Sunscreen (or Why I’m not worried about what others think)

“The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives.
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.” (from Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen, spoken word song by Baz Luhrmann)

Yesterday my father learned that one of my friends from college has been working for the United Nations and gets to travel the globe regularly. He nonchalantly asked my mom why I didn’t get a similar job. I wasn’t present during the conversation, and learned about it only later from my mom (who of course defended me by throwing the same question back at him, lol). Either my father meant well and wanted to nudge me a little towards getting a more lucrative career, or he sees me as a failure for not getting such a fabulous job.

Author with her father, who worries about her daughter's chosen career path.
Author with her father, who worries about her daughter’s chosen career path.

Which now kind of puts me in a defensive position. I wanted to say that I have probably accomplished way more than what most of the people I know have. I wanted to boast that I have actually traveled to about 10 countries in Asia, Europe, and Australia, not to mention most of the major islands in the Philippines. I wanted to brag that I have both a master’s and a doctorate degree, that I received those degrees before I hit 30, and that I am an alumna of the most prestigious university in the land and an imperial university in Japan (equivalent of Ivy League schools in the US). I wanted to flaunt that I have published in international scientific journals, and am known by and have worked with some of the best people and scientists in the fields of ecology, environmental science, and conservation, and have mentored countless students who are now successful in their respective careers.

If you look at my resume, in all its multiple-page, font 11, single-spaced glory, you would maybe hesitate to question my success in life.

But alas, different people use different rulers to measure success, and unfortunately, one’s annual salary seems to be the most common ruler.

Like many of my friends and family know, I quit full time teaching and research, and am about to become a freelancer. This is completely uncharted territory for me, as my life up until now seemed to have been patterned after a typical college professor’s career track. I am not guaranteed a stable source of income for the next (hopefully few) months, and will live off the small sum I have in my bank account.

I feel like Commodus in the movie Gladiator, when he said to his father Marcus Aurelius,

“You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues: Wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness, courage, perhaps not on the battlefield, but… there are many forms of courage. Devotion, to my family and to you. But none of my virtues were on your list.”

I have other virtues, but they probably are not on everybody’s list. (Don’t get me wrong, I love my father and he loves me, even though he can be tactless at times, and we sometimes don’t see eye to eye).

Just the same, I am not going to live my life trying to measure up to people’s expectations. I try not to give a flying crap about other people’s opinions of me. (It’s a struggle to do this sometimes, as I grew up trying to make everybody like me, and if you know of a good way to exercise this, please contact me asap).

The author, not giving a flying crap.
The author, not giving a flying crap.

If it were up to me, my resume would read something like this:

• Saved hundreds of animals from certain death
• Helped save the planet by living a clean and green life
• Planted hundreds/thousands of trees and other plants
• Can tell you the scientific names, common names, and other taxonomic details and descriptions of hundreds of species of plants and animals (and maybe a few protists, fungi, and bacteria)
• Loves her family and friends very much
• Has had a very colourful love life (I had to write this, lol)
• Plays a little guitar and ukulele
• Loves to sing and knows the lyrics to hundreds of songs from the 50s to the present
• Can eat a bowl of Lucky Me pancit canton in 30 seconds flat
• Makes a great cup of coffee, and amazing vegetarian sandwiches
• A student of life, and eager to learn about the great truths of the universe

When I was 22, I felt like I knew what I wanted to do. But I will be 40 in roughly 4 years, and I am now not too sure what I really want to do! But according to the Baz Luhrmann song, it’s ok; at least I will be a very interesting 40-year old! 😉

The most important reason to go vegetarian

“Don’t you miss it?”

This is probably the most common question that a meat-eating person asks me when they find out that I’m vegetarian. And my answer has always been the same. “I don’t miss it AT ALL.” I don’t crave it, I sometimes even feel a bit sick when I smell it.

