It’s never easy to pursue your dreams in life. (I’m telling you believe me, it’s never easy!)
It’s quite easy to settle. To just be contented where you are. To wake up every morning, go to work, go back home then sleep. The next day the cycle begins again.
It’s never easy to write about pursuing your dreams in life. It’s quite hard because some of the things you’re going to share are about your failures.
A few times you succeed but most of the time you fail.
But you keep going… because you believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. (Don’t believe me yet but I can sense there’s really a light out there.)
The coming days are frightening me enough (since I’m leaving the Philippines soon, read it here) that I decided I’m going to share some things I’ve learned over the last year. Life is never easy.
Life is short but it is never easy.
It’s as if life was designed to be a test. A test of what, I do not know for sure yet.
But challenges and trials are what separates men from the boys as the popular cliche goes.
The Yellow Boat
Over the last 2 years, I have been part of an amazing journey called the Yellow Boat Project. It has been one hell of a ride.
It started with a single Facebook status that pooled resources to build a yellow school boat for children who used to swim to school. What then started as a fundraising campaign online to help one community spread to another and then to another and so on and so forth…
To date, we are present in 8 communities around the Philippines and exploring many more.
I feel so blessed to have been a party to the creation of the Yellow Boat of Hope. As our boats came to symbolize a source of new hope to the communities we are helping.
Since I was a kid, I always dreamed of being able to start my own thing – whether it be a business, a charity, an organization, anything that I can be proud of.
And the Yellow Boat of Hope means that much to me, it is both a childhood and “adulthood” dream. It has allowed me and my co-founders to build a brand – the Yellow Boat as a symbol of HOPE.
The Yellow Boat of Hope is no longer just an advocacy for me. It is my life – a personal journey.
Probably the most common question to me these days is how are you earning?
Leaving my corporate job to join the presidential and senatorial campaign of 2010 was crazy enough but leaving my job at the presidential palace was even crazier. Having a job there meant one had power or so they say.
Almost everyone I knew was against the idea but I felt like I was serving two masters. And so I resigned.
I truly enjoyed my “work” in the Yellow Boat Project. Every night I stayed up so late wondering about the possibilities and every morning I wake up excited to execute those ideas.
My “work” on board the Yellow Boat of Hope is like my way of making a dent in the Universe (ala Steve Jobs).
I had doubts as to my decision but I plunged anyway – encouraged by one donor who told me when God sends you on a mission, he sends provision.
The Yellow Boat of Hope truly feels like a mission. It is a mission to help children who are struggling to get to school. And it is helping in one way or another the country to fulfill one of our commitments to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which is to have universal primary education for all by 2015.
So how am I earning?
The simple answer is I’m not.
No single staff or volunteer of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation is being paid or compensated including me. We are all doing this on top of our regular jobs. And so it puts a lot of pressures on our capabilities to execute our plans but we do it anyway because we believe that education is a right and getting these kids to school should be our priority.
And though it’s hard, I truly believe in this mission.
I earn from my speaking engagements from time to time and that has partly been responsible for keeping me debt-free.
Also, I have saved some money during my 5 years in the corporate world and I have been dipping into it for the last 12 months.
Having said this, I cannot complain.
Because of the project, I have been to the US, Singapore, France, Italy, Spain, and India to share our story.
I have traveled in more cities and in more continents in the last 12 months than all my previous 29 years combined.
I have also met so many wonderful and amazing people along this journey. Filipinos who make me proud to be one. And people who inspire me that we can truly build a world beyond poverty.
And so I believe it’s only a matter of time before I’m going to figure out how to keep myself sustainable as the foundation is slowly reaching its own sustainability too through the help of my co-founders and friends.
I am reminded by a famous quote from Randy Komisar when he said “Only passion will get you through the tough times… It is the romance, not the finance, that makes business worth pursuing.”
So it’s very important to find work that you love because that’s the only way you can truly do great work (ala Steve Jobs again).
Which brings me to the topic of love…
This is probably the most difficult aspect in nation-building or advocacy work. People like me don’t have regular weekends. We work on Saturdays, on Sundays, and even at 2, 3 or 4AM and sometimes just get by with barely an hour of sleep.
At one point, I was out on the road for a consecutive 3 weeks. It’s really tiring and keeping relationships is always a problem especially when the people close to you don’t understand what you’re doing.
Our parents might also not understand what we do. They can’t understand why we can’t be just like them. Things were simple before. You go to school. You graduate. You work. You start a family. You work everyday for the rest of your life. And then you die.
Our friends might also be thinking we’re just going through a phase in life. And it’s also hard to go out with them since you’re always on the road and sometimes you’re too tired to go out at night.
This is for me the toughest challenge because FOCUS is one important success factor in any thing we do in life and it’s increasingly hard to focus on the person you love when your focus is on getting kids to school.
Balance is key but it is also a delicate balancing act. I don’t know if that makes sense but there are certainly trade-offs.
I also believe that timing is everything. Right now, my focus is on helping build the model that will sustain the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation and then also building the right model for myself to sustain my efforts and still be able to start my own family.
I am hoping though that one day I will find her on board the Yellow Boat of Hope.
In my presentations and talks, I always start it with my favorite quote from the movie “Kung Fu Panda” where Master Oogway (the turtle kung fu master) repeats it three times:
“There are no accidents in life.”
And it is my belief that it is not an accident either that we were able to build the Yellow Boat of Hope. I don’t like to sound biblical but there are many similarities between our yellow boat and Noah’s ark especially at a time when floods are threatening our way of life and that the sea level is rising.
Boats have always been our primary mode of transportation and up to this day, it is estimated that there are more boats in the Philippines than there are cars or jeepneys. Just imagine that there are 7,107 islands and the primary mode of transportation between these islands are really boats or ferries.
What I’m simply saying is that I am amazed at how the Yellow Boat of Hope has touched the lives of so many children and families and I never imagined when I was growing up in Cotabato City in Mindanao that I would one day be a part of something like this.
Life may hand us lemons but we can surely make lemonades or even lemonade stands out of it.