The Grace of Fear

Recently, I met a good friend, who is scheduled to move to another country in a few months. As our time together was already limited, we had lunch and I, then, joined her in her errands for the day.

I was sad that she was leaving, but at the same time, I was excited for her as she embarks on a new chapter in her life.

I asked how she was as she was in the middle of handling all these transitions in her life.

Expectedly, she was having a hard time coping with the reality of leaving. She was afraid of the changes once she moves.

Who wouldn’t be? She will be leaving a meaningful career; she will be uprooting herself and leave her family and friends, where she has found consolation all her life.

She will be starting all over again – she will have to find new work, will stay in a new home, will have to embrace a new community, a new culture and take comfort in a new way of living.

Her emotions have been skyrocketing. There have been uncertainty, self-doubt, and even anger and a bit of depression. She was anxious. She was in fear.

The common advice to such experience is that everything will be fine; that what we need is to trust that things will fall into place. I am guilty of such sweeping statements.

But to say that to a person who is scared might not be the best prescription at the moment. To ask that person to be brave and take on courage might be too dismissive of what one is experiencing.

Moreover, I think what we need to do first is to acknowledge the fear that is upon the person.

Recognizing fear is to admitting that we are weak and vulnerable; fear entails losing control, especially of our own future. Such experience is discomforting and powerful that we tend to run away from the feeling and immediately gather strength.

There’s nothing wrong with being strong-willed; it is even laudable and inspiring to be dauntless and resolute.

However, I think that to deprive us of the experience of fear is a form of disservice to ourselves. To experience fear is to be human. To be afraid is to affirm our nothingness – that life is not just about us.

To be in terror is to concede that there is someone (or something) greater than us, perhaps God, Allah, the universe, or fate.

Our experience of unrest is grace. It is a gift where we accept our limitedness as beings.

We fear because we love.

For my friend, she is in discontent because she doesn’t know what will happen to her family and friends when she leaves them, or to her organization when she retires.

What will happen to her in the new country? Will she experience affirmation, warmth and love in the new environment and the new community she will be in?

Possibly, the invitation for us is to appreciate how fear is such a powerful human experience. From fear, we realize that we can only do so much, and that we hold on to hope and faith for a better future for ourselves and for others.

It is in the experience of fear that we rediscover our capacity to love, that despite the ambivalence, we know that we will continue to choose to love.

18 May 2015 | Pasay, the Philippines

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Deciding to Decide

Recently, I met some former youth leaders to catch up and have a mini-reunion. I haven’t had the time to meet them in the past year due to my own transitions, both personal and professional.

It was a light and fun; we reminisced their experiences from the work that we did, and listened to the stories of their own journeys. In a span of a couple of years, from their college graduations to being young professionals and graduate students, they made a lot of decisions for themselves.

I was consoled with their own stories of discernment, how they took the time to carefully assess their options, and how they tried to grasp the ever-changing landscape of their experiences, even at their youth.

One youth leader’s story particularly struck me. He recently resigned from his job a month ago and was now doing freelance work. The former job was stable and he loved it. Furthermore, the job allowed him to do other things that he loved.

Yet, after all the perks, he felt that he needed to move on to grow, even though he wasn’t sure if there are other jobs out there that would accommodate such similar leeway.

I asked him how come he decided so soon when he could have afforded to wait for another year before leaving.

He said that it was a more rational decision to wait it out until his contract with his company expired. He would have had the time to discern more if the proper move was to extend his contract or move on.

It was safe to stay put. But for his case, it was more freeing to resign now and take chances.

Looking Down Off a Cliff

The decision making process is a slow and tedious process – especially, when these are big life transitions – choosing a partner, getting married, settling in a new country, taking on a new career and the like. It takes time, a lot of weighing on the pros and cons, consultations from important people, reflections on future scenarios and possible consequences, and for others, a lot of prayer.

Yet, for some cases, the process may not be that linear and contemplation may be done on the go. Even when there’s no guarantee, the situation may call us for a deep dive into the wilderness of ambivalence immediately, ask us to go with the flow, and trust that at the end of the day, everything will settle and fall into place.

Either way, discernment, may it be a short and quick resolution making or a contiguous and complex exercise, should be able to help us make a choice – and not hide us from the fact of making one.

Sometimes, it’s good to take time to gather courage, discern properly and weigh all the options before deciding.

