Finding Meaning While Jobless

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

There was a lot of training sessions that I attended in the last few weeks, whether it was helping organize it, participating in it, or helping facilitate it. The last month was filled with a lot of realizations, learnings, and appreciation for everything I have now.

In one session I attended, we were made to watch a TED Talk video of Emily Esfahani Smith discussing the four pillars to a meaningful life. Her talk about the four pillars is a must watch, especially if you’re in that phase of your life when you’re finding meaning to your existence.

Smith’s discussion about having a meaningful life really resonated with me because a few years ago, I hit rock bottom and could not find meaning in my life at all.

Going jobless

My sister, Kristine, has a condition called patella alta or high riding kneecaps. This condition became apparent when she was ten years old when she had her first knee dislocation. Over the years, she would get two to three dislocations a year. We never knew when a dislocation would happen and some of them did even when she was only changing sleeping positions! By the time she was 26, her Medial Patellofemoral Ligaments (MPFL) were so overstretched from her knees’ constant going out of where they should be. I think it’s called partial dislocation because they always popped back on their own. Anyway, she needed to undergo surgery; on both knees.

In December of 2014, she had her MPFL reconstruction surgery on her knee. Everything seemed fine. She was recovering well at home after she was discharged. At least she was until she started having cramps. She had to be rushed back to the hospital. A slight error on the TENS machine during her PT sessions later, our lives took a sharp turn and everything went downhill.

Kristine was having cramps on her operated leg and the only way to alleviate the pain was to keep her on medicines and to massage her leg 24/7. Yup. Non-stop. A minute or two of pause would cause her leg to have intense cramps, so we had to hire nurses and caregivers on a shifting schedule just to massage her leg. When there were no nurses, we had to do it ourselves. We basically stayed in the hospital for almost a month, celebrating Christmas and New Year 2015 there.

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Our cousin Cristina, Kristine, and me.

At that time, I was working in an audit firm and I loved my job as difficult and tiring as it was. I would work in the hospitals at night and during the weekends because we were wrapping up the audit of a huge client.

I was earning very little compared to Kristine, but I was happy anyway. So, when it became apparent that it was getting more expensive to hire a nurse while I continued working and when our house help went back to her province and did not come back, I had to stop working to help take care of my sister.

I love Kristine, don’t get me wrong. At that time though, work meant everything to me. We were dealing with so many issues at that time other than her knee surgery and work became my escape. I was a workaholic at that time that my senior would even plead for me to go home because I would insist on staying and working. To lose my job felt like I was losing a limb. I was suddenly forced to face everything I used to run away from.

My job description changed after my last day in the audit firm. I became in charge of cooking breakfast and became a pusher. By that, I meant a wheelchair pusher. We had to bring Kristine to work in the morning and fetch her in the afternoon to bring her to her PT sessions at night. That was my job for five months.

In between caring for Kristine, eating and hygiene activities, I slept. I slept a lot because I could not handle feeling useless. I could not handle the envy from seeing my former colleagues move up in their career or start going abroad. I could not handle feeling so lonely because my friends from work were so busy at that time (which was not their fault at all) because of the nature of their work. I could not accept that I had to quit my job because we were basically penniless and dependent solely on Kristine’s salary to have a roof above our heads and food on the table. I felt that if only I were more successful in my career, we could have afforded to hire a nurse instead of needing me to stay at home. Sleeping afforded me peace from all the sadness I was feeling.

One day, Kristine talked about wanting to have her left knee operated on as soon as possible. Mom was very much against the idea and so was I. For one, we could not afford another complication. Mom wanted to save up first before the next surgery. I badly wanted to have a job. A fight ensued and my sister accidentally blurted something about being the only one earning. It felt like a bucket of ice water was poured on me. I cried for hours out of hatred for her. Looking back, I knew it was myself I hated more that day. I never felt as useless and worthless as I did on that day. I wasn’t the one who went through the surgery, but why was I the useless one? I asked myself that a lot.

Transcendence

The surgery was not easy on my sister. She has always been a go-getter, independent girl. To suddenly be so dependent on people to lift her leg for her when she got out of the bed, or a chair, or the car, was also taking a toll on her. As painful as moving around was, she had to show up at work because she was supporting our family. She must have had to swallow her pride and she might have felt like she was a burden too. I could not see that right away after the big fight. It took some time to understand her and what she was also going through. As difficult as the ordeal was for me, it was hella tough for my sister too. After all, she was the one who went through the surgery!

