On Opportunities and Other Lessons from Wile E. Coyote

Opportunity (noun / op.por.tu.ni.ty / \ˌä-pər-ˈtü-nə-tē, -ˈtyü-\)

  • a favorable juncture of circumstances
  • a good chance for advancement or progress

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Image courtesy of: Wikipedia

A little flashback…

Wile E. Coyote- the most hard-headed, stubborn, and pathetic cartoon character that I knew of. I didn’t care much about him when I was in my pre-teen years. I was all about the Roadrunner who I considered the fastest, smartest and coolest looney toon (right after Bugs Bunny). 

Everything changed when I went to Spain. Oh, how the Spanish loved the Coyote! (Just as they love Tom more than Jerry, or the fact that they feel more sympathy for Elmer Fudd than for Daffy…). It took me a while to understand their perspective but it was only lately that I began to fully appreciate Coyote.

Exactly several weeks ago, I started to entertain different side projects and I reflected on how this character always saw the glass half-full. Only then did I really see him under a different light- the most determined, creative and hard-working animated creature I have ever seen.

Introduction

Finding a job is generally hard, or at least not easy. Ask anyone unemployed and most probably they’ll give you the same answer, “The company’s not hiring”, “The firm’s actually laying people off”, “I can’t renew my contract because the department has no budget”, et cetera… Added to that is the fact that more and more people are better educated, more highly trained and some of them are willing to settle becoming underpaid just to have a job.

All of these challenges multiply to 20 times more difficult in Paris, under normal circumstances. It should come as no surprise, considering it’s a big city. It houses many international companies who daily face 10,000 times as much qualified people fighting to work with them.

Given the economic crisis/slowdown (whichever makes you feel better), it becomes 100 times extra harder to even land on an interview with the recruiters!

Thus, the day it finally dawned to me that I’ll never get a job in Paris, I stopped all kinds of activities related to job hunting* such as: checking job sites for vacancies, tweaking my resumé, and writing alternative versions of my cover letter.

What I did instead was to meditate on my situation and watch some cartoons. After enjoying a several episodes of the Looney Toons, I started to think about Wile E. Coyote’s unrelenting attitude about catching the Roadrunner.

Following are the lessons I picked up.

Lesson number 1: Change your game plan.

Ironically, the first lesson is something the Coyote never applied in his own life. For years and years for as long as I can remember, he would always resort to dynamites, bombs, anvils or other heavy objects and booby traps to catch the Roadrunner. Not once did he ever think to change his strategy. (For instance, he could bribe corrupt traffic policemen to arrest the other for over-speeding and he can have the bird handed over to him in jail.)

In light of this mistrust towards change, we should not wonder why the famished canine never got roasted Roadrunner on his dinner table.

Back in the real world, I realized how all this time I had done nothing but follow the same routine: look for a job, apply for an interesting vacancy that suits my qualification, tweak my resumé, tweak my cover letter and wait for their response. I believe the only change I incorporated in the last two years is re-sending my application after 15 days of not hearing from the company. This is not so bad. In fact, this is the way people normally find livelihood. But in 730 days, all I got were 5 job interviews.

Immediately, I became aware that I actually have to do something more productive- something that would actually turn in better results. So instead of looking for jobs, I started to look for opportunities- to showcase the quality of my written work, to build contacts, to reconnect with friends and peers from the past, to learn about other fields similar to mine, to discover different fields that have nothing to do with my expertise, to see what others are doing and to be inspired with what pioneering people are developing around me.

Perhaps I could liken my opportunity-seeking efforts to that of sowing. One sows a seed, tends to it, nurtures it and does all that it takes to produce a bountiful harvest. In the same way, I have this blog where I could practice and improve my writing and researching skills. Likewise, my social media activity has granted me access to dynamic people who have very interesting stories to tell, and who have allowed me the privilege of interviewing them. Although, it must be said that none of these transpired in a day.

As it is, this leads us to the second lesson…

Lesson number 2: Do be patient.

Exercise patience in practice- not in speech, not in theory, not in your mind, not as a “what if”.

How many times have we seen the Coyote go after the Roadrunner again, and again, and again until we get tired and turn the TV off without being told to? And during those times when we would watch him go at it yet once again: how often would we see him assembling traps, studying blueprints, constructing weapons? Then after having prepared his equipment: how frequently would we catch him hiding behind a cactus, a boulder, fitting himself into the form of a telephone pole while waiting for his prey to pass by?

Just as the Coyote worked hard to ensure that his ACME materials would work and that the bird would sooner or later pass his way, so does the farmer. For he is certain that he will gain something from what was sown. He also knows that for him to be able to gain anything, he would need TIME to do its work.

Not all that I have sown bore the fruits I expected and there were instances when the seed even turned to be a bad one. Yet I had no way of knowing until it was time to know. I was in no position to rush anybody or anything. Waiting is as much part of any process as the more active tasks. The key is to learn how to wait.

Lesson number 2.1: Learn how to wait.

This is something I had to learn from my own experience because unfortunately, not all of my “targets” move as fast as the Roadrunner.

The best way I learned how to wait is to make sure there is nothing left pending on my to-do list. Why not take a look at yours?

