I received an email a few days ago about SQL Server Expert Kevin Kline (blog / Twitter) tagging me, prompting me to write my version of “Three Things That Got Me Here.” Well, here it is. Much of who and where I am now is a by-product of my faith (I took this from Kevin Kline …it is so not original) which I got introduced to as an 8-year-old. Having grown up almost inside a church and almost being mistaken as a pastor’s kid has advantages but what really got me kicking was my friendship with my “then” youth pastor who shed light to what I now consider my favourite Bible verse. That has radically changed my life journey from being his assistant on campus ministries to planting churches and eventually being where I am now. And though we’re literally thousands of miles apart (Philippines and Canada are on different sides of the globe), the spiritual bond keeps us close.
So, on with the story…
Tagged as nuisance
One thing that I have learned as a parent is that kids pick things up really quick so it is very important to really be careful about what we say or do in front of our or other kids. At 4 years old, I heard a colleague of my mom commented about me saying, “you better be prepared to have bail money ‘coz this kid’s gonna be in and out of jail when he grows up.” That sunk in deep. Right there and then I told myself to never let any negative thing, comment or thought define who I am. The fact is – “it’s not who we are, it’s who God is.” Every time I hear a negative comment made towards me, I use that as a fuel to ignite a passion to counteract what they have just said and accomplish what they thought I couldn’t. There are countless of instances where that has been challeneged – from being turned down by IBM, Microsoft and then-Andersen-Consulting-turned-Accenture because my university transcript was not good enough for them, to hearing a manager commenting on my professional goals and asking another colleague if I can really achieve them. Each one of them became an inspiration to achieve more, strive harder and look beyond what they see. It takes looking through your mind’s eye to achieve greater heights and go past our limitations to see what we are destined to be – and eventually achieve it. Looking back, I was thankful for that remark made when I was a kid and the numerous times I was rejected, ridiculed, underestimated and forgotten. It takes a different perspective to take all of them. Besides, I would never be able to enjoy playing the piano (although I’ve been known as bassplayer) if I wasn’t told that I couldn’t play any rough sport.
To see is to believe…but to experience is even better
I was born and raised in the city (Manila happens to be the Philippine’s capital and, I just found out recently, that I went to the same university in Manila as the SQL Ninja Dona Santos did) and any city kid knew better. We were not a well-off family but my mom made sure that we went to private school and have our basic needs met (let me just say I was a “deprived” city kid). So, while my brothers enjoyed vacation in the city, as a 5-year-old, I opted to spend mine in the farm – helping my grandparents till the soil, sell tomatoes on a hot, humid, summer afternoon, take the carabao for a dip in the river and do stuff that a typical city kid wouldn’t even imagine doing on his vacation. My mom thought that I was just enjoying my vacation but, the reality is, I was opening my eyes to what hard work really means and what the lives of people we don’t see everyday really are about. It’s ironic because it was when I have learned to properly use the spoon and fork (who would eat with their bare hands after coming back from the farm with hands all filthy?). It made me appreciate the amount of work that the farmers do in order to produce food from the ground, the happiness they enjoy despite not having a large LCD TV with an XBox console in the living room (some of them don’t even have shoes on their feet nor clean water to drink) and what Dr. Stephen Covey made known as the “Law of the Farm.”
When I was in my sophomore year in high school, I wanted to do summer jobs. But it is against the law to hire somebody who is way below 18. And, so I went thru some of my mom’s contacts to have me work for a large air conditioner manufacturing plant, doing assemblies of blower fans. And while I can be considered as an illegal worker due to my age, we never did go thru the process of defining liability from the employer’s perspective since they are a close relative. Still, the risk of getting pinned down by a lathe machine or bruised by a metal part getting assembled is there. I worked from 7AM until midnight from Monday to Friday and never had to go home without a bruise or a clean shirt (and did I mention not wearing any protective gear at all?). Throughout that experience, I have seen the hardships of the common laborer who work so hard just to pay off their debt and how most of them work away from their homes, living in shanties just so they can earn a decent wage to send back to their families. It’s also an early course in what I termed “selfish capitalism” where stakeholders enjoy the fruits of their laborers’ hard work while ignoring the plea of the commons (I guess this is a totally separate blog post altogether). It has taught me to always treat people fairly, even beyond what they expect. Which is why every time I engage in a project where I needed to hire people, I always make sure that I treat them well as long as I can. And while I ended up taking a mechanical engineering degree in the university because of the exposure to that job, I never did get a chance to be one. But the lessons learned from those experiences were well worth it that they still make good stories to tell my kids or whenever appropriate when I speak at conferences.
