Category: Musings

The Problem with Leaders with Low Self-Esteem

“The problem with people of low esteem is that they cast strong people as villains. The crab culture in which the Philippines works is, after all, a culture of low self-esteem that is not surprising considering how people have largely been pawns to greater interests from the Spanish, the Catholic Church, the Americans, the Japanese briefly, and forever by their overbearing, corrupt, me-first dynastic landlords, warlords and archaic autocrats devoid of any compassion toward people beyond their dining room tables.

“The problem with people of low self-esteem is that they don’t see themselves very well. They are in a daily state of delusional denial. They think they are smart, and normal.

“So the President of the Philippines, who seems to me to be a degree beyond insecure and operating in a realm of applied vengeance, sees the US as a villain, laws as a villain, socio-economic health problems (drugs) as a villain, and any critic as a villain. Even if they make total sense and are of high character.”

Source: “Every Filipino for himself!!!”

Tales of El Nido

el nido, philippines

I first visited El Nido three years ago upon the invitation of a friend whom I dated very briefly. I must have been living in a bubble all my life for I never knew how relationships with visitors worked. Since then, I treasured a hate/hate relationship with this destination popular amongst backpackers.

And so excited to visit a place that I only knew about from travel magazines, I booked tickets to the nearest major airport, not knowing full well about the harrowing land transfer between Puerto Princesa and this tiny town sitting on the edge of nowhere: six hours of commute on some of the roughest roads I knew. If you asked me now, I would pay anything to avoid spending a total of twelve hours that I could never get back on a backbreaking road trip.

By the time we reached El Nido town in the middle of the night looking for someplace to sleep, everyone was in a foul mood. I think that our group was taken advantage of by the booking agent who found a non-air conditioned van for us without informing us about the miles of rugged and dusty road ahead. We were lucky to find a place that was still open and accepted guests who didn’t have pre-booking.

Two days of roughing it on small boats that took us on “island hopping” followed. Island hopping tours are the backbone of El Nido tourism, and most tour operators make money from the island hopping packages that go for a few hours or overnight any of the major islands that make up El Nido. It has its charms and the islands themselves were nothing short of amazing if you are not the sort whose idea of a great time is wading in calm waters or getting a tan somewhere by the shores of Boracay, some fancy private resort, or a party island.

Let me tell you what I learned then and what I still know now: El Nido is rough. You have to be brave to cross patches of West Philippine Sea and channels between islands as your tiny boat is tossed around large wave after large wave. Pray that the outrigger you were sailing in stays intact or you might as well call it a life, then go. 

(Please, banca owners, make sure your boats are in tip-top shaping before taking in guests. It’s not imaginary if everyone looks towards the same direction whenever your outriggers are making cracking sound as if your vessels were begging to disintegrate in the middle of the sea.)

Always wear aqua shoes so you can walk on dead corals and shells that are always present at every cove, lagoon, or beach. Your buns of steel are no match to unpadded boat seats where you have to sit for hours. This makes me wonder how padded banca seats are still not a thing. Just asking. Those life vests are heaven-sent if your backside starts to go sore. On the other hand, those vests are meant to be worn, not seated on.

You would be lucky to find a comfort room or lavatory on the islands. And if you ever got lucky to find one, there was no assurance that it was clean or had proper running water. Brush up on your swimming skills, because not all stops are done on shallow waters.

If you are not a strong swimmer, ask your tour guide for a life vest. It doesn’t look cool, but at least you will live for another day. If you want a fuss-free El Nido experience, go fancy and spend a month’s paycheck to stay at the private resorts on the islands. Otherwise, you have to be open to the idea that it’s a popular destination mostly for backpackers, and not without a good reason.

The night scene was not promising either if you do not know where to go. Back then, if we had only walked a couple of blocks further, or made the right turn, maybe we would have discovered that there was a thriving party and music scene amongst restaurants and pubs fronting the beach.

