Less Means No MOre

In this age of instant gratification, it is quite easy to spoil our most rotten spending  habits.  Not having a good jumpstart to your day?  Why not grab a stick of cigarette and pair it with your favorite frap from Starbucks?  Weather too hot?  Let’s go into a mall somewhere and see what good movie is on.    Oh, and don’t forget a cup of your favorite frozen yogurt complete with toppings.  Depressed?  Why not swipe your self a little happy using your credit card to buy yet another pair of imported rubber flipflops?  Too insecure with your looks for the upcoming company party?  Why not visit the salon to get that nice shampoo, haircut and facial from your Korean stylist?  After all, this is what you have been slaving for right?  You deserve these treats.

All of these makes the world seem bearable, until you realize how far away the next paycheck is or until you get your next credit card bill.  Most of these expenses actually cost at least three times more than the daily cost of a decent meal. 

In 2010, the company I work for decided to “re-align” our compensation package.  Part of the change resulted to a lower but more frequent pay.  Another was that it totally eliminated our quarterly performance bonus.  Bummer.  I never completely felt the impact until now, December, when I look back to the year that was and realized that I cannot remember shopping for anything for myself at all, this year.   Not even for a new pair of underwear.  (OK, maybe that’s an exageration, it’s all about priorities you’d say.  I know!)

But what were the trade offs?  I realized,  it really wasn’t as bad as it looks:

  1.  Having a lower budget for lunch means sometimes having to bring food from home to work.  This means, no more waiting in line at the fast food, no more waiting for food to be served at the restaurant and more extra time for other things during your lunch hour.  For me, I have been taking more walks with colleagues around the area near the workplace.  More conversations and laughter.  And sometimes maybe a catnap.
  2. My budget cut also required that I downgrade my tastes when it comes to coffee.  Now, either I enjoy the free coffee at the pantry or just sprint to the 3rd floor concessionaires where coffe is almost 50% cheaper.  This means more productive time at work.
  3. Instead of taking at least two meals in a day at work.  I now go home on time, no more overtime(since they don’t pay overtime anymore).  This means that I have to be extra efficient at work.  This means that I also take breakfast (I work nights) with my mother at home.  The conversations we have is something that I missed sinced I started working 9 years ago.  We have long given up on the routine family meals.  But now, we are bonding over home cooked meals.
  4. My daily allowance can only afford one – way taxi fare.  So I take the public transport going home.  This allows me to ponder the lives of the “daytime” people as they ride with me on their way to work.   Yes, ponder, for that is what you do while inside a jeepney with 17 other passengers sardine-packed to the brim.  Instead of being coccooned in your cool cab ride home, you are actually getting in touch with the “real-world”, reminding yourself that you are still a part of it.

 

What about my weekends you may ask.  Well, I still go to the mall, but only to run pre-planned errands.  This ensures that I do not spend more than what I need to.   Most of my weekends are spent at home, surfing the web, watching tv, catching up on the lates movies in dvd, reading and most of the time, catching up on healthy home cooked meals and sleep.  No more alcohol on my weekends.  I have also said good bye to the long nights of dancing and panting to nicotine-infused air.  This means no more need to shop for the latest outfits too!

The budget constraints have also made me more creative in redirecting my energies.  I rediscovered my cooking skills, I learned to appreciate the many beautiful yet free-of-charge local attractions and community events and I also discovered the joys of pouring my heart out to a blog just like this one. 

With regular sleep and a healthy dose of free laughter from friends, who would need a facial or a massage just to feel good?  With a warm, caring homelife, who would need the mall or the movies?  Forget the designer coffee drink, I don’t need one when I am busy chatting with my closest friends.

Less money means more.  More quality time for self, for friends and for family.  More time to be healthy, to create fond memories, to nurture lasting relationships. 

But ofcourse, I’d still welcome a raise or a bonus anytime!  Who am I kidding?!

Realizations

It is almost a year to this date when I got home from a wonderfully surprising trip to the US of A.  I couldn’t help but remember all the realizations I brought home with me.  I was the other half to an exchange program between coaches for our client partner. 

My counterpart shared how shocked she was with the poverty and the urban “crowdedness”.  How it almost physically choked her everywhere.  From the tourist sites, to the wharves, to the mall.  She was amazed to know that our big boss, who invited her over to his place one time, did not have a washing machine and instead had a housemaid who did laundry by hand.  Traffic in Manila was overwhelming to her and while Cebu was more tolerable she did find herself homesick for most of the 6-week stay.  After seeing Reno myself, I couldn’t blame her. 

I, on the otherhand, was shocked how similar we are.  Having grown up with all the Western influence through the tv, movies and internet, I at least have a preview of life in the US.  However, working and being there was so different.  My impressions from the tv and movies were almost the opposite of what I actually experienced.  They are warm, hospitable, educated people.  Well those that I’ve met at least.

