CONFORMITY

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It’s not your job to be likable, it’s your job to be yourself. – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The last two months of being 21 was full of confusion, and travels (photographs and stories coming soon!), but mostly confusion. And mostly about who I am and the kind of person I want to be.

Most days I want to be this powerful, wordly successful woman, a lawyer, who has shattered glass ceilings, works at the UN, and travels for a living. But on some days, I dream about leaving it all behind, escaping to a virgin island south of the country, opening up a resort or a BnB and taking up a bohemian lifestyle.

But my life trajectory isn’t really the point of this entry. The preceding paragraph was just mental diarrhea that I needed to write down.

My recent struggle has been more about identity. 

I have always had trouble with fitting in with the crowd I currently run with. Last October, I was swept into a party lifestyle filled with booze, late late nights, overspending, and an overly casual attitude about [s.e.x]. This continued on until December, even though most of the time I felt like I was forcing it. Nana almost died in the final week of 2016.  God knocking on my heart, by then I knew I had to make a change. I quit that lifestyle and severed ties with the friends.  It was a big sigh of relief, and for the new year I vowed never to compromise my identity again.

I learned however that forming one’s sense of self is not a snap decision with automatically permanent effects. You have to keep repeating that decision day by day, at every situation that tempts you to compromise. I don’t mean being inflexible. I mean keeping true to the values you hold dear and adapting it to the situation.

For this to make any sense, I have to first tell you that some of my work friends enjoy humor that is often at the expense of another person, the kind of humor you’d find at a comedy bar where the comic would randomly pick out an audience member and tear them to pieces. Oftentimes, a quirk, an imperfection, is woven into an elaborate and witty jest.  There is no malicious intent of course, but sometimes an unbelievably savage joke that crosses the ‘offensive’ line would come up.

Occasionally I would be a recipient of these joke and these have been very helpful in my quest for self-acceptance and overcoming my insecurities. I learned that if you accept your imperfections, it cannot be used against you.

Steering into the skid has helped me gain their friendship, but eventually I became tired of being a recipient and I wanted to feel like I belonged. I decided that if they can be funny by being rude, I can be that too so I removed all of my boundaries and just let it rip. 

It was fun at first, I made people laugh. Our usual victim was one of our managers who was a natural prankster. We felt comfortable with him but there were times when we got too comfortable that we forgot he’s actually our superior.

I liked being one of them funny girls. However, I also felt incredibly uncomfortable. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I can’t seem to stop doing it. I knew it wasn’t me, but I liked belonging. I was willing to continue pretending so long as I am liked for it.

But being liked for it didn’t last very long. People noticed the change in my personality and most of them decided that it didn’t really suit me. I was reprimanded for my actions and words which made me very bitter because I believed it to be unfair. How come I’m being told off but the others aren’t?

The resentment didn’t last very long, and I became very grateful for the character check. I acknowledged that I had become unkind, rude, petty, and downright judgmental. My brain has been reprogrammed to immediately seek the imperfections in another to be used in a deprecating joke later on.

I had to admit to myself that I became a bully. 

This is not me. My humor has never been like this. I was raised as a  lady, whose witticism is used to delight and whose sense of humor is never deprecating. I was raised to always hold another in high regard, and to always be mindful of the humanity that is in all of us.

I realized that the inappropriateness of the jibes is more noticeable in me because it wasn’t me. Maybe my friends are naturally like that, and I/we accept them for who they are but that doesn’t mean I have to conform to remain friends with them. I am grateful for the people in my life who like me for who I am, a nice kid, and who love me enough to point out that I wasn’t kind anymore.

So once again, I made a decision, for my birthday this time. I decided that every single day, at every moment, I will practice conscious self-identification. I will remind myself that being liked is not the end game of our existence, but it is to do good, to always do the right thing, and to fulfill our own personal destinies.

I’ve been 22 for two weeks now, one more week and conscious self-identification will hopefully have already become a habit. Wish me luck and include me in your prayers.

Let’s be kinder humans, self-accepting humans who love ourselves wholly. The world needs it more than ever.

RAMBLINGS ON HARDWORK AND WOMANHOOD

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I had a meaningful conversation with an old friend two nights ago about her current struggles in university. We met two years ago when she was just a freshman and I was a junior. I was tasked to guide her in her application as member in our major’s organization and now she’s running as chairperson for the next school year.

