Saturday, July 26, 2008

Maybe It Was Just The Water

Speech #3
Get To The Point
Toastmasters Club
August 2008

It feels very strange to be back here in Vancity. The place looks the same, most of the people are the same, the job is almost the same yet, it feels very different. But on my first day back here, when I sat down at the lunch room on the second floor and looked at False Creek, I knew that I made the right decision to come back. I knew that this is where I should be working. This is where I belong. But then, I have felt this way several times in my life already, when I have made the wrong decision. So maybe not.

Let me give you a bit of a background. I started in Vancity in early 2005. In late 2007, after almost 3 years of hardwork, I felt that Vancity did not appreciate me as much as they should. I did not get a promotion, did not get a substantial raise in pay, did not get enough recognition. I decided to leave. Having bought a house in Surrey, I decided to work near where I live. I have 3 children, a total of 4 including my husband. I thought it would definitely be nice to work near home.

I moved to Terasen Gas. I walked to and from work everyday, 2 kilometers each way. After just one week, I really felt better. The forced exercise gave me more energy. I felt stronger. I started living the ideal, simple, domesticated life. I dropped the kids off at school in the morning, I walked to work, did my job, went home. On my way home I passed by the produce store and bought my vegetables and fruits. For a while I felt contented. No worries. The pay was bigger, the job was simpler, no waking up at 6 in the morning, no fighting my way to the door of the skytrain to get off at Main station, no rush hour to worry about, no stinky bus mates in the winter.

The Terasen office was good too. No dress code, no elevator wait - because the building was only 4 floors high. There's a cafeteria inside the building - very convenient, a 24-hour gym, nice friendly people. Terasen is a big company. Everything you need for your job is just within reach. All things are organized, everything in order. Very unlike Vancity which to me is organized too - organized chaos.

I found Toastmasters in Terasen and it completed my then blissful existence. I found what I wanted to do, write and deliver speeches. I truly enjoyed attending the meetings. Although I would've preferred not to play any roles. I just want to sit and listen to everybody else talk. But of course I did roles. I had to accept them when offered to me. I didn't want to be rude.

For a few months I was happy. I did not need anything more than what I already have. I did not worry about anything. After 3 months, I started getting restless. I already mastered my new job - no challenges there. I got used to the office - nothing new. Got tired of the produce store, I wished they had meat and toiletries. I did not look forward to the walk, I even slipped once on the road when it was icy. And it was not a walk everyday. When I was late it became a run. Sometimes it was like a dance when I tried not to step on the hundreds of earthworms and slugs on the sidewalk. On some days when I didn't want to go to work, my feet were so heavy I had to drag them for two kilometers.

I tried to make myself happy. I guess, it's human instinct to try to find happiness. I began applying for open job postings at Terasen. I was sure I had the qualifications they were looking for in those jobs. I landed several interviews but each time, a more senior person got hired. It was a unionized company. My competition for the job openings have been in Terasen for 23 years, 15 years, 7 years. While I have been there for 3 months. I should've realized that I was not supposed to apply for another job in just 3 months of being there. But I got frustrated. I felt I was trapped. The pay was good, but the raises were dictated by the Union contract. No pay raise based on my job performance. No promotion until someone retires, dies, or until I get my designation and all of those were impossible in the near future. My manager said there will be lots of retirements in the next 2-5 years. In fact they are a bit worried about how to fill the jobs when the senior people start to retire. She said I should just wait and a different job will be available to me in a few years. In a few years, I thought. In the meantime what should I do?

To keep myself happy, I tried to remember the things that made me move to Terasen in the first place. The convenient cafeteria - but the food always tasted mexican with a bit of meditterreanean spices. They all tasted the same. The bigger pay - it does not feel bigger though, the proximity to my house - maybe too near, the, the, oh I cannot force myself to remember good things. Even if Terasen is in fact a very good company to work for, I began to think about the little things that I didn't like.

