Thursday, January 31, 2013

Treading Risk

It doesn't really mean anything, but I love space and it's quite purty.

"The man who never makes a mistake always takes orders from one who does."  - Anonymous

Today is a special day for my family as it marks what would have been the 55th wedding anniversary of my parents.  Since my father has passed on almost 20 years now, the celebration has been muted.  There are many wishes, but mainly that I hope that he had lived long enough for me to start paying the favor.

I had started with a more jocular tone in this post, assigning blame on someone who deserves it, but it didn't feel right, so I decided to put that part away.  Once again I find myself showing off for others in writing instantaneously, and find that what I wrote doesn't make any sense at all.

So here, in the middle of watching a brilliant display of acting by Denzel Washington on the movie "Flight," time to recapture my thoughts.  Denzel is back at where he is best: deeply pained (and flawed) charming working man, an identity he achieved between his first Oscar win in "Glory" and one of his popular roles (one of my favorites as well) as Jake Shuttlesworth in "He Got Game."  As he has gotten older, it's a bit reassuring that he still manages to romance some of the best-looking actresses of the day - Milla Jovovich, Eva Mendes, Nadine Velazquez, to name a few.  He did star opposite Whitney Houston and Julia Roberts, but hmmm... never mind.

Barring the technical scenes of flying, the themes in the movie "Flight" are so universal I believe it can be remade into a Filipino setting, with perhaps Cesar Montano doing Denzel's role.  Not Robin Padilla - he doesn't communicate enough book intelligence to pull a pilot off.  Not Bong Revilla, because he can't act, unless acting like a Senator counts, for which he is doing an awards-worthy performance.  Not Jinggoy Estrada, he doesn't have the physicality of a pilot.  Not Aga Muhlach (much too good-looking to be insecure).  I have a ton of jokes about other actors, but we're getting away from point.

The climax of the film entails a decision the character had to make which would define his life.  While most decisions are not on the same nature as "game-changers" all kinds of decisions entail some amount of risk.

Risk is what makes people averse to making decisions that carry some negative but necessary consequences.  Inviting confrontation is one thing.  Volunteering to do more for the sake of the team, without expectation of credit is one another.  Asking to be recognized for that kind of voluntary work is still one more.

The willingness to take risks and make mistakes is what earns people's trust - few people make headway with squeaky-clean records.  This is not saying that deliberately doing something bad would give someone a better resume.  Rather, it's the willingness to do something that is unpopular, uncomfortable, or conventional that enables people to succeed.  It is said the best way to lose your head is to stick your neck out for something; on the other there is no way for someone to go forward unless you stretch all the way.  The same pose that where people get beheaded is the same where they get knighted.

I laud all my fellow expats who undertook great risks to get here.  At times, they accept demotions, take on additional debt, do something different from what they used to do, on top of being separated from their families, just to get here to the Middle East.

However, by the time they get here, something fundamentally changes.

I would characterize the first group as the "seguristas" - people who would stay at a job even if the work environment or their happiness/work satisfaction has long since been used up.  They keep their head down and go about their business.  Many luck out by landing in companies where their talents are recognized or where their destiny becomes linked to a rising start within the business.  Before the big boom that made the Middle East the number one option for expatriate workers, many Filipinos landed jobs with the good companies that have take good care of their workers. Alas, in today's tough environment being loyal isn't the only thing that is important.  It still does, in this paternalistic management culture, but it isn't the main thing.

The second group is rather the opposite - I would tag them "reklamador." Some people stay with their company a long time, but oftentimes feel slighted by the rise of some people above them whom they feel are not worthy, or are outright bypassed by others, normally new hires who receive better pay.  Instead of fighting back by proving their worth, they slink away and lick their wounds.  At any chance they get, they will spread their venom by saying negative things about this person and that person, about how the company is not getting anywhere, about how it used to be better during the old times etc. etc.  I have worked with so many people like them back home - seeing them in full force here is very disappointing.  It is likely their aversion to go beyond themselves that cost them the chance to be recognized.

There is still a third group - the "paru-paro."  Literally like butterflies, they jump from one place to another,  not taking more than four years in one place before moving on to another.  I adapted something that Robina Gokongwei said regarding  people like this - even with true competence, candidates who keep on jumping from one place to another rarely find trust from their employers.  By the time they reach the peak of their abilities, many others who have stayed loyal for a little longer have leapfrogged them.  What distinguishes these people even more is that they cannot go home because they also burned their bridges there, so they are condemned to strive far longer here in the Middle East.

At some point, each one of these groups of people must buckle down for them to move forward, and it doesn't mean taking on a second career like selling real estate or joining a multi-level sales organization. This only masks the original issues, and even with money coming on it won't guarantee happiness.

There are still some others who are totally reckless, who, even in living here, did not shed their stripes.  They do as they would do in the Philippines - gamble, drink, and party as if they never left home.  It would be fine if they were just all alone in this kind of practice, but sometimes they'd being someone else down.  While I feel for their inner pain, I have no time to listen to their excuses or justifications.  In the search for something new, it is their unwillingness to do something right over the easy way out that puts them in the same quandary as the others.

Being happy here means a balance of work/family issues, certain rewards or satisfactions to keep motivated, and a state of internal challenge to do better.  This is not an easy task.  One needs friends in the workplace to help keep things stable.  Constant but focused communication with the family also works.  Reaching the sense of balance is difficult - there are many pitfalls along the way, and it is very easy to either pick up bad habits or backslide into old ones.

We are treading the line of risk every time we commit to another year here.  So sometimes knowing what we want, weighing that closely against what we and our family and our long-term goals need, allows us to evaluate what we must do.  This place can be feast or famine, pain or pleasure as one would define and move in it.  But the fear of failing shouldn't be the top reason for one to stop moving.

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