After marking every item with a check, proceed to ask yourself these questions: When did you last visit your dentist? Have you talked to your grandparents lately? What about that coffee date you keep on postponing with your former office mate? It may seem absurd now, but in keeping yourself active you won’t notice whether time is flying fast or slow.

The second best way I spend my waiting time is observing my surroundings. With the internet, I can do this not only beyond my doorstep but also across national and continental borders. By doing this, who knows what other opportunities are waiting to be unlocked?

Lesson number 3: Every result is a valid result.

In this case, the word VALID is not the same as DESIRED. 

Notice how in scientific experiments, all types of results are noted down (if you did an Investigatory Project in high school maybe this will ring a bell). If there is enough occurrences of such outcome, it will be factored in drawing conclusions. Why is this? because we can always learn from the past, and there’s no better way of reviewing it than taking detailed notes.

Do you remember what the Coyote would do if the giant slingshot didn’t get him close enough to the Roadrunner? what about when the canon literally backfired on him? or that time when the rocket took him too far away? He would just keep on trying new equipment until he finds himself fallen in a ravine, crushed under a ton of boulders (or an anvil).

I never take any failure for granted. I write down everything I could describe, all that I could remember and I try to consider them the next time there is another opportunity to seize.

Once I started applying this principle, my motto has since become…

Lesson number 4: No stopping (No detenerse, in Spanish)

Mr Coyote never stopped. He just kept on running and chasing after the bird even if he already hit a wall.

Do you recall how he dealt with the situation after hitting a wall? Aside from smiling at the stars and birds that circled around his head, he would paint a door, a tunnel or any type of passageway that would allow him to cut across that roadblock. 

Lesson number 5: Create opportunities for yourself.

After more than half a year of searching for opportunities other than a 9am-6pm job, I realized I had to do something more and something better. By that time, I have surrounded myself with a fantastic community of entrepreneurs, professionals, freelancers and different types of passionate people who were already giving me various ideas.

From them I learned that just like the Coyote, it is possible to create a door or a path for us to follow. The end is not the end, unless we want it to be.

Frequently, we take the already downtrodden way because it is the safest option. But truly, risks are contained in any decision we make, including when we stay undecided. Having an employment contract is financially less riskier than not having one, that’s for sure. The thing is, everything entails a risk: even signing on a “permanent” job has the risk of being dismissed. If we didn’t want to be in danger of losing it, then we shouldn’t take the job in the first place- is that how we should view life? I’m not suggesting to jump into any venture with eyes closed. Perhaps the solution is not so much to avoid risks but rather learning how to manage them. As the Spanish would say, “Quién no arriesga, no gana” (Nothing risked, nothing gained).

Do you know what the good news is? The good news is that should you decide to build your own lane and find yourself facing a cul-de-sac, you may always go back to pursue the tried and tested trails.

If we truly wish to move forward then it wouldn’t matter whether we crawl or run; it matters that we keep going (thank you, Doctor Luther King).

People who create opportunities gift themselves the chance to achieve excellence.

This is not to say that the road you will construct will be a smooth one. It never was the case for any of my auspicious friends and peers. But by letting their own selves be the engineer, contractor, builder, supervisor and financier of their ambitions, they all took the necessary preparations to face different kinds of risks. Most importantly, they worked hard and consulted with experts on their fields so they could learn how to manage those risks, in case they turn into reality.

Once or twice an impulsive plunge was taken or a hasty decision was made, yes. Then there were times when certain events were so unexpected, they didn’t even account for as risk (like a terrorist attack). Still, they went on. Most of them might not know it: but in striving to succeed, they have achieved excellence. You might be wondering how I knew this. And just to be clear, I did not have a peek at their bank accounts nor did they tell me their net earnings per year.

The excellence I speak of is being materialized far beyond any of their material possessions. The excellence I have in mind is the kind that is reflected not only in the product of their hard work (ie: a product, a service, a deliverable or a client feedback)- it is also mirrored in their speech, their actions and their intentions. For these people, excellence ceased to be a goal and has become a way of life.

Conclusion

It’s been two months since I had the realization of my need to do something more and do something better, other than simply looking for job vacancies and applying for them. I did stop the job hunt for a while, especially because I needed to meditate on what my next move will be.

At the end of the day (or week) I still look for a paid employment. The difference this time is I have become more selective, and I never fail to mention my other endeavors in the applications.

Truth be told, the time I took off the routine helped a lot; taking another course of action proved productive for me. For example, the moments I spent working on my blog doing independent research and writing have given me a certain level of exposure. Thanks to that, I am able to gather a portfolio of work which includes: drafting, analyzing, researching and translating in all the languages I speak. Now I am also more open-minded towards applying for other types of jobs besides the usual ones.

At the same time, I’ve connected with many interesting people who are currently teaching me and sharing their experiences with me. Some of them are even allowing and inviting me to collaborate with their projects!

The sudden burst of activity has become a training ground for me to exercise patience and learn from mistakes. Besides, being in constant motion only convinced me not to stop advancing my personal venture. Above all, I believe that I am creating opportunities for myself and for others. Knowing this gives a more meaningful purpose to every task I perform- to develop something that would serve not only my interests, but that of others as well.

