Corporate Life is Tough. Be Gentle.

Corporate Life is Tough. Be Gentle.

My 19-year old nephew just got an internship at a major bank last week.  In a few months, he will join thousands of fresh college graduates as new professionals in the corporate world.  For me, my nephew is just a baby.  How will he deal with the harshness in the workplace?

In my 25 years of professional experience, I have encountered all types.  The bullies, the motherly titas, the green-minded manyak, the know-it-all, the gate keepers, the movers and the shakers.  It’s been a roller coaster ride of sorts dealing with different personalities and keeping your sanity and peace as you climb the corporate ladder.

Looking back, how I wish I had a how-to handbook to deal with office politics and toxic relationships.  Most of what we did through the years was trial and error, hit or miss.  It may come as a surprise but I have found that, in the toughness of the workplace, gentleness often accomplishes more than force.  And yes, you can reach the top even if you are kind.  And no, kindness does not mean being a doormat.

This blog hopes to share my own experiences and those of my friends and colleagues on what we have seen work in the corporate setting.  I hope you will find these tips helpful and useful as you navigate the tough workplace with a gentle heart.  Peace!

5 Personal Finance Tips for Today’s Corporate Newbies

5 Personal Finance Tips for Today’s Corporate Newbies

When I started working in 1991, my salary as a training assistant was 2,898.00 pesos. Back then, the Love Bus fare from North EDSA to Ayala costed only 9 pesos and a complete canteen lunch meal set me back less than 20 pesos. Credit cards were not common in those days but we had small-time creditors like SQ Palad and MM Ortiz that gave us credit for establishments like National Bookstore and Landmark. Every pay day, Mr. Palad would come by the office to collect a quarter of the debt.

With the occasional after-office night-out in Glorietta and obligatory Fortune Duck purse bought paiyakan-style from the in-house byahera, I was all set. Everything was smooth sailing until I discovered credit cards. Being young, I didn’t realize the responsibilities of owning a credit card. I started using it mindlessly to acquire useless stuff. When due date came, I obviously couldn’t pay the entire amount and would only pay the minimum amount due. The charges and fees piled up and very early in my career, I was buried under a sizeable credit card debt and my cash flow was completely messed up. I was so poor that, one time, I skipped lunch because the only cash I had in my wallet was for my fare going home. I also had to sell some old jeans and shirts at Eloy’s, a used clothes thrift shop, to come up with cash for everyday expenses. Being in very dire straits, I asked my Dad for a loan to settle my debt so I can start fresh. After this harrowing experience with my personal finances, I swore I will never be in this situation ever again.

Today’s starting salary for new college graduates is between 13,000 to 25,000 depending on the role, company and industry. While newbies enjoy 4 to 8 times more money than us in 1991, there seems to be more stuff and experiences to spend on today compared to our time. There are mobile phones and gadgets to show off; mobile data and load to maintain; designer coffees to be drank; and, #squadgoals and #travelgoals to achieve. It is no wonder that today’s young professionals are struggling to manage their funds.

To the new college graduates entering the corporate world today, maybe you can learn a thing or two from my earlier failures at managing my personal finances. I offer you a few tips so you can start right in handling your money and be on your way on the road of greater financial freedom.

Tip #1: Learn to differentiate want and need.

Before making a purchase, ask yourself: How practical is it to acquire this item? Will it serve me well or will it satisfy a mere passing fancy? Think twice before giving in to your craving for a Starbucks coffee or clicking BUY from Lazada, Zalora or Shoppee.

Tip #2: Use credit cards responsibly.

A credit card gives you immense purchasing power but with this power comes great responsibility. It is easy to forget your last spend and remember it only on due date. Believe me, seemingly small and insignificant spends can rack up into a monstrous total amount due come payment time.

Today, I use only one credit card for regular expenses like groceries, gasoline and occasional night-outs. I am what credit card companies call a “transactor.” A “transactor” pays the entire amount of the monthly amount due. This way I don’t have to pay finance charges or other fees. I used to be the other type of credit card user — a “revolver.” A “revolver” pays a fraction of the total amount due and ends up paying more on finance charges and other fees. This month’s debt also gets carried over to the next month thereby accumulating more charges and fees and so on. Without careful management, a revolver can get overwhelmed by credit card debt in no time.

Tip #3: Start saving and investing now.

When I was starting out, I bought my first insurance policy from a retired colleague only because I felt sorry for him. Since I was young, the premium for a 1 million coverage was about 1,500 pesos per quarter. At some point, I was tempted to stop paying my premiums but well-meaning colleagues convinced me to keep at it. And I’m so glad I did. Today, there are dozens of options for savings and investments like VULs, UITFs and mutual funds with very affordable terms and plans. Start now while you’re young. Your older self will thank you for it.

