When we hear the words 'inspiration' and 'passion', we usually think of positive experiences, people we admire, or places of beauty. But it didn't start out that way for me. In fact, it was the opposite. My chosen career in the development sector, as well as my love for the mountains both, stem from a series of unsettling experiences.
Photo by Ayen dela Torre
Working for the development sector
When I was in college, I was active in a children's rights organization. We did a lot of outreaches in disadvantaged communities. I always looked forward to spending time with the kids, but after every outreach, I had this heavy, sinking feeling in my gut.
I realized that feeling stemmed from the realization that those children didn't deserve the life they had. It was like their future had been decided for them the day they were born, and they couldn't do much to change it. It was upsetting, to say the least. Weeks, even months, after I met these children on the street or at an outreach, I would still think of them. With such limited opportunities, how would their life turn out?
What upset me, even more, was that most people -- including some of the children themselves -- accepted this vicious cycle as fact: If you were born into a poor family, you would grow up to be poor as well. 'Ganyan talaga', they would say.
I didn't know exactly what I could do (and I still haven't figured it out), but I knew then that I wanted to commit myself to changing what society thought was acceptable. I joined Teach for the Philippines after college and I've been with the organization ever since.
Photo by Pris Relova
My first few experiences in the mountains were far from pleasant. Hiking didn't come naturally for me. I didn't like being dirty and I didn't like it when things didn't go as planned. The first time I climbed Pulag, I got sick halfway through the hike. The organizer told me that I should just stay at the camp, but since I had already made it that far, I decided to push myself to get to the summit with the rest of the group. The sunrise view was unforgettable, but what really inspired me to climb more mountains was the struggle of making it to the top. During that first climb, I realized that I was capable of more than I thought. Being in the mountains is rarely ever easy, but it's in that state of discomfort that you grow and learn the most.
Photo by Paolo Cuarteron
Ever since my college days, my main goal has been to change people's perspectives. Though the strategies and people may be different, I still have the same goal today. Back in college, I initiated online awareness campaigns hoping to change the way people saw issues related to children's rights. When I started working in recruitment at Teach for the Philippines, I had to overcome my shyness to speak at information sessions around the country, aiming to change the way fresh grads and young professionals saw their role in nation-building.
Now, working directly with the youth here in Benguet, I'm hoping to change the way they see themselves. Having grown up in a rural farming community, the youth here often lack confidence in their own abilities. I recently chaperoned a group of delegates at a regional youth summit, and during that event, I found one of our youngest delegates crying in the bathroom. She said she felt inadequate. She felt she wasn't good enough to be here. Though I reassured her that I had personally chosen her as a delegate because of her potential, she said I saw something in her that she didn't yet see in herself.
The way the youth see themselves is perhaps the hardest perspective to change, but I believe it's the most crucial. Their self-image determines how they will live out the rest of their lives. I'm hoping that the youth I'm working with now can see just how much they're capable of so they can continue striving for more.
Photo by Enzo Cruz
Moving to Benguet
Living here has allowed me to merge my passion for development work and the mountains.
I had always wanted to immerse myself in a community and work directly with the youth at a grassroots level, and there was no better place for me to do that than here in the Cordillera which I considered my second home. Through hiking, I had been able to visit different parts of the region, but I longed to deepen my understanding of the community and its people.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy, and six months in, it still isn't. Living in the mountains means having to carry all your supplies uphill on a daily basis, dealing with volatile weather conditions, and hiking up roads that look more like rivers during the rainy season. More than the landscape, the language and the culture here are different.
But my biggest struggle right now is internal, and it's something I've been grappling with even before I decided to move to Benguet. It's figuring out what role I can play in the development sector for the long-term. I know that I want to continue contributing to local development, but the capacity through which I can do that is still unclear to me. I guess it's similar to knowing you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but being unsure about which branch of medicine or law you should focus on.
I don't know if I'm any closer to figuring it out, or if I'll ever be completely sure, but I do know that I'm learning. Every day is a learning experience.
Inspiration might not always come in a way that we expect. It's not always pretty. Our passions can come from our biggest frustrations or struggles. There are two things that I would suggest:
Look outward instead of inward.
When we're discerning our purpose, the instinct is to look within. But the word 'purpose' necessitates that we be useful to society. Instead of relying on introspection, look around you. What is the need in your community that you might be able to fill?
Another way of looking at it: what is it about the world around you that bothers or upsets you the most? Maybe it's single-use non-biodegradable products. Or maybe it's the general lack of knowledge on personal finance. Whatever it is, look into it. If it bothers you so much, then it's probably important to you in some way. See what you can do about it. It doesn't have to be something big right away; start with what is within your control and what makes sense in your life right now.
I think it's important that we pay attention to the world around us -- not just to what is beautiful and admirable, but to what could be better.
Do something that makes you uncomfortable.
Seek out new challenges, widen your worldview, and question what you believe to be true -- take on a project at work that you have limited experience in; read a book on a religion you don't believe in; set a goal to climb an intimidating mountain; or simply talk to someone whose opinions contrast with yours.
It seems that we're always trying to live a more comfortable life, or looking for ways to reinforce our existing notions. We stick to what we know, and only make friends with people we agree with, but we can learn so much more about ourselves and the world around us in what is uncomfortable and different. This is true for those who are just starting out, and also for those who have already found their passion or purpose. If you aren't struggling on some level, you aren't growing.
Find comfort in your struggle knowing that it's teaching you something you didn't know before.