Our conversation reminded me of another reason why we must always work hard no matter the circumstances. I realized that even though we work hard to please God and to achieve our goals, we must also work hard and persist for the people that watch us and consider us as role models. The drive and ambition I have now would not exist if I didn’t have people who succeeded by the skin of their teeth while I was growing up.

I was reminded specifically of female role models. Those who rose up against adversity and surpassed the limits placed upon them by society. My mother is a single parent by choice and she received a lot of judgement for that decision. People doubted her ability to provide and to parent, yet here I am today, a full grown adult who had a happy childhood.

Though I would never dream of single parenthood (I’m not strong enough), my mother, in a way, has broken a glass ceiling for me. She rose through the corporate ladder by her own merit, yet still was able to guide me and inculcate in me values that have become incredibly important now that I’m an adult (though of course these pangaral sessions were greatly unappreciated when I was a teenager). She defied the “either-or”, she showed me it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too.

We have to be strong and persistent through , for every woman that decides to do so creates a better world for the women that are yet to come.

LOBO BATANGAS 2017

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The second weekend of March was spent island hopping in Lobo, Batangas. One of my good friends from work grew up in the city and she kindly let me, and two other friends, explore the virgin beaches of her hometown. I’ll never forget the various shades of blue that the ocean had, the mountains that grow nothing but coconut trees, the limestone cliffs and boulders, and the fresh sea breeze that carried away all of the tension built up from staying in the city for far too long.

It was also a trip of many firsts. We slept on a tent by the beach the first night and caught the sunrise. We visited a mangrove forest and climbed up a tree house and also jumped into open ocean from a boulder for the very first time. It was trip that solidified friendships and built trust and openness.

Areas visited are:

  • Malagundi Point – Beach is made up of medium to large pebbles. Two flip flops died in this beach.
  • Simbahang Bato – Only accessible by boat. Beaches are lined with Limestone cliffs and rock formations that obviously used to be part of the seafloor centuries ago. The beach is a mixture of pebbles, broken corals, and sand.
  • Malabrigo Lighthouse – Visited for the sole purpose of exploring the lighthouse. The lighthouse used to be an outpost for Japanese soldiers during the second world war. It is said that the decapitated heads of murdered prisoners were thrown down the wells (now sealed) and the bodies off the cliff. Also, you have to climb 100 steps to get to the lighthouse.
  • Kastilyo – A shallow area full of large black boulders. This is where the mangrove rivers meet the ocean.

Below is a music video I made for the trip. The music used is CRED1X’s “Can’t Find You”. Footage was shot using the SJCAM SJ4000 and Oppo F1S+.

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Gotta say, the SJCam is made for videos but definitely not for photos.

HOME

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So far I have only written about the big moments: my travels, euphoric moments, and moments of defeat and sadness. However, it paints an incomplete picture of the life I want to document and preserve. The plateaus and days where nothing remarkable happens also deserve to be written about, for big moments emerge from the little ones that melt together. One should never neglect the little things.

Today I want to preserve a portrait of our home and everything that is lovely about it.

I moved out for two months in 2016 to be closer to work. If you live in Manila, you’d know how deadly the traffic could be and spending a minimum of four hours everyday traveling to and from work becomes physically and mentally exhausting at some point.

So I moved out, but I had to move back home for family (in the Philippines it’s completely normal for adults to continue living at home until they get married) which was devastating at first but it ended up being for the best. Though I enjoyed the freedom and independence associated with living on my own, I definitely missed being able to decorate as I pleased (I had roommates in the apartment I lived in), our dogs barking and playing, my nana and her lush garden, my little aromatherapy corner, the way the sun enters my room in the morning, and the home cooked meals.

I did not appreciate our home this much before I moved out. Indeed some distance allows us to realize what is truly important and how the things we take for granted end up being the things we cannot live without.

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On Dreams – Bangkok 2016

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Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is one of my favorite books. My copy came from the trash as someone from my High School decided to throw it out on our locker-cleaning day in the final days of school. Indeed one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, ha!

The book follows the story of Santiago as he crosses the Desert to reach the Egyptian pyramids where treasure is supposedly buried. This was revealed to him through a dream, and he decided to follow this dream with burning passion. In his journey he discovers the Soul of the World and meets an Alchemist who teaches him how to understand and be one with this timeless truth. As expected, his journey was anything but smooth and there were moments where he lost sight of his dream (his personal legend). In the end, he achieved his personal legend but not in the way one would expect.

There are two truths I learned from the book, and these two will continue to guide me as I go about life.

There is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.

When you’re on a journey to fulfill your Personal Legend, the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it.