However, no amount of patience, learning, motion and creation could guarantee goals being reached. During my short time in this uncommon scheme, I learned that perfect planning does not always translate to the projected outcomes. Whenever this happens, one’s patience is tested even further but simultaneously, more lessons can be learned, other doors can be opened and the most surprising opportunities could arise.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning the fact that the Coyote still hasn’t got any wins to prove his worth as a role model. Even so, at least his patience and perseverance make him one very admirable villain.

 

 

*My particular, personal circumstances are allowing me the luxury to do this. I do not mean to be insensitive towards other people who are forced to being underemployed and underpaid to support their families. I am also in no way encouraging the unemployed to stop looking for job opportunities and simply “go ahead with what they feel like doing”.

-The End-

Sources:

  1. Merriam-Webster online dictionary, available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/

Some thoughts on philanthropy

For 5 months, I was given the chance to work as Prospect Research Officer (or Fundraising Researcher) for a prestigious business school just outside of Paris. I worked alongside the rest of the Advancement Team and sometimes also lent a hand to the Alumni Relations and Events (organization) departments. It was the most interesting part of my colorful professional history because: i) it introduced me to the fast-growing world of philanthropy, ii) I met some really great people and iii) the first two reasons combined have given me a different perspective when analyzing situations. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve reflected upon during that period…

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Image courtesy of: http://frankazargives.com

Some people believe that charity organizations should give aid to those in greatest need, wherever they live. Others believe that they better concentrate on helping people who live in their own countries instead.

From a practical point of view, resources are more effective when delivered to those who pressingly lack them. It is perceived to be more useful, as it directly addresses the problem at hand. In an ideal world, the aid that was donated would be equal to the aid received. Yet the fact remains that a percentage of this aid is lost along the way before finding its beneficiaries: conversion rates could be harsh, banks and other financial services companies charge high commissions, there’s tax to be dealt with… In short, there’s a certain level of fungibility in these funds, where aid can become “hostage” to the local context.

That is why not only aid effectiveness should be considered when allocating donations. Costs and benefits also have to be taken into account when deciding how to dispose of available resources. In this regard, economists would try to convert the dilemma into a mathematical formula: see if there are patterns that would lead to the best choice, and try to predict a final result of their analysis.

Still, the choice is not really between helping a population “in need” and one that has “better location”. The question actually lies in how charity organizations manage themselves, whose own funding mostly comes from subsidies, grants and/or donations. As a matter of fact, non-profits are accountable to their donors, binding them to comply with the specifications detailed out by their patrons regarding the use of funds. Oftentimes, they are also required to report about the funds’ impact to the community, or at least to the target population (but this is a subject for another essay). Therefore, the choice of which people to serve does not lie entirely in their hands.

A more balanced approach would seem to be reaching an accord to meet donors’ objectives while respecting the realities of both the organization and the community he wishes to help. This means donors would have to be engaged (at least the major givers) by the organization to take an active part in determining how best to allocate their contribution. The initiative would call for a constant and consistent communication from both parties.

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Image courtesy of: https://educationunderattack.info

This offers a win-win situation because on one hand, regular contact would allow the donors to disclose their motivations for making such a contribution. For instance, they could make the organization understand their emotional connection to the beneficiaries. On the other hand, organizations could take this opportunity to better explain their activities to their patrons. This could be a good moment to make them see that a strong infrastructure and qualified professionals are required to deliver aid to those who are in need; and as such,  funding has to be allocated to these operational aspects as well. Only through communication can the two ends find a middle ground that would allow each of them to carry out their respective mission statements.

A typical philanthropist would think and argue about improving the lives of those in greatest need; while a typical economist would compute the costs in terms of time, effort, phone bills and transportation that result from the continued communication between donors and organizations. Both would have good points to defend their views.

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Image courtesy of: https://intentionalmuseum.com

However, it should be noted that listening is as vital as analysing in any problem-solving situation. Gloria Steinem, co-founder of the Women’s Media Centre explains, “Helping begins with listening. Context is everything… Big problems often have small solutions. And finally, do what you can.”

Sources:

  1. “The Parable of the Fence and Other Lessons”, available at> https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140404194646-25295057-the-parable-of-the-fence-and-other-lessons
  2. IELTS Essays, Essay Topic sample available at: http://www.testbig.com/ielts-essays/some-people-believe-charity-organizations-should-give-aid-those-greatest-need-wherever

A Lesson On Job Commitment

A young lady went to the mall

and shopped until her budget allowed;

dresses, shoes, bags from almost each and every stall.

Of course, how could she forget

to pass by the food court- ah, she ate her heart out!

But the grilled squid, crab rice, soup and gulaman

waged a war in her tummy, bullying the leche flan.

 

So she ran to the restroom, pushing everyone away.

(Let’s leave out the details of what had transpired.

But oh boy, she made a mess! that we can safely say.)

Red-faced and ashamed she looked for assistance

because the toilet flush broke.

A uniformed lady approached her with a smile. She was hard to ignore.

She was coiffed, made-up and she was fragrant.

Oh and with a big pump in her manicured hands!

The young woman reached out for the pump

but the uniformed one kindly declined, shaking her head.

“I’ll clear the toilet, madame. Thank you”, she said.

