On Mental Health and Kindness

It took me a while to process everything and to decide to open up. As much as I may seem vulnerable on social media, I am actually very private. I only share the things I have already processed and the emotions I have learned to manage.

This is one of the very few times I’ll open up about something that still makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and unsettled.

I have been reading up about all the people who have suffered pains that are hidden from the world, and some of them decided to end these by ending their lives. These brought back memories of struggles with mental health issues in my family. I grew up in a home where life was extremely volatile and depression was the usual cloud above our heads. And then I would go to my high school where I had to face intense (like crazy intense) bullying. There was no place I called sanctuary. Back then, it seemed like there was no way out. But there was. Because my sanctuary was not a place, my sanctuary was people. There were a few friends who chose to have lunch with me even at the risk of getting bullied too, they took me to prom, brought me to their homes, and believed in me when I could not even see myself. So I had a few minutes, a few hours every day that I actually felt alive.

And I lived. And even after high school, the struggles continued, the problems persisted, and the moments of hopelessness popped up once in a while. But there were a few people who also continued, persisted, and stayed.

From the outside, you probably won’t guess that I have been through all these. And there are many out there who are suffering in silence for a lot of reasons. They may be shutting you out, isolating themselves, or even showing everyone that they are okay. We will never know, really. But what can we do? We can reach out, be kind, and be inclusive. We may never know the suffering that others go through, but we can be part of those few minutes, few hours that make the world a little bit better and kinder for them. And we can actually try to make the world kinder in general, starting with ourselves and our daily decisions.

Honestly, I still don’t know how to talk about this. I have been re-writing this short entry for the past few weeks and still uneasy about sharing. See, there are still many things I don’t understand and I am not able to process yet. I have not even shared everything about this part of my life and yet, I feel vulnerable. I could only imagine how it feels like for others, especially those who need help but would not reach out for one reason or another.

I hope that in some way, I’m able to add to the glimmers of hope for someone who needs it, and that my story encourages someone to be brave enough to be kind.

To those who are in emotional crisis and in need of immediate assistance, please contact

the 24/7 HOPELINE at:

(02) 804-HOPE (4673)

0917 558 HOPE (4673)

2919 (toll-free number for all GLOBE and TM subscribers)

And if you know of any other number that others can call for professional help or support, please do comment! 🙂

 

Photo: Pinterest

Grit is my fave four letter word

Quick note: I unearthed this just now. As in April 1, 2018! But I wrote this when my son Miguel was still 7 months old. That’s about 8 months ago! I totally forgot that I wrote this and I was probably in a different place when I did so re-reading it was a little surprising and quite enlightening. I am not sure why I did not hit publish 8 months ago, I must have been overthinking it. In any case, here it is. Re-reading my blog drafts (and I have a lot) is part of my reflection process. Hope it helps someone somewhere too!

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Ever since I was young, I have always felt like I was fighting for my life in one way or another. I won’t (yet) go into the details of that super cryptic sentence because that would open up a can of delightful multi-coloured worms. haha Yup, can of worms. But they are delightful and multi-coloured. Get it? I do! And I think like this because looking back, there have been LOTS of blessings in disguise in my life. Like deep, deep, undercover disguise. But blessings nonetheless. So yes I now consider them delightful and oh so colourful.

So for now let’s leave it at that even if I am already a paragraph in and you are probably super curious. Because this entry is not about my telenovela life – though it definitely played a HUGE role in the way I am today. It is about the general principles of grit that I have learned throughout the years of building and running a social enterprise.

Background: Our social enterprise is Rags2Riches, Inc., it is a fashion & design house empowering community artisans. It is nearly 10 years old and have been through 498 near-death experiences (I’m guessing, but it is probably more. haha – that’s painful laughter by the way). We started about 10 years ago with this seemingly straightforward ambition of being a life and livelihood partner for community artisans around the Philippines. Life and Livelihood are BIG words. And in our minds, we knew what those words meant to the business we were building. But what was in our minds were still worlds apart from actually learning with our entire being. We did not just have skin in the game, we had (and still have) internal organs in the game. I’m not even trying to be funny with that last line.

So yes, 10 years and 498 near-death experiences later, here we are today still living. And we will probably go through a few more near-death experiences because that’s how it is when you declare and own an ambition to be a Life and Livelihood partner to artisans while being design-centric, while being sustainable, while maintaining a culture of compassion, AND while trying to be excellent, professional, and profitable. All. At. The. Same. Time.

Businesses are supposed to be quite straightforward. Profit is usually THE measure. And that in itself could be challenging. But NOOOO. It was not challenging enough for us apparently so we thought of adding positive impact too. haha But oh well, we thought it was worth it so we put in the work of what it is worth. And this dream, this whole ambition of creating a fashion & design house empowering community artisans, is worth a lot not just to us but to our artisans from around the Philippines – and maybe even around the world if we do things right and more people could learn from our best practices and cautionary tales.

So grit is not just a nice-to-have. It is essential, crucial even.

If you are my Facebook friend or you follow me on Instagram, you would know (if you are not already overloaded with his pictures) that I have a baby boy. As of this writing he is 7 months old and super active, curious, and growing up really fast. So most of what I write now is for him (Hi Miguel!) and for the challenges he will face in the future which I am super nervous about and have to deal with (my feelings about his challenges, not his challenges necessarily). So these days, I write more about the challenges than the successes because the truth is, the challenges led to the successes and we learn more from the difficult things rather than the easy ones. Grit after all, is born out of fire, not rainbows and butterflies.

So Miguel, and whoever is reading this (especially you, future Reese), here are some of the things I learned about grit and how to be gritty.