Just like us, Americans are hard working people, with the same joys and worries like ours.  Jobs(or the lack of it), money(or the lack of it), family and friends.   But while we all fuss about almost the same things – survival and success, I think Filipinos have more fun at it.  No amount of stress or problem will drive a Pinoy to a shrink.  Maybe only to the nearest Videoke Bar. 

I believe that as a people, we are innately fun-loving and carefree.  We are also very grounded on family and community, our support system during hard times.  Put these together and you will never break the spirit of even the poorest Pinoy.

Visiting the US only served to make me appreciate the people and places around me more.  That regardless of dire economic situations, I still find our nation, my family, myself truly blessed.  As I look back on the year after that trip, I can only be thankful for my family and friends who stick it out with me through thick and thin.  I may not be living in a 1st world country but I find myself amazingly happy and content.  True, things will never be perfect, but with them around, it will always be OK!

It’s A Matter of Perspective

There is a recent craze about photography.  After the advent of digital cameras came the DSLRs.  I cannot help but be amused.  Pair it with social networking sites and you are on a roll. 

Growing up, I have always enjoyed browsing the library for books and magazines.  Most of the time, I end up with picture and coffee table books from China and Taiwan.  I have always admired the shots.  Now that I have a camera of my own, I try to mimic the artistry that I have always admired-with my digital camera, hahhaa.  It is also not uncommon to see me rush from one scene to another in an event or a trip.  Most of us, even, get so caught up with picture taking that we sometimes take the moments for granted. 

I was with a friend touring the Grand Canyon almost a year ago.  As tourists on a tight schedule, and what with the short autumn daylight, we found ourselves rushing from one spot to another.  Huffing and puffing the cold thin mountain air as we climbed up and down the boulders.  We were very busy elbowing our way among the other tourists for the next scenic spot.

At one point, I told my friend to stop.  I told her that our 45 minute – stop was almost up and I have not quite taken in the whole magnificent beauty of this natural wonder.  I just wanted to take it all in and enjoy the moment.  The Grand Canyon is so breath taking that I had to pause and say a prayer of thanks for that rare experience.

Pictures, no matter how beautiful, can never quite capture moments.  Sure they can preserve a smile, a twinkle in the eye, a big laugh, but it will never capture the emotions, the feel, the smell, the experience. They can also be very limited in perspective.  Now in photography, a perspective IS a technical term, and that perspective is hugely dependent on the photographer.

A scene can be captured in many different ways depending on which perpective the photographer chooses to frame.  In this sense, a picture cannot quite encompass the whole beauty of a scene or moment.

This is no different from “perspectives” in discussions. In relating to people, we have to take into account the varied perspectives each has to contribute, otherwise, we will not have a full understanding of where this person is coming from. But just like a picture, this perspective is hugely dependent on what the other person wants to relay.  It is chosen, then framed before it is shot.  It could be just a fraction of what the whole scenery is, a fraction of truth.

It is then important, that as we seek to understand people’s varied perspectives, that we also be critical to what is being presented.  If you are a manager in the workplace, avoiding the usual trap of being bogged down with details, you usualy rely on your supervisors for input and advise.   On the other hand, if you are a subordinate, you usually rely on your supervisor or manager for the same input and advise.  While this works in an ideal setting, challenges cannot be avoided.  These varied perspectives, again, are hugely dependent on the “photographer”.

Many of us take each other’s word as truth.  It would not hurt to stop, put the camera down, and really take in the scenery.

Chicken Cannibalism

Our neighbor has taken a new “hobby”.  She has decided to raise chickens, yes, chickens in our downtown Cebu apartment compound.  I personally think she is bored out of her wits.  She has further decided to position the chicken coop at the left side of the gate.  Every time one passes by the gate, you are greeted with the smell of chicken crap.  She has also taken on an environmental vocation, turning chicken crap into some kind of fertilizer for her houseplants.  We hang our clothes along two clotheslines at the parking lot, our neighbor decided to dry the chicken crap just below our two clotheslines.  Flies swarm around the dump like bees. More like environmental hazard to me!

 One morning, a friend came to visit and passing by the chicken coop, he saw that one chicken was almost dying when all the rest were ganging up on it.  They were pecking on the tail and my friend also saw bleeding and some hanging guts.  The chicken did not survive.  Everyday, for three days, I always see our neighbor’s housemaid carry out another casualty.  Today, the chicken coop holds just three chickens, from its original count of 8 or 12.

 I read about chicken cannibalism.  They say, this is caused by the chicken’s urge to play out their foraging instincts.  When locked in a coop, chickens cannot walk around and forage.  In my neighbor’s coop, she crammed 8-12 chickens into a coop about 1 feet by 1 feet in measurement.  Good bye foraging.  Another cause is the lack of food.  I cannot blame the chickens, I swear there were times when I passed by the coop and I can almost hear them call out to me for food, I also saw it in their eyes.  Poor chickens.  I doubt if they get enough food and if they are fed at the right intervals.  It  was also said that sometimes, chickens also turn into cannibals if their source of food nutrients is mostly based on plant source protein like soya based feeds. 

