A Letter to a Young Leader (and a Timely Note to Self)

Have you ever written something years ago–that you had already forgotten about, but that had resurfaced at what seems to be just the right time, as a reminder for YOU?

That’s how I felt when a young man named Biboy reached out to me recently, thanking me for something I had written in 2013 that he had kept close to his heart.

“I know po [seven] years na ang nakalipas pero your words po keep me inspired to do what I want and what I need as a servant leader. And seven years na ngayon lang po ako nakapagpasalamat. (I know it’s been seven years, but your words keep me inspired to do what I want and what I need as a servant leader. And I’m saying thank you onky now, after seven years.)”

Apparently, Biboy became a delegate of the Ayala Young Leaders Congress (AYLC) in 2013, 14 years after my own AYLC experience in 1999. It was a tradition of the Congress to ask one of the older alumni to write a letter that would then be given to every delegate–and as one of the more active alums from the first batch, considered one of the “ates” (elder sisters) of the younger batches–I was asked to write that year’s letter.

Here is what I wrote:

Feb. 6, 2013

Dear Biboy,

Kumusta?

How are you feeling right now? Are you overwhelmed and inspired by everything that you are feeling and experiencing?

If you are, then WELCOME! Your leadership journey will take you to many places and will lead you to many realizations about yourself and the world we’re in right now (and not all of them will be happy and positive), but this is what it means to be a servant-leader. In a world that’s changing as fast as ours, sometimes, the only way to survive is to keep dreaming big, keep hope alive, and keep your ideals and principles intact. (That’s not what everyone will tell you, but then again, not everyone is an Ayala Young Leader. *Wink*)

It’s not always easy, let me assure you that. In 2007, I was in the midst of a thriving career as a freelance writer and a communications consultant. I had my own communications firm; I had a wide range of clients, from NGOs to multinationals; I was writing for some of the country’s top magazines. Life was good, and I was feeling at the top of my game.

Then one scandal after another started to erupt in the national scene. There was the fertilizer fund scam, the NBN-ZTE deal, and one government bureaucrat named Jun Lozada came out and gave a damning exposé of the extent of corruption in the country. All of a sudden, I found myself in sleepless nights. Should a young, idealistic person like me just keep my mouth shut amid all of this mud? Should an Ayala Young Leader just keep quiet and do nothing because, after all, I’m just one person against the obviously corrupt bureaucracy?

I couldn’t. One night, I woke up at 2AM, crying with anger and wanting to do something for my country. I wrote a long email about a “10-point reform agenda” from an ordinary citizen’s perspective, and I sent it to most of the people in my mailing list. I didn’t know that one email would change my life and lead me to a path that has become my most fulfilling yet.

Soon after that, invitations from various groups started coming in. I found myself in forums, in rallies, in meetings, in media guestings. I spent more and more time in advocacy work and less time on my clients. My bank account was shrinking, but my spirit was soaring. I had found my voice as a citizen, and together with many other people, I knew I was making a difference.

That path led to more rewarding professional and personal experiences, and not only was I able to find my voice as a citizen—I was able to find my voice as a writer and as a person. It’s been 14 years since my own AYLC experience, but I’ve spent 14 years dreaming big and keeping hope alive, and keeping my ideals and principles intact—and I don’t regret a day of it. It IS possible for your ideals to feed you and give you a good life; you just need to TRUST that the goodness you sow will bring you back goodness a thousandfold.

In closing, let me share this passage from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, one of my favorite books of all time:

“Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?”
“Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and the world.”
“You mean I should listen, even when it’s treasonous?”
“Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you. Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes, and will know how to deal with them.”
“You’ll never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.”

Know your heart, follow your heart, and always trust that your values, ideals, and principles will lead you to the right place.

May the Force be with you.

Nines
AYLC 1999

* * *

I was floored when I read that letter again. While I remember having written that email with the “10-point reform agenda”, some of those rallies and meetings–and definitely the shrinking bank account–I had forgotten about how passionate I had been about those issues hounding the country at that time. I had forgotten about the sleepless nights and the tears, and, for some years, I had forgotten what it had felt like to have found “my voice as a citizen.”

Because, you see (and little did I know about what was to come), the week that I wrote Biboy and AYLC 2013 that letter, was the exact same week that my worst personal crisis unraveled and I felt my life crashing and hitting rock bottom. At the time, I was in a government job that I loved–a job that I got and that I was able to do well, I think, because of those events of 2007 onwards–but my personal life was in shambles. It took over a year for me to get out of my rut and probably a couple more to nurse my spirit back to health, but I was utterly traumatized by everything, and I completely withdrew from anything civic-oriented. I felt then that I had already given the best of myself to my country, and I was spent. Emptied out. There was nothing left to give anymore, and I needed to take care of myself again, first of all.

(There really are so many feels from rereading this letter, and I feel like it will take more blog posts to completely process everything that’s been going through my mind since rediscovering all this.)

But now, I feel, this is God’s way of calling me back to myself. I am in a good place professionally and personally, and there is still so much more that I can offer back to our country, our people, and the many causes that matter. While I still do need to take care of myself and the people I love, I now feel that their love, precisely, is the very thing inspiring and fueling me to reconnect with my civic voice all over again. 

And while I still don’t know for sure where this civic voice will make herself heard again–you can be sure: you will hear her, loud and clear.

(Thank you, Biboy, for reaching out and for sharing this again. It was just what I needed at this point in time, and I hope to be able to meet you someday soon and thank you in person. Padayon.)

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