1. Choose your battles

This admittedly, I did not get in the beginning. I thought there was such a thing as “having it all”. One of my biggest revelations in life is that there really is no such thing as having it all. Those who say that “you can have it all” either changed their perspective of what “all” means or are just incredibly blessed with all the luck and resources in the world. Good for them!

The truth is, for most of us, there will be sacrifices and compromises. And it is okay to not always get it all together. It is okay to not know, to be confused, and to admit that you are still figuring it out. There is a time and season for every aspect of life. I learned that I have to choose what’s important and fight for it. If it is trivial or just capricious, I have to learn to let it go. And this is really easier said than done and harder to identify than expected. Some things may seem REALLY important but they are actually trivial, capricious, or just one symptom or result of a bigger thing.

I have learned to look for that bigger thing, identify its importance in my life and values (and my why!), and hustle hard for it. I don’t have an actual formula, I really wish I do, but being intentional with where you put your energies to and always asking “why” may eventually lead you to your answer.

2. Work hard not for perfection but for progress

I have heard so many (many many many) times that “you only get one shot, make it perfect/good/awesome”. But I have learned the opposite. You don’t actually get just one shot. You get several shots. Lots and lots of them as long as you seek them out. Even if we make grave, damaging, highly publicised mistakes, do-overs are possible. Hard for sure, but possible. Having grit means that you are able to claw your way out of a seemingly abysmal pit, over and over again until you really make it out. This reminds me of Bruce Wayne’s multiple, painful attempts to get out of the ancient prison pit in the movie The Dark Knight Rises. I was on the edge of my seat during the whole scene, rooting for him as he grasped on to the cracks on the wall, ropes, and bits and pieces of protruding concrete. There are so many things in life that are just like that ancient prison pit. Not as deadly (though sometimes they are), but just as challenging and seemingly insurmountable. And you know what? All those “failed” attempts were not useless at all. One day, you’ll look back at your “failures” and realise that they have built you, your character, and your narrative. 

3. Get to know yourself and what holds you back

Competition is not always bad. It could push us to be better, to self-examine, and to see what we missed. But I have an inordinate amount of competitiveness ever since I was young. I’m not necessarily a bad loser externally, but I am internally. How does that look like? Well, it will look like I don’t care about winning anyway or that “I’m happy for you”. But deep inside, I’m already ice-picking away my self-worth, thinking about strategies to win, or making excuses about why I did not win (luck, income disparity, levels of attractiveness, family background, etc. – I’m serious!). This level of intense competitiveness is definitely tamer now. But I had to intentionally tame it especially because it had led me to so many bad decisions. I made some decisions guided by 20% logic and 80% building-my-self-worth-through-winning motivation. Now, I don’t have a guide book for taming this exactly but writing things down and reflecting often about my most disturbing feelings, definitely helped. Some people pray, do counseling, or create art. I see these as versions of reflecting and processing our vulnerabilities.

If we are more aware of the tendencies that make us insecure, less compassionate, and more destructive, that awareness could be a great jump off point to a more intentional life. When we are aware and intentional, we are able to build the conditions within us that enable us to be more gritty and not give up easily.

Grit is not just about blindly charging ahead, it is also about examining ourselves and our shortcomings and moving towards the direction of our dreams and being a better person along the way. 

 

 

3 questions I had before Davos (and the answers after)

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Last week, I went to Davos for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. It was my first time and I did not know what to expect. I did have a LOT of questions though. Some of my questions were quite trivial like “is it going to be crazy cold?”, “will there be rice somewhere?”, “will I cry every time I miss my baby?” and “do I have the right shoes for the event + snow + walking + dancing?”. Let’s get those out of the way. The answers were: no, yes, almost always, and yes!

Of course, I also had more substantial questions that have the potential to guide my decisions and actions for my life, work, and advocacy. Throughout the week, I was able to gather some answers and learn a lot.

Question 1: Will I be able to represent our artisans, advocacies, and country?

Answer 1:

YES! I was given the opportunity to speak in two sessions. The first session was about enabling E-commerce for small enterprises to become global players. I was part of a panel together with Jack Ma (Alibaba), Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz (Peru), and Director-General Roberto Azevedo (WTO), moderated by Richard Samans (WEF). And the second session was a dinner panel called “You Are What You Wear” where I was a discussion leader together with Stella McCartney, Ellen MacArthur, Stefan Doboczky, Valter Sanches, and Vincent Biruta, moderated by Hadley Gamble.

These sessions were planned (so well) ahead of time and though I prepared, I was still really wondering if a voice as small as mine representing artisans and communities will be heard in a stage as big as the World Economic Forum in Davos. Big businesses and policy makers meet in this place, discuss ideas on how to improve the state of the world, and for a few, even actually create collaborations that bring about systemic change. It was easy to feel small indeed! And let’s be honest here, we are small (and I don’t just mean my height). But this is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a great thing!

See, our being small allow us to see things from the ground and the grassroots where most of the people are. And when we talk about improving the state of the world, we cannot possibly forget the majority of the world.

For both the sessions I contributed in, I was probably the one closest to the grassroots. And I took that as a huge responsibility to magnify the needs from the ground and really represent the voices that need to be heard by the decision makers that affect their lives. This role was a bit daunting (fine, VERY daunting), but it was exciting and inspiring. A few days after the Annual Meeting, I was already in touch with industry leaders and luminaries who are interested to get our insights for policies and business decisions, as well as collaborate with us (more on that soon!)!

Question 2: What sessions / people will surprise me and make an impact on me?

Answer 2: 

There were a few sessions that I really enjoyed and learned from, but the most memorable ones were also the most painful.

I have been exposed to poverty almost all my life so it was easy for me to say that I have seen it all. It was devastating to be reminded that pain and suffering is still happening every single day in extreme situations that I could only imagine.