 Limited space and limited resources turn chickens into cannibals.  I think it is natural, even with humans.  

 However, the problem with humans is that there are times when there is no real lack of resources.  It is only a perceived lack.  There are those among us who operate on a mindset of want and lack and limited resources.  Even with the most minute of things. 

 A classic example is the office politics.  Everyone has a role to play.  The subordinates, the supervisors, the observers, the ambitious go getters, the back stabbers, and the drifters, etc.  However, when any one of these people perceive some kind of lack, their natural instincts come into play.  Like a cannibal, this person can attack from behind, pecking on your tail, attack your gut or slowly peck your feathers off and then your skin until you bleed.  This lack can be true or not.   But cannibals are very real.

 Did one really need to create this mindset of “lack”?  Maybe or maybe not.  A lot of factors can come into play, this need may be created due to personal aspirations, professional growth, the urgent need for higher income, fulfillment, maybe just plain bad upbringing, lots of envy…envy…and envy.

 Was it the Bible that said “grow where you are planted?”  In time and with perseverance, the opportunity we long for will come.  Meanwhile, one may want to sharpen one’s beak and be ready for such time.  Do not peck on others behinds. 

 They say one of the remedies for chicken cannibalism is to add a richer mix of protein sources, mixing animal based protein sources with the regular chicken feed.  In the workplace for example, when one is faced with “high skill – high will” team members but do not have opportunities for growth, sometimes, a richer mix of activities and rewards to “excite” them will do the trick. 

 Some trim the chicken beaks.  Sometimes, in the workplace, the single most destructive weapon is the mouth.  The source of gossip, backstabbing, gripes, etc.  How do we trim our beaks?  Or shall we just go ahead and make pies out of these chickens?

 Another sure fire remedy is to let chickens loose, out in the open, not in a coop.  In an office setting, I would not want this to happen.  I see the office as an organization, not a coop. It is a place where people work together towards one direction.  People, not animals.  And people bond and even when some people just tag co workers as co workers “only”, for me, I grow and develop friendships..sometimes…organizations grow to become a family.  Call me a mushy wimp, self righteous bastard, hypocrite, etc.  But God knows my heart.

 It will be really sad when resources are scarce that organizations just have to let go of some people to forage on their own or when people who perceive a scarcity feel the need to forage, someplace else.  But then again, just like the chickens, it may also work for everybody’s good!  Everyone stays alive, feathers intact.

The Lighthouse

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at see on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days.  I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell.  The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

 

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “light, bearing on the starboard bow”

 

“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.

 

Lookout replied, “Steady, captain” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

 

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees”

 

Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees”

 

The captain said “Send: I am a captain, change course 20 degrees.”

 

“I am a seaman 2nd class” came the reply “You had better change course 20 degrees”

 

By that time, the captain was furious.  He spat out “Send, I’m a battleship.  Change course 20 degrees!”

 

Back came the flashing light, “ I’m a lighthouse”

 

We changed course.

(Frank Koch in Proceedings, Naval Institute as cited in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey)

 

Recently, I find myself in various situations where in the end, I would say to myself that nobody is to blame, that I would just have to accept things as they are, that it is just another sad situation.   This comes from understanding both sides of every situation.  Too much understanding now that I think about it. 

I remember reading Stephen Covey’s 7 habits, and in the chapter about paradigms, he mentions that people can completely disagree about something and both of them can still be correct.  This is because they see different sides of the same situation.  This perspective comes from how each of them was conditioned since birth. Most of the time, each would assume that his perspective is the right one.  This is what Covey calls “Subjective Reality”.  But who is to say which perspective is right, which is truly, realistically correct?  Should we just settle ourselves with accepting situations as sad affairs, agreeing to disagree, like I’m doing recently?

I was enlightened and happy to agree with Covey when he continues and talks about how there are fundamental principles.  These are principles “…that govern human growth and happiness – natural laws that are woven into the fabric of every civilized society throughout history and comprise roots of every family and institution that has endured and prospered….These principles surface time and time again, and the degree to which people in a society recognize and live in harmony with them moves them toward either survival and stability or disintegrations and destruction.” 

This is the “Objective Reality” and no amount of individual perspective can argue with these principles.  Some examples are the principles of fairness, integrity, excellence, human dignity and respect.  Not one culture or civilization that has prospered can ever argue with these principles.  Further, no one can prove that by living the opposite of these principles, they lived with lasting happiness and success.

As I ponder these, I cannot help but think, that there may have been situations where I was treated unfairly, that realistically, I should not have to settle myself with everything thrown my way.  And that no matter what amount of reasoning I am given, there were times, these totally negate principles of fairness and integrity.  Maybe next time, I should remember the lighthouse…