Living through the questions of self-discipline and accommodating the group

There are so many questions.

I need a big reset on certain aspects of my life that haven’t been in line with my routine. My eating habits have been off lately; I’ve taken to eating more chips and sweets, and in doing so for a sustained period, my body has been craving for these.

I used to have a stronghold on things. I value so much the discipline that my parents instilled in us ever since we were children, that I have extended this sense of discipline as an adult. However, holding myself to this kind of routine hinders me from interacting normally from others. I would be the first one to walk away from a lunch if I feel that we’ve taken too much time sitting there and being lazy. I would be the first to create a mental list about “what not to do” when I see an action that is not congruent with what I believe in– for example, if I see people around me waste so much money on shopping, my first thought is,”note to self: do not be excessive like them.” These are just some of the examples of that kind of discipline I grew up with, and to tell you the truth, it has been instrumental in my success thus far. I’ve managed to be a member of top graduates at a very competitive and prestigious institution. I’ve managed to insert myself in a very competitive industry where there is a few of us minorities. In my life, everything is optimized– from the calories I consume down to the cent I spend. I renounced excessive anything– whether it be consumption, display or spending. Everything needs to be at an optimal level, and I do endless experiments to gauge where that level is.

In trying to experiment with new things, I’ve opened up my sense of discipline to be more flexible in order to accommodate other modes of doing. I allowed myself to only go to the gym when time allows, and not beat myself if I miss a day to go. I became less judgmental of others’ actions. I became OK with the fact that people around me talked about shallow entertainment news and I didn’t attempt to change the subject all the time. In groups. I was more accepting of others’ methods to reach a collective conclusion– whether it’s a work project or figuring out what to have for dinner. I let myself be like others and agree with them, instead of always trying to calculate the impact of every decision.

But this was also at a cost to the discipline I’m so used to. Every time I conceded to another method, it means not following my preferences. I feared that I will become like others– average– which I try to resist and I realize this is what has been contributing to my stress. In this case, I was OK with it because it was just an experiment, an exercise with a deadline. Sometimes when you are welcoming an addition to your life, you have to trade off certain routines, adjust what you trade off versus what you take in– by trial and error– and find the level that you are most comfortable with.

I think it’s possible to be open to other ways of doing things and still place a firm hold on what you value or prioritize. And I am close to finding that sweet spot. Now, it’s time to reclaim my preferred way of doings things– with discipline, zeal and audacity for imagining BIG things– and let that ultimately guide me at the same time I am listening to the view points of others.

Yet, the question persists: how can I be more like others so they perceive me as one of them, part of their group, while at the same time, see me as a unique individual who do not just blindly follow what ever the majority wants (and be a good addition/dissenting opinion that will make the group better)?

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Identity

It is known that identity is a recurring theme in my writing– ask the professors who’ve mentored me, my friends who’ve been the audience of my thoughts around this, my blog readers who have read posts after posts about this topic. I never get tired of it especially since it explains so many things in life: people’s attitudes, behaviors, and connections revolve around this topic.

There were many points raised this past week that prompted me to think about it more deeply. This year, really, has been a key period in my life where I’ve reached a new level of understanding of identity at a personal level. Before then, most of my ideas revolving around identity lived in the realms of the intellectual, academic and literary. Now, I pick up elements from everyday life that adds to my perspective on it. It is a continuous, evolving, indefinite learning.

Typhoon Haiyan

News about Typhoon Haiyan this past week inadvertently led me to think about identity further. The typhoon caused major damage in Tacloban, a town in the island of Leyte, as well as the areas surrounding it. People lost many of the important things in their lives, both material and immaterial: their houses, cars, businesses, their children, spouses, relatives. For some, they lost entire families. How do you deal with the aftermath? I cannot begin to fathom, from emotional, geopolitical, societal, economic and logistical standpoints. I don’t have family there, and I don’t know what those that do are going through.

It was all over major news outlets around the world. Headlines, articles, videos, social media posts…. it was everywhere. It broke people’s hearts. Many of those who paid close attention to the news scrambled and organized their own fundraisers to accumulate funds they could send. For them, any small thing helps. I am truly grateful for these people, especially those who have no previous relations to this country, yet had been so vocal and active in their support. Thank you.

As the news coverage was going on, and people around me consumed news on their devices, my friends reached out to me with concern in their voices and messages. Our company CEO pledged to donate money and sent out internal communications encouraging others to donate as well. Our Manila office is putting together major efforts to help.

