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Woke up like this

May 10, 2019 – Michael Fua

As a kid, I’d always get scolded by my mom for taking so long to wake up. We had so many fights because she would catch me still in bed long after I was supposed to be.

Actually, the problem wasn’t that I didn’t wake up. Loud noises and bright lights were very effective. The problem was, I didn’t want to get out of bed until I would grow desensitized to the noise and the light and drifted back to sleep. I got so good at this routine that my body developed its own kind of autopilot system. I would talk in my sleep and that was enough to convince anyone that I was already awake. Artificial intelligence before it was cool, am I right?

Despite spending my formative years in schools and organizations that pride themselves with producing nation-building servant leaders, it took me such a long time to be “all woke up.” It wasn’t that I was ignorant or sheltered all the years before then. I was a frequent commuter around the city. I was always updated with current affairs. I even took on big roles in a youth leadership organization.

However, I found myself growing increasingly distant to the society and people I said I wanted to serve. With the gratification that came with participating in lively youth seminars and getting likes for posting some inspiring words online, service became more of an identity, rather than a mission. It seemed like I was chasing after an image and a self-concept, and I became desensitized to the loudest noises and brightest lights of poverty, inequality, and injustice in the Philippines. I was on autopilot away from my destination.

But like most people in our generation, I became woke in 2016. I was in my mid-20s. Our country has just elected someone with highly questionable values. The highest court in the land had just allowed a former dictator to be buried in a cemetery for heroes. I felt like my best efforts, and the best efforts of everyone else, brought us nowhere close to making the changes we wanted to see happen (read: the bad leaders are still bad leaders in power).

Identifying as “woke” or “liberal” then became the subject of mockery. With no clear paths to success, no sure-win strategies, and no returns on investment, a lot of young people from my circle decided to hang up the black shirts, set aside the placards, and filtered social media to show only things that “sparked joy.”  They were burned out and fatigued from seeing no concrete positive results from their involvement.

The bad leaders still did as they pleased. The corrupt were freed and elevated. The well-connected kept getting special privileges. All while the people with less lost even more.

As someone with a “type A” personality, I had always clung on to the idea that results mattered the most. I shared my dejection with my mentor who was known to be as results-oriented as bosses can get. Imagine my face when he told me, “You’re being too attached to results.” How can anyone possibly be too attached to results? Absurd!

However, in our conversation, he helped me realize the difference between the mission and the results. There’s a difference between being in a fight and winning a battle. Though results could help measure progress and alignment to the mission, the mission itself is what gives purpose and meaning to everything else. 

Especially in chaotic scenarios, being too attached to the results you seek often gets in the way of being able to fulfill the mission. Think Captain America’s “I can do this all day” moments. There’s no perfect playbook for most overwhelming challenges, and some might move on after a while, but not us. Especially not if it matters.

So at that point, I had a decision to make: To move on and convince myself that I’ve done all that I could, or to stay woke, get up, and keep going—with the challenge of staying indifferent to my tendencies to be attached to results, pride, and social validation. I went for the latter, because, in the wise words of the modern philosopher, Billie Eilish, “When we all fall asleep, where do we go?”

Since I made that decision, I never looked back. I’ve since worked on dozens of projects I could file under “advocacy work.” From crafting a 6-meter-wide cardboard prop used in protests by urban poor groups, to producing socio-political memes that sometimes go viral, if not sometimes ending up being cringy. From ensuring I integrate my socio-political advocacy in my engagement with youth organizations, to dedicating a huge chunk of my social media real estate so I could give my friends a sign of hope that I’m still with them in the fight. From contributing a tabloid piece to support a great candidate in this campaign season despite never once reading a tabloid newspaper in my life, to writing this article right now despite experiencing intense imposter syndrome.

Surprisingly, I feel happier and more at peace now, despite regularly taking in more workload and using more emotional and mental capacity for this advocacy. Being woke doesn’t have to come at the cost of your mental health or personal goals. Though admittedly, you sometimes take more risks in these areas than most would. In my experience, part of fulfilling the mission means taking care of yourself so you can take care of others better. Yes, that means it’s okay to detach and escape for a while.

But some things are inevitable—which brings us to next Monday, May 13, 2019. Election Day.

If the latest national surveys are accurate, then this coming Monday will be one of the worst Mondays ever… or at least the worst in the last three years. I mean, how can Mondays get even worse than they already are?

Yet here we are—a country that’s poised to vote for arguably the least logical choices into national power once more. What’s an idealistic young person to do in times like this?

There might be some of us who are pinning our hopes on this year’s election results, treating it as a make or break point. I hope that the past three years have taught us a lot about what we could individually and collectively withstand, stand for, and stand against.

In 2016, we woke up like this. I hope we stay true to the mission and not get too attached with our expectations on the results, to cut off hope when our bets don’t get to take the legislative seats they deserve. There’s a probable chance that it’s going to be another bad day for us and our country. As the saying goes, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.”

But in 2019, we don't have to keep waking up to the same things. I hope we would never think of the current state of our nation as normal, to dismiss it as irreversible and tag our nation as a hopeless case. Whatever the outcome is for this year’s elections, we’ll keep rising. We ought to. We should strive to. Whatever it takes.



Art by Pearl Antoinette Sevilla




—alike.com.ph

MICHAEL FUA IS ALL ABOUT DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE INDIVIDUALS, TEAMS, ORGANIZATIONS, AND MOVEMENTS THAT CHANGE SOCIETY FOR THE BETTER. FORMERLY AN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND COUNTRY MANAGER OF AIESEC PHILIPPINES FOUNDATION, HE HAS DONE CONSULTING WORK IN AREAS OF STRATEGY DESIGN, COMMUNICATION, AND EXECUTION FOR ORGANIZATIONS SUCH AS YESPINOY FOUNDATION, THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, AND THE COMMISSION ON HIGHER EDUCATION TO NAME A FEW. HE HAS WORKED WITH VARIOUS SOCIAL MOVEMENTS THAT FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN, THE URBAN POOR, FISHERFOLK, FARMERS, AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BASIC SECTOR THROUGH MARKETING AND DESIGN.


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