work culture and environment that fits

I spend around 40-50 hours a week on a full-time job,  which is 50% or more of my waking hours per day. These days, I’ve grown to truly value the influence that work culture and environment has on my happiness scale. People may have said to separate work and ‘personal’ life, but when half of it is spent in the office then it’s easier said than done. I’ve personally come to believe in the impact of an environment that cultivates and improves my skills,  keeps me challenged, growing, and happy. When I was in the middle of transitioning jobs, this was a deciding factor that determined which companies I applied for.

Culture and work environment may not always be visible to a newcomer’s eye on the get-go, but a little bit of research definitely helps:

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Empathy at Work

I’ve been reading up a lot on what makes people tick and company culture some few weeks back. This is another valuable insight and you’ll see where things in teams can break apart:

“…when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimised.”

What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

It’s a good insight on how psychology, and things like empathy plays into one’s work experience. So those evenings when you ask your teammate how things are, how he/she honestly feels today — those moments are worth it.

I value working with my team and I’m glad to see that these things that I think are important actually do have some kind of research behind their impact.

But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

The behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

Idea vs. Vision

Before midnight musings: every person that leaves, leaves with their vision.

This is the same as products copying other products. You can copy features, but not the vision of the people who made them. So even in an array of products that do similar things, those that show promise have a strong vision behind them.

So for every person that joins a team brings their vision with them. For every person that goes, takes their vision with them. For an individual, where would that person bring their vision to?

Marcos and Martial Law: History that should trigger, except it doesn’t

Every year around this time (or earlier) in September, the Philippines will seem to want to remember Marcos and his dictatorship over the country. Since I haven’t been born during this era, much of what I knew was taught in school or by my parents (them having participated in the rallies themselves). My generation grew up without really knowing, just hearing about what happened. It was part of our history books, even of our Philippine Literature Curriculum in high school. We were required to read Dekada ’70, by Lualhati Bautista, watch the film, and have teachers describe what happened that lead to the TIME-covered “peaceful revolution”.

More recently though, it seemed like every anti-Marcos article published online is swarmed by “supporters”, especially with Marcos’ wife and children are still active in politics and (for whatever reason!) people are still voting them in office.

When I was young, I thought that everyone was taught the same version of history: Martial Law under Marcos was a period of countless human rights violations, with people either getting locked up (most famously Ninoy Aquino) or beaten and killed. The country’s money was stolen by Marcos and his family, shared among their cronies. The movie version of Dekada 70′ was released back then, and it seemed like a given that most people watched it. In the past few years, however, more and more I see published articles about Marcos and his regime swarmed by supporters who continuously defend him and praise his reign. Their arguments would usually include his presidency being a “more peaceful time”, that only people in Manila were fighting against him, and that the economy was progressing because of his leadership. Somehow it was so easy to conveniently forget about the deaths, all the youths that fought for freedom of speech, to forget about all the monopolies formed during his time and all the wealth stolen by his family and cronies. So convenient, even, to forget all the debt incurred and even the reason why the country seemed to be so ‘rich’ during that time.

Under martial law, Marcos suspended then revamped the constitution, silenced the media, and used violence and oppression against political opposition. He nationalized and monopolized increasing portions of industry and further increased spending on patronage. Throughout this time, the US and international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF generously supported the Marcos regime with aid and loans. Marcos was able to exchange solid commitment to the Philippine-US alliance with significant US aid, due to US Cold War interests of having military bases strategically located in the Philippines. It is often argued that a great proportion Marcos’ patronage was funded by US aid.8 The World Bank and IMF regarded Marcos as emulating tactics of Lee Kwan Yew’s successful authoritarian regime in Singapore, making the Philippines a “special focus” area to target funding.

The Political Economy of the Philippines Under Marcos

For us, the younger generation, Martial Law is like a memory to be remembered, a past we revisit a few days in a year. Will remembering the deaths of students who died (or disappeared) during that time inspire us, our generation, to live passionately and die courageously for principles and ideals that are worth fighting for? Every once in a while I’d see published articles locally and globally praising how well the economy back home is doing. But every day living in the city only seemed to get worse: traffic so bad compared to when I was younger, no improvement in public transportation, still a lot of murders and kidnappings first thing in the morning news. Wherever this “economic progress” was, it wasn’t so easy to spot out in the public. I couldn’t really see drastic changes in the majority of the population (which is still the ‘masa’, the lower-income, the poor) and in fact some things only seemed to get worse.

What good is not forgetting when everything stays the same? Looking at the list of candidates for the presidential elections, I have no hope for the country back home. Even if there is no martial law, there is still no justice. No justice for all the massacres and deaths that happened in the past few years, and probably never will be. If back then our parents marched against Marcos, I cannot imagine the same happening with my generation. It could be that some of us are too jaded or are like me who see the system as too corrupt to even fix or change. There was wisdom in those who fought during that time, for they realized the importance of toppling down (or trying to fight) a system that chokes. The government right now, with the same cancer that Rizal died for still deeply ingrained in the system, isn’t all too different from the corrupt government under Marcos. There is no strong political leader back home, but there is also no passionate demand from the people for a radical change. I don’t see things changing for the better in the next five years, and Marcos’ Martial Law will continue to be a memory drowned out by celebrities, movies, short-term gains, and false promises.