Tip #4: Don’t spend more than you earn and keep to a budget.

Keep track of your expenses so you can be sure that you are living within your means. I used to have a little notebook where I would jot down all my expenses for the day. This discipline helped me see where my money is going and ensure that my priorities are aligned with my money management strategy.

Ignore the urge to be a one-day millionaire on pay day and don’t splurge your salary just because you want to live in the moment. Living in the moment does not necessarily mean you to have to blow off your entire pay in one night! Life is not lived by stringing together “happy moments” but enjoying what is here today, happy, sad, difficult and everything else in between. Have a strong discipline to commit to your budget no matter what.

Tip #5: Live simply. Bring baon to office and don’t be ashamed to wear hand-me-down clothes and shoes.

Bringing baon is definitely more economical than eating out or even eating at the canteen. Imagine: If your cafeteria lunch costs 80 pesos every day and you save that by bringing baon, you can save 1,600 pesos for the month and 19,200 pesos for the year. You could very well invest 19,200 in UITF that can get you started right toward your financial freedom.

I was also fortunate that my former boss would give away her used but still functional clothes and shoes. A lot of them were even designer items. Although today’s social media obsessed society is all about appearances, there is no shame in wearing pre-owned clothes as long as you don them with pride and dignity.

So dear corporate newbies today, I hope you heed these advices. Live simply and within your means. Be responsible with your credit. Start saving and investing early. Times may have indeed changed from 1991 and you are facing different challenges. But when it comes to managing personal finances, these time-old principles remain true. May you be financially free and happy!

Menace and Meaning at Mid-Life

Menace and Meaning at Mid-Life

A 40-something friend goes off and buys a trendy Vespa, which he secretly stashes at a buddy’s house, away from the inculpatory questions of his wife. A once-naturally pretty acquaintance in her early forties overdoes the Botox and gravity-defying lifts and ends up looking like a cartoon character. A blissfully-married friend still vehemently denies that he has hopelessly fallen in love with a “professional” and is on the brink of losing his family, his career and his soul.  

Welcome to the wonderful world of mid-life! I myself am no stranger to this phenomenon. In my early forties, I thought I’d had enough. The trigger was a torturous job and the excruciatingly painful feeling of being inadequate. Ready to quit, I dropped everything, hied off to the bush and went on a 10-day silent retreat. I asked a wise mentor about this: what am I searching for? She told me that perhaps I should ask the question: what am I running away from?

Jungian analyst James Hollis (2005) says that in the first half of life, what we do is largely fueled by ambition, achievement and the ego.  In the second half of life, the ego is compelled to surrender itself to that which is larger and to engage in something that is truly meaningful.

Our teens, twenties and thirties are characterized by fun, freedom and pleasure. I always hear peers say that life was simple back then. We had no responsibilities. If we make a mistake, we can always do over. Our twenties and thirties were a time to learn from successes and failures, wins and losses, good and bad decisions. Key words: Learn from. We later realize that not learning from and reflecting on our errors can cause them to come back like Walking Dead zombies and haunt, even devour us in our forties.

Paraphrasing Hollis again, if the first half of our life does not support our soul’s agenda, then the soul will demand payback and this will surface as a pathology in our daily life. If we mindlessly lived through our twenties and thirties without reflection and meaning, our soul will be forced to reckon with this in our forties in various forms: a sports car we could barely afford, the perfect pair of boobs that looks funny on a 46-year old body or a steamy affair that could devastate our family life.

How can one get through mid-life crisis in one piece? I honestly don’t know the answer. However, if I were to give some advice to my 41-year old self as I was struggling some years back, I would have 3 things to say.

Rediscover your True North. Being in a mid-life crisis is like sailing off course in a tempestuous ocean and exerting Herculean effort to gain back control. It is at these times that we need to set our eyes on our True North to orient ourselves and find some direction. For most, it helps to focus on what is constant in our lives such as spirituality, family, true friends and values.

Pay Attention and Listen. Be conscious of what’s going on around you and how you are showing up in the world. Genuine friends and sincere family members would know something is up and would lovingly nudge us about behaviors that are “not us.” When I was spiraling down during my crisis, a good friend told me that I was no longer practicing empathy (my best trait) and was cooped up in my own little world. It takes someone who really cares to give us some tough love when it is needed.

Get a Grip. In our tendency to act out, it is tempting to interpret “letting go” and “going with the flow” as simply doing whatever we want regardless who gets hurt along the way. If necessary, we should slap ourselves on the face (literally and figuratively) to realize that we are on the road to ruin if we don’t watch out. Better yet, allow a loved one to do that so we can wake up to the reality of our actions.

