Category Archives: Better Self
(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.”
“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.
“Water the fruit trees and don’t water the thorns.”
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.”
That one was from St. Luke and it’s only one of the many quotes where tree and fruits are used figuratively to bring not only beauty to an idea that a writer or a speaker wishes to convey but also emphasis and clarity.
Obviously, the “tree” in that bible verse refers to you and me. And what about the fruits? Well, they are our thoughts, words, and actions and their outcomes. Could there be other fruits? I believe there’s none. The things we think, say, and do and their eventual consequences or results are the fruits of the tree that we are. There’s nothing else that would come from us through which we can be judged or valued as a person.
We think (consciously or subconsciously) first before we say or do something. I refer to it as the “think-say-do” process. After processing in our minds an idea or a situation (or any other kind of stimulus) then we decide what actions to take or words to say thereafter. That’s our response. You may call it decision.
“Each tree is recognized by its own fruits.” Thus, you should be careful of what you think and the decision you make afterward. They are manifestations of the kind of person that you are… and they do have consequences or results. I don’t know if there can be an argument against that assertion.
You have a first hand knowledge of how you think and decide. You are aware of the kind of fruits you produce. What about their outcomes? The fruits you bear results to the reputation you built for yourself in the community where you belong and among your colleagues, peers, friends and loved ones. Imagine reputation as the basket where your fruits – the decisions you made in the past – are stored. What people say (and think) about you is your reputation. Your reputation is the consequence of your speech and actions.
There are times that even if you say and do good, even when we try our best to make the right decisions all the time, some people will treat you negatively. Don’t mind them. Their reactions are boomerangs that would harm them not you.
Whatever you have accomplished at this stage in your life are also consequences of your past decisions. Your resume is also a basket of the fruits you produced. If people would scrutinize your resume, what would they see? What they see are your fruits. Success is one big and ripe apple in the apple tree. It is the end goal of all our personal and professional pursuits.
But there’s a fruit sweeter than success – happiness. That’s what simple people with simple dreams who don’t have a curriculum vitae to show try to grow in their tree. You would even hear people with grand dreams say that they aim for success because they want to be happy. Their success is the source of their happiness while for the simple folks I mentioned earlier, it’s the simplicity of their life and desires that makes them happy.
Reputation, success, and happiness – the products of the decisions you made – are the fruits of the tree you become.
The kind of fruits you would bear depends on the kind of tree you grow into. If you are a good tree then definitely good fruits will spring out of your branches and twigs.
You should know that you have control of the process of becoming who you are. Yes, no one else is in control of it. We call that process self-improvement. The tree that would sprout from that transformation is your “best self.”
Only when you become your “best self” that you will start bearing the good fruits.
The journey into becoming your “best self” begins with one simple step – the rejection of any excuse to not become the tree you wish to be and bear the fruit that you desire.
Education comes next. We nourish the tree called “self” through education. And it’s going to be long and tedious. It’s actually lifelong. Remember what Aristotle said, “The roots of education is bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” But with education, I don’t mean just formal schooling. Schools are not the only place where learning can be had. Learning comes in many shapes and forms.
Learning makes your better than you were yesterday.
Sometimes we feel discouraged when all the efforts we are putting into self-improvement is seemingly not bearing fruits. We need to be patient. Rousseau tell us that patience is bitter, but the fruit is sweet. To that Moliere added, “The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
There’s one more fruit that your tree would eventually bear – wisdom. You know it’s there when you come to a realization that the growing of the tree is more exciting than harvesting its fruits. What you will become – your best self – is beyond your reputation, more glittery than success, and more overwhelming than happiness.