Ever since junior year of college I knew that I wanted to work on an international capacity. This desire stems from a mixture of loving travel, exploration, and photography, and also wanting to do good in the world. I wanted to join either the United Nations or National Geographic, and just travel and explore frequently. I envisioned myself getting lost in foreign lands whose language I don’t speak, and whose people look drastically different from me.

I was ready for it, and after graduation I was determined to get a job at an international NGO. I blindly applied for various positions even though I was aware that I’m incredibly unqualified for all of them; and as expected I never got a call back.

Life happened and I ended up in a soul-crushing job at a BPO.

At that time, I sincerely thought my dream was dead. Life was a hard teacher and I wasn’t prepared for all its lessons. I’ve always seen the world as very Disney. My innate optimism has made me naive and the heartbreak became overwhelming.

I had given up.

But Life has other plans, and it brought me to my current job which has strong ties to various UN agencies and other international governing bodies.

I remember my interview vividly, especially the part where my current boss asked me if I was okay with traveling. I remember answering YES with a gigantic grin on my face.

Last year I was given the opportunity to visit Bangkok twice to represent the country, and our organization, to two meetings. It’s a great honor as I’ve only been with the organization for a few months.

Here are some of the photographs I took when I explored during my free time.

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Misadventures and a Wedding: Tagaytay 2016

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Last October 8, 2016 I had the privilege of witnessing (and documenting) my boss/adoptive older sister marry her bestfriend in Tagaytay, surrounded by the people they love.

Their love isn’t a firework, there was no spark nor immediate chemical reaction that changed their lives in a snap. Their love is like a photo album that is built from each individual photograph of moments they lived and shared. Eventually the photographs changed its nature, and the love it contains demanded to be declared eternal.

The ceremony was a brilliant testament of God’s faithfulness, from the preparation up to its conclusion. I learned that those Mayad Studios SDE videos show only 0.008% of how weddings really go, and that there are a lot of things that can go wrong, but you really do have a choice in what you let ruin your day. A lot of preparation goes into weddings, it turns out, and a lot of money too. These things are definitely for full grown adults only.

However, I also learned that despite all the confusion at present, and all the confusion that is yet to come, indeed some of the best days of our lives have yet to come to pass.

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Of course, Shiela and I were able to squeeze in a few misadventures before and after the ceremony. It includes, but not limited to, walking along the dark Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway with our heavy packs in the middle of the night, sharing Bulalo and a decrepit bed-and-breakfast room, meeting a monkey, and killing time (and money) at the Hippiest cafe we’ve been to so far.

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Images taken using a Nikon D200, and an Oppo F1S+

The family we choose

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It turns out I only had to wait two weeks.

I found a new family mid-May in the form of a non-profit organization. After the fiasco that was the 8-month stint at a BPO, I am more than grateful to have earned a place at an organization whose work has national ramifications.

Fast forward 6 months, we’ve arrived to November. I’m still here and still very happy. Life is currently a paradox as I’ve grown so much in the past months yet I still feel so young, naive, and unknowledgeable. Every new thing I learn adds to me as a person, yet at the same time, it reinforces how much more I have to learn and how open I need to be.

Work itself is amazing, I’ve fallen in love with this field of study despite never being interested in it before. I’ve become more grateful to have been able to attend UP and be ingrained with resilience and flexibility. I’ve also decided to take up Law, not only for its usefulness at work, but also because I’ve come to witness that knowledge of the law, and learning how lawyers think has benefits that transcend the courtroom (people’s lawyering perhaps?) and that law doesn’t automatically translate to Annalise Keating type work.

One of the more important lessons I’ve learned relates to diversity. Prior to joining the organization, I have yet to meet people who completely challenged my understanding and patience. However, moments with them taught me the true meaning of grace. There are times when I witnessed grace abounding to people who do not deserve it, and I felt upset. Yet eventually I learned that I myself am not deserving, yet the same kind of grace applies to me when I am most unlovable. I’ve learned to recognize the subtle ways we become unkind, and I’ve learned to accept that ‘colleague’ does not immediately ‘translate’ to friend, which is good sometimes, for our own protection.

Most importantly, I’ve come to love the people. Yes, even the ones that are difficult to love and understand. There is an inexplicable feeling of belongingness, of being appreciated exactly for who you are, quirks and all. There’s a benefit to being part of a small-ish organization where everyone knows about everyone, and majority of the people are kind. My boss is a big sister after hours and during the weekends, I have two new best friends, and our legal services guy just set the standard on the type of man one ought to be entertaining.