The young woman wished to die

because back there was something very unladylike.

She insisted to clean the mayhem herself

but the other won’t budge,

she just kept smiling and asserting it’s her job.

 

The young lady shamefully walked away.

But not because of her biological disarray.

For she thought about her job in a renovated palace,

in the city center, near the office of the mayor.

She thought about the airconditioned work station,

the fancy lunches, the interesting debates… that was her day to day.

Yet she complained and was discontent.

After meeting the uniformed woman, who literally

cleans up people’s sh*t for a living, daily,

with a smile on her face and not one sign of lament

she was filled with guilt. Dumbfounded, she did finally see:

how life whacked her to reality.

Colorfulifesite responds: Why should I love my job?

The short answer:

Because if you do, your job will find a way to love you back.

The long(er) answer:

This would help you get through the day/s when you have to work for free. Getting up each morning to face an abhorred task is already a struggle. How much worse would it be if you had to leave bed, do the job and then realize you won’t get payment of any kind?

When I say “love”, it could of course range from the way you love the summer breeze to the devotion you have towards your grandmother. As far as jobs go, anything in between should be healthy for you. The only condition is that you have to love it enough so you won’t feel awful when you are required to finish a task outside your working hours and  without receiving any compensation.

And when I say “job”, I refer to the work itself. Anything outside of it such as colleagues, perks, learning experience, etc is not included. You really have to have a certain level of appreciation on what you are carrying out, as well as the chain of effects it has on your business or enterprise.

Finally, when I say “free” I meant a service rendered without charge. Receiving a well-meant “Thank you” doesn’t count.

My experience (which you are free to skip!):

The first time I worked without pay was (gasp!) here in France, while honoring one of the three contracts I signed (Meaning: no extra money nor extra leave was given to recover the hours of work surpassing what’s legally established).

The job was a part-time one where I signed a 3-day per week agreement. Many of my friends joked (?) that what it really meant was I would GET PAID for 3 days a week. Oh, such wise, prophetic words!

True enough, I started reading, replying and writing emails on the days I wasn’t supposed to; I scheduled Skype sessions outside my working hours and I would always make holidays coincide with my non-working days so I wouldn’t miss anything (the working days were specified in the contract, but I was requested to exercise flexibility).

Fairly speaking, I didn’t mind and I still don’t. At that time, I was truly attached to the project’s mission and I could honestly say that the job loved me back: I gained new skills, expanded my horizons and met impressive professionals along the way. Besides, I believed I was making an investment- in the sense that if I showed my bosses how diligent I am, maybe they’d extend my contract. Technically I was working for free, yet in reality I was learning, having fun, and I was convinced I “had to do it” thinking that my future would be somehow guaranteed. (My contract was not renewed. So, “Ha ha!” for me…)

The latest job where I worked for free was for a TV production company. They hired me as a translator from Tagalog to French for some interviews and other videos they shot. Due to my gullibility and irresponsibility, the company got away with paying me only 16 out of the 20 total hours I worked. I told the production staff though that, “…for the remaining 4 hours which you will not pay, I gladly give it to you as a gift. As for me, I shall consider it an act of charity towards your company. Good luck!”

The topic I had to work on was close to my heart; but not close enough for me to love the task. I accepted though, because I wanted to practice French and, I admit, I did it out of vanity. My name is supposed to appear on the credits! (I’m guessing if the job had been to write something- which I absolutely adore- I might have gotten less annoyed)

(Anyway, I found out that the company was only planning to pay me 12 hours. Thus, after having my vanity fed and my pride hurt, I thought, “Look, didn’t you want to practice French? Go after them!” Ooooooohhh! I loved asserting in French… I actually enjoyed writing those demanding emails, talking frankly to the production guy and the reporter to make them see my point shove in their faces how improper their behavior was.)

So the lesson I found/rediscovered here was: Whatever you do, put your heart into the task and if there’s no love at first sight at hand, then LEARN to cultivate fondness towards it.

Featured Young Talent: Carmen Zaragoza

One of my greatest sources of pride is the kind of friends I have acquired through the years. At first, I believed I nurtured relationships with kind, intelligent, driven and dynamic persons because of what influence they could have on me. Now, as a mother, I realize that even better than having great friends around me is that my son will be surrounded by marvelous people who will guide him and encourage him to constantly strive for excellence.

Successful people under the age of 30 start to be appreciated through Forbes lists, featured interviews and awards. There is, however, a larger number of young professionals who are too busy to enlist themselves to even be considered for these types of recognition. These are individuals who are just as committed, as ambitious and as industrious as those who are publicly acknowledged. For this reason, I considered shining a spotlight on one of them whom I had the great honor to meet, learn from and think with.

Carmen Zaragoza is a 29-year old professional in the microfinance sector. She is a silent but strong source of ideas, hard work and fierce determination.

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She left her native Puerto Rico because of her aspiration to earn a Master’s Degree in Spain. After considering that she finished her major in her home country, worked in Argentina and did an internship in Brazil, it was time for a change of continent. So, armed with her hard-earned savings and thirst for learning, she boarded a flight to Madrid in 2010.