However, sometimes, it’s also good to go with guts and take that leap of faith. Deciding to decide may free us from our own unfreedoms of discomfort, uncertainty and self-doubt, which hinder us from grabbing new opportunities, exploring the world, and re-discovering ourselves.

Uno Morato Bookstore Bar, Quezon City, the Philippines | 16 May 2015

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‘Till We’re 70

It’s an exciting time for a number of my friends as it’s wedding season for them – either they got married recently or will be marrying in the next year. One particular couple decided to do a DIY wedding and we gladly helped out.

There was one meeting when our younger friends just attended an Ed Sheeran’s concert and were in bliss singing his songs. They even suggested playing some of his songs during the reception.

Out of touch, I researched his songs to know if these were truly catchy and apt for the wedding.

The song, “Thinking Out Loud,” particularly caught my attention. The melody was lovely and romantic that it fit for the wedding reception. The couple liked ‘current’ songs; thus, we put it in the playlist.

The lyrics particularly caught my attention:

“When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?”

Is it possible in this time and age to sustain love forever? The number of broken marriages and families in the world is currently at a growing rate, and still, couples decide to commit to long-term relationships.

Then, the song answers my rhetoric.

“And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70
And baby my heart could still fall as hard at 23
And I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways
Maybe just the touch of a hand
Well, me I fall in love with you every single day”

The last line particularly struck me. Long-term relationships perhaps are built on everyday loving decisions. Great love stories are founded on choices done not only during special occasions, but also on routinely, boring days and conflict-filled and trying moments. Probably, one could look at loving another person as grace – an everyday gift and opportunity uniquely and personally given to us.

Once, I went to a park to read a book and have a relaxing afternoon. I came across a couple in their seventies, affectionately preparing merienda for each other. Slower than usual, the man was kindly preparing their sandwiches and the woman was pouring juice into their glasses.

Cinematic, a cliché, yet real.

I smiled at them, and walked away consoled on the possibility of loving ‘till 70.

9 May 2015 | Antipolo, the Philippines


Looking Back at 2013: Personal Awards


Once, a friend of mine congratulated me. When asked for what, he told me that every end of the year, he has come up with an awards list of the most important actors and actresses in his life.  The nominees were the people who mattered to him or who have influenced him that year. I was nominated for the best actor category, and according to my friend, I was in a ‘tight race’.  After a ‘thorough deliberation’, I won.

As 2013 ends in a few days, it’s the best time to look back and reflect upon the events and moments in our lives.  Let’s use the awards concept of my friend to capture our year.

  1. Best Actor Award.  Who were your 3 most important persons this year?  Who mattered most?  Who did you spend most of your quality time? Why?
  2. Best Setting Award.  What were your top 3 most important places this year?  Where did you make your big decisions of your life? What new places have you visited that have been memorable for you?
  3. Quotable Quote Award.  What were your top 3 realisations for the year?  What were those statements that made you stop for a while and ponder about life?

For the next part, look back at the events that have happened in 2013 and associate them with your feelings.

  1. Top of the World Moment. What was your proudest moment this year? Graduation? A job promotion?
  2. YOLO Moment. What was your most daring moment this year?  What did you do that shot your adrenaline up and risked it all? A resignation? Which big decision?
  3. LOL Moment.  What was that moment when you laughed your heart out? High school reunion? A joke by a loved one?
  4. Most Awkward Moment. What was your most embarrassing moment this year? A meet up with an ex? Wrong get up for an event?
  5. Most Mundane Moment.  What routine was the most boring for you this year? The daily commute? Answering emails?
  6. The Adele Moment. What made you cry most this year? A death of a loved one? Failure? A bitter break up? Tragedies in the communities?

Review your list and see if it has captured your year right. Add more categories if you wish.  Draw out similar themes above and try to discover new things about the self.

As we look back in our past, we realise how we are transforming in the present to be better prepared for the future.

29 December 2013 | Antipolo, the Philippines


Finding Our Centre


It is an auspicious day for me and 16 other young men and women as we complete and earn our master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University-Australia.  Today is a testament to the hard work that the candidates have put in.  Never in my entire life have I spent so many hours and sleepless nights just to work on projects and prepare for exams one after the other.

A few weeks back, one of my mentors called me up and asked what I will be bringing home from this experience.  More than from coffee, wine and chocolates that have long been packed in my luggage, I know I will bring home a lot.

