Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 27 June 2018


I addressed the commencement ceremony of the 2018 graduates of the UP School of Economics last June 22 at the University Theatre of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

The invitation asked me to share with the graduates my professional journey to serve as an example and to draw inspiration from. They were curious about my own road toward being a practitioner of the discipline, perhaps hoping to learn a few lessons from my experience.

For this occasion, I remove references to my experience and focus on my major message.

The next step. For the members of the graduating class, commencement represents an initiation to the next step in life. Often that step is to earn a living, except for those whose aim is to go for a specialized discipline which requires further formal study.

For the parents, other family members, and friends who have given their support and hopes to the graduates, this day belongs to them as well. It is an occasion of gladness and anticipation for all present – and of relief from financial and other burdens for some.

The next step is not a smooth path. Finding the right kind of job is often not one of easy choice. It might require a search, one of trial and error. There are traps, uncertainties, and perhaps disappointments. But in the end, it is another journey of learning the realities of life and its challenges.

There is no magic, fate, or destiny in finding what you want to achieve. (That, certainly, was not in my personal case.) It happens only when you are succeeding into a job, which your parents or a larger community of supporters have prepared for you if you enjoy such a fortunate initial advantage, with a golden bed of promises. Even when that happens to be the case, you will have to prove your worth eventually.

Hard work, not destiny. In most cases, there is only hard work. There is going to be a trying and continuous effort to be relevant in one’s obligations to the institutions that you serve. This also means a rigorous and faithful application of one’s learning to be able to succeed or be appreciated in contributions that you make.

There is also luck – some kind of lucky break might come along. But, believe me, it is more of the hard work supplemented by confident determination that you will render that is more important rather than happenstance and luck.

Others observe what you do in your job and in your life, what you contribute, and what you might be capable of contributing to the total effort or objectives.

That is how you could be co-opted to work with other groups of problem solvers: your participation might be considered useful.

That is also exactly how one grows in a career. It is not simply you alone, but the world in which you work that observes your overall contribution to the effort.

Remember this. In real life, luck seldom visits you. “Luck is only a practical possibility.” We know that the grand sweepstakes winners are so very, very few compared to the many who wager their money.

In general, luck only comes to those who have prepared themselves for it. By this, I mean those who happen to be chosen to fulfill challenging tasks are often the ones who have endeavored to prepare themselves for it. It is, in a sense, a conscious self-selection to be within the set of those who might be “lucky” to be chosen.

We can make gains only if we incur sacrifice in terms of effort.

This is the pain-gain principle, the investment-output reward, the practice-practice principle in sports. “Sacrifice in terms of effort is the principle behind success in life, however qualified that success is.”

To attain the maximum effort that you are capable of, you train yourself to develop the response mechanism that you can develop naturally at your capability level.

Let me demonstrate this in terms of those, who in a short while, will win the senior writing prize in Economics – the G. P. Sicat Award.

Since 1973, a total of 221 students have won this award for the best undergraduate papers in the school. The students who received the prize during a 45 year period  are many because single-authored and co-authored papers qualified within the set for selection in the award.

Let us note this: the winners were part of a unique group. They were self-selected in that they worked their way as students to become senior undergraduates within the school, not outsiders. It was their effort to graduate in the School of Economics that made it possible. It was not luck.

Similarly, luck did not play much of a role in their winning for their outstanding papers. It was the combination of learning the subject of their study and the literary (plus scientific manner of) presentation that did the trick. Judgment by other people from the school committee of professors also played an important part in that selection because they had the ability to judge the quality of work being presented for approval.

You will discover that successful achievement is a minuscule example of this experience. At all times though, what you work on is being judged by others. And such judgments often become part of that selection process on who gets the proper blessings for future success.

Qualified success. Success, however, is relative. To aim for the highest goal is often what we all seek. Most of us will not achieve all of what we aim for. But we could achieve success nonetheless in some limited standard that we should personally be comfortable with.

No one toward the end of their life can say, “I have achieved all that I had wanted to achieve.” There are prideful moments and outcomes. There are also doleful regrets for what was missed or acts that could have been done better.

In the final accounting, though, we might say at least that we have done our best in those moments when we were challenged or have avoided the worst possible outcomes.