Much has been said about persistence and perseverance: how, if you are only forceful and determined enough, you could achieve whatever it is that you set your mind to.
“They’re rich, but still nice.”
– “They’re nice because they’re rich.”Jon Bong Hoo, “Parasite”
During my freshman year in high school, my older brother and I had to be sent off to a public high school in Quezon City after my parents incurred a huge debt because of a failed business. The financial loss meant that they could no longer afford to send us to the private school near our home in Las Piñas. My aunt convinced my mom that the high school near her place had better standards than the usual public schools, and so my mom decided that we would live with our aunt and our cousins so we could study there.
As a kid, I felt that it was all a game. I imagined how that year was going to be fun, and how I’d have interesting stories to share to my friends back home once I came back to my old school.
My new classmates saw me and my brother as a curiosity. I remember how they would ask me questions about my old school–why I had to uproot myself from that life in exchange for this strange one. I vaguely remember dodging some of those questions, but what I could recall was how I found it amusing that they would speak to me in English, as if they expected me to be beyond speaking in the vernacular.
A few weeks ago, my startup company Taxumo had a two-day sprint activity to assess how we can create exciting new products for our customers—the thousands of Filipino self-employed-professionals, freelancers, and sole proprietors (and many thousands more, soon to come.)
During the session, our CEO EJ Arboleda introduced to us the Kano Model, the product development and customer satisfaction theory developed by Japanese professor Noriaki Kano. The said theory advocates going beyond the functional benefits of your product and service, and assessing the emotions which you can elicit by introducing certain new features.
The theory posits that products/services are composed of either three attributes: threshold attributes, otherwise known as the “basics”; performance attributes, or the ” satisfiers”; and the excitement attributes, or the “delighters”.
For example, think of an insulated water bottle. It’s basic (threshold attribute) that the said water bottle would not get hot and still be holdable even after you put in hot water. Now, if the said water bottle also keeps your water’s temperature stable for 48 hours (versus its competitor’s 24-hour temperature stability), that could be really satisfying (a performance attribute) for you as a customer, since it boosts your enjoyment of an expected feature. But what if the water bottle also changes color depending on how cold or hot the water is? That’s a totally unexpected feature, and could be a delightful thing for your customer (an excitement attribute.)
In time, however, as people become used to the exciting feature which you’ve once offered, it sort of becomes an expected property for your product. (Think of mobile phones having touchscreens—a feature Apple popularized.)
Oddly, but perhaps with good reason, the Kano model came to mind when I was thinking about our work within the LGBT advocacy, specifically during the recent IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia) event which the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce did with the Embassy of the Netherlands in the Philippines.
I was scrolling through my Instagram feed one evening when the ad from Without Walls Ministries (@withoutwallsph) appeared:
“Jesus never mentions homosexuality. How can it be wrong?”
I curiously clicked on the link from this organization who claims to be “a community of people who love Jesus and are on a mission to spread the gospel in our city and beyond.”
They were organizing a free conference, open to the public. The speaker is a British pastor named Sam Allberry, a man who says he experiences same-sex attraction, and now preaches about how his attraction is not integral to his identity.
It was amusing, to say the least.
“Why are you so forceful?”
The words hit me like a brick.
I was talking to a friend earlier, trying to motivate him to start on his fitness routine. He had reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, saying that he had wanted to begin finally.
The thought excited me. I had always been dropping hints to my friend that his lifestyle was really messing him up–physically, mentally, and emotionally. He had been complaining of being stressed all the time. Secretly, I was hoping that he would somewhat take my advice to heart and sort of change his ways.
In my unending mission to improve myself, I constantly pummel myself with this phrase: never enough.
There’s always something left to be done.
There’s always room to improve myself.
There’s always a better way to do things.
It can be an unforgiving mantra. And I will admit that I can be very unforgiving towards myself, at times. I sometimes envy people who could laugh their mistakes off and think nothing of it. I see the smarter ones mull over their errors and charge it to experience.
I don’t. I often see failures as weaknesses of my character. I could’ve done better, but I didn’t–hence I failed.
I couldn’t learn fast enough.
I didn’t act quickly enough.
I didn’t do enough.
While the good thing is that it reminds me to never become complacent, telling myself all the time that it’s never enough can be very exhausting. And frankly, there are times when I just want to curl up in a ball and not do anything at all, paralyzed by this fear that I am setting myself up for a landslide of failures.
Sometimes I wonder how my mom did it. I remember this one night, while I was still young, when she told me: “Sometimes I feel weak too, you know?”
It was weird and somewhat disconcerting to see her that way. There was my mother, who always seemed to know what she was doing, admitting that she wasn’t as strong as I imagined her to be.
It’s easy to box people into certain facets that we see of them. I’ve always known my mom as this stern, impenetrable, invincible force that held the world together. She got shit done. That may have meant, at times, that she was emotionally inaccessible, but perhaps that was how she made things happen.
She had to be strong because people depended on her. She was the stereotypical tiger mom.
I feel like I’ve emulated that attitude, maybe a bit to the extreme. Most moments, I would keep quiet as I try to lay out all the scenarios that could happen, planning my course of action for each possibility.
I want to be the best of what I can be. And to want this constantly is to assume that who I am is not exactly the best. The room for improvement is always ever-growing.
I suppose the solution for this is to maintain a healthy discontentment.