In the movie, Rise of the Guardians, Santa Clause asks Jack Frost, “What is your centre?”  When Frost was confused by the question, Santa was prompted to show the Matryoshka nesting dolls, where the smallest doll hidden within symbolizes the purpose or core of one’s life.  For Santa, his centre was the sense of wonder.  For the Sandman, his centre was dreams.  For the Tooth Fairy, her centre was memories.  And for the Easter Bunny, his centre was hope.

Like Frost, I still don’t know what my centre is.  But in the course of my stay here, I have come closer to realizing what it is.

Firstly, I bring home profound gratitude.  Like most of us, I come from a developing country.  I was born in an ambulance, in a province, north of the capital of the Philippines.  I come from a working class family where my grandfather was fixing railways as a mechanic and my grandmother was selling fish paste in the marketplace.  My life has always been a story of improbability so I have been taught gratitude every step of the way.

And I have never ceased to be given reasons for even deeper and abiding gratitude.  Never did I imagine that I would be able to study in one of the top-ranked universities in the world, live in one of the best cities, and meet people who come from different backgrounds, all yearning to make a difference.  I am grateful for the opportunity to receive world-class education; learn tools and frameworks that have shaped nations, and that will continue to push boundaries.

I am also grateful for friendships forged, for each story, journeys far and wide, and the diversity of understanding that has opened up for me.  The philosopher Martin Heidegger once said, “to think is to thank” and so “to remember is to be grateful”. By bringing home gratitude, I will keep on remembering all these gifts I have received and experienced with you.

I also bring home with me the desire to be more and do more.  Our stories share common themes – the struggle to eradicate corruption, the need to address gender and ethnic inequality, and the fight for equal access to economic opportunities.  From your stories, I saw how the world is beautiful, yet broken yearning to be healed.  We all are kindred spirits as we dream of wealth trickling down to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

There is so much to do in the name of gratitude.  It moves us to see the plight of humanity that we desire to integrate our technical skills, management and leadership competencies with our passion to move and work for more equitable and inclusive societies.

As I listen to your stories, I listen to the story of my people.  As we talk about the differences of our cultures, the more I realize that we are more the same than different.  I will go home knowing that, in other places in the world, there are also people looking at the same stars and moon with fervor.

At the end of the movie, Jack Frost was able to discover his centre.  His centre was fun; he was to give people the chance to embrace joy in the midst of pain and suffering.

I ask you my friends, what is your centre?  We look back at the past year or two of hard work and sacrifice, and we know that we have transformed immensely in the present. Our centres have guided us to decide to study here, to leave our families and friends, to take on a multitude of tasks, and to adapt to a new environment on our own.  We continue to ask ourselves, what is our core, our deepest desires?

I take home from this journey pieces of this centre – the gift of gratitude from which I embrace the world and the desire to be more and do more that we have all shared and been equipped to realize by our education.  Yet, it is not complete.  Let us continue to search for our own centre as we go back to our countries to serve our peoples, or start new lives and contribute to humanity significantly and fervently.

Thank you very much, God bless everyone at mabuhay tayong lahat.

I, together with 2 other graduands, shared our thoughts on graduation day at Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.

20 December 2013 | Adelaide, SA

Primal Leadership and the Global Enterprise

Great leaders move people.  They are able to inspire the best of us that we follow them in their direction, to hopefully to do something good.  A majority of the literature deals with techniques and series of methods in order to lead.  Nonetheless, Daniel Goleman describes that there is much more fundamental in leadership.  According to him, great leadership works through the emotions.


The Leader of the Pack

In his book, Primal Leadership, Goleman posits that leaders are able to move people because they are emotionally compelling.  Leaders need to drive the collective emotion of people in organisations (and nations) in a positive direction.  They need to trump over the negativity in a group climate in order to bring about change.

He puts emphasis that the key to leadership is emotional intelligence.  When leaders drive emotions positively, they are able to bring out the best in everyone.  He calls it primal leadership because of its fundamental characteristic; a leader needs to handle oneself and one’s relationships with others.

I think Goleman does not discount the fact that technical competence is also needed in leadership.  He merely highlights how leaders need to be aware of themselves and how they develop meaningful relationships in their circles.  Emotional intelligence suggests that leaders are able to empathise with their group.  The group then is able to resonate with the leader, therefore, conducting a high performing organisation.

For instance, a vision for an organisation is to be shared.  If there is resonant leadership, the organisation members would be able to understand, accept and work on the vision that was set by the leadership.

