To the graduates of 2017

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2017 - 12:00am

There is a saying I live by, though I don’t remember its source: “Aim high. But don’t forget to pull the trigger.” It’s a saying that helps me hit my targets, even if not always right smack on the bull’s-eye.

Focus. Put your dream in the crosshairs of your efforts. Then pull the trigger. Take the risk. Take the big leap. Seize the moment.

Everything starts with a dream and a blueprint and a recipe. But how does a dream become a career, how is a blueprint transformed into a high-rise building, how does a recipe of flour, sugar and eggs rise into the perfect strawberry shortcake?

Action bridges dreams and reality. Success happens after it stops being a dream, after the blueprint is slid into the drawer, after the recipe book is closed.

So aim high, but don’t freeze.

* * *

I got my first job, albeit part-time, because I didn’t let the opportunity pass me by. I let it knock only once, and I leaped to open the door. Marlu Villanueva, my editor in the Assumption high school paper and my schoolmate at the Institute of Mass Communications in UP, told me that there was an opening for a writer in the new magazine that her friend Isaac Belmonte was publishing. It was going to be edited by his mother, the Betty Go-Belmonte (BGB).

The launch of the inaugural issue of STAR! Monthly was going to be at the Club Filipino on a Sunday at 3 p.m. — that time in the day and that day in the week that a college student just wants to take siesta.

Even then I had #FOMO. So I headed to Club Filipino in my Sunday’s best, met BGB and Isaac, Gabby Concepcion, Sharon Cuneta and Jackie Lou Blanco. BGB interviewed me then and there and gave me my first assignment: interview Christopher de Leon. I submitted my article about a week later to BGB’s youngest son Miguel in the steps leading to the lobby of UP’s College of Arts and Sciences. The next day, Miguel, now the president and CEO of The STAR, told me, “Mom says you write well.”

And save for the year I got married, and for the six years that I was at Malacañang, I’ve hitched my wagon to the STAR ever since that fateful Sunday.

Seize the moment. Oh, how true it is!

* * *

While you are building a career, don’t strive to have a work-life balance right away. But that’s just me.

Make the scales tilt towards work. Because eventually, life will follow.

Love your work (but not at the expense of your health). Give up family reunions and fiestas if your work calls for it. Be available in the weekends for that special assignment.

Then, believe me, the scales will soon tip seamlessly from work towards life. Eventually, you won’t be the cub reporter anymore, the rookie on the job. You’ll be able to command your shift.

Because you’ve built up the means to enjoy life — with the savings, the connections and the position — you would soon be loving life more. Who knows, you might even retire early — and a billionaire at that like Mang Inasal’s Injap Sia.

* * *

Follow your heart and maybe the high-paying job will follow. Don’t take up Business if what you really want is to see your by-line on print. I wouldn’t really say journalists have high-paying jobs, they have high-yielding jobs. Their work yields results. They have the power to make a big difference in the lives of millions. They can “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” (according to Finley Peter Dunne, a 20th-century Chicago newspaperman). They participate in and not just observe history, they can right wrongs and make people see the light.

My very first trip abroad was a work assignment. The trip was so hectic my feet bled after from too much walking in bad shoes. But I have no regrets because the call of duty took me to the inner sanctum of the Vatican, where I got to kiss the hand of  Pope John Paul II, now a saint.

* * *

Former Press Secretary Teddy Benigno once admonished me when I made a mistake in one of the news stories that I wrote, even though it was approved by my editor in the Malacañang Press Office and the Protocol Office: “They can make a mistake, but you can’t.”

In other words, the highest of standards should be imposed on oneself even by the person in the bottom of the totem pole — who happened to be me — because the job was that important. Be your strictest editor and copyreader.

He also once told me when I wasn’t sure if an event was newsworthy or not: “When in doubt, cover.” The biggest scoops come to those who seek them.

* * *

One of my favorite movies is the drama-comedy The Intern starring Robert de Niro. The character he plays in the movie — a retiree applying to be an intern in a firm whose business was totally new to him — reminds me of my late dad Frank Mayor.

When Dad retired, he had the corner office in a petroleum company on the 15th floor of one of the tallest buildings in Makati in the early ‘80s. When he migrated to the US, the same opportunities were not available anymore to him at his age. So my dad took administrative positions in a hospital. He was very organized, very detailed. And his co-workers loved him. Most of all, he loved his job because it made him feel needed and important in his twilight years, and he never felt that it wasn’t his line, or he was overqualified for it.

In The Intern, Robert de Niro performed his duties the best way he could, even if he was all suited up like a Zegna model — from clearing a table that was used as a heap of junk by the staff, to driving for the CEO (Anne Hathaway) when her regular driver was caught drinking alcohol on the job (by De Niro, who was concerned for the lady boss’ safety).

We’re never too old to learn something new, to open the creaky doors in our minds to new ideas, fresh ideas. Sometimes, we have to buy coffee for the boss or bring her clothes to the cleaners (The Devil Wears Prada). As long as you’re just pinch-hitting for someone who’s really supposed to do the job, that’s okay. A little elbow grease won’t hurt. In many bosses’ books, attitude trumps credentials.

Let me end this piece with another of my favorite quotes, from Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

 (You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

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