Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Whenever I play Dungeons & Dragons (a pen-and-paper RPG), a vital factor that determines who wins combat is initiative. To put it simply, initiative is what determines who gets to act first. If I get a high initiative, I usually get to deal the lethal blow to my opponent even before they've acted. It's a simple principle that can be applied practically: act now. But as you all know, one of our favorite traits as Filipinos is to procrastinate.

I'm someone who likes to delay doing until it's necessary. I cram for exams, papers, reports, etc. Some of us do it because we can (i.e. we work fast). Others because they fear doing the work and so postpone it until it's absolutely necessary. I know people who are simply lazy (and they admit it). And sometimes, it happens because of the backlog of things we have to do or an unforeseen event happens that forces us to delay whatever activity we're doing. We'll always have an excuse. Do excuses change the results? And so we fall prey to procrastination, delaying everything and everything delayed delays whatever we're going to do next.

Perhaps one of the harsher lessons I learned this year is to do something now. When I was working in a call center (and that wasn't even the regular call-center hours with imposed overtime), I found my free time diminishing. I'm at work for nine hours at least, and it takes me an hour to walk to work and get back home. Now I know a lot of other people have it worse. You're at work for around ten hours and commuting or driving home can take as much as two hours per day. And then you have all your other family obligations. That experience suddenly made me treasure my weekends. If there was something I could do now, I'll do it. Because I honestly don't know when I'll get the next chance to do so. When you have that kind of urgency, things actually start happening in your life.

The other realization I came upon is the fact that we have time. We have 24 hours in a day. Nothing can take that away. What we don't have a lot of is free time. Let's assume we sleep. That already takes 8 hours off (and that's not exactly something we can multitask). And then there's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That's already one hour spent eating, and that assumes somebody else is cooking for us. Let's also assume you spend one hour in the bathroom, whether it's to take a bath, get rid of your bowels, wear your make-up, or for the guys, to jack off. And then another two hours travel time to go to wherever you have to go, whether it's school, work, home, or simply to celebrate an event somewhere else. That's already half your day. Another nine hours will probably consume your work hours. So does that really leave us with three hours of free time? Not necessarily. It's merely about prioritizing our needs. I mean if somebody close got sick, we'd probably skip lunch or our long bathroom routine just to visit them in the hospital. And if it's somebody who must depend on us, we'd probably give up half the time at work to make sure the other person gets better. There is no such thing as "I don't have the time". What people really mean is that "you're not a priority". If something is of high priority to a person, we don't usually procrastinate. Or perhaps even then, we still do, especially if it's something we don't normally like, but we make sure to get the job done by the deadline. Because it's a priority.

What are the two vital factors here? Acting now, and prioritizing. The pair must work in tandem. I mean I can act and do something now, but if it's of little significance, nothing will change in my life. Similarly, I might prioritize something, but it's meaningless if we don't act on it. And strangely enough, these things do happen to us. A lot of us don't necessarily prioritize the important things in our life. And a number of us know what's important and vital, but we nonetheless procrastinate.

So does acting and prioritizing the only factors in initiative? Hell no. To me, it's only half of what we need to do. Right now, if you're stuck in your daily routines (i.e. wake up, go to work, eat, sleep), then you need to get out of situation quickly! (At least if "work" is not something you enjoy.) That might mean finding the time to look for new solutions. Or trying out new things. Or simply exploring other options. Remember that as human beings, one of our greatest assets is our ability to learn. Unfortunately, the more we do something we're familiar with, there's less and less learning involved. And to me, the math is simple. If what we're doing now doesn't get us out of the ditch we're in, we should explore and find something new. Get uncomfortable. Try something you don't think doesn't work or something you're unfamiliar with. At least you're learning something new in the process. And who knows, one of them might actually be the solution to your dilemma.

One of the theater arts teachers in Ateneo had an extreme view of writing playwrights. He only wrote plays where the characters act on their own and aren't reactive. What's being reactive? EDSA was reactive. The only reason Filipinos rebelled was because they were being oppressed. If Ninoy didn't get shot several years earlier, would Filipinos have banded together? Or if Ramos didn't defect to Cory's side, would we have had the same resilience to stand up against Marcos? Why wait for events to happen? Why wait for something to trigger in us? Or simply put, why wait for the problem? Find the solution now while you're comfortable rather than waiting for the problem to arise before seeking a solution. I mean if there was a famine, you don't stock food during the famine: you do it before, when the land is fertile and prosperous. That's what initiative means. Don't let the problem find you; find the solution before the problem occurs.

Besides, when it comes to personal growth, the question you might want to ask yourself is whether you're growing and maturing because you have to, or because you chose to. I mean situations and circumstances can mold us and make us better people. But so can personal choice and commitment. Wouldn't we have more pride in saying that "I'm a better person because I chose to" rather than someone who was forced into it by unforeseen circumstances (and there will be a lot of that in our lives). Right now, one of the biggest regrets of my dad is the fact that he was successful in business, but not because of his own efforts. Rather, it was because he depended on other people for it (i.e. trusting the advice of his friends). Does that make him any less successful? Of course not. But he has that inner feeling of inadequacy, that what has put him in this situation was merely a fluke. I don't think my father is a fluke because of the attitudes he encourages in other people, but he wouldn't believe me even if I told him that. Another reason for having initiative is pride. Act, prioritize, and learn because you have the ability to do so, and not because it's the only option left to you.

What I mentioned is a tall order. I don't claim to be someone who possesses all these traits. I'm just someone who knows my priorities. Whether I act on them or not is a different discussion altogether. Hopefully, the results of which can be seen in my actions. But that doesn't change the fact that in order to be better people, we need to have initiative. It's really asking a lot from you. I never claimed it would be easy or simple. I can talk on and on about the rewards of doing so. But my personal belief is that it's better for me to attempt it rather than merely talk about it. And that means doing it now. The only thing worth procrastinating is procrastination.


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