On the other hand, some leaders do not have the competencies of emotional intelligence.  Like a misplaced chord in an orchestra, the leader produces dissonance among his peers and followers.  This creates a negative energy in the group atmosphere, causing a low morale and ultimately, low productivity.

I personally like Goleman’s emphasis on how leaders are able to be on the same wavelengths with his peers.  Emotional intelligence is as crucial as the technical competencies.  Self-awareness helps a leader locates whether he or she is able to first understand the feelings and concerns of the team members.

A misplaced striking of a chord will yield a distance between the leader and the team.  Worse, it can develop mistrust.  People are impressionable and one has to work his or her way back to gain the trust of people.


The world is getting smaller.

As the world moves into globalisation, resonant leadership is indeed an important leadership framework as ever.  As discussed, global enterprises are now dealing with problems they didn’t face when they were only concentrated in certain regions.  Now, organisations deal with differences in cultures, where norms and values of different nations vary.  Leaders need to be sensitive with these nuances and complexities.

Suppliers, customers and even stakeholders have varying interests in enterprises, either in for-profit, non-profit or public organisations.  Add the fact that they communicate differently, leadership is an even more serious work in this century.

What I want to add to the discussion is that as cultures in organisations change, systems do also change.  The hierarchical and bureaucratic structures are being challenged by cross-functional, mixed team structures and the outsourced, cheaper supply chain points.  In addition, digital platforms have blurred systemic lines and organisations are facing a demand for more flexibility in their decision-making and accountability policies.

Contextualising the leadership environment today made me realise how leaders now have a daunting task to put all in order (or is chaos the new order?).  As the leader deals with demands from its stakeholders, he or she needs to put in work to transcend boundaries, skin colour, religions and conflicting values systems in order to orchestrate a cumbersome symphony.

Daniel Goleman will be able to help the 21st leaders then.  As the world of complex organisations continue to foster, I realise that leadership demands from the leader to be rooted to oneself even more.  Leaders need to get a firm footing of himself and learn to embrace for who he or she is. Then, he is to develop strong bonds with his or her team; and to have resonance with people or groups that may be across the world, as they deal with different challenges in their own lives and in their own contexts.

One cannot understand the plight of the other if one is not able to understand oneself.  I think leadership of the self is the hardest task of the leader.  It is in that level of awareness that leading others and organisations depend on.  Changes and challenges in global enterprises have been on the rise; leaders will only be able to contend if one has a grasp of the self and steering groups through these instabilities.

Students of leadership are invited to reflect further in this regard.  How does one search oneself in the middle of an ever-changing enterprise?  How can one withstand differences in values with team members yet are able to find harmony and balance in the teams?  What values transcend cultures?  What does humanity hold true and can serve as rallying point for global enterprises?

24 November 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia

This essay is part of the requirements for the Transformational Leadership for Global Enterprises class under Ms Linda Chaousis, adjunct faculty at the Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.


Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid

Scholars and practitioners have created various leadership models that leaders and managers can use in their daily roles and functions.  It is actually an industry in itself where it has been generating content and I assume good profits.  This is a statement how leadership is crucial in organisational life, performance and success.

Robert Blake and Jane Mouton developed a situational leadership model in 1964, the managerial grid.  The grid classifies different leadership styles based on how the leader-manager’s prioritises its concern, whether for his people or for the task/production.

Blake and Mouton define the leadership styles as such:

  1. Authoritarian leader: high task, low relationship
  2. Team leader: high task, high relationship
  3. Country club leader: low task, high relationship
  4. Impoverished leader: low task, low relationship

Produce or perish. How inspiring.

The model posits that the team leader is the ideal leader, that he or she can develop meaningful relationships and be able to produce highly efficient output.  Though, as a situational leadership model, it does not discount the importance of the other types of leaders.  These may still be effective given certain circumstances.

Leadership styles vary in one’s life stages.  It is part of the process of self-development, as one betters the self, leadership styles change to suit the person and the values one put forward.  I remember before how I was so task-oriented.  It came to the point I became a hindrance to the harmony of organisations, and even causing conflicts among colleagues and friends.

On the other hand, there were also times that I was people-oriented.  I chose to develop relationships than realise the tasks at hand.  The challenge is to constantly aim to integrate the two objectives of organisation performance – maintaining a high standard of output in a warm environment.

Leadership models are good as reference for self-reflection.  These models are leadership archetypes, and that they are products of certain universal characteristics.  These serve as pegs for us to further craft our own leadership style, as we aim to transcend who we are now and maximise our leadership potential.

12 November 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia


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