The Sum Of Our Choices

Studies suggest that an average person makes 35,000 choices per day. And you will be surprised by this – “Assuming that most people  spend around seven hours per day sleeping and thus blissfully choice-free, [they make] roughly 2,000 decisions per hour or one decision every two seconds (Krockow, 2018).” You are about to complete one decision right now – and that is to continue reading. Thanks for that and I hope you decide to read on until the end.

 We are in constant decision-making mode. In a span of one minute, adults make more decisions than breaths. But it is not my intention though to dig deeper into the scientific details of this decision-making process  – like what behavioral scientists claim that 90% – 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously.

I just wish to point out what I consider as the ultimate consequences of the choices we made in the past and continue to make everyday.

You want to know? Read on.

The results of the collective decisions we made and continue to make are the following – what we have become and the kind of life that we live.

The person you are now – physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, spiritually (that is if you, like me, believe that God exists), whatever you have accomplished, and where you currently stand in the socio-economic stratum are the consequences of the all the choices you made in life. You and your life are the products of your choices.

To explain further, I could cite several studies  (the way I did in the first paragraph of this essay) and mention the contributions made by famous philosophers on the subject. But I decided not to go that route but instead share what characters in some movies said about making choices and how they shape us as a person and affect the quality of our life.

Before we revisit those quotes from movies, just allow me to drop what Albert Camus, a philosopher, said about the topic we are exploring – “Life is the sum of all our choices.”

I don’t believe in  the doctrine of predestination upheld by the followers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It just doesn’t make sense to me why God would give us free will if after all He already preordained everything. What I subscribe to, even if I am a Christian, is what the Buddhists and Hindus believe that our destiny as humans is determined  by our actions, thoughts, and words. We therefore shape our own future through the decisions we make. The quality of our choices will  establish our value as a person and determine the kind of life we live. 

As Dr. Emmet Brown said in the movie “Back to the Future” – “We all have to make decisions that affect the course of our lives.” We have to do what we ought to. Subscribing to the doctrine of predestination would make us live passively waiting how the future that the God we believe designed for us would pan out.

Fatalism is fatal. To think that events in your life are fixed in advance and that you are powerless to change them is a death sentence. Tomorrow is yet to happen and you could control how the events would play out if you choose to. Your life is an empty script. You and you alone hold the pen. It is a travesty if you  allow others to write the story of your life.

The next hours (or days, or weeks, or months, or years) are yet to happen. You can plan ahead. You can control the events of tomorrow. But only if you want. Gandalf of the “Lord of the Rings” fame comes to mind. He said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

If you are not happy where you are you might want to consider what Chuck Noland in “Cast Away” told himself – ”I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean than to stay here and die on this s_ _ _hole island, spending the rest of my life talking… to a goddamn volleyball.

That exactly was my situation the year before I decided to cross the seas to become an expat teacher here in South Korea. My version of a s_ _ _ hole was that principal’s office which was like a lonely desolate island. I went there when I escaped from another s_ _ _ hole of place a year prior.

I chose not stay on those places for the simple reason that I did not have peace of mind, where I know I wouldn’t grow personally and professionally. So I did what I had to do.

What about you? How long have you been stranded in your own s_ _ _ hole island talking to your “Wilson”? When do you intend to make a move?

My loved ones and friends considered my going to South Korea in 2012 as ill-advised. I was being paid handsomely by the Pakistani owners of that Philippine school where I was. I had other sources of income as well. It was seemingly unwise (for them) for me to still want to work overseas at that time. That was for them but for me I don’t take risks (not even calculated ones) when it comes to my career. Teaching overseas was part of my career pathing.

I knew the path I was taking. I believed in what Santosh Patel said in the movie “Life of Pi” – “How can he find his own way if he does not learn to choose a path?” I chose the path that I felt would bring me closer to the realization of my dreams. I was  earning quite satisfactorily (as far as Philippine standards are concerned) at that time but I was still so far away from my dream of financial independence.

But it was not all about money. During those times, I was facing a personal crisis and I felt I had to do something. I had to do one life-altering decision. That decision was propelled by both personal and professional motives. I was like Jake Sully, the main character in “Avatar,” saying – “Sometimes your whole life boils down to one insane move.”  

Like Jake Sully you need to tame a toruk – yourself. I needed to tame a toruk – myself. We all need to be a Toruk Makto. Let the toruk we tamed bring us to the realization of our goals and dreams.

The “Land of the Morning Calm” was the perfect place for me to tame and rein my own toruk.

 There are times when we have to make difficult decisions. And I could tell you that leaving my family and my comfort zone to face the uncertainties that going to (and working in) a foreign land brings was one of the hardest choices I had to make. And “the hardest choices require the strongest will” says the toughest nemesis of the Avengers (Yes! It’s Thanos.) Don’t be afraid to make hard decisions if you need to. Just make sure they are neither illegal nor immoral.

 Before I end, allow me to give one more line from a movie – “Life is a choice. You can choose to be a victim or anything else you’d like to be.” That’s from Socrates, not the philosopher but one of the characters in the movie “Peaceful Warrior.”

 It is my sincere hope that when your hair turns gray you would not repeat the lines delivered by Mike Banning (“London Has Fallen”) – “I am made of bourbon and poor choices.”

Let me end with an argument presented (not by a movie character this time but  by  Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher), “Predetermined nature, facticity or essence do not control who or what we are; moreover, one is radically free to choose one’s destiny and it is one’s moral responsibility to do so.”

———-

Krockow, E.M. (2018). How many decisions do we make each day?. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.sychologytoday.com

Sartre, J. P. (1956). Being and nothingness. (H. Barnes, Trans.). NewYork: Washington Square Press.