It is definitely not Boracay or any of those fancy beach destinations around the globe, so nightlife was rather limited. It is still limited as of this writing, but at least there are a number of places to enjoy good music or a couple of drinks, such as the famous Pukka bar. It was overcrowded when I got there around midnight in my last visit; rhum Coke was okay (hindi pa uso ang sliced lemon). Amoy backpacker din :)

Three years ago, because we stayed on the town’s outskirts, we hardly knew of any decent restaurant apart from one that took all of 45 minutes to serve anything. At least now, there are some places that serve basic fare based on which country their owners come from or whichever place their chefs took inspiration. On the other hand, one cannot help but have the impression that whatever was served had that ersatz quality to it.

Alcohol is very expensive. I thought of getting a bottle of red from some of the liquor stores found around town, but had to change my mind when I realised just how much resellers had to jack up prices: roughly double that of liquors sold in Manila. That’s one disadvantage of being in a remote town, I suppose–you need to cover your investment around transportation, time, and effort in bringing in some basic necessities just to break even.

Customer service left much to be desired at many establishments back then. I thought the staff were either too shy, too tired, or just didn’t care. We were so clueless about the town, we ended up at the most depressing karaoke bar I had ever seen in my life. It was so depressing, not even the few drunk locals at the place were in the mood to sing and that was saying a lot because there was no one on this planet that could possibly out-karaoke Filipinos. The Japanese invented it, but we took karaoke singing to a whole new phenomenon.

Power was out at least six hours a day, and it only switched back on mid-afternoon. At least nowadays, six-hour blackouts are replaced by random short brownouts or none at all. There was no ATM either, so I had to watch my spending closely.  Towards the end of the trip, I couldn’t be happier to leave El Nido.

Three years ago, I swore to never visit El Nido again. There had been places that I enjoyed so much that I didn’t mind visiting them many times over. This little pocket of Palawan, Puerto Princesa itself, left me despairing to no end with its remoteness, the never-ending bumpy roads, the tendency of a few locals to take advantage of tourists, and my company’s foul disposition.

Since then, a few things seems to have changed. It doesn’t look too remote at all on my second visit, I could fly in with just my wallet and mobile in tow. I thought there would’t be anywhere to buy decent clothes or supplies, so I ended up packing twice of everything for the next trip. Two of everything and a little fear in my heart that it would be just as bad an experience as three years ago.

Resolutions for 2013

Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are bigger battles out there and time is too precious to spend on things that will not matter in the long run.

Avoid drama at all cost, if possible. Corollary to the point above, be it your own or someone else’s drama, there’s no need to be suckered into issues that one, two, or five years from now you would just laugh about anyway. Avoid drama queens and attention w#ores, too. 
Read at least one book per month. Rediscover the love for reading and the much-needed learning it affords oneself, plus  the wisdom that eventually makes for intelligent conversations.
Show up. It does not matter whether the purpose is to participate or just to make an appearance, but what matters is to be there and make oneself count, or to witness the events that unfold. 
Smile. Life has so much be thankful for and be happy about. Or when one finds oneself with nothing much to be grateful for, at least, smile and keep others guessing. 
Choose the company one keeps carefully. There are people whose presence suck the marrow out of one’s life; there are those whose seemingly good intentions one has to be absolutely wary about; and then there are those whose presence makes one feel that the time spent with them are worthy of the moments that one can never get back. Stick to those who are worthy of one’s trust and esteem and leave the shallowness of high-schoolers behind.
Set boundaries. You do not have to be best friends with everyone, for at the end of the day, people are merely  individuals who have their own lives to live and goals to pursue. 
Drink moderately. Sweet Jesus, do I know that by now! Hah! 
Travel. To quote Gandalf: The world is not in your books and maps; it’s out there!

