Why We Work

In mid-August, I became one of the four million and counting individuals who transitioned out of their job during a period described as the Great Resignation. This concept, first coined by professor Anthony C. Klotz, refers to the phenomenon in which people are re-evaluating their time to live in greater alignment with their values. 

I chose to use my savings (and a dramatically smaller budget) to give myself a career break: I wanted to intentionally reflect on my first full-time role, life in the United States more generally, and my growth goals in this next phase.

At the same time as my departure, my dad–a metallurgical engineer by practice–was also re-exploring career possibilities. He has been a stay-at-home dad since our family relocated again nearly seven years ago. My dad’s last professional role was as a care assistant while living in the United Kingdom from 2001 to 2014. As I advance in my career, it’s not lost on me that my ability to focus on individual growth has been afforded by my parents’ sacrifices.

At our family home in the UK (circa 2003)

Since moving to Baltimore in 2017, I have also learned to appreciate the subtle yet deeply impactful ways my dad expressed love and masculinity in defiance of gender norms. He primarily cared for our home affairs. My dad’s timeliness, driving his children to and from school, mirrored military discipline. And still, to this day, he provides much-needed comfort by cooking my favorite Filipino foods whenever I return home. 

My dad’s decisions have fostered my own capacity, as a young woman in a patriarchal society, to see myself beyond my empathetic nature; as someone both highly capable and equally deserving as my male counterparts of realizing my dreams.

The following is an adaptation of a conversation with my dad on his early life and later choices related to the concept of work. My hope is that this discussion, in addition to ongoing societal shifts, can inspire us to explore how contemporary aspirations for self-actualization at work builds upon generations of love, sacrifice, and risk.

Early Life in the Philippines

Dad (lower left) outside of Antipolo Church (circa 1960s)

To ease us in, could you describe yourself in a few words?

I am a reserved person. I don’t have many friends, only a few, and I don’t mix with a lot of people. I enjoy my private life more and only mix with people when I get invitations or sometimes to get out with your mom. 

I am thoughtful. When I have something to share, even if it’s just food, I think it’s Filipino culture to share whatever you have. Even if you only have half of lunch, and you’re sitting with somebody, it’s the nature of Filipinos to share. 

I am also a parent and value education. Setting up an example for my children and to fulfill the wishes of my parents [to study] as well. They didn’t have the opportunities and financial means to study in their time. It’s Filipino culture to sell properties or something for their children to finish their education, sometimes borrowing money and then paying it back. 

Borrowing money from where?

Before, people tilled someone else’s farm, rented land or borrowed money from a landlord. But that didn’t happen with us, because ama was working and ina had her little business, doing her pastime of cooking and selling in her sari-sari store

You said your parents didn’t have the financial means to study. Do you remember what grade levels they completed? I can’t remember. 

Ina finished high school, maybe at seventeen or eighteen. 

How about ama?

Ama didn’t [finish high school], I think just grade school. But he likes to study. If he saw something like a newspaper, it was his pastime to read or watch television. He liked discussions on different topics, and he liked to talk. I didn’t get his ability to talk (laughs).

You are the first person on your side of our family to relocate abroad. Can you describe what life was like growing up in Hagonoy, Bulacan?

During my elementary years, we used to volunteer by cleaning and draining the canal in the barangay. We would decorate at night time in preparation for the fiestas.

I [also] used to go with my siblings, cousins, and grandparents on ina’s side to the farm in Bulacan, especially during harvest time. Because it’s really tiring to go to the farm, sometimes when we go past a small stall there, they would buy us halo-halo as a treat, or pick guava from the trees alongside the road as well.  

It sounds like you did a lot of community and family stuff growing up. 

Yeah. With my friends, we biked in the barangay and into the next one as well. When there was a flood, we borrowed our grandparent’s bangka, just like a small boat. Me and my friends would ride on that in the river. We didn’t think of the danger, we just went along with the current. That’s how we would enjoy the summer. 

Every summer, we also used to go to Antipolo Church because my grandparents on ina’s side were religious. And the good part there is when we would buy delicacies, like suman and cashew nuts, because Antipolo is known for that. We’d bring packed lunches and sit where you can see the falls–they call it Hinulugang Taktak–and eat what we brought from home, like fried chicken, shrimp, just like that. We’d also buy souvenir t-shirts with the colors of the church. So, that’s also happening during summer with my grandfather.