Little things irritated me at work. I was a member of one of the coffee clubs. There was no free coffee at work. Can you believe that? You need to get yourself included in a coffee club run by groups of employees. You have to pay a nominal fee monthly. Once you are a member, you can then get coffee from your particular coffee club coffee machine. There are several machines in the pantry. I dropped out of this club. I felt bad to be paying for my coffee at work. I didn't want to pay $5 dollars a month to get my daily coffee. I didn't have to do that at Vancity. There was free coffee at Vancity! But of course I don't drink the free coffee here, I buy my latte at Starbucks for $3.10 per cup per day! But I do want to have the free choice and that is important to me!

There were also water clubs. Yes, there was no free drinking water at Terasen. Unbelievable! I didn't know that at first. I got my water from the water dispenser. I noticed they always stared at me when I got water from there. Then I found out that the dispenser belonged to one of the water clubs! I was stealing their water right before their eyes. But they were too polite to tell me.

It was said that the Terasen tap water is safe for drinking. I didn't want to drink from the tap. I found a Britta pitcher in the fridge so I got my filtered water from there. Until one day the owner put her name on it. And I thought it was for everyone!

I refused to become a member of any of the water clubs. It was just too much to take! I refused to pay for my water. Water was sustenance. Employers need to provide their people with safe drinking water. Even if it was just tap water, not mineral or filtered, they should at least disguise it with nice long necked faucets same as what Vancity is doing. At least the people would feel good. This is principle we are talking about. I will not pay for my water at work.

But I cannot work without water. I cannot bring water from home. That would be too heavy to carry on my walk. So I started getting creative. I attended meetings with free water. I made sure I drink lots in the meetings and then bring another bottle to my work station. Toastmasters had free water that's why I never failed to attend a meeting. My desk was near a big conference room. I found out that after meetings they just leave the bottled water free for all. So I made sure I pass by that room everyday to get my free water!

Until one day I got to the end of my water patience. I realized what this water hunt has done to me. It became a big part of my working life. I should really get a new job. One where I can focus on finding ways to make my work better. Not finding ways to get free water.

On my first day back at Vancity, people asked me what happened. I had the ideal job, near my home, near my family, good pay. Why did I move back? I just smile, let them provide a reason, then I agree with them.

They say 'You can't resist Vancity's offer, eh?'. I say yes. Or they say, 'It didn't work out at Terasen, eh?' I say no it didn't. And the best one yet, they say 'You missed us here at Vancity that's why you came back.' I say yes, terribly.

I wish I could tell them the truth. Maybe it was just the water.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Icebreaker Speech
Toastmasters Club
March 13, 2008


Why am I here in front of you right now? To introduce myself, deliver my first prepared speech? What brought me here? Why did I join Toastmasters? Master Chair, Fellow Toastmasters, most welcome guest this is the story I came here to tell you today. Why I am here.

I am here because of my journey to find what I want to do in this life. I have been on this journey for 15 years and it is only now that I am intentionally travelling this path. In the past 15 years, I have created distractions for myself. Distractions that I thought were solutions. Let me take you back 15 years ago when I started this journey.

Back in the Philippines, in 1993, on my third year in University I knew that I was in the wrong program. But with just one and a half years to graduate, I was not about to throw it all away and begin searching for the right thing for me. I thought I will finish my Accounting degree and then study something else later on. I had all the time in the world. I was only 19 years old.

I never got to do that. Instead, I created the first major distraction from my journey to finding myself. As soon as I graduated, I had my first daughter. Young and confused, I found myself married and raising a family. True enough as my parents said, the Accounting degree helped me get a good job. My husband then was still studying and he continued his studies for five more years after we got married. Where I got the patience to stay by his side while he was an unemployed, full-time, student husband is beyond me. It must be lust. Oh! I meant love. (Pardon me, English is my second language).

In the busyness of being a breadwinner for my husband and kid, I forgot my dislike for the line of work I was in. I forgot about my journey. I strived to climb higher in the corporate ladder to get better money which meant a more comfortable life. Hard as I tried to push it to the farthest end of my mind, I kept on thinking about it - the need to find what I should really be doing.