Beyond those who I knew personally, I also got attention from those who I didn’t know. I felt that people acknowledged me more on the streets. They smiled at me more, they offered more niceties, they looked at me more and wondered if I was Filipino. They must have wondered if I had family in that area, if I knew anyone from there, and if I’ve heard from them. People asked where to donate. I did not know where to direct them, but something is better than nothing, so my usual response would be to point them to an international organization. But I have to say, when I do that, in the back of my mind, I really wish they can help through another means because I don’t know how much impact their dollars will have. And I want their donation to have that impact.

Honestly, the extent of my relation to the disaster is limited to the fact that it plagued my fellow Filipinos, and shook the country as a whole. I didn’t know anyone from there. My family is from areas north of the calamity. I want to help, but I don’t know if donating money to international relief organization is the best way to help, given the inefficiencies and bureaucracies with these organizations. That is a whole other issue that I will tackle at a different time. But I know there is a better way somewhere that allows those who want to help can help. A more efficient system to get donations, monetary and in kind. I know it won’t be through aid organizations. It will be a disruption of that system… to better serve people. I have a feeling it will revolve around mobile devices and community. I hope we will see that innovation soon.

These are the readings that sparked my pondering about identity this week:

Boundaries

Today was a great Sunday.

I woke up early feeling well rested. I prepared to go downtown for church, and had a coffee and croissant afterward. I like reflecting and thinking things through during Sundays. This is one of the few times we have when we’re able to look back at our decisions, weigh our present options, especially in today’s world where time alone is scarce.

My reading today took be to the topic of boundaries. It laid out the definitions of boundaries across various categories as well as how to identify issues associated with their lack. Boundaries are mechanisms we put in place that is tied to our sense of self. It allows us to establish who we are in relation to others, it marks the separation of the places in us that we hold dear, and the outside world. These “boundaries” are concepts that are not fixed, and they can change given the situation, people and setting. 

This is a critical topic to explore growing up. For me, I’ve always had an intuitive sense of boundaries, but it is only now that the lines are become more clear. I think it is when we’ve defined our own boundaries that we have the opportunity to decide how flexible we want them to be.

From our youth, the boundaries we have were directly learnt from our parents. They’re like guardrails that help guide us to the right path. We know that being present in all class meetings is right, and skipping school is wrong. We know that A’s are good and must be displayed in our report cards, and getting anything less is bad. 

Then we step into the real world, where it’s chaotic. People you meet do not have the same sense of right and wrong. Wrong can pass as acceptable. It happens all the time. I had a hard time dealing with this, and I think I continue to struggle with this realization. For me, there are just certain things that are wrong. Exploiting the weakness of others is one. Leading people to conclude what you want them to think even when you know it can potentially hurt them is another. Pushing to get yourself in front of the line at the expense of others is also prevalent. This is the environment of the corporate world, and everyone who is still in this game knows this to be true. In fact, for them, this may be an non-issue. Everyone just accepts this as the nature of the beast.

More than ever, I feel gratitude for the goodness that permeated my youth. I was set on the correct path, with such a strong sense of right and wrong. It’s tough to know if having this instinct is a good or bad thing. I ask myself, am I too rigid? Or do I just have strong convictions that I want to assert because I deeply believe them to be true and well intended for everyone? There’s nothing like the real world to show you that life is a gradient palette. It is not completely binary. And I understand that. Yet I want to place my feet firmly on a ground that is inherently good, pure and true. Accepting that life is a gradient makes me nervous. This is probably how people end up on the wrong side. They trade their conviction to get what they want. For example, if someone on your team proposes an idea that is too risky and can lead to negative consequences for the group, but you know that getting on this person’s good side will help you get promoted (or that thinking differently will set you off a different direction from what the team wants), you will probably support this person’s idea and start questioning if your instinct is really on target. Of course this is just an example, but it is not far from what actually happens day to day at our work places.

If truth is relative, to which direction do you set your compass? What is true north?

I’m still trying to figure this out.

Boundaries need to be defined at some point in one’s life. Sometimes it comes naturally, while for more complex applications of it require trial and error. Undefined boundaries are imprisoning, and dangerous since we may assume all of us work with the same sense of boundaries. We may place ourselves in others’ shoes when they are in need, but we also need to keep in mind that we need to keep our emotional involvement to a certain level so we can be objective for them and be able to listen and help. Also, defining our own boundaries help to hone our internal radars so we know when we’ve deviated from them, and then we can decide if we’d accommodate or stand our ground. Boundaries are empowering. With them, I can defend and fight for myself. I know when and how, and understand better what is involved.

I think these are good questions to ask. It’s part of clarifying my purpose, values and things that are meaningful to me. I’d like to keep track of how I’m mulling over lthese questions in order to live them to get through the answers.