The first session that made an impact on me was the one where Cate Blanchett talked about her experiences and advocacy as a Goodwill Ambassador of the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency). I was not expecting to hear the things I heard from the session. But maybe that was also because I did not set many expectations. Like many who signed up for the session, I was there in-part as an admirer of her work as an actress, and perhaps mildly interested in what she had to say about the plight of refugees around the world. I left the room incredibly touched by the stories she shared and challenged by how big the problems are. I realised something that I knew all along but forget sometimes: that we are all human beings, figuring things out together and trying our best to make sense of what we are capable of (both good and evil) and how we can be better or make things better for others.

That session foreshadowed another event that made an impact on me: A Day in the Life of a Refugee. Mark and I attended this during our last day (it was running for the whole duration of the annual meeting) and it put a lot of the things we learned, into perspective.

The program started with a simulation where the participants (us!) were assigned random “identities” that we will own while inside the 20-minute simulation. My identity was Suad Yehia, a 15-year old unmarried factory worker who is malnourished and have no assets to even buy food or medicine. During the 20 minutes, the participants experienced a morsel of what it is like to live as a refugee in camps around the world. After the simulation, we heard harrowing yet hopeful stories from past refugees themselves or aid workers working with refugees.

The Day in the Life of a Refugee experience was definitely memorable and eye-opening. I am strangely comforted that my experience working in poverty alleviation has not made me callous to the needs of others, no matter how disturbing or painful they may be.

It is easy to think that I am already doing my part and doing enough but the truth is, there is still so much to be done. And it is also easy to think that the problems of the world are too big and there is nothing we can do, when in fact, every single thing we actually do, matters.

To learn more about the program and how you can help, visit http://www.refugee-run.org/. And of course, closer to home, you can explore how you can contribute to different organizations that are creating solutions to various social problems such as hunger, homelessness, lack of quality education, and poverty, among many others.

Question 3: Who will be changing the world? And how can we create bigger impact together?

Answer 3:

Many people I have met in Davos are already changing the world and I know that more people will. For one, a of lot partnerships between social entrepreneurs (the community I am part of!) and key decision-makers are already in discussion, and I’m excited for the future because of these collaborations. When powerful decision-makers come together, big things can happen. But when powerful decision-makers come together with leaders who represent the powerless, good things can begin.

But this is just a small part of the big change that has to happen.

World-changing is not exclusive to the big decision-makers because if you really think about it, we are all decision-makers. The small or big decisions we make may seem inconsequential, but when we think through consequence number 100+ of our decisions, we’ll realise that they go a long way. World-changing is everyone’s business because… well, everyone lives in the world and we are all stewards of this only home we have so far.

It may sound like the biggest cliche ever, but it is still true that making the world a better place starts and continues with each one of us. And if we consolidate and coordinate our efforts even in small communities, the impact we can create will be far more than what we can do alone.

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Schwab Social Entrepreneurs!

And speaking of creating bigger impact together…  

As always, we are working triple time to build R2R as a global brand that artisans can rely on as a viable and sustainable partner to help improve their lives. We have been doing this for 10 years and through all the challenges and little wins, you, our advocates, have been with us. You cheered us on, supported us, gave us valuable feedback, granted us second chances (and more), and created positive impact with us all these years. And we know that like us, you are in this for the long-haul.

Because we are in this together, we are sharing with you some of the things we are working on to create more positive impact. And if you have any ideas or partnership possibilities you could direct our way, we would be most joyful and grateful!

Here are a few of the partnerships and possibilities we are searching for:

  • International distribution through retailers (could be boutiques, chains of boutiques, etc.) in key countries around the world – while we probably won’t be able to supply all immediately, it would be great to get connected to markets for our current as well as future capacity and communities!
  • Partnerships with corporations that can include us and our artisans in their supply chains! We have done one-off partnerships with brands we love (like corporate gifts, etc.), but if ever there are chances to partner with companies for the long-term too, that would be awesome!
  • Partnerships with global brands and designers who can collaborate with us to create amazing products and put a spotlight on what our artisans can do
  • Partnerships with social enterprises and artisan-supportive brands from all over the Philippines and Asia to join our platform www.thingsthatmatter.ph, which is a joyful marketplace that creates positive impact and inspires an intentional lifestyle.

Ideas? Connections? Exciting possibilities? We are so excited to hear from you! Send me a note: reese.fernandez@rags2riches.ph.

 

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz

Schwab Social Entrepreneur 2013

Young Global Leader 2012

World Economic Forum

In Good Company Podcast

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Oh hi!

So, after years of public speaking, I did not think I will still be quite shy about my voice (literally and figuratively) but I still am! haha There is a very compelling reason for me to finally come out and speak up. See, for the past few months, I have been searching, struggling, and scrambling desperately for inspiration and good news. Thankfully, I am quite fortunate to experience bits and pieces of hope and inspiration around me that I thought others should know about too! So I got over myself and decided to somehow share these stories through a medium that I am using to learn as well: podcasting!

A few months ago, Tom Graham and I met up, brainstormed, and shortly after, we started recording a podcast together called In Good Company. This podcast will explore the lives, careers, and advocacies of people who want to create positive impact in the world. Big words, I know. haha The journey of making this podcast has been already so inspiring and definitely quenched a little bit of my thirst for inspiration, so I hope more people can find inspiration through this as well!

We are launching this VERY SOON and we’ll announce the date in our Facebook Page: In Good Company Podcast. Don’t forget to like and follow for more details!

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I thought it would be easy

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Or at least easier than this.

But nothing worth it ever come easy, I should have known. For one reason or another, I thought that there will be some free passes and shortcuts because we were “doing something good”. And to be honest, there were times when we did. But when the hype declined and the real daily grind happened, the concessions we enjoyed because we were new, trendy, and “doing good”, also declined.