I did the most logical thing. I transferred jobs. I thought this was the solution. But in fact it was the second distraction I created. I left Accounting and moved to managing a McDonald's restaurant. I was happy and content for a while. The food business seemed to be an industry that's more essential to life. It was a totally different experience for me - running a store, managing people. I learned so many skills at McDonald's. I made sure that people got their burgers perfectly. That was customer service skills. I taught my crew to cook and serve the perfect burgers - coaching skills. I thought of ways our store can sell more burgers - marketing. I counted left over burgers in the freezer - Accounting Inventory. I reported to head office how many burgers we sold - Financial Accounting. I tried to find lost burgers - problem solving skills. Until after 3 years I got tired of burgers. I hated it. I could smell it on my skin and hair even when I was not at work.

Then I had my second daughter and the finances felt tighter. Yes, my husband was still studying, and no, he was not studying to be a doctor. It was just a four year program that he was trying to finish and he was on his 7th year.

My Accountant friends had more money and I had two daughters and a loving, unemployed, full-time student husband. I thought, forget about that journey. I moved back to Accounting. It was silly of me to leave it in the first place.

So I created the third distraction of my life. I worked for Procter & Gamble as a Regional Budget Analyst. P&G compensates employees very well. But for the compensation, they take a big part of your mind, of your life, if you were willing to give it. I did cost sharing for 32 companies in 13 countries. I travelled. I was contented for a few years.

Until it dawned on me that I still haven’t found what I was looking for. And it's been twelve years. What should I do with my life? I realized that what I thought were answers were merely distractions. I must concentrate on finding myself. Not knowing what else to do, and where else to go, I thought why not uproot my family, pack all our belongings, resign from our jobs (yes, my husband finally got a job), leave the country where we were born and raised, leave all our relatives and friends and move halfway across the world to Canada? Isn't that the grandest idea, the most exciting adventure ever?

It was definitely exciting until we got here. On our first month I knew that this was the most humungous distraction I have ever created. Yet there was no turning back. My journey to find myself did not even cross my mind. I was busy coping with this life I created for us. The minute we got here, I was bombarded with surprises. I was surprised that I could not get a job. I was the main breadwinner for my family for 12 years but here I earned nothing. My husband provided for us. That was a surprise! But that was just the beginning. I was surprised to learn that to eat 3 times a day, 3 meals needed to be cooked. Clothes need washing. The house needs cleaning. And most surprisingly, I was the only one to do all of that for the 5 of us. And this was my grand idea.

Now we have been in Canada for 3 years, we have settled a bit. I have a job. My kids can now feed themselves by raiding our pantry. I have wholeheartedly accepted that we will not die of a messy house and I have trained my husband to do the laundry. Of course I have created new distractions but I have taught myself to set my distractions aside.

A few months back I vowed to focus on looking for what I should do with my life. For starters, I read the book appropriately titled 'What Should I Do With My Life' by Po Bronson. I read 'What Color Is Your Parachute' by Richard Bolles. I read Alan Alda's 'Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself'. I read tons of books. All of them were entertaining but nothing really helped me find what I was looking for. I turned to the School Board's Adult Education Guide, to see if there is a class that interests me. Belly dancing and pole dancing sounds interesting but I thought they were not for me. My husband is very encouraging though.

Until one night a friend of mine lent me a book. It’s called 'Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life' by Dr Wayne Dyer. It was not an easy read, nor was it entertaining. It talked about things I already knew and believed in since I am a Catholic. But this book enlightened me. It basically told me to stop looking for what I need to do and instead appreciate and focus on what life has in store for me. It said I should step back and look at how life will unfold for me. To take opportunities as they come. And interestingly I was convinced by this idea.

When the Toastmasters brochure came with my employment package at Terasen Gas, I thought this might be a good thing for me. That is why I am here. I have found the answer to what I was looking for. The answer was not to look for it. Not to look for what I need to do with this life because it will come to me. The distractions I created were not actually distractions but they were part of my life unfolding before my eyes. They were steps to get me to where I need to be, in front of you today.

I can say that I am now contented. I feel very blessed. And I hope to feel this way for the rest of my life. But for good measure and just to be sure I don't forget, I have painted a reminder on my bedroom wall. In big bold red letters "If you are unhappy with your job, do not move to another country".

That my fellow toastmasters was my journey.