I was a risk taker even as a kid, as the previous stories have already highlighted. I guess most people aren’t as tolerant to risks as I am. As I grew up, it played a major role in shaping both my professional and personal life. And while I have learned about calculated risks and how taking risks need to be a process requiring a lot of analysis, I still believe that the difference between good leaders and great leaders is their intuition, as Dr. John C. Maxwell highlighted in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. I took risks even when its was totally illogical. And, again, people will laugh, scorn or ridicule you because it doesn’t make sense to them. But I felt that I needed to do them one way or another. One of those risks was starting my own company. My parents didn’t like the idea because they were both employed and have been in formal employment all their lives. I never had any employment experience aside from that summer job I took when I was in high school. I thought it was the only thing to do since nobody wanted to hire me after graduation (see first story). And so I did. I did consulting work for government institutions and small businesses – ranging from fixing computers, managing their network and messaging infrastructure to building their portal. While it wasn’t an easy job, it helped me learn more about businesses and how the “employment” mindset has been keeping people from taking risks. During these times, I hated computer programming. I remember asking my best friend to write my programming project in Pascal because I couldn’t write a single line of code. I have had to take the programming course twice in order to graduate, an implicit way of saying I failed the course the first time I took it. But, then, a customer was referred to me asking me to write a simple inventory/point-of-sale application for their business. I declined the request as I told them explicitly that I don’t write programs. They insist that they want me to write the application for them because they trust me and that they are willing to pay any reasonable amount as long as I personally write it for them. I took that as both a challenge and a sign of utmost trust (Business Lesson: If your customers are betting their stakes on you, it is your responsibility to deliver no matter what). I did everything I can to start learning how to write code, learning Visual Basic 4 with Data Access Object, spending about 12-16 hours a day on BBS and chatrooms asking questions about how things work and how to create an application. It’s actually my first exposure to the power of the community and that I promised myself to return the favor by being actively engaged in the community, giving back what I have been given. The experience provided me with lessons both in customer relationship and technical competence. What I felt about writing computer programs has totally changed and I ended writing even more applications from smart clients to web applications on the Microsoft platform. And while I am no longer a developer (I quit having the fear of losing more hair should I continue), the skills I have learned from being one has helped be become a better IT professional. Had I not taken that risk, who knows if I have ever been to where I am now. And while others may say “find what you love to do and do it” in order to be successful, I found myself “loving what I do and doing it with excellence.”
Public speaking is not for everybody and I guess that includes me – well, almost a decade ago. I still get people laughing every time I tell them that I am a bit shy and introvert especially when they’ve seen me do presentations in conferences and seminars (my former classmates at the MBA program proved I was somehow right). I’m a big fan of my brother who has a knack for getting along with people and speaking in front of a crowd. But I knew I had a passion for teaching, even though my personality wasn’t really aligned with it. And, so I started applying for a teaching job in a local institution well known for their technical expertise. One advise I have received in the process from a very good friend was that “teaching doesn’t even put food in your table.” And while that proved to be a fact, it was a risk I was willing to take with my family, barely making both ends meet in the process. I am just happy to know that my wife was willing to take that risk with me. The teaching experience became my platform to improve my delivery skills, interacting with people and learning the difference between the average and the excellent teacher. And that had paved the way for me to have the opportunity to earn my MCT certification that eventually landed me job offer to move to Singapore from the Philippines. That is a whole different risk in itself. Having to stop school, leave the second company that my business partners and I started, with no friends and family to be with and move to Singapore in 2005 was no small feat. I remember another friend who told me how crazy I was to accept the job offer that was about to make just more than half of what she was making back in 2000, not to mention the cost of living in Singapore with 2 toddlers and being the only one working in the family. I just felt peace in my heart when I have finally decided to go, ignoring all the risks that were before me and simply learning truly what the word “trust” means. Looking back, I was just happy to shun all the fear within me and took all those risks, realizing that the only way to see a miracle is by simply taking risks (while Jesus had to feed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes, we have US$200 in the pocket with two adults and two toddlers and no place to go in Singapore). Besides, of the twelve disciples that Jesus had, only Peter had the experience of walking on water.
It’s been a year and 2 months since we moved here in Canada and that move is yet another showcase of how risk taking got me to where I am now. We are still taking risks and probably until we see our kids take their own risks and grow with the experience. But in all of these risk taking and believing lie the secret to where I am now – it is in trusting that “the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.”
Special thanks to Kevin Kline for prompting me to write this post. I guess it’s about time to write individual blog posts about my Twitter updates