When we started R2R nine years ago (!!!), I was about a year out of college. It was a scary and exciting time because I chose a path that I did not fully understand and yet it fully occupied my thoughts and imagination. I loved the idea of becoming a social entrepreneur! It sounded new, exciting, smart, brave, and, for lack of a better term, “good”.

But 9 years has a way of untangling hubris and making things clearer. And I’m still going through a lot of untangling. A long time ago, I decided to write this whole process down and even keep some voice memos so that I’ll always remember.

So I am writing this entry more for myself than for you (whoever you are :)), so that I am always reminded of what truly matters. But if these help you too, that would be awesome!

If it is not yet obvious, I LOVE lists. haha So here is a list of the things I have learned. Because I’m writing this more for myself, it is the kind of honesty that I could take from myself: no holds barred.

I have learned that:

1) Livelihood is not just a project. If it is, it is not livelihood, it is a project. Working with community artisans is hard work and it is definitely not a feel-good endeavour. Not to say that it won’t feel good at all. It will! But if feeling good is a main motivator, you are so not going to last here.
2) Creating impact is more than just increasing income, it is about creating more opportunities constantly and consistently. Increasing the income of others is the easiest thing to do. The long-term impact that matters is not easy to do, but must be done.
3) If something is handmade and super cheap, someone else is paying for it. And it is not the customer or the business.
4) You will get lots (LOTS) of advice from well-meaning people and a lot of them will expect you to follow their advice especially when you asked for it. Sometimes, you’ll never know if the advice is good or bad until you try it. So now you know. haha #GAH
5) You’ll eventually make good decisions because you have learned from your bad ones. And even if you flip it and reverse it, the pain of these bad decisions led you to the good ones.
6) Practice curiosity. Sometimes you are an introvert but sometimes you use your introversion to be a snob. Know the difference. 🙂
7) Yes, you don’t have family money, the limbs of a supermodel, an angle-less face (in fact you only have one angle), a well-curated closet, or connections that will get you massive social media following, BUT you have your own currency. Listen to Amy Poehler:

“Decide what your currency is and let go of what you don’t have.” –

Amy Poehler, Yes Please 

8) You will feel insignificant in the face of the newest shiny things that look so bright and bold. But don’t lose sight of the long-term. Because…
9) It does not matter if you came here first and it does not matter who is the latest. What matters is endurance and grit in the face of challenges and yes, in the face of new shiny things.
10) If it is a business with purpose, it needs to continue to be a business (profitable, sustainable), for the purpose to continue. And this may sound easy, but it comes with the most painful, lose-your-sleep kinds of decisions.
11) The goal of your enterprise is not to be obsolete as a company but to make the qualifier “ethical” not necessary in the future because it is the only way to do things.
12) There is virtue in doing good quietly, but declaring a business model that is doing good has value in it too. When you declare something (good work, struggles, intentions, setbacks and all), you hold yourself accountable with the public as your witness. You will allow yourself to be visible, susceptible to criticisms yet at the same time become a source of inspiration.

32 Lessons, 32 Years

I have waited 20+ years to say this… I am 32 flavours and then some. Gah! Do you remember that song? I do!

I feel so old but at the same time feel like I still know nothing. Well, not nothing. But also not at the stage I thought I would be at 32, that I imagined when I was 12. I thought 32 was so old. SO. OLD. But now that I’m here, I am realising more and more that age is really just a number. It is not an indicator of wisdom or even meaningful experience. You earn wisdom and meaningful experience when you go through the years with an open and curious mind, ready to process the lessons that life throws at you!

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Looking back, 2016 (31 years old) was not too bad!

Speaking of lessons, I decided to “celebrate” my birthday yesterday with a list (I LOVE lists!) of 32 things I have learned in 32 years. Of course, I probably learned a lot more than 32 lessons. haha At least I hope I did! But I was so sleepy when I was typing this on my phone the night before my birthday so I just listed the first 32 lessons that I thought of. Which probably means something right? Right!

32 lessons, 32 years:

1) Progress, not perfection
2) Moisturise!!!
3) When people disagree with you freely but respectfully, it is a good thing. It means you have created a safe space for discourse
4) You can be firm and strict and still be compassionate
5) Being compassionate is not equal to being complicit
6) Back up all your files and photos on the cloud
7) When you don’t know something, it is a good chance to learn something
8) Don’t read the comments section. Ever.
9) You don’t need to be a conformist or non-conformist. You like what you like and that’s okay

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UM. HELLO!

10) Always choose zero % sugar when ordering milk tea
11) Huwag tanungin kung mahirap, tanungin kung mahalaga – Fr. Roque Ferriols S.J.
12) “Accept me for who I am” is not an excuse to continue or justify a bad attitude
13) Always write things down. You tell yourself you don’t have to because your memory is excellent but it is not, and you will forget! haha
14) Fear and Anger will creep up on you. Acknowledge them, work on them, but don’t feed them
15) Be honest and upfront, and yet kind and considerate
16) Don’t wear light flow-y skirts or dresses in Rockwell
17) Listen to podcasts (currently making a list and will publish this here soon!) & read articles, while stuck in traffic. That way, only your car is stuck in traffic, not you

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GUYS!!! One of the best podcasts about business!

18) While you strived to give great answers when you were younger, strive this time to ask enlightening questions
19) Make difficult decisions with love and compassion. But make them.
20) Saying sorry is not proof of weakness. It is one of the most raw and vulnerable kind of bravery
21) Empathy is messy and complicated. Empathize anyway.
22) You won’t be great at some things (accounting, etc) but that does not mean you can’t learn them
23) Most of the time, the most elegant and high-impact solution is the simplest one
24) Write on your journal as often as possible even when you don’t feel like it, even if you don’t feel articulate
25) Your imagination is not the limit, your confidence is
26) The mustard thing beside your Katsu meal, is not mustard

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27) Having a baby is not like how it looks like in commercials/shows. It is crazy (esp. the first weeks!), messy, and disorienting. But it is a different kind of joy and meaning – the kind you rediscover every single day

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I mean, look at him!!!!