Work hard. People may argue until they are blue in the face that the way to make it in this life is not necessarily to work hard but to work smart, but there just is no substituting for the former. Success takes planning, thinking, and a lot of effort, not office-politicking. 
Take care of oneself. Do not feel guilty about getting pampered, buying that pair of shoes, being and eating healthy, signing up for gym classes. When all you’ve got is you, wouldn’t it be fabulous to get the love that you deserve from the person that matters most to you?
Write more, Facebook/Twitter/[insert social media here] less.

Learn. Whether it’s a new language, a new skill, a musical instrument, a technical knowledge. One never knows when a new ability would come in handy.
Get active. Run, dance, walk; join zumba classes; sign up for that gym membership; swim; do yoga; lift weights; play your favourite sport. The options are just about as endless as your capacity to take that extra serving of dessert, so your body will need all the help it can get from a bit of moving about.

    How to lose your corporate mojo

    By 2002 the by-product of bureaucracy—brutal corporate politics—had reared its head at Microsoft. And, current and former executives said, each year the intensity and destructiveness of the game playing grew worse as employees struggled to beat out their co-workers for promotions, bonuses, or just survival.

    Microsoft’s managers, intentionally or not, pumped up the volume on the viciousness. What emerged—when combined with the bitterness about financial disparities among employees, the slow pace of development, and the power of the Windows and Office divisions to kill innovation—was a toxic stew of internal antagonism and warfare.

    “If you don’t play the politics, it’s management by character assassination,” said Turkel.

    At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

    “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

    Supposing Microsoft had managed to hire technology’s top players into a single unit before they made their names elsewhere—Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon—regardless of performance, under one of the iterations of stack ranking, two of them would have to be rated as below average, with one deemed disastrous.

    For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. And the reviews had real-world consequences: those at the top received bonuses and promotions; those at the bottom usually received no cash or were shown the door.

    Outcomes from the process were never predictable. Employees in certain divisions were given what were known as M.B.O.’s—management business objectives—which were essentially the expectations for what they would accomplish in a particular year. But even achieving every M.B.O. was no guarantee of receiving a high ranking, since some other employee could exceed the assigned performance. As a result, Microsoft employees not only tried to do a good job but also worked hard to make sure their colleagues did not.

    “The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.”

    Worse, because the reviews came every six months, employees and their supervisors—who were also ranked—focused on their short-term performance, rather than on longer efforts to innovate.

    “The six-month reviews forced a lot of bad decision-making,” one software designer said. “People planned their days and their years around the review, rather than around products. You really had to focus on the six-month performance, rather than on doing what was right for the company.”

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind

    No matter how painful some of my memories are, I’d still like to keep them. I learn from them and when the pain is over, knowing that I overcame them becomes a source of inspiration and courage. What doesn’t kills you can make you stronger, right? Of course it is different from many others.

    “Being able to control memory doesn’t simply give us admin access to our brains. It gives us the power to shape nearly every aspect of our lives. There’s something terrifying about this. Long ago, humans accepted the uncontrollable nature of memory; we can’t choose what to remember or forget. But now it appears that we’ll soon gain the ability to alter our sense of the past.
    “The problem with eliminating pain, of course, is that pain is often educational. We learn from our regrets and mistakes; wisdom is not free. If our past becomes a playlist—a collection of tracks we can edit with ease—then how will we resist the temptation to erase the unpleasant ones? Even more troubling, it’s easy to imagine a world where people don’t get to decide the fate of their own memories. “My worst nightmare is that some evil dictator gets ahold of this,” Sacktor says. “There are all sorts of dystopian things one could do with these drugs.” While tyrants have often rewritten history books, modern science might one day allow them to rewrite us, wiping away genocides and atrocities with a cocktail of pills.
    “Those scenarios aside, the fact is we already tweak our memories—we just do it badly. Reconsolidation constantly alters our recollections, as we rehearse nostalgias and suppress pain. We repeat stories until they’re stale, rewrite history in favor of the winners, and tamp down our sorrows with whiskey.”

    WIRED: The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever