Of Unemployment and Freedom

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This is my country, the Philippines, where around 100 million people live in a land area of 115,831 miles squared. Although this beautiful tropical nation is highly influenced by the Western culture (from music to shopping, from dining to movie choices), it is saddening to know that a majority of us are left in the primitive times. We are afraid of deviating from the norms. We are never forward thinkers.

What you see in an archetypal Filipino household

In a conventional Filipino home, you are expected to go to school, choose a college degree that your parents think will put the family’s name on the higher strata, and then go to the United States or anywhere abroad for work. You are then required to send dollars to the family so the ones left in the Philippines can project a life of convenience and lavishness. Your mother will constantly bug you to wire an amount so the house can be renovated and your water buffalo be replaced with a 4x4 vehicle. Yes, you are regarded as the redeemer who will bring the family out of poverty.

You are... required to send dollars to the family… [so they] can project a life of convenience and lavishness.”

If by all means, you have failed in your attempt to work overseas, your parents will pressure you to work in government offices or as a compromise, in one of the most popular corporations in the Philippines. You see, typical Filipino parents cannot afford to hear the neighborhood say that their children are not doing very well after graduating from college. Just so the entire community can call us “professionals”, we oblige with the demands of our parents and transform into corporate slaves.

Just so the entire community can call us “professionals”, we oblige with the demands of our parents and transform into corporate slaves.’

Yes, a large part of the Philippine population believes that success is equitable to a job in the corporate world or a position in the government office. Should you side track away from this idea, you are deemed to be not as respectable as those with 8 – 5 or 9 – 6 jobs. Unfortunately, people will look down on you. You get the idea; you are almost an untouchable, just like in the caste system.

The absurdity of forcing children to follow parents’ career choices

What is happening in the Philippines is depressing. It’s 2016 and yet a lot of parents in my country are fixated on making a fortune without even thinking about their children’s happiness. They are so driven at their idea of success that they can afford to force their children to become this or that.

I personally find this practice absurd. Although I came from a family with very traditional parents and grew up in a community that expects academic achievers to work in the government or in top companies, choices on my end are purely unconventional. Yes, my parents did raise me and my five elder sisters well. We graduated with honors both in the elementary and secondary levels and graduated from the Philippines’ most prestigious universities for our degrees. Our neighborhood had already set the future for me and my sisters. They have imagined one working in the United States in the medical field; they expected us to be top managers in various companies in some of the Philippines’ major cities. But we live only to let these people down.

Our neighborhood had already set the future for me and my sisters… but we live only to let these people down.”

Upon graduating from university in 2009, I immediately applied for a job in a UK-based digital marketing firm. I got hired as an SEO writer and I worked my ass off from 9AM – 7PM from Mondays to Fridays. I would miss important family gatherings, would never see the sunset during weekdays for 22 months, and would be obliged to work double time without getting paid for overtime work. All these I willingly obliged to while seeing my sisters starting to live their life outside of the corporate world.

The awakening

While I survived the stint, I knew from the start that something was very wrong. Why did I feel like a prisoner every time? You see, even the enjoyment of a sunset was stripped off away from me. Whenever I’d leave after a day’s worth of work, I’d be greeted by the city lights glistening in the dark and not by the beauty of the sun being enveloped by the soft evening hues.

“… my sisters [would] travel[ling] out of the country... while I’d have trouble getting a two-day holiday leave approved.”

And the sadness just started eating me up especially when I would see my sisters travelling out of the country, carrying on with their jobs remotely while I’d have trouble getting a two-day holiday leave approved. My elder sisters would wake up as they please while I would ring my alarm two hours before work time. My siblings could complete their tasks for two hours, get a ten-fold of what typical young professionals in my country earn while I would work long hours only to be paid the minimum wage. I was the perfect manifestation of a corporate slave; my sisters, the smart workers.

And then I woke up. Just like that, I suddenly wanted to take charge of my life, of how I would earn money. I suddenly didn’t care about corporate titles; I didn’t care about people from my hometown dictating our future and judging our choices. All I wanted was not to be boxed in a cubicle any longer. I screamed for freedom; I itched for happiness.

All I wanted was not be be boxed in a cubicle… I screamed for freedom...”

Yet I had doubts. Delving in the unknown was scary and risky. Why should I give up the security of getting a fixed amount of salary every month and enjoying government-mandated benefits? What if I don’t make it? What if I didn’t get enough clients to make my daily living comfortable? Most importantly, how would my parents react? What would the people from my hometown say about the supposedly brilliant children of this-and-that who are not working in the corporate world?

Fast forward to seven years later, here I am. You can call me the happiest freelancer there is in the Philippines today. I never regretted leaving the corporate world. There are far more important things than being conscious about labels and titles. I may not be a manager but I am earning as much money as an executive. And I get to travel and spend more time with my family. THIS is what matters to me after all.

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