28) There really are things outside your control. And that’s okay. Breathe! Seriously, that’s okay. haha
29) Character is built when you decide to keep your values, good attitude, and good outlook even through difficult and disheartening times
30) Character is more important than intelligence
31) Practice thinking 5-10 consequences ahead of a decision
32) You will make mistakes and at times, compromise values. The way forward is not to justify them but to admit that they are wrong, learn from them, and move forward

Okay, this won’t be a yearly tradition of X things I learned in my X years on earth. haha But truly grateful for this life full of adventure, experiences, moments, and yes, lessons. While I’m always hungry (breastfeeding mom problems), my heart is full. 

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2016 made me feel like Jon Snow

2016 made me feel like Jon Snow (Game of Thrones reference – and it is not a spoiler, geez). I realised that I knew nothing. For some of us, the world before 2016 was a bit more understandable, logical, and even predictable. But 2016 was that huge curve ball with spikes that just knocked us off our game and pricked the bubble we never thought we were in.

I’m not going to enumerate and analyse all the weird, painful, scandalous, and surprising things that happened this 2016 to the world. You can do a quick google search and see news, fake news, blogs claiming to be news, comments sections (don’t go there), and so much more! What I am going to share with you are more personal things I learned this 2016 so that I don’t forget and hopefully, you don’t forget too and you could come up with your own list of lessons learned for 2016.

Before the lessons, let me warn you that 2016 is probably THE most difficult year for me personally. It was my high school bully: irrational, persistent, and really really mean. It also came with an awesome gift, which is my little baby boy Miguel. But I felt so so battered and bruised that I found it extra challenging to even take care of my son. And it was a horrible feeling! Don’t worry though, I feel much better now. There are still many challenges, but I am well enough now to reflect on them and even objectively (gasp) evaluate some of them.

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2016 was so rough and tough that I made a letter to it in code (that I invented when I was 9) because I wanted to vent without censoring myself. Decode at your own risk (please don’t). 


So with that super cheerful caveat, here are the lessons I learned for 2016 (not in order of importance):

1) It is possible to memorise the lyrics of Guns and Ships (Hamilton Reference) and still not be able to rap it (HUHU). Keep on practicing anyway and you’ll get there little by little (I can rap 2 sentences now). Like most things, just knowing what to do is not enough, you have to do it and do it over and over again. So don’t stop learning. Learning is a muscle you have to exercise! Every achievement, no matter how small, will build your confidence and help you achieve more.

2) We know nothing. I thought I knew people and common sense, but really, the world is much more complicated than that. We have to dig deep and out of our comfort zones and echo chambers. We have to expose ourselves to discomfort and really listen to what’s being said and what’s not being said. The world does not revolve around our definition of “common”.

3) Don’t think in terms of prerequisites. How does this look like/sound like? Like this: “If only I have X, I’ll be able to do Y”. And this is SO HARD. It is easier to hide behind prerequisites. But prerequisites are tricky. There are always prerequisites to the prerequisites and the list goes on. I mean, there are times when prerequisites are really needed before something gets done (Oh, I know this SO well), but don’t let **all** aspects of your life and happiness depend on an external factor.

4) We are all just figuring things out as we go along. Not even the smartest person you know has got everything figured out.

5) Losing your chill is a choice and there are consequences. There were many times this year that REALLY tested my chill. Seriously. And there were times when I lost it and times when I kept it. Now, I could just say that “that’s the way I am, accept me” or “Oh well, my emotions got the better of me”. But saying these just won’t help me grow or improve. Instead, I’m accepting that keeping my chill is my choice. And for the times that I’ll lose it again, I could always, always bounce back and try again.

6) Making difficult decisions can be done in a compassionate way, but some decisions really have to be made for (and I used to hate this term) the greater and more long-term good. I wish life is not riddled with so many compromises and that we can truly have it all. But that’s not the case in life, business, love, diets, and other things. The best we can do is try (all the time) to remember our values and let it it guide the way we do things.

7) People will help you in their terms and in how and to what extent they want to help, not necessarily with what you need. And that’s okay, you’ll survive!

8) There will be some causes that will drain you in so many ways, but you’ll stick by them anyway because of love. As cheesy as it may sound, love is a valid motivation – not necessarily just financial gains

9) But having said that, money is important. The more you avoid it (the topic, talking about it, asking for it), the more it will avoid you.

10) There is an expiration date to blaming someone else for the decisions you have made even if they made you decide on those decisions. Yes, even if they did!

11) That said, try not to put yourself in a position where other people will decide for you or pressure you to decide against your gut.

12) We can’t give up and we can’t stop hoping. Even if there are lots of things (and people) we cannot understand, we have to try our best to understand them. But as we try and even succeed to understand them, it does not mean that we succumb or give up on our own principles and values. Now more than ever, we have to stick to them and fight for them. The future will be shaped by the battles we choose to fight today and how we choose to fight them.

——

How I put together the 12 top things I learned from 2016:

I keep a digital journal (Day One – I swear by it!) and read through key entries at the end of the year. I pick up and jot down themes, wins, and challenges, and as I go through them, some recurring lessons emerge. It is true that the lessons you have not learned will keep on haunting you until you learn them the hard way. GAH. Thanks a lot 2016. I know that sounds sarcastic (and you have no idea how many times I said that in my most sarcastic tone), but it is quite sincere.

Thanks a lot, 2016.