I see no expiration date at this point. Every opportunity must be maximized and respected, everything, everyone is a gift. There is joy to be found in always performing one’s best, and being recognized for it. Uncomfortable situations help one grow exponentially. Respect begets respect. Recognition takes time, and is a reward that is earned.

Featured are photographs from our company trip last May at Casa Amara, Laiya, Batangas.

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(photos taken using a Nikon D200) 

A reminder

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Hello older Daniella,

Littler you was at the peak of frustration when she was writing this, toeing the line between depressed and deranged. You’ve got 10+ pending job applications and have yet to receive a response. Given you’ve only been unemployed for a week and a half but for some reason your stress-level is that of someone whose thesis defense is tomorrow but hasn’t finished writing the actual paper yet.

I want to remind you of how you felt at the time that this was being written. You were demotivated and demoralized, tired, sad, scared, jealous, perpetually hungry, and somewhat angry. You faced much rejection, and the people you love doubted you. You were starting to think about compromising your goals again.

Right now I want you to think about where you came from and where you’re headed. Don’t fall in love with smelling the flowers that you forget you’re headed for the mountains. I want to remind you of what you love. Photography is often the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning and that means something. Never forget how blessed you are to have found something you’re incredibly passionate for and have the resources to pursue. To give it up is an act of ingratitude.

Yes, you need a regular job to sustain yourself, but living in pursuit of just that is not really living, but merely existing. Life is too grand a gift for one to be contented with mere existence. Remember what you consider as a life well-lived: a life devoted in pursuit of one’s passion, and a life that is in service of others.

Remember what you live for, where your heart truly lies. Every decision from here on out should be in service of that. Keep creating, keep sharing, and never lose the spark that genuinely optimistic people have. One day it will all fall into place, and the pain you felt will be useful to you.

And one last thing:

“My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me.” – Imam Ash-Shafi’i

Love,

Littler Daniella

 

Makiling alone

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Last Thursday, I hiked Mt. Makiling alone via the UPLB College of Forestry Trail. I went to celebrate Earth day one day in advance, to deal with pent up feelings, and also to tick off a pre-21 bucketlist item.

I was running away from heartbreak the last time I was here. Mountains have always been a source of comfort for when things get a little difficult. When you’re at the peak everything looks much smaller. That one person/thing/event that’s bothering you is nothing but a tiny dot in the vast artwork that is the universe. Suddenly you see the wider scheme of things and eventually one realizes that one day this pain will be useful, and that it’s all part of a much bigger plan that has yet to unfold. Also, you’re much closer to the God who lives in the sky.

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I’ve been feeling very lost lately and what better way to deal with figurative “lost-ness” than risk getting physically lost in a mountain famous for lost hikers due to a fanciful diwata.

I felt like I’ve lost my sense of self and sacrificed my identity in favor of belonging and being liked by people, whom I eventually realized, don’t really matter in any way at all. But in the mountains I realized that even trees and flowers of the same species don’t look exactly the same. All of creation is not meant to be the same, for every nuance is a puzzle piece that fills a specific slot which completes an overall picture. I’m weird, idealistic, and overly optimistic, for a reason and I will continue being so even though the reason why is still unclear. Though there is a certain appeal with being a “mean girl”, I will continue being kind, even if it means being the underdog every once in a while. I will continue being an idealist, a patriot, and a lover, for people who never lose hope always remain in the light.

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My mantra has always been the same in all the hikes I’ve done and this has proved useful in life in general as well:

Strong heart | Strong back | Strong legs | Strong mind 

Hiking has taught me self-reliance to the extreme. Though sometimes someone will help pull you up, you can’t rely on them completely for they’re battling their own exhaustion and self-doubt. Heart,mind, legs, and back, strengthen these and all uphill battles will be won.

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No, I didn’t hike all the way to the summit. The trail gets a little challenging for a solo hiker around station 15, and peak moments should be shared with people who matter. Also, mum would kill me if she found out I hiked alone all the way to a summit. When I got back down, the proprietor asked why I didn’t go all the way. After I told him why, he decided that my hike was an unsuccessful one because I didn’t “finish”. But I disagree, I was able to do to what I came to do and I went back down feeling much better, and much more sure with who I am and what I will do next.

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I decided to live my truth here on out. Do what is right and what feels right, in all ways, always. Be like the forest, never worrying, always self-sufficient, and always helping sustain others.

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Photographs taken using the Nikon D200.