The human experience is fraught with failures as well as successes, after all. Each failure is an opportunity to dust one’s self off and try again.
By not being enough, I can keep on trying. And that should be enough to make me kinder to myself.
I type this inside a speeding car, believing I am sitting comfortably, except my body doesn’t even truly touch the seat—instead, the electrons of this seat repel the electrons of my body, ensuring that I am only ever so near, but never really.
And it is the same for everything that we will ever encounter in life: even the longest, most heartfelt embrace between two lovers will remain to be, ever so slightly, distant.
This emptiness is so immense that the whole of humanity could actually be compressed in a single sugar cube, if we had enough energy to compact all of us into that infinitesimal thing.
I think about the year that has gone, and I observe as many of my friends and family write what the year has meant for them: celebrations, reconnections, accidents, deaths.
Happiness, sadness, loss, grief.
Each event, a bookmark. A neon highlighter marking chunks of text on a thick gray book.
The year has been wonderful to me. The year has also been challenging for me. Unfamiliar cities and countries I’ve traveled to, a breakup that happened midyear, an unexpected eviction and a harrowing two months waiting for the new place to move into.
Loves lost. Love gained.
I remember everything. I feel everything. And I’d like to believe that this is what is means to be truly human—to remember and to feel. To continue to remember and feel. To never give up on experiencing and learning from all the happiness and pain, as overwhelming as they can both be, at times.
But, much as I am grateful for the dog-eared pages, I am also grateful for all the fillers, the flatline of ordinary life.
I will only skim just above the surface. I know that I will never truly understand everything fully. Perhaps even the greatest love and the greatest hurt will only be a semblance of what those feelings are. Perhaps everything I sense are mere shadows cast by the ideal, as if I watch them in the darkness of this cave.
There are only a few hours left until the end of 2018. I am not demanding for a plot twist, for a sudden change in direction. I am content with my discontentment of all the blank spaces and uncertainties.
Give me this silence—because in the silence, in the gaping maw, in the pause of the seconds, I imagine us coming closer, despite how there will always be this distance we cannot transgress.
I will look into that abyss ahead, yet unspeckled by light—and take it all in, smiling.
The other day, I was watching a video on Facebook about a group of filmmakers who were caught in a predicament: should they rescue the emperor penguins which were trapped in a ravine, or should they let nature run its course and uphold the documentarist’s code of non-intervention?
He had admitted that he was scared of confrontations, and I realized that it could’ve been the reason why he never really asked for a proper explanation when I said back then that we should stop dating.
I told him to be honest: was there anything that he wanted to ask that he had been, years back, afraid to?
He said that he had always wondered if I had feelings for him during the time we were dating, or if he was the only one who had felt that what we had was special.
I guess I was unfair at the time of the “breakup”. I told him then that we were better off as friends, and that I thought that he needed some time for himself.
Frankly, what I really wanted to say was that, I felt that our relationship was stopping him from growing.
Yes, the space we have created between us had provided a certain comfort. But I surmised that, at that point in his life, the comfort of our relationship was not what he needed. He needed to discover himself, and to be challenged to become better.
In my head, I thought that the only way he could only realize that better version of himself–career-, emotion-, and even health-wise–was having me out of the picture as a potential partner.
Being the intuitive person that he was, he told me that he somewhat felt that that was what I had wanted to happen by breaking up, although he never really confirmed it–until now.
But he also said that it wasn’t right for me to not have given him the opportunity to fully understand the reasons why I had terminated the relationship.
He made sense. I may have been wrong.
But in that moment though, I thought: by telling him the true reason behind the breakup, would I have forced him to grow as a person that he didn’t want to be or wasn’t ready to become? Would he have negotiated the relationship and promised to change, simply because I told him that he had so much unrealized potential and that our relationship was hindering him?
The thing is, I’ve always believed that it’s more sustainable for people to have changed because of a realization that they made on their own, rather than to have changed because someone else had twisted their arm into changing.
To paraphrase a popular quote: “When the student is ready, the lesson will appear.”
I didn’t want to force the lesson on him. I didn’t want to beat him with my frustration that he wasn’t growing as fast as I would want him to grow. I didn’t want to hold the relationship hostage and make it seem like I was turning him into my pet project.
I genuinely was fond of him for being the kind, wonderful soul that he was.
I also knew that I needed to step back and not intervene with his growth.
It’s funny because, had I chosen to intervene then, would things have fared well for us? Would we have become terrific partners?
I don’t know, honestly.
Maybe, with matters of the heart, we can never really not intervene. To participate in other people’s lives is to change their lives in a certain way. We cannot isolate parts of their lives into little fragments, and assess whether each fragment had been changed since we had become part of their lives.
At the end of that conversation, I told him that I truly wanted him to succeed in life. We may never have been boyfriends, but I sincerely am cheering him on at the sidelines as a real friend, hoping for the best.
I never had imagined before that it could be possible to root for someone without any agenda, until he came in my life.
So maybe I was the one who learnt an important lesson, after all.
It’s the middle spaces that get lost in what we talk about: the gray, fuzzy areas that are undetermined and blurry.
Today I had an anxiety attack.
It wasn’t the first, nor the worst, but it crept from behind and surprised me. I was having a pretty good day when it suddenly appeared. I was in the middle of a meeting when it popped out, almost paralyzing me.