I did not think it would happen to me: Post Partum Blues

Today is October 23, even if I’m probably going to publish this a few weeks or months in the future. My little baby Miguel is blissfully sleeping, my husband is taking a nap, and I’m typing away on the laptop that I haven’t turned on for what seems like forever. It has only been 11 days and I already feel a few years older (and like 10,000 x uglier). Don’t get me wrong though! I know that I am happy and proud that I gave birth to a healthy little boy! BUT, maybe it’s just too deep in my heart right now that I sometimes (or often) could not unearth it.

The past few days have been a blur of breastfeeding, waking up in the middle of the night to pump and regularise my supply of breast milk, crying for no reason, crying for different reasons, crying because of anxiety, and repeat.

Why am I such a ball of negative energy? It seems like there is no reason to be. First of all, my baby is well (and in my opinion, super cute). Second, my husband and our yaya were there to help with the burping, diaper changes, washing clothes, etc. I am so fortunate to have such a compassionate and hands-on husband. I am also so blessed with our helper who was as excited as we were about the baby!

So when I look at our set up from a far, there is seemingly nothing to cry about or feel stressed about. In fact, it seems like I am getting all the help possible especially while still healing from my C-section. But deep inside, I felt (and still feel) sad, trapped, and alone. And because I could not beat myself up badly enough, I also felt (and still feel) guilty for feeling sad, trapped, and alone. And there were days when I knew why, there were days when I did not know why. I was told by our friends and doctors that I may be going through a very common (but rarely talked about) condition known as the Post Partum Blues (different from Post Partum Depression).

See, I have always been an achiever and go-getter. I am SUPER competitive and demand so much from myself. So when my body would just not heal fast enough for my standards, I felt helpless. And I’m not used to feeling helpless. I am used to being the empowered and empowering person who has a plan for everything. So far, my pregnancy and birth plan all went according to… plan. I did not have morning sickness, dizziness, sensitivities, excessive weight gain, or any discomfort that I often hear about. Haha okay, I did not exactly plan not to have all the discomfort but I thought I did. When it all worked out, I thought it was because my plan worked out. While my baby decided to come around 5 days ahead of schedule (still full-term though), that turned out to be a great thing! And my plans, back up plans, back up to the back up plans, all worked out.

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I mean, look! I was able to even take a selfie with the guard who wheeled me in! And I was already in labor then! This was the face of someone who was clueless about what’s about to happen.

But I did not plan to have the post partum blues. I did not even consider the possibility. I thought I have everything figured out and that I was super strong and chill. I was not prepared for it (who would be anyway?) and I felt really bad that it hit me.

Before I knew it though, we are on day 11 and things are a lot brighter and better – but really, I’m coming from a low base. And I promised myself that I would write about this while it is still fresh, even when it is probably not yet over. I hope somehow, my journey will help someone out there who needs some encouragement and inspiration.

Here are the things I learned when dealing and recovering from the Post Partum Blues:

1.) Don’t compare your journey to others

My condition was probably aggravated by my being VERY competitive. Competitive people like me like to look around and compare (so we can compete better), and I did just that. I compared myself to super hands-on moms who look so pretty and effortless on Instagram and Facebook. I compared myself to moms who seem so happy and blissful about their newborn and they could not wait to breastfeed 24/7. I compared myself to the moms who have the resources to hire all the helpers possible to help them take care of their babies. I compared myself to the moms who chose to take care of their newborns themselves without any help. I compared myself to every single mother I know or I encounter even online.

Thanks to really supportive and understanding mommy friends that I have, I was able to process my thoughts and feelings. One of the best pieces of advice that almost immediately made me feel better: Focus on your own story. I can draw inspiration and learn from other people’s experiences, but my story is my own and it is far from over. I am writing it every single day.

2.) Remember that taking care of yourself is good for yourself, your family, and your baby

Thinking about your happiness does not mean that you are selfish, especially if being happier will make you a better person and a better mother.

For me, I knew that sleep was the one thing that could make me happy and sane. I knew  (and experienced!) that I needed at least 5 hours straight or I won’t be able to function in the morning or at all. The “sleep while the baby sleeps” did not work for me as I am always on edge and anticipating Miguel’s cries. I knew I needed help when I started dreading the cries of my baby. It was a miserable feeling because I knew that I have to take care of my little son who I love so much but at the same time, I was dreading it and many times, wanted to hide or run away. To make things worse (this was a major factor), I was still recovering from my operation and could not move about well (or even lie down, change positions while lying down, sit up immediately, etc.) or even carry the baby for a prolonged period of time. I felt like a failure and a selfish person.

Mark and I found a way to help me sleep straight for a night at least, but it entailed introducing a bottle of breastmilk to my son for the night. And of course, because I was on “beat-myself-up” and “I’m-such-a-bad-mother” mode, I googled “nipple confusion” like crazy (as in CRAZY! The folks from Google were probably worried already) and felt bad for not trying harder, not enduring the pain of my incision, and sleeping for more than 3 hours. While my son did not get “nipple confused” and we have been successfully doing latching and bottle feeding without any issues, I was still beating myself up for a good number of days.

Then eventually, I stopped feeling bad. This was because 1.) I was able to sleep a bit better and because of this, healed faster – which was made possible by my amazing husband who took care of me and found ways to help me sleep more and recover, and 2.) I had conversations with lots of moms who had to make choices for their children and themselves too – and these choices were different for each mom, but all fuelled by their desire to do be the best people and mothers they can be to their children

Each mother is unique. We are built differently and we have different needs. Some could endure long sleepless nights and still be able to function well. Others are sick or recovering and may not be able to care for their child immediately. But regardless of how we are built, we all have so much love to give. And we can and will give this love not just for the first few days of our child’s life, but for the rest of his/her life and our lives. There will always be do-overs and every new day is a new beginning. We’ll be more effective in showing this love when we nurture and nourish ourselves as well. My son deserves the happiest and healthiest mother I can be.