This is the grandfather that you said inspired you to go to church, right? It’s the same one? 

Yes, to honor the legacy of my grandfather and ina. To show respect and be thankful for what you have. Even my aunties and uncles, that’s why they were doing it. 

Thanks dad, for sharing.

Expanding Horizons: Work as a Means for Exploration

Dad (far right) and his coworkers in Malaysia (1995)

So, even though you’re the only sibling to live abroad, moving to the United Kingdom wasn’t your first time traveling. Can you share what places you traveled to and why?

The first place I went to was Ethiopia because there was an opportunity to travel. You know, being young and adventurous, you want some challenges in life and in your career, so I took it. 

How did you find it?

It was not easy because I worked in the mines. With life in the mines, you’re isolated, you’re mostly in the remote areas, and you have to be there because that’s where the plant operations are situated. It wasn’t easy being far away from your family as well. It was my first time traveling. It was a good experience, but you feel homesick. That’s why I was finding it hard. 

The other time was in Malaysia. A friend of mine contacted me saying they needed a process engineer, and they asked me if I was interested. I said okay because I wasn’t doing anything at that time. 

I noticed that every travel experience you had before immigrating was for work.

Yeah, work-related opportunities. And actually, when I went back home, the manager said he would leave the position open and that I could come back. But at that time, the reserve was going down in Malaysia. I think the next year, they shut down the operations. 

Leaving Home: “Everyday is a Transition”

At dad’s family home in Hagonoy, Bulacan (2001)

Switching gears a little bit. How did your family react to your decision to move abroad?

I think they’re happy to see you progress and go somewhere. Maybe they’re proud to see you abroad, experiencing things they haven’t really done. But then again, maybe a part of them was sad because, you know, there’s only three of us siblings. 

They don’t know the life and difficulties of going away. You have to sacrifice a lot, even your culture. You have to learn about other countries’ cultures. That’s why, sometimes, when you go home and bring food back, even stinky ones like tuyo or pusit, I think that’s how Filipinos bring themselves back home–through those kinds of foods. 

It reminds you of memories at home, eating the same types of food with your family. That’s why when you visit family [in the Philippines], they tell you to bring it back. It could be stinky to the neighborhood [here], but they don’t understand.

Mmm, like the food has comforting qualities. How about you? What were some of your thoughts on moving? 

Well, the objective there was to give a good education for our children. It wasn’t for us [parents]. We already had you and Carlo at that time, and because life is difficult in the Philippines, we wanted you to experience [differently] and have the best education the world could offer. 

That’s what Filipino parents do. If they don’t have the opportunity to go abroad for their children to have good studies, they’ll make it a point to find good opportunities in the Philippines, as much as they can. 

Moving from the United Kingdom to America is another thing because there was a good opportunity for you too. Not for me, but for your mom as well, because she wanted to move to the US before the UK. The UK was a starting point. They welcomed us with open arms and even gave us citizenship. 

What was the first year in the UK like for you? How did you maintain a sense of connectedness back home? You already mentioned food earlier.

If you’re moving to another location, initially the first year is difficult. Especially if you have children that are very young, because you were only four years old and Carlo was three. There’s a big transition, as well as cultural learning, starting from their accents and understanding their languages. It doesn’t happen in a year. 

Everyday is a transition. Even at the time we moved out, we were still learning a lot.

It’s difficult as well to be away from your family. You have to sacrifice that. We didn’t have Facebook Messenger at the time, so we bought phone cards and used our landline. We called the family, maybe as much as twice a month. But if there’s an emergency or things happening, we would call more often.

That’s it, it’s really about learning the culture. Getting used to their transportation system too, but thankfully the transportation system in the UK is very good. You could go around on buses. That’s another reason why we wanted this opportunity for you because before, especially in Manila, sometimes you have to wait many hours before you move through traffic.

I experienced walking from school while it flooded. I reached a point where jeepneys could travel, and then I had to walk from there. We didn’t want you to experience that while you’re studying. 

You were young too, right?

Yeah, in college. I got home at maybe midnight soaking wet. So that happened during the rainy seasons in Manila, especially for those who didn’t have their own transportation. Not many people did at that time. Maybe only families who had money. 

Contrasting Careers: Nurturing People and Processes

You worked as a care assistant for people with learning difficulties the whole time we lived in the United Kingdom. 