The main reason she chose the capital city was because the degree that interested her offered a program that suited what she was looking for (Máster en Microfinanzas para el Desarrollo, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid). Contrary to what people may first think, she doesn’t have any relatives in Spain and her support system consists of her long-time partner, Iván (with whom she came to Madrid and with whom she’s living since then), and in the distance, she counts on her family specially her mother and her aunt.

You may notice that we’re in the year 2016- that is to say, 6 years since Carmen arrived and started her Master’s Degree. She stayed. She stayed because of the opportunities available and the quality of life. She says, “Madrid is safe, I can walk at night, and public transportation is reliable…”

So many things have happened since she graduated. One of them is the fact that she’s on her way to obtaining Spanish citizenship. But for me, the most significant moment during the past years was the day I interviewed her for an internship position at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (FMBBVA). Then and there, she displayed wit and showed her resolve to work in the microfinance sector. Had I not seen her résumé, I would have thought she was just one of those “fresh graduates” who’s scouting for a first job. Little did I know she already had a lot of knowledge and insight on microcredits- and from work experience, too!

Carmen has been generous enough to share some of her experiences and thoughts with Colorfulifesite, so perhaps it’ll be better if I give her the floor in this post.

On her studies and chosen profession…

K: What made you study your major?

C: My father’s family is full of accountants so it has become some sort of a “family” thing and I’ve always known I would study Accounting.

But I wasn’t happy about accounting, so I started to study another major, in Economics, because it gave me perspective and a broader view and understanding of what was happening in my country. But of course, I couldn’t leave it unfinished so I completed both majors, and I don’t regret it.

K: What made you want to work in microfinance? What was your first experience in the field?

C: My mom is a lawyer and a finance professor. She also has done research papers and works with micro-entrepreneurship and cooperatives in the field of economic development. That’s how I was introduced to microfinance. (I took Yunus’ book from her library.) Through her I learned that microfinance is a “leg” of a different way of economy, the social economy.

I started to search for jobs related to economic development; I even took the Yellow Pages and searched for a job in that field. In my last year of University I was hired as a loan officer in a Corporation in PR that gives credit to small businesses.

K: And what exactly do you do now? Can you briefly walk us through your current project?

C: Now I am the project leader of Distribution Channels at the Commercial Development and Innovation Department of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation.

The project is focused on how to bring the products and services of the Foundation’s entities to clients in an efficient, sustainable and innovative way; with the objective to reduce transactional costs for both the entities and the vulnerable entrepreneurs*. This is where mobile banking would come in, for example.

K: Sounds fun!

C: Hehehe! It is really interesting!

K: Can you describe your day-to-day routine at the office? What kind of tasks keep you busy?

C: I can divide my day perfectly between morning and afternoon. In the morning, I take my time to organize my tasks and duties, to do research and analysis, brainstorm, to prepare meetings, and exchange information and plans with other areas.

I dedicate time to learn about each country’s best practices and figuring out how we could adapt it to other countries (the FMBBVA is present in Latin America).

I also do a lot of market research, I perform a lot of economic and viability analysis and we give feedback as requested by our colleagues (in the Americas). We try to find innovative ways of doing things that can contribute to achieve our Mission. A lot has already been invented; it’s just a matter of picking what’s best for your need and adapting it for your own use.

In the afternoon, I go to a lot of meetings and videoconferences so it’s good that we can concentrate most of them after lunch.

On her ambitions: the ones fulfilled, as well as those still in the making…

K: The way I see it, you are now in a place where not many people your age would even imagine exploring (After all, you hold a double major, you’re a Magna Cum Laude with a stable job as Project Leader and you’re almost a European citizen…). Let’s refer to it as a “peak”. But, do you feel you’ve reached a peak or two at this moment of your life? If so, what other peaks have you to conquer?

C: This was a tough question for me. I really found it hard to answer. I think I’ve done some things in my life but I still have a lot to do. I’m just building the ground to continue conquering peaks. It’s the process that makes this adventure interesting…

K: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you for 6 years, and I don’t recall hearing you say “I would like to be ‘boss’ in 10 years’ time”, or anything similar.

C: I mean, I can work for that but it’s not my ultimate objective. If that happens, it’s because I believe I can use that position to contribute to something, to make a change.

I manage to “just go with the flow”. If I plan too much, things don’t usually happen. We just can’t control everything. It’s different in PR, where I know that if I planned, I could be in a certain position given my age and experience.

Things are more difficult here in Spain (in that sense). I don’t know why. Well, as in Latin America there’s a lot of macho attitude. (In the past) I struggled a lot, “fighting” against the system so now I just decided to do my best and be as perfect as I can, knowing that “getting” to a certain position doesn’t entirely depend on me.

I think I’m going to conquer peaks; one of those would be developing something of my own in PR, But for now, my purpose is to learn, to take lessons for myself, for my curriculum and enjoy every opportunity.

K: What’s your ultimate dream? And what are you currently doing to reach it?

C: Personally I want to travel and continue gaining as much experience as I can. Given the (dream) project that we want to develop, we need to have an open mind. Travelling will give me the tools to have a wider perspective on issues and not be too judgmental. To work in microfinance and towards social and financial inclusion, you really need to have an open mind.

To reach it, I make it a point to not forget that it’s my ultimate dream. Keeping it in mind helps you reach your goals, I think.