3.) Acknowledge your fears and feelings, process them and try not to feed them

Easier said than done. I spent a few days just being afraid of absolutely anything and crying about anything and everything I could think of. I had a couple of panic attacks too. I thought of all possible scenarios of our lives with Miguel, even the highly unlikely ones. I drove myself to crying spells with these thoughts and then felt guilty afterwards for letting myself get down the rabbit hole too deep.

What helped me climb out from the rabbit hole slowly were 1) Going out for a drive with the husband even for 30 minutes – being outside and seeing streets, traffic (yes, even traffic!), other people, birds, leaves, falling leaves, fallen leaves, absolutely anything – taking a break puts things into perspective., 2) Putting on lipstick – seriously! It made me feel a little bit like myself again, 3) Writing down my fears and “talking” to myself (and people I trust) about not living in fear. I told myself that if these fears happen, and I spend now until then just being afraid, then I missed time and opportunity to enjoy the moment and just be with my family. If they don’t happen and I spend now until then just being afraid, then being afraid will be my default and I will always be anticipating the events that I’m afraid of. I might as well be actually living in them.

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October 23, 2016 – We drove around Ateneo and I felt a little bit like myself again – but a version of myself who was overly excited to stick my head outside the window, take photos of everything, and just breathe the air outside our house. haha

4.) Surround yourself with people who can support and help you – and don’t be afraid to ask!

As an independent woman, I am used to doing things by myself and for myself. But motherhood made me realise that I could be independent without carrying the weight of the world. In fact, if I don’t carry the weight of the world, I could be more caring, nurtured, and nurturing.

5.) Find your mommy pegs – the ones with philosophies and lifestyles that you actually want to live (don’t compare yourself but find bits and pieces of advice that you can adapt)

Moms have been around for forever. I mean, that’s common sense but I think for the past few days, I forgot that mothers have been doing this for centuries! There is no shortage of role model mothers out there with different parenting styles and lifestyles that I could draw inspiration from.

I am so fortunate to have a group of friends who are moms too, who replied to my frantic FB messenger/Viber/Whatsapp messages for the past few days.These mommy pegs were able to raise their children well while nurturing themselves and their craft/work/career/vocation. They shared their own stories, techniques, tips, and tools that made me feel a lot less alone and a lot more equipped.

Regardless of their choices though, they encouraged me and told me that I should do what feels right for me and not compare (again) my journey to others.

—-

I have a new found deeper respect for all parents out there and promised myself to withhold judgment, be kinder, be more compassionate, and share what has been so generously shared with me.

So if you are an anxious new mom, feel free to reach out. I don’t have all the answers and I’m new to this too but it helps to know that you are not alone. Even if we have different journeys and stories, we are in this together.

SUPER IMPORTANT: There is no shame in seeking for professional help as well (especially when you are having thoughts of hurting yourself and others). Remember that you are not alone in what you are going through!

You may call the contact numbers from the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (click this link) or visit/call your doctor (you would probably be surprised, as I was, that they are have encountered the blues and depression in their patients many times) for recommendations.

For family and friends of mothers (or anyone really) who are going through this tough time, they don’t need the “it’s just in your mind”, “be thankful for what you have”, or “change your mindset” advice. Some of you may not have gone through this, but it does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Try to understand, show your support, be there for them, and encourage them to seek help. The world will be better if we show  and share more love (less judgement) to each other.:)

Dear Miguel

(1)8rPF+DF Fernandez-Ruiz, Reese_4424

Dear Miguel,

I am so excited to meet you in a few weeks! I sometimes still could not believe that by Christmas, we’ll already have you with us and we can carry you around, play with you, and introduce you to our family and friends!

There are so many things I want to tell you and stories I want to share with you, so expect a lot of letters, emails, and messages from me that will keep you reading for a long time. And if these are not enough, we’ll also talk for hours!

For now, I want to share with you some things about you, me, your daddy, your Titos and Titas who already love you so much, and some bits and pieces about how life with us is going to be like.

1.) First of all, I want to let you know that we’ll be trying our best to be the best parents for you. We’ll fail once in a while (or a lot) and there may be days when we won’t be our best selves for ourselves or for you. But no matter what happens, we won’t give up on trying and we won’t give up on you. In this family, no one gets left behind or forgotten (you’ll get that reference soon enough)

2.) You have a really cool (and sometimes weird) family – your grandmas, grandpas, Titos, Titas, cousins, and more! You also have Titos and Titas who are friends and colleagues of your mommy and daddy. They are all very excited to meet you!

3.) I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack for maybe about 3 months straight. Those were our first 3 months together (with you in my tummy). So if you can rap Guns and Ships easily, you can thank me later. But no pressure son. haha

4.) You will grow up with friends from all walks of life and backgrounds. Sure, we will attend those big and fancy birthday parties too, but we’ll also go to different communities and celebrate with them in simple and meaningful ways! We’ll do the things we love with the people we love the most.

5.) We will speak to you in English, Tagalog, and Bisaya (and we wanted to add more languages except… we don’t know them, so) from the very beginning! You won’t be an English-speaking kid who can’t understand or speak Tagalog in your own country. It is really not hard to learn 3 languages at the same time. You can do it my love!

6.) We will teach you how to pay bills, ride public transportation (not in an “immersion” kind of way, but actually learn how to go places – but your mommy and daddy are clingy, so we’ll go with you), open your own bank account, cook your own food (shoot, that means I have to learn this too, but we can do it Anak), get your own water, wash the dishes, do the laundry, clean your room, clean some areas of the house, and all the possible life skills that you need to learn to survive! These things are fun too!