I don’t think we were both being selfish and self-centered at that time. It was more of a lack of communication between us that caused all the negative feelings. Maybe, if she were more vocal of her appreciation (which she later on expressed), and if I were more open about my guilt of not being able to help financially, we could have consoled each other. When we finally understood what each one was going through, we started being able to figure out what to do next.

I don’t remember having prayed as much as I prayed during this period. I complained a lot to the Lord, but even if my prayers were more about whining, just knowing I could talk to Him helped a lot.

Belonging

Kristine and Mom are my biggest supporters. Even if I was feeling useless, they knew I was going to be able to go back to work and they let me know they believed in me. We were a trio of strong women who always bounce back after a difficult situation and we always had each other’s backs.

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She used to help me stand. Years later, I was able to return the favor.

Purpose

I realized that being jobless did not mean I didn’t have a purpose in life. While it was not my life purpose, at that time, my purpose was to help take care of Kristine. I was not useless, I just had a different idea of what being useful was. At that time, I had a narrow-minded view on what being useful was that I could not see how much Mom needed my help in tasks like pushing Kristine’s wheelchair or lifting her leg.

Storytelling

Eventually, my sister could already walk with a crutch. That was somehow the go-signal for me to start looking for a new job.

The tougher part of job interviews for me was explaining the months I was without work. I wanted to be as honest as possible without making myself appear as a victim of circumstances. I had to convince interviewers that even if I was jobless for some time, that period that I did not have work was not a waste because the situation helped me grow. That growth may be useful to them because it spoke of my character, something that they could consider in hiring me.

 Throughout the interviews that I had over the last few years, the story I share about why I was jobless evolved. In my last job interview (for the job I am currently in) the story went something close to lines of:

My sister had a knee surgery that had a complication. I stopped working to help take care of her as it was the more financially smart thing to do at that time. I do not see it as a sacrifice. Instead, I see it as an investment because her knees are fully well now. Two years later, she started working in Hong Kong as a regional IT auditor for a multinational company. Her knees are now strong enough to handle all the traveling for her work. 

Before I arrived at those lines, I admit that I still felt bad about the situation from time to time. Yet, the more I said my story in a positive light, the better I felt about it and myself. The better I felt about it, the clearer the purpose of having to go through it became. There were so many things that I learned during that period that I was jobless, and most of them were things I doubt I would have learned has I kept on going to the office. I realized that you should never underestimate the power of the words you tell yourself. You might be amazed at how much they can influence the outcome of your ongoing story.

My story may not be that grand. I did not suddenly become a millionaire after a period of being jobless. I did not become an influencer afterward. Still, I hope that you learned something from my story.

No matter how difficult things are, hold on to the hope and the trust in yourself that you can make it through.

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Planners and Schedules

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I was never the type who planned everything. I was not the type of person who had her life all planned out with targets of when to get married, have kids, and be famous all over the world. I was more of the go-with-the-flow type even if I was not excited about where life was bringing me from time to time. That is why, every time I get asked what my plan was for the next five or ten years, I take so long to reply.

While I am proud of my flexibility and resiliency, I have to admit that making plans is a good thing because it helps one reach his or her goals. I will need to be better at planning if I want to reach high in life, so to practice, I started with getting a weekly planner and  Starbucks planner.

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What’s the deal with the Starbucks planner, you may ask. Well, every Christmas season in the Philippines, Starbucks and other big coffee shop brands promote their brands by giving you stickers to collect and eventually exchange for planners. Starbucks is the most notorious and might actually been the one that started the planner craze among coffee shop brands in the Philippines.

I never joined in on the bandwagon in the past. I always gave my stickers away to someone I knew was collecting. Other times, I will allow other people to treat me to Starbucks just so they can speed up their sticker collection process. When I felt generous, I would treat friends to coffee and let them have the stickers. It was only last year that I decided to collect for myself.

This year, I had to purchase eighteen drinks in total. When I celebrated my first year anniversary with my current employer, I got six tickets from treating my teammates. For the twelve others, I randomly treated other people for no reason. I admit, I sometimes made people feel that they were helping me get the planner by letting me treat them (because there was no way I will ask them to buy a drink for themselves and give me the sticker knowing they are also collecting). I think I spent almost PHP 3,500 or around USD 80 for that freaking planner.

img_0534You see, getting the planner was already a goal in itself. Despite how trivial the goal appears, it was a practice for me on working towards a goal I have made for myself not because it aligns with anybody else’s goals, but simply because I just wanted it.

The next challenge for me is to make sure I use the planner. Often, my planners in the past (bought and not obtained from promotions) ended up like diaries or journals instead of a true planner. Almost all were not used anymore after March. I am desperately trying not to be the same this year.

img_0476For work, I also got myself a weekly planner for my different activities throughout the day. It helped me tremendously during the last quarter of the year when we were so busy. However, I have to admit that there were multiple times that I adjusted my to-do list because I was again, trying to be flexible. I need to learn how to be better at prioritization and workload balancing.