K: Is this life what you imagined for yourself 10 or 15 years ago?

C: Never. I never imagined this life. 14 years ago my dad died and a couple of years after his death, I found out that I share the same condition. I’m not going to die just yet (laughs nervously), but my life turned around completely at 15- with the problems that it caused personally and at home. That had a huge impact in my life. I started to have more perspective and knowing that your life was good and suddenly realize “what the hell?” (it) helped me become flexible and more adaptable to changes.

The happiness is in the experiences, I believe. This motivated me to get out of my comfort zone. To not create necessities, enabling me to adapt to life’s situations and take and enjoy every opportunity that life has to offer.

“Past Carmen” would be shocked if I (“Present Carmen”) went back in time and tell her all the things that I’ve done. (Hahaha!)

K: Will you go back to PR? Why?

C: Definitely yes, but I’m not sure when, because I would really like to develop something related to social economy and microfinance in partnership with my mother. In the long-term, I’m also thinking of developing something with my boyfriend. He’s a psychologist specialized in drug addiction so we’re thinking of combining our fields and perhaps build something geared towards rehabilitation and social and economic inclusion.

carmenivan

But that’s still quite far because to do so, we need to gain more experience. We can’t just go back and “try” or “experiment” to see if our ideas would work. We’d have to deal with real lives and real problems

On other thoughts to ponder…

K: Define success

C: For me, success could also be found in the process of achieving your goals. Sometimes you don’t achieve them but you have to take things that you learn along the way. I have the curriculum I possess because I took chances. I was flexible. I’ve always believed that in life, sooner or later things fall into place no matter how chaotic everything might seem.

But what’s really important to me is to take the journey and achieving your goals without taking advantage of anybody- not taking down anyone or pushing people down in the process. I believe in solidarity.

K: Do you consider yourself successful? Why or why not?

C: It depends on the day. Some days I feel good about myself, but other days not that much. The days I feel successful help me to have more confidence in myself, the days I don’t help me to see things I need to improve on and try to work on them.

K: That is the most intelligent answer I have ever heard to that question so far.

C: Really? Why?

K: Feelings are a spectrum and life is dynamic, I believe. A clear description makes us feel secure but feelings? It’s not a static concept, nor can you keep it inside a well-defined box. That just sounded unstable (Hahahaha!) I don’t know…

C: Yes, I know, it might sound psycho to some. But that’s also how I see it.

K: What defining moment made you say to yourself, “I am where I want to be!”?

C: The moment I started working as a loan officer for micro and small businesses, I realized I could combine economics with a more social view. For me it was good to know that I was helping people develop their businesses and that the loans I granted gave them access to financing, and that was directly impacting my country’s economy. It was great! It was then when I decided this is what I want to do.

K: Who is your mentor?

C: My mother, Carmen Correa. I’m very lucky to have her not just as a mother and best friend, but also as my colleague, as we both call each other.

carmenes

K: What most important lessons did your mentor teach you?

C: To have social awareness and integrity.

Social awareness for me is important because it helps you to always find a meaning of what you’re doing. We’re not thinking only of ourselves and that motivates you to be responsible, because what you do will have an effect on others.

As for integrity, I’d always blame my mom for making me “too honest”. But I’m not really the type of person who would befriend someone just to benefit from that relationship. Nor would I say “yes” to everything a superior would tell me just so I would be considered for a job promotion. It’s not my style. But I go to bed at night with a clear conscience and peace of mind.

K: Would you consider mentoring someone?

C: Yes, why not? If he or she finds me as a role model, that’s good. I laugh at my friends who tell me they follow my footsteps. But if there’s anything I can share with other people who think they can learn something from me, I won’t hesitate. If life would offer me a chance to mentor someone, I would consider it as a way of giving back…

In the Foundation, my first boss was a sort-of mentor to me. He would tirelessly answer each and every question I ask him. Sometimes he answers me with another question…

K: That’s because he wants you to think for yourself.

C: Yes! And I consider myself very fortunate for having had his guidance during my first years in the Foundation.

carmen1

K: What would be your mentee’s first lesson?

C: Among other things, I would tell him/her to be curious, to ask. You can learn from everyone, from a farmer, or a banker… be open to learn new things. Never assume you know everything.

-the end-

 

* Vulnerability refers to the inability to withstand the effects of changes in the environment. Therefore, vulnerable entrepreneurs are the socially and economically “weak” individuals exposed to livelihood stress as a result of different impacts from climate change, economic slowdown or crisis and/or environmental and man-made emergency disasters.

Basic Skills as Basic Tools

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Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.
– Confucius

 

Everytime I share some kind of trivia in family gatherings, my sister S and my father M would always ask, “How did you know that?”. As an adolescent I would always reply, “Because I’m smart!” But now as an adult I realized that I really am not all that.

True, I have been blessed with a very good memory which helps retain anything of my interest (it has also allowed me to win a few quiz bees back in the day). For the longest time, I counted on memorization to gain information. However, pregnancy, motherhood and all the hormones involved must have done something to my brain: I can feel my capacity of recollection slowly wane. This is how I came to see that there are other methods for learning and they are actually very much within my reach!

