I have been born and reborn in so many ways the past years that sometimes, I look at myself and realise I do not recognise this person anymore. If you asked me in 2000, if I knew in 20 years that I would be in Singapore, with my wife and 2 kids, I’d laugh at you and call you crazy. In October 2000, I was a Jesuit novice about to enter a 30 day silent retreat. If my present self came back in time to 2010, and told me whether I can imagine being in the restaurant business or the f&b industry, I’d laugh at myself and think for sure this is a hoax. In 2010, I was a consultant helping business become more efficient; I always thought entrepreneurs were modern day heroes, very brave to put their money where their mouth is, but I never thought it was for me. I never thought of being in the mess of things myself.
This birth and rebirth is an ongoing theme in our lives. We are born and reborn many times over. We are physically born once, but we are always on the way to becoming who we are supposed to be, and this takes not just time, but transitions and transformations and evolutions. For some, change comes easy and is welcomed with open arms. For others, like me, who like things stable and comfortable, change is disconcerting and difficult. My personality is such that when there are things unplanned that come my way, my instinct is to panic and go to familiar territory. It is so hard for me to change and experiment. It takes such a long time to put out to deeper water. I love habit and routine; and I make routines for a living.
Change is tricky. Done well, it could lead you to a life that is more than you ever expected when you started out. Change stretches you, and it sharpens and clarifies your idea of your capacities and incapacities, of what you love and what is important to you. Change allows you to do things you’ve never done before. On the other hand, done badly, change can make you lose focus on what you set out to do. It hardens your heart and can make you bitter. the goal is not to be bitter, but better.
Besides, life is evolutionary by nature. Those that cannot evolve, die. The push and pull between routine and evolution are one of life’s greatest tensions. And so I am also one who when I FINALLY change, embrace it and do not look back. And I just don’t survive, I thrive in the changes that happen to me. I am also by nature a creature that chases the horizon.
When I left my hometown in the Philippines at the age of 15 to go to the big city, I was so scared and excited, but I thrived in Manila, learned to speak as people in my school do, learned to live as people in Manila do with their traffic and pace; and I never looked back. What helped was that I was with people I trusted, friends from high school and friends I met in college.
When I entered a house of discernment to think whether Jesuit life was for me at the start of senior year in college, I was so scared and excited, but I thrived in Arvisu House, learned everything I needed to know about myself, about God and about the group I was entering, woke up really early in the morning, sang songs at mass, prayed like I never prayed before. What helped was that I was with a group of men who desired the same things I did. And I never looked back.
When I entered the Society of Jesus in 1999, I was so scared and excited, but I thrived among the Jesuits, helped out missionaries in Zamboanga, worked incognito as a factory worker, went on 30 days of silence, became a moderator for college organisations, taught women who already had 12 children in Payatas how not to get pregnant anymore, became a teacher in Cebu, learned Philosophy and Theology. What helped was that I was with a group of 15 guys–many of them now priests–who loved God as I did. What helped was that I was inside a Society of Jesus that was so human in its compassion, and so divine in its understanding. And I never looked back.
When I left the Jesuits in 2006, I was so scared and excited, but I thrived back in the “world”, changed my resume so it could be understood by corporate animals, designed training for call centre agents, became a management consultant for big and small companies, studied solar power from scratch and how it could be harnessed for cost control, got the confidence to talk to CEOs of companies without forgetting the humility to deal with factory workers (because I was literally one of them some years back), earned my keep, put food on the table, learned to live and love and live again. What helped was that I worked for and with great people, and I worked with a great company. And I never looked back.
When I went to live in China with my wife, I was also scared (but mostly excited). I learned a language so foreign to me that it is still foreign until now. But I learned enough to survive the land, eat great food, visit factories, and make great friends. What helped was that I was with someone I love.
Fr. Jett Villarin, SJ said that there are two ways you can look at the future, just as there are two words we use for it in Filipino: “hinaharap” or “kinabukasan.” Hinaharap is about what is in front of us — what we face. Kinabukasan is more deep, more meaningful because it comes from the same root word as being OPEN. The joy that is based on hinaharap or that future obsessively planned by one who is closed, is nothing more than a charade. True and lasting joy can only come from being open to God’s kinabukasan breaking into our present.
So now you know the drill. When changes happen in your life, you look for two things. First, you look for the people who will go through the change with you. They’re there, and they’re as scared as you are, and they’re as excited as you are as well. And second, you remain OPEN to that future that you may not fully understand and totally plan for. And you say yes to that future. And then you thrive.