I am also thinking of doubling this weekly planner as a mood tracker. I am still unsure whether to get emoji stickers or to just draw. I think the stickers will look more attractive.

My goal this year is to be a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). It’s been years since I last studied for an exam, so I am really struggling with reviving my study habits (whatever little I had as a student). Not only do I have to study, I also have to improve my budgeting skills so I can pay for review materials and the exam itself. I already started with motivating myself by changing my phone’s wallpaper to a reminder of my goal.

Here’s to the hope that becoming CISA will be a goal achieved instead of merely being a wish.

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The Song That Tells Your Life

“I think there is a song out there to describe just about any situation.” -Criss Jami, Killosophy

If someone told me a year ago that there was a song that described exactly how I was feeling and also said exactly what I needed to hear, I would have been so grateful.

Just a few weeks ago, my colleague recommended a song when I asked him (out of the blue) what nice songs could I include in my Spotify playlist. After listening to it, I was taken back to the days I could have related so deeply to the song. Regardless, I could still relate to it while realizing how far I have already gone from the feelings that would have made me cry while listening. That song is Take it One Day at a Time by Jennifer Chung. And, it described exactly how I was feeling a year ago–without a purpose.

I was alive but I didn’t feel like I was living in the moment. It was like I was watching life take place and play in front of me like a movie. I felt like an audience to the movie of my life and I did not have the slightest bit of enthusiasm to be the actor instead.

I was at my lowest point at that time. I was recovering from months of daily migraine, I was dissatisfied at work and I was questioning everything that I had to go through. I bloody wanted a day off from the whole world!

But, the song could have also told me what I needed that time. That I should not ignore what I was feeling but also that I could heal from it.

I think it happens even to the best of us. We will feel so down and lethargic. We would feel we’re not appreciated and the world will gladly keep going even without us. But if we could be kinder to ourselves and do what we must to get rid of these that weigh us down, we can be alright. Even more that alright.

Anyway, here’s the music video of that beautiful song:

Lyrics

I know it hurts.

Don’t wanna get out of bed.

Much rather lay there instead.

Instead, you face what you fear –

The thought that no one is near.

It hurts.

You’re living but don’t feel alive.

No motivation or drive,

As you search for answers to why,

Oh, why.

Why me?

Won’t somebody please,

Take my burdens away.

I can’t do this today.

You’ve got to hold on.

Hold onto what you believe in.

Weather through every season.

Take it one day at a time.

You’ve got to hold on.

Don’t put aside what you’re feeling.

There is a process of healing.

You will be more than alright.

Take it one day at a time.

So overwhelming.

Everyone’s counting on you.

Unaware you need help too.

But you don’t say a word,

Too much work to be done.

No fun.

Go through the motions eyes closed.

‘Cause you’re always doing the most.

But the more that you do,

The more you seem to lose.

Why me?

Won’t somebody please,

Take my burdens away.

I can’t do this today.

You’ve got to hold on.

Hold onto what you believe in.

Weather through every season.

Take it one day at a time.

You’ve got to hold on.

Don’t put aside what you’re feeling.

There is a process of healing.

You will be more than alright.

Take it one day at a –

Time after time,

I have tried hard to fight against all my desires.

I would swallow my pride,

But I know I am called to live free and fulfilled.

No, it will not be easy,

But I will be still.

I will be still.

I will be still and know.

You’ve got to hold on.

Don’t put aside what you’re feeling.

There is a process of healing.

You will be more than alright.

Take it one day at a time.

My Dream House

“Houses are like people – some you like and some you don’t like – and once in a while there is one you love.” -L.M. Montgomery, Emily Climbs (Emily, #2)

I haven’t found the perfect house for me. Currently, we’re renting a condo unit that is very convenient and safe. But, a part of me still wishes for something that is our own. You see, when you’re renting, you’re bound by the rules of the lessor, making the house feel simply just a house and not a home.

When I have time to daydream, I think about my dream house and what I want in it.

A Study/Library

Thanks to Harry Potter, I grew up loving books. They were the best companions during summer breaks and they allowed me to be transported to other places using my imagination.

We had two large bookshelves at our old home but I felt like they were never enough for all the books I wanted to read. Even though these days, e-books are more convenient, there’s something about holding a real book, touching its pages and smelling the combination of ink and paper that still makes it a more enjoyable experience for me than reading from the screen.

I want my library and study to be a place where I can withdraw from the world and just do my thing.