Somehow, somewhere along the way I discovered that a few basic skills could be turned into very dependable tools for my continual search of knowledge.

Reading

I first learned how to read when I was 5. I will never forget the first story book I read with my mother E- Pamilya Ismid. Papá will unbelievingly shake his head if I told this to him, but I swear I could still remember the awesome feeling I got when I became aware that I COULD READ! It was as if a whole new world opened up before me- a world made up of endless halls decked with numerous doors waiting to be opened.

So I read and read and read some more… my parents would insist on diversifying my library while I pushed for my preference to simply complete my collection of a certain series about twin sisters. Thank goodness my parents were persistent and did not give in! You see, I didn’t know until several years ago that there are actually two kinds of literacy:

Simple literacy is the ability of a person to read and write with understanding a simple message in any language or dialect.

Functional literacy, meanwhile, is a significantly higher level of literacy that includes not only reading and writing skills, but also numeracy (the ‘rithmetic that completes the ‘three Rs’), which leads to a higher order of thinking that allows persons to participate more meaningfully in life situations requiring a reasonable capacity to communicate in a written language.”

– Juan Miguel Luz, A nation of nonreaders

It was only in college where I found out that the kind of materials you read actually mattered- a lot. I met many fellow students who may not be very eloquent, yet their arguments had structure and logic (and sense, of course). I envied them but I just associated it with the superior Spanish educational system and never made any connection with what type of reading they did. Because of this, I continued with life without really developing the functional aspect of reading.

Although something inside me was already aware that it’s not the same to read Nancy Drew mysteries or Noli Me Tangere or a Trigonometry Manual, at the time I simply didn’t care. Consequently, it took me quite a while to reach a “higher order of thinking”.

Come 2008 when I was admitted to my Master’s Degree. Reality struck quite hard: knowing how to read matters even more. There were so many interesting materials to be studied and of varying subjects, too, that it overwhelmed me at one point.

This made me recall how much I laughed at my parents (I was 14, alright?) and told them how funny they seem reading a book entitled “How to Read a Book”. I remember finally admitting to myself that the idea wasn’t silly at all. Ah yes, the joke was on me because had I known then how to effectively read, I would have been more productive and perhaps I would have better contributed to past debates and brainstorming sessions. (Although, I can’t help but think that perhaps the author could’ve entitled the book “How to read effectively”?)

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Fast forward to the present time… I find myself in a new country, under totally new circumstances, but with the same childlike eagerness to learn how to read. Say what you want about the French, but these people READ. If you’re a book lover/hoarder just like me, come to Paris and you’ll see more than a couple of bookstores in one street as well as specialized stores for classical, hardbound editions. Likewise, you could find used books at more than half the price, and some really old ones that are worth 50 cents of a euro; plus if you’re lucky enough, you could find free books in the streets or in bus stops (you can also leave your own pre-loved books for others to enjoy)!

I used to wonder what made them read so much*. From what I’m seeing, for them reading is a habit borne out of necessity. In the short time that I’ve been acquainted to the language, I observed that the French grammar is so complex, one must read and re-read anything written so as to avoid any misunderstanding. Now, this is only my opinion, but I recall “complaining” to my French teachers before because it seemed like there were more exceptions than there are rules, concerning the written language**. Thus, reading is a basic, vital skill for one to thrive in this setting.

Back in the Philippines and even in Spain, I never once stopped to mind any notice on cork boards or almost any type of announcement. People just find a way to get hold of the message through neighbors and peers. Not in France. Maybe it’s because this is a more individualistic society (something to be certainly be discussed in another post). The thing is, now I read EVERYTHING, ANYTHING that is posted in the walls of our building, the grocery glass doors, the vandalism on the streets… just in case. And more often than not, I actually learn one new thing before I go to sleep.

Listening

I speak 3 foreign languages and in all of them, there is a clear distinction between: hearing and listening, oír y escuchar, and écouter et entendre.

The first words of each pair  mean “to be aware of sound through the ear” while the second ones mean “to pay attention”. The former seems to be a passive activity, the latter requires a more active involvement.

As a child and a teenager, I didn’t really excel in listening as much as I could have done. I talked a lot. I talked so much, I got chosen as one of the Northern Mindanao representatives for a national extemporaneous speech contest.During the moments I did listen, I filtered between interesting and uninteresting, and only tuned in to what caught my attention. And then almost immediately, I would go back to talking.

Adulthood has taught me that as a responsible citizen, it is my obligation to listen to many things, including those that don’t necessarily interest me. It is informative, it is enriching and it gives a clear basis for any argument I may wish to express. For this to be possible, it is imperative to know how to listen.

Eventually, I learned to listen when I was 28 years old after I enrolled in a Bikram Yoga class. This exercise, based on active meditation is only feasible with open ears and a clear mind. It is not always easy to clear the mind, but opening the ears is achievable. Listening, just like any other skill, could be enhanced through repetitive practice. So after one year and a half of constant training, I was finally beginning to listen.

Strange as it might sound, thanks to this, I’ve never enjoyed going on job interviews as much as I am doing now. For some topics I thought I knew fairly well, I discovered so many fine points that are easily overlooked. As a result, two of those meetings have given me several ideas for future blog entries. It’s a pity I won’t get to work with such bright people, so in the meantime I’ll make myself busy by diffusing what they shared with me.

