Earning your stripes
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE - Rod Nepomuceno () - April 21, 2003 - 12:00am
I was a very insecure kid when I was growing up, more insecure than most kids my age. It was probably because I was the youngest in a brood of seven. These days, the "youngest kids" are spoiled to death, especially those who just sprouted unexpectedly and whose age gap with the next sibling is big. These kids become the "baby" of the family and everyone showers them with TLC.

I was born a mere two years after my sixth sibling. So I wasn’t really pampered and treated like a royal prince. I was the tail-end of the cold front, the bonus of the pack. Buy 6, get 1 guy free.

I had hand-me-downs. From age one to nine, I never received anything new – bike, toys, shirts, shorts, schoolbooks, shoes, even my underwear I think – all were previously used by my siblings. I have five brothers, so basically the eldest guy, Mario, would get things brand new. Then he’d hand them down to Noel, my second brother…then to Ernie, then to Nilo – and, just before that thing is retired, it will spend its twilight years with me – until it eventually dies and withers to dust. That’s exactly what happened to my first bike. There I was in the roaring ‘80s, stuck with a vintage ‘70s-style, banana-seat, U-shaped handle bar with a kring-kring bell while my friends went around the village in their new shock-absorber-enhanced BMX bikes.

I guess it was a good thing being a bit deprived of new things when I was a kid because it taught me not to expect too much from life. I was pretty contented with very little. So whenever something new comes to my life, I am ecstatic. It means a lot to me because I know I earned it.

As a kid, it was really tough growing up wearing kiddie brands like Spartan or Bantex or Bata (the Pinoy brand, not the foreign brand), when all the other kids were wearing Adidas. For years, I suffered inside – and asked "When will I ever wear an Adidas?" It was the shoe of the generation. If you didn’t have one, you just weren’t in. And my mom would tell me – "Look, you can’t wear an Adidas yet, you’re still growing and you might outgrow an expensive pair of shoes fast." There was wisdom in that statement. But still I longed to have my first Adidas. Soon, I found myself haggling with my mom and dad. And eventually, we came up with a deal – if my grades were good enough, then yes, maybe I could have an Adidas.

So I worked my butt off. I studied like crazy. Nothing motivated me more than a pair of Adidas. One fine day, it happened. My mom walked in the room and was carrying a blue box with three stripes. And she gave it to me. There it was – my first Adidas – Adidas Adria. I never heard of this model; and it wasn’t quite like the Adidas Hurricane I had wanted – but heck, it was an Adidas so I tried it on and my life changed after that.

In succeeding years, I continued to work hard, and my mom would upgrade my prize and eventually, I got my Adidas Hurricane, and as Forrest Gump would say, "It was the happiest day of my life."

Looking back, I don’t consider those memories as bad memories – but good ones really. Although it may sound like I was a deprived kid, to me, these memories remind me of the hardships, hard work, and the "aging" that I needed to go through that eventually led to reward and triumph. It all came back to me last week, when I was invited to a special session by Adidas. Odette Velarde, the indefatiguable marketing executive of Adidas, and also a good friend, invited me over. It was a very informal gathering really.

The ones invited were a select group of people from different fields. There was Jackie Lou Blanco who is now the biggest "model for fitness." JM Rodriguez, one of our best thespians around was there too. And then there was the "always game" PR prince Keren Pascual. It was a fun, little mixed group. Adidas had one of their technical guys explain about this new shoe that they just launched – the A Cube.

Now at first, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical. I have attended a lot of launches in my life – and frankly, sometimes I feel they are all the same. But this one was quite different. For one thing, it was Adidas, so it was sort of symbolic for me. Secondly, we were just a handful who were invited. Thirdly, there was a neat demo on why the shoe is so great. It wasn’t one of those launches that merely had dancers, singers, and a lot of pizzazz and hoopla to hype up a product. In this launch, we were really allowed to check out the shoe ourselves and critique the shoe. But in all honesty, I didn’t find a thing to complain about. I will categorically say – at the risk of sounding like a guy in a commercial – the A Cube is the most comfortable pair of rubber shoes I have ever tried on.

Their technical guy showed us the science behind the shoe. They had this electronic map connected to a computer that measured the key pressure points in your feet. If you step on that map, it will show you exactly which part of your foot should be specially supported. And the A Cube specifically addresses these pressure points. I am flat-footed, so no shoe is really 100% comfortable, but the A Cube comes pretty close to it.

But beyond the comfort, it’s an Adidas. In a weird way, I can relate to Adidas as a brand and a company. Just like everyone, I think everyone knows that Adidas also went through some rough times in the past. And for a while, with the influx of so many other brands, Adidas got mixed with all the clutter. But hey, you can’t put a good brand and product down too long. And now, look at how it has resurrected. Personally, being exposed with the MTV generation — I can literally feel Adidas’ resurgence. Just look at all the kids now. What are they wearing? Three stripes. Sure, Adidas went through some hardships. But they worked hard. And they aged to perfection. It had to earn back its stripes. And it did.

I believe "earning your stripes" is a military term. Soldiers earn their stripes by first going to the battlefield, being on the front line – being in the middle of the crossfire. And in the military, the more stripes you have, the higher your rank is – and each stripe symbolizes an experience you have gone through. And then you mature, and you grow in wisdom and you are able to lead people eventually. You never really see a young general, right? Why? Everyone has to go through the experience – and experience make you go up the hierarchy, from "private" all the way up. That’s why all generals are old. They have gone through a lot. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

These days, a lot of people tell you that you can get rich quick without ever working a sweat. Sure, maybe there are some legitimate schemes out there. But it’s never the same as working hard for your success. The satisfaction is totally different. Ask all the rich people who are still working hard. They will tell you it’s not all about the money. It’s all about growing – and earning your stripes as you go along. My father-in-law is 80 years old and "made." But he is still working, day in and day out – still trying to "earn his stripes."

And there are a lot of people like that. They continue working even if they have the money already. They work themselves "to perfection." Why? Because life doesn’t stop when you’ve earned enough to live by.

For the young people out there – is all the hard work bogging you down? Don’t worry, someday it will just happen – you will eventually earn your stripes. In fact, you’re already earning them as you go along. Bit by bit.

In the meantime, just for starters and so you can begin motivating yourself, think of a project and set a reward for yourself once you achieve it. Let me recommend a reward – an Adidas A Cube. Let that be your goal. Believe me, it’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

So what are you waiting for? Go earn your stripes.

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