Right now, I’m sitting in a Bo’s Coffee, sipping contentedly at a cappuccino and tapping my foot in time to the Ed Sheeran music playing on the PA system. I must be in a really good mood though, because I hate Ed Sheeran. I think his music is shitty softboy crap. But here I am, humming along to Galway Girl. What the fuck, right?
The thing is, I’m happy. I’m really, really happy. I’m frustrated as hell, but I’m happy. Does that make sense? Of course it doesn’t. But that’s basically what I feel right now.
Right now, I’m happy, because although I’m tired and frustrated and stressed – because my job is tiring and frustrating and stressful, I was reminded of why I do what I do. I was reminded of the call I heard and answered.
I’ve mentioned before in previous entries that I work for a government agency here in the Philippines. For the past year, I’ve been happy with this organization, and pretty content with my work. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still happy and content. But lately, I’ve begun to – well, wonder. Just a little bit.
Yesterday, someone got promoted over a couple of people who deserved it more. It’s the same old story that happens in every company. Not even government agencies are immune to politicking, ass-kissing, and favoritism. There were mutterings, of course, and I couldn’t help but overhear.
“Parati nalang ganito,” was a popular sentiment. (It’s always like this.)
“Walang magbabago sa management,” was another. (Management won’t change.)
I tried my best not to listen or take anything my coworkers said to heart. After all, they’d just gotten passed over for a promotion (which, objectively speaking, they deserved more than the person who’d actually gotten promoted). Of course they were bitter. Of course they were angry.
I tried telling myself this over and over, but I just couldn’t let go of the negative thoughts that began to creep in. I was talking about the agency as a whole with another coworker, and he said that our agency’s management doesn’t appreciate its employees’ talents, and has absolutely no idea how to effectively use those talents. Opportunities for self-improvement are brought about thanks to employee efforts, rather than that of the management. The higher-ups are also utterly indifferent to these initiatives. If an employee wants to seize such an opportunity, they’re certainly welcome to do so, but there’s no encouragement from the bosses.
“So, ano balak mo?” I asked him, a little nervously. (What are you going to do?)
He shrugged and replied, “Siguro balik nalang ako sa private sector. Mas malaki din naman ang sweldo.” (I think I’ll just go back to the private sector. The pay’s better anyway.)
My friend’s assessment of our agency made me sad. I won’t go into too much detail (because I don’t want to reveal too much about my offline life!) but suffice it to say that our agency’s mandate is so important to the betterment of the civil service. Have you ever noticed that when people encounter government employees, their experience is almost always a bad one? My division is supposed to help counteract that, but as of late, that’s not what’s happening. And it’s not like my division is the only one to suffer from this. So many things get in the way. Bureaucracy, nepotism, favoritism, lack of initiative, bahala na attitude. There are so many hurdles to effective, efficient government service, and it seems that we’re tripping instead of jumping.
Today, my friend’s words were still on my mind as I went about my day. I think pretty much everyone could tell I had a lot on my mind. Normally, I’m super cheerful and talkative. But today, I was totally distracted and just basically going through the motions. Another of my friends must have guessed what I was thinking about, because earlier, half an hour before quitting time, she came to my office and asked me if I wanted to talk. At first, we just made idle chitchat. But then, like water from a burst dam, the whole story just poured out.
My friend was quiet for a moment, as if absorbing everything I had told her. What she then said is responsible for my good mood right now, an admonition to remember my – our – whys. It was something I’d forgotten, in the year and a half I’ve been with this agency. It was a reminder I sorely needed.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted my work to mean something. Not just to me or my loved ones, but to others. Complete strangers. I want my life to impact, in at least some small way, the lives of others.
My friend told me that this was a call; a call to serve. Precious few people hear it, and even less answer. Those who do answer it in different ways. Some people decide to go into medicine, some into law, some establish or work for NGOs and non-profits. And some, she said, go into government work. However you answer, it’s up to you to sustain that call. You can’t rely on external forces to do that.
“Have you seen Moana?” she asked.
Nonplussed, I replied, “Yeah, why?”
“You know that song Moana and her grandma sing near the end? When she’s about to give up?”
“There’s that line there I think is really applicable to us right now. And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me.”
Cheesy? Yes. Clichéd? Highly. But by God, did it make me feel better
The call isn’t out there at all. It’s inside me. The call that I heard, that I answered – it didn’t come from some mysterious being somewhere out there, from the Force, from the ether, from my dead ancestors. It came from inside me. And therefore, it’s up to me to sustain that call. I can’t rely on others to keep me inspired. I have to do that myself.
I do this because I want my work to mean something to other people, rather than just myself. I do this because I believe that the Filipino people deserves the best from its government. I do this because I believe in service. I do this because I want to be part of something bigger than myself.
When things get tough, go back to why you started. When you start feeling like nothing you do is working, like there’s no point to your effort, step back, take a break, and remind yourself why you do this. The call is inside you, and so is your inspiration. It’s there. You just need to look for it.
As my old pal Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”