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Online, I found heaps of guidelines and principles for effective listening. Let me share those that I consider indispensable if we want to increase understanding:

Stop talking

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.

-Mark Twain

Clear enough. Next.

Be patient

In Spain (at least from the Central Plateau southwards), Germans have always been viewed as very polite and formal people. The reason being that they patiently wait for the other person to finish talking before they speak. This is of course very unlike the Spanish, who are known for their passionate nature (well, some of them) and who would cut the other in mid-sentence to prove a point.

Well, my very knowledgeable friend J (I call him the “Walking Encyclopedia”) told me that Germans do it actually out of habit. I don’t speak German but according to him, the grammar is such that the verb is located at the end of the sentence!*** So logically, they would have to know what entirely happened before they could even form an opinion inside their heads.

(Pause for polite laughter)

Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t mean that patience should be taken for granted. A true seeker of knowledge would apply this principle for the sake of being taught something new.

An everyday affair

Needless to say, one of the many things I am grateful for at this time of my life is the opportunity I have to practice reading and listening. The fact that I’m living in a foreign country, that I have to hone my ability to speak its native language and most of all, that a tiny person’s life depends on me forces me to:

i) read, re-read and read again as many times as I have to, and

ii) to listen very intently to whatever anyone says to me

These are exciting times, indeed. And I can’t help but insist on how thankful I am because I’m not sure I’d be doing the same if motherhood and unemployment simultaneously found me in any of my comfort zones (geographically speaking)…

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

 

* Here, let me echo host and blogger Lourd de Veyra, “We read not because of the message, but because it feels good to read. It’s ‘delicious’ to ‘feed’ on words. It feels good to drown in sentences that are very well sewn together. There are words that could make you drunk, or worse. Is it too much? I don’t think so. Some people get addicted to Candy Crush. You could also get addicted to words and written words. Everything could be developed.” (Translated from Tagalog)

**For an easier explanation, let’s just say that spoken French and written French are like two dialects of the same language. If you believe that the spoken French is beautiful, then you might just cry tears of joy if you get the chance to read the “masters” in original version (Hugo, Dumas, Camus, etc…)

*** According to Wikipedia: “The main sentence structure rule is that the conjugated verb is the second element in a main clause or the last in a subordinate clause. Verbs in the infinitive are generally placed after their respective objects.”

 

Sources:

  1. “A nation of nonreaders”, by Juan Miguel Luz, available at: http://pcij.org/stories/a-nation-of-nonreaders/
  2. “Hoy, basahin mo ‘to”, by Lourd de Veyra, available at: http://www.spot.ph/this-is-a-crazy-planets/53357/hoy-basahin-mo-to
  3. “Spoken vs Written French: The 5 Differences You Need to Know”, available at: https://frenchtogether.com/differences-written-spoken-french/
  4. Quora: Why are written and spoken French so different? available at: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-written-and-spoken-French-so-different
  5. http://www.merriam-webster.com/
  6. Listening Skills, available at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/listening-skills.html
  7. Wikipedia

A short note on: A materialistic society

The other day, I was chatting with a friend about my impression that being a mother to a baby affected my chances of being hired. Super A, as I lovingly call her, was quite unbelieving in an indignant way. She said that this “peak would be hard for me to climb” because I’m midway into building a career and simultaneously a first-time mother.

After airing her frustrations about this “macho” attitude, she suggested that the next time I go to an interview I should mention how I was able to develop certain qualities thanks to my baby: empathy, patience, multi-tasking, organizational skills and time management. I was delighted at this idea (now you know why I call her Super A), but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the majority of hiring teams are not yet prepared for this kind of idea. I don’t say this because homemaking results might seem “silly” when presented as achieved objectives (such as: able to establish a routine with baby by 4 months of age, or could cook baby food while cleaning the house and keeping baby entertained, or refrigerator does not go empty for more than 24 hours, etc…). I say this because there is no monetary value assigned to such achievements. Certainly, when a candidate tells an interviewer that he was able to raise sales up to 5% in a quarter, or he was able to save 10% of last year’s operating costs it’s easy to imagine the amount of money those efforts translate to.

In the event where I could measure certain milestones as: able to sit up straight for 3 minutes without support (8% increased time compared to last month), 10% increase in attempts to crawl or perhaps 30% increased sleeptime at night, could anyone honestly tell me that a hiring team (any) would attribute these achievements to my newly-developed skills? Would anyone consider hiring me as Project Manager because I am being able to run a house and care for an infant with a little help? Would anyone employ me as a Research Assistant because I tirelessly read about a baby’s development, research about a baby’s nutritional needs, look for varied playtime activities and interview fellow mothers to learn about their experiences?

My baby is a happy, healthy, strong, active and well-behaved tot and I am proud of what I have contributed for him to be. Many of my friends and relatives have also done good, if not better jobs in raising their kids too- but how does society interpret that? Would women be considered as tougher leaders because they are able to “deal with” stubborn children who are more difficult than stubborn adults? Would women’s salaries at some point equate that of men’s because their emotional intelligence give them skills and talents comparable to those that men have?

Oh, Super A! our world has yet a long way to go…