Mid-life is a trying time and we all do what can to get by. My friend eventually told his wife about his Vespa and goes on joy rides whenever he needs precious alone moments of fun and freedom. As for me, I have discovered mindfulness and meditation to try to make sense of the nagging inner void. I am still struggling half the time and it’s okay. That’s all we can do really, until the succeeding years roll by and the next challenges come along. We hope that our lessons and reflections from our forties will carry us through the following decades toward more meaning in our twilight years.

Hollis, J. (2005).  Finding meaning in the second half of life:  How to finally, really grow up.  New York:  Gotham Books.

8 Peaceful Ways to Deal with a Back Stabbing Co-worker

8 Peaceful Ways to Deal with a Back Stabbing Co-worker

You Work with Cruella De Vil – Now What?!

Growing up, I want to believe that teachers and classmates liked working with me. At work, bosses and workmates seem to enjoy collaborating with me and most of them remain to be dear friends to this day. Part of the reason for this is I like working in harmony and peace with others while effectively getting things done. If I can help it, I avoid confrontations and I cringe at the thought of having shouting matches with colleagues. I guess one of my goals in life is to keep the peace all while working for a better world.

So – imagine my chagrin having to work with an evil witch disguising as a corporate executive. Every meeting with her is World War III waiting to happen. Issues that could normally be resolved amicably turn into painful and contentious exchanges of twisted arguments and heated words. And if you think face to face with her is bad enough, you realize that you’re in far more danger when you turn your back. She bad-mouths anyone who does not agree with her and undermines their work and credibility. Never mind that she’s destroying another person’s reputation, she cannot help and even delights in churning out word-vomit to anyone who cares to listen.

How does one survive and even thrive in a world where scheming beings like this exist? How does one remain centered and rise above the challenge? Does one take revenge and plot for the Evil One to get a dose of her own medicine?

Here are some words of advice I’ve tried out for myself for the last 25 years and gathered from friends in the corporate world.

Tip #1: Don’t shy away from the challenge.

It’s tempting to simply dodge every meeting with her, all the while secretly wishing you can douse her with pure water to melt her. Remember that you need to get your work done no matter what. Think of her as a bump on the road that you need to get through. Show up prepared for every meeting and keep your emotion in check. She may try to rile you up and provoke you. Stay calm. Breathe. Focus on getting things done.

Tip #2: Don’t engage in a bad mouthing match.

It will take all your strength to resist giving her a dose of her own medicine. It will be a relief, even pleasurable to bash her with other people who also hate her guts. Resist this tendency. You are no better than her if you engage in such conversations. The only way to win is not to play the game.

Tip #3: Stay centered.

Meditate. Pray. More than ever, focus on your values and know who you are. Think of this as a lesson in strengthening your character. Make a list of your qualifications and accomplishments. The Evil One’s play is to make you doubt yourself.  Enjoy the company of your friends and family and bask in their love and respect. Be kind to yourself.

Tip #4: Strengthen your relationships and establish your allies.

The Evil One will try to get to your network and plant seeds of ill will and doubt. Stay in touch with your valued stakeholders and continue to build and maintain your credibility by doing your job well. There is truth in the classic adage “you can never put a good man (or woman) down.”

Tip #5: Smile and be happy.

It is said that the best revenge is a good life. If the Evil One affects your mood and happiness, she would have won. Don’t let her win. Work is only a portion of your life and she is only a portion of your work. In the overall scheme of things, she is insignificant — a mere irritant, a pebble in your shoe. If it helps and if possible, find it in your heart to have compassion for her. She has her own suffering so she causes suffering for others. If this is not possible, then let it be. Forgiveness will come sooner or later. But try to keep that intention to forgive.

Tip #6: Chin up and get ready to stand your ground.

While you want to exercise compassion for her, watch for signs of danger and keep your guard up. The worst thing that can happen is for you to be blind-sided. Exercise good judgment and good governance lest she finds holes in your work (which by the way she will be in desperate search for).

Tip #7: Stick to your plans and strategies.

You have been hired for a specific reason and because management believes you are the best person for the job. Do not deviate from your plans, even if and especially if she tries to throw you off. Stay the course and see things through. Again, she is a mere bump on the road that you need to get through.

Tip #8: Continue to do your work excellently.

Regardless of the circumstances, keep your eye on the ball. You’re a friggin’ professional so act like one! Inhale, exhale, smile and get it done.

The Evil One will be armed with her bag of tricks, potions of wicked words and spells of sick insinuations. She will hurl it at anyone who gets in her way and even try to justify she is just “keeping it real” and “being herself.” She will put on a veil of brilliance or even a cloak of sincerity. Anchor yourself on your best defense — your inner core.

Remember: when all is said and done and she’s stripped of her false persona, she has no power over you. She may be a bitch but Karma is too. And it won’t be long before they finally meet.