An Entertainment Room

I want a room with a large TV that’s perfect for playing video games, watching movies and doing karaoke.

We didn’t have much video games growing up. We only had the first generation PlayStation that my dad won in a raffle. The games we had were only the games that came along the prize. Still, we’re grateful to have those.

I loved playing Tekken3, Front Mission 3, Grand Theft Auto 2, Syphon Filter and Harry Potter 1. I also played Resident Evil 3 but it used to give me nightmares.

I want the room to be a place where you can blast music or heighten the volume of your movies or games without disturbing the whole house. It’ll be perfect for when you have guests over.

A Large Kitchen

The love for cooking and baking runs in my family. We love feeding people! There’s a certain happiness in preparing food for others that I cannot explain.

If you frequent my blog, you’d know I love baking. I love it more than I love cooking (which I should really improve on). It has always been my dream to have those large ovens that have a stove on top. Oh, the treats I can make with one! I can bake several batches at once!

I will also need lots of room for equipment such as my dream stand mixer. A food processor and power jucier would also be nice to have so I can make tons of stuff from scratch. Also, an ice cream machine would be amazing to have because my Mom loves ice cream so much!

I want a large kitchen because I want a large storage too for my ingredients. That would mean a large pantry and large fridge and freezer that I can organize the way I want. I can already picture tons of storage containers with labels of names and expiration dates!

Lastly, I want quality pots and pans!

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I am not so picky anymore with the rest of the house although I’d like each bedroom to have its own bathroom so there’s less waiting time in the morning because there’ll be no waiting for your turn.

A piano would be nice to have in the living room. A spacious dining area will be awesome so we can invite people over.

But, I don’t like gardens. I hate the smell of wet soil after the rain and I dislike creepy-crawlies and insects that a garden will attract.

For now, all of these are dreams. I shall have to work very hard so I can turn these to reality. What’s more important is that the house does not become simply a house. It has to be a place that its residents can look forward going home to.

In the meantime, I enjoy playing Design Home on my phone. With this game, I get to design houses and imagine that I am designing my own. Through this game, I get a picture of what I want and do not want.

I have discovered that I love space. I hate having too many decorations and whatnots. I like classic or timeless pieces for the furniture.

The game will allow you to design different parts of the house. You get to “earn” from your designs so you can buy more stuff for the next project. You get to win items too if you reach 4 stars from the voting. Truly an enjoyable, relaxing game!

What’s your dream house like?

Please Stay

Don’t just look forward to the day all the pain stops. Look forward to the day it does and you’re able to feel the difference.

If you feel nothing else is worth fighting for, please think again. You are. You are worth fighting for. And the first person who should fight for you is actually you.

You are worth so much more than you can imagine. Please keep holding on.

Hey You…

Some days can be tough. You know. Like those days when you find out you already have ten blunders even before your day has started. Or when your work schedule is 80% meetings, 10% follow-ups, 5% e-mail cleanup and 5% actual time left to do your job. Some days, you have a dozen competing demands for your time that you forget to breathe already.

Don’t quit just yet. You are a strong and dependable person. Trust your strengths and capabilities. You got this!!!

Like they say in KDramas: 1…2…3… Fighting!!!

One day at a time, sweetheart. I know you can shine through the day.

Keep your sunshine shining!

Setbacks and Comebacks

What’s done is done. There are things I cannot control and things that cannot be undone. It’s a lesson I still have to work hard on learning…

Some days are just so smooth; no bumps along the way, no heavy traffic going to work, no cramming to get things done and no heated discussions with stakeholders.

But some days can start wrong right away; you make blunders, you make more blunders, and you still have tons of stuff to do while feeling awful for your blunders! Alternatively, things may not go your way and so you get irritated about everything already that nothing can please you anymore.

I still badly need to learn how to bounce back immediately from setbacks so I can get on with the rest of my day the way I am supposed to. That being said, I should not obsess myself with replaying events in my mind going over how I could have done something better or in a different manner because that would be unproductive.

Gotta think positive even during the toughest days! Mistakes are learnings obtained in a tougher manner but these are the learnings that stick. Setbacks are just like slingshots pulling us back for a mightier comeback. We must not let our sunshine be dimmed by trivial stuff!

Palms and Battles

You cannot control everything. Sometimes, letting go takes more courage than holding on. So when you finally open your hands to set free whatever you’ve been grasping, know it is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage that you’re finally allowing yourself to face the unsure, the uncertain and the unforeseeable.

Not every battle is your battle. Not all of your battles are worth fighting for. Be picky with the battles that you will choose to fight and choose only what is worth your while.