Me and the Nicks and Carols of the World

(A Personal Essay)

I dreamt of becoming a lawyer but I know my parents wouldn’t be able to support me financially had I decided to take up Bachelor of Laws upon completion of my AB English in 1988. So, I decided to pursue what came second among my career choices back then – teaching. Much that I decided to give up my dream of becoming a lawyer and begin establishing a career in the academe instead, I figured I had to pursue a Master’s (then PhD) to bolster my academic portfolio. (Eventually, I earned both degrees.)

I needed to start working for my goals and dreams. So, I decided to knock on the doors of the academia. I applied to 3 schools right after my graduation.

When my friends in the boarding house where I was staying learned that I applied to several schools, one of them told me frankly this:

“Who would hire you? You’re too short and skinny  to be considered for a teaching position.”

His name is Nick and I would never forget him.

I stand just a shade over 5 feet and weighed probably around 45 kilos at that time.

Some (or is it most?) people (like Nick) tend to underestimate those who are shorter than they are. They think that their being taller makes them better and smarter than shorter people. These Goliaths have forgotten about the Davids of the world.

Well, I got used to being underestimated because of my height. People I know would sometimes even make fun of my being vertically-challenged. But there’s nothing other people would say (and do) that could shatter my self-confidence and destroy my dignity as a person.

I very well know my value as a person. I did what I had to do to make sure that I would become valuable and that my worth would go way beyond my small frame. Wherever I go, I make it incumbent upon me, a personal goal, to make people see and feel that “I am a dime thrown in with a whole bunch of nickels.”

One thing for sure, if you “throw me to the wolves, I’ll return leading the pack.”

 So, despite the discouragement I heard that day, I pursued my applications vigorously.

I had no good  clothes at that time. I just borrowed a friend’s polo which I wore when I attended three interviews and three teaching demonstrations after graduation.

Of course I was hired… and here’s what happened.

A week into SY 1988, I joined a conversation among my friends in the boarding house. Present then was Nick, the one who gave me the discouraging remarks. I told them the dilemma I was facing. Making sure that Nick would hear what I was about to say I said,  “I was hired by the high school department of the University of Batangas (formerly Western Philippine Colleges). The problem is this morning I was informed that St. Theresa’s Academy is waiting for me and they’re offering a higher salary.”

I asked.

“What shall I do friends?”

Of course I knew what to do then. I just took that opportunity to prove to Nick a point. I wanted him to know that there were two well-educated school principals who measured my value as person  using a yardstick different from his and saw that I am qualified to be a teacher – that I am valuable despite my small frame.

Nick was not the only one who tried to shake the foundations of my confidence.

In the summer of 1990, I worked part-time selling encyclopedias (Lexicon Encyclopedia). During one sales training session, I introduced myself and said that I am a teacher. The lady seated beside me (her name is Carol) commented:

“Really? You’re a teacher?”

What could have prompted her to ask me that was probably same as Nick’s – my being short and skinny. I didn’t gain much weight after 2 years and she probably found it too hard to believe that given my small frame and simple clothes a school would hire me as a teacher.

I wanted to tell her that actually I had to turn down an offer from another school. But would it matter had I told her that? No! So, I chose to keep quiet for I did not like to have an argument with a lady.

I just took what she said in stride. At least I was right of my  impression of her as being a prima donna.

My paddling through waves of discouragement and doubts did not end with Carol.

When my friends learned that I was applying as ESL teacher in South Korea, Japan and China, they chorused:

“It’s a long shot.”

They had a point in saying so. All of the advertisement I checked during those times indicated that universities in the said countries hire only native English speakers. But I learned from other sources that there are Filipino teachers (in South Korea) teaching English and content subjects. That gave me a glimmer of hope.

A Nick-Carol type of individual told me this:

“You’d passed through the proverbial eye of the needle before you could even get an interview for an ESL teaching position. Your accent is neither American nor British.”

But I was more than willing to squeeze through a hole smaller than the eye of a needle in the pursuit of my dreams.

Then that small (or shall I say microscopic) opening presented itself when one day while checking job openings at a website (www.workabroad.ph)  I came across  a job opening at a university in South Korea (Gyeoungju University). It said “Urgently needed are English teachers.” It did not say that only native speakers may apply.

I immediately sent my application. A week later I got a response advising me to prepare for an interview right there in the Philippines.  It was held at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intratmuros, Manila.

The rest was history. I got hired and in March 02, 2013 flew here to South Korea to work as an ESL teacher. I transferred to another university (Hanseo University) in 2014 where until now I am still employed and currently teaching English and advising PhD students writing their dissertations. There were times in the past that I was asked to teach foreign MBA and PhD students.  

2021 marks my 9th year here in South Korea.

I should be thankful to the Nicks and Carols I encountered in life and in my journey as a teacher. They strengthened my philosophy of not allowing other people to define who I am. They made me more resolute in establishing my own standards in measuring happiness and success. Because of them, I became deaf to prejudices and biases of condescending people and racists.

I believe that in the pursuit of my goals and dreams, the opinion of other people don’t count. Yes, I listen to them but I have my filters. I only take wise counsels. At the end of the day, after praying hard, I still do things my way.

Like a mountain goat, I am sure footed.

My confidence emanates from my faith – in myself and in the Lord my God.

Like Wine

Be like wine.
As you age,
be sweeter…
be fuller.

Age with grace…
be not a disgrace.
Be elegant.
Be opulent.

Like an aged wine.
Let your value appreciate,
not depreciate.

Life’s an oak barrel.
Live to be smoother.
full-bodied
intense.

That barrel
should have made you…
well-rounded
like a wine.

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