7.) We’ll definitely do our very best to teach you the right values from the very beginning, but we won’t do this in a vacuum. See, you are part of a bigger world! This world is a big one. We are all figuring things out in this world and your mommy and daddy are blessed to have good people in this journey. We will all hang out together! This community will teach you empathy, compassion, kindness, and openness (which means you’ll get to know people with very different beliefs and backgrounds too). They will also help you realise that discourse, disagreements, and differences are not causes for divisiveness.

8.) We will not make your assignments, projects, talk to your teachers to boost your grades, or badger everyone we know to “like” your projects on Facebook. You’ll do all these (and more) yourself, with our loving guidance and support. We will trust you to fight your own battles, hustle your way through life, go through your own disappointments, and rise up again and again from falling or failing.

9.) We are big believers in “I love yous”. Your daddy and I say I love you to each other all the time. We say it before ending a conversation, before going to sleep, upon waking up, and any and every chance we get. And we mean it every single time. Welcome to the I Love You Club, buddy!

10) We love you for who you are and we accept your journey. You won’t be an extension of ourselves or our dreams for ourselves. You are not here in this world to take care of us when we get older. You are here because of love and out of love. You are here in this world to love, make your own path, make your own difference, and search for your own meaning. We’ll challenge you and encourage you to go outside of your comfort zone, but we’ll be patient with your process and support you in that delicate balance of hustling and being patient with yourself too.

(1)8rPF+DF Fernandez-Ruiz, Reese_4416

 

One of the Forgotten Things About Starting a Start-Up

When R2R was starting, it was kind of a side hustle for me and for our other co-founders. Jumping into entrepreneurship is exciting and nowadays, romantic. People will tell you to just go for it, just do it, jump and make the parachute on the way down. And to some extent, those are true. 

But there is another truth that is not as emphasised (or known) by our well-meaning cheering squad. 

One of the most common questions I get asked when I give talks in provinces or schools is “how can I be an entrepreneur and support my family?”. Most of the young people who ask this are breadwinners of their families. They would love to jump into building an enterprise they are passionate about, but don’t have the bandwidth, capital, or even free time, to do so. Most of them have to get jobs with regular income straight out of college to help support their families and younger siblings. Our responsibilities may be different, but the concerns are somewhere along those lines too. How can I start an enterprise while making a living/supporting my family/paying for rent/paying for the bills/saving for the future/etc.?

Yes, jumping all-in into entrepreneurship is not as easy when you are “adulting” in life.

So here is one of the things that don’t get talked about or emphasised as often when people talk about entrepreneurship: If you want to eventually start your own, one of the best jump off points will be organizations (that you believe in of course!) with bosses that support side hustles and entrepreneurship. You can work part time or full time, learn on the job, and contribute, while still having some time and flexibility to start something you are passionate about. 

I was super fortunate because my bosses during my first job (Program Assistant for the Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship Program of Ateneo School of Government) were so supportive when we were starting R2R at the same time. 

I still showed up for work every single day and even during the weekends when needed. I commuted like crazy rain or shine, and showed up in the office (mostly) on time (those were the days when traffic was not yet as bad as it is now, but it was still stressful). But even if I kept full-time hours, I did not feel censored or stuck. 

My bosses talked to me about career options, social entrepreneurship, R2R, and they even indulged my once-a-quarter (or maybe even more frequent than that) soul-searching consultations. I worked on R2R stuff right after work, during the night, and some weekends. I got my full Millennial on with my bosses, but they remained patient, kind, and encouraging. When I decided to leave after about a year to go full time in R2R, they were not just happy for me, they became our advocates too.:) 

I got my full Millennial on with my bosses, but they remained patient, kind, and encouraging

Without their support and guidance, it would have been extra challenging for me to work full-time on R2R with our co-founders. I would have also starved in the process – or lived exclusively on cup noodles (well, not the entire time because some of my friends adopted me – that’s another story for another day!). 

But of course, while my bosses were super kind and supportive, I also had to do my share. Here are some of the lessons I have learned when keeping a full-time job + starting a side hustle that you eventually want to transition to a full-time thing: 

1) Don’t shortchange the company/organization that supports you and provides you with the flexibility to do your side hustle/passion project. While there may be times when your mind will be filled with possibilities for your side hustle, always be present (physically and mentally), responsive, and give your 100%. A good work ethic does not just apply to your side hustle/passion project.

2) Maintain good relationships with the people you have worked with. 

3) Inform your bosses and the people you work with, about your side hustle especially if you expect it to take more time to do. Supportive bosses will help you figure out a good schedule that works for both of you. Stick to this schedule! 

4) When it’s time to leave your job, be decisive so that the company you are working for could immediately move forward, and do a proper turn-over

5) If there are things that your previous job would need from you weeks, even months after your resignation, be generous with your time and talent. Generosity goes a long way and will definitely be remembered and appreciated! 

6) Before you start your own company, figure out how you can build a great culture and a supportive environment that enables others to pursue their passions too! It will not be the easiest thing, especially when you have critical priorities and your company needs focus. But it could be done in baby steps, starting with flexible hours, creativity days, one-on-one sessions with your team members, and other small initiatives that could enrich your company and encourage your team. 

Starting something is not just dependent on the entrepreneur’s grit or hustle.

I have read hundreds of pages of books and blogs about being an entrepreneur. There are tips about hustling, being gritty, not giving up, focusing on the mission, and other really sound advice. But starting something is not just dependent on the entrepreneur’s grit or hustle. New things, including start ups, are nourished by an enabling environment with nurturing mentors and leaders. It is important to identify them, seek them out, and engage with them.

I would not be here without them. 

So here is a shoutout, a long-overdue thank you, to the mentors and leaders who made it possible for us to get this far.:) Thank you Fr Ben Nebres, Dean Tony La Vina, Arnel Casanova, and Harvey Keh!