Yes, I had to do other things because it worked for our family’s schedule. It worked with mom’s night shifts and I had to drop you off at school.

So you already spoke about your motivation. What did you think about your job?

At first I found it difficult and challenging because I hadn’t done it in the past. It was a big transition for me. It’s challenging because I was working with people with learning difficulties, and not many people can do that. But the employers provided training, and we researched and met other professionals. You learn how to be more understanding with them. 

Did you enjoy your job? If so, what aspects did you most enjoy? 

Yeah, I enjoyed it, because if not, I wouldn’t have continued doing it for fourteen years. I started doing it when we got there until we moved out. 

I enjoyed it because I had colleagues and managers who supported me, as well as the clients. You enjoy working with them. Although it’s difficult sometimes, it’s rewarding to offer something that will make your clients happy. We took them on trips, doctor appointments, and walks around the block. Just like helping with their well-being because they haven’t got anybody except those who work with them.

In the UK and US, it’s not the same as in the Philippines where they will look after children with learning difficulties. For me, it’s not about the financial reward, but really more about what you can provide to integrate them into the community. 

Can you see any similarities and/or differences between caretaking and engineering?

You have to collaborate with other professionals like dentists, doctors, and other groups of experts, and work with their feedback. In engineering, you collaborate with professionals on the maintenance, mechanical, and electronic sides to make sure the plant operations run smoothly. My job there was on the processing side, where I looked after the controls and the chemicals. Stuff like that. 

That’s interesting dad, the language you used. You said “looking after the controls,” like “looking after people.” You were taking care of operations in your early role, then people in your next. 

Moving Again: “Balance What You Win and Lose”

You spoke a little about this earlier, but how did you feel about moving again to the US? How did that compare to moving to the UK?

Moving again was a very difficult decision, but because your mom waited for this opportunity, for me, it was about supporting her. As well as for you, I thought that maybe America could offer you much more to harness your education and develop your skills. The school you went to is one of the best in the world, so that’s one of the compliments I would say of moving here. 

Professionally, I lost time where I could have worked. But I don’t regret that because I made sure my children were safe and that they don’t have problems going to school. You have to really balance what you win and lose.

Could you say more on what you had to give up personally?

I had to give up my career because I was doing other jobs, even if it wasn’t on the financial side. When you have a family, you have to do something that will work best. You might have to give up your job in the meantime. Not all families have the same circumstances, and not all have the same perceptions about leaving their children. Sometimes they leave their children to be able to work. It’s not the same with every family situation. 

In the last seven or six years though, sometimes I miss working because if I do something, I become more focused. It’s difficult for me when I’m not really learning personally. 

Yeah, like learning for yourself and not working purely for family-related reasons.

Yeah. But on the other side, you’re making sure things are going smoothly at home which balances the situation.

What Follows an Empty Nest

Dad, Carlo, and I before leaving the Philippines (2001)

Okay, we’re nearly at the end. In what ways have things shifted for you since all three of us are mostly out of the home?

Right now, I’m thinking about what type of job I can do because I stopped working, and even with my other career, engineering, I am probably obsolete. And studying costs a lot here. I’ll still try to apply to something close to engineering, but not in the mines. I’ll see how Ciara settles into college first. 

Knowing everything you know now, what is some advice you would give to your younger self before moving? 

You have to be mentally and emotionally prepared. It’s good to move for the sake of your children, to give them better opportunities and living conditions. But you have to sacrifice a lot of things. 

You have to sacrifice being away from your family. [With my parents, I felt better because] I’m thinking that if I leave them, they will still be okay.  We have more members of our family there and not all the siblings are leaving. You’re not leaving them behind knowing there’s no one to look after them. Their brothers and sisters only live in the barangay, and they are very much connected with each other.

Instead, you worry more about yourself and how you will face moving away. To be in another country and culture, to learn about how life is abroad. But if you are prepared to do it, then go for it. 

Nice, that’s it dad! How do you feel? What did you think of our conversation?

I feel hungry (both laugh). I have to cook food. The conversation was fine. I’m also trying to reflect on memories of my childhood, so it gave me an opportunity to do that and share with you what we were doing.

Alright, well, I want to make sure you eat. Thank you dad for your time. I appreciate you and love you.

Love you too, thank you. Okay, bye (hangs up).