You see, I became a vegetarian not due to health reasons, religious doctrines, nor even environmental concerns. It was the cruelty, the torture, the killing. It was seeing how animals are treated like they didn’t have feelings, and didn’t deserve any respect, and could only be valued for the food and products that they can provide.

The day I realized how bad the animal industry situation was, was the day I quit eating animal flesh. I did it cold turkey (how apt!). I just couldn’t put another piece of a dead animal in my mouth anymore. That was more than 10 years ago, and it was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

I’m not going to pontificate in this post about how eating meat has so many negative health effects and how the livestock industry has risen to be among the top polluters and destroyers of the planet. I’m just going to share with you some of the good things I’ve experienced as a non-meat eater. These can be summarized in three things: 1) The food experience; 2) The health benefits; and 3) The love and peace it brings.

We plant our own organic veggies in our yard using any container we can get our hands on!
We plant our own organic veggies in our yard using any container we can get our hands on!

Firstly, becoming vegetarian has opened up a whole new world of food experiences for me. I’ve learned to be more creative with cooking. I’ve experimented with more flavours and textures. I realized that what was giving any meat dish any flavour, the herbs and spices, were actually all from plants! So why not flavour plants with plants? Why not make burgers, steaks, barbecues out of fruits and vegetables? It’s amazing what you can come up with when you free your tongue from the taste of meat.

And then there’s the concomitant benefits to my health. Like anybody else, I get cough and colds and all the common illnesses that go around. But I believe that I now get them less frequently, and when I do get them, my body now fights them off more easily. I have better skin, I maintain my weight easier, I believe I have more energy than some of my meat-eating teenage students!

And lastly there are the non-tangible things that a cruelty-free lifestyle brings. My spirit feels at peace that I do not have to kill a life just to satisfy a desire. I can express my love to sentient animals without feeling the shame and guilt of making thousands of their kind suffer unimaginable cruelty at the hands of humans. Being a vegetarian has given me another purpose on earth – to help free animals from the pain and suffering.

Eating what you planted and grew yourself makes you more connected to earth and nature.
Eating what you planted and grew yourself makes you more connected to earth and nature.

Many people make fun of vegetarians and vegans. There’s even a fried chicken company that capitalized on this by making a “budgetarian” advert. Being a vegetarian is probably the closest I have to a religion. You know how religious people get offended when their Gods are made fun of? I get offended when people post photos of a live pig and label it “bacon.” It hurts, because doesn’t it literally hurt another sentient being? I’m still learning how to not be affected by people like that who do it out of spite.

So if you are thinking of becoming a vegetarian, I hope you do it for the right reasons. And I believe the best reason are the animals themselves. Any other reason simply won’t make you as committed to the lifestyle. I wish you luck on your journey to finding greater joy in living a meat-free life!

Down The Rabbit Hole: I Will Quit A Stable Job and Pursue My Dream

Have you ever quit a perfectly good job to pursue a crazy dream? That’s just what I’m about to do. I currently have a full-time teaching job at the most prestigious university in the country, and I’m on track for a tenure position — you know, a lifetime of job security and opportunities for career growth.

But in a few months, I am going to turn in my resignation letter. Most people advise me not to quit, while I experiment on doing other things on the side. That way, I’ll find out if I’m cut out for other trades, and still have a fall-back career if I am not. Those are wise words, especially in this day and age when holding a stable job is often more important than owning a house and other properties.

There’s just one little tiny problem about not quitting my job: I am not happy doing it anymore. Call me idealistic, but I dream of doing something that would make me feel like I’m not working. Like in that proverb, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” You see, I don’t have that in my life right now. I want to wake up in the morning and be pumped up to go to work and come home feeling like I’ve been the best I could be on that day, EVERY DAY. Somehow, my present job doesn’t make me feel that way.

Don’t get me wrong, working at the No. 1 university in the land can be very rewarding, challenging, and even fun. I’ve had some of the best experiences in my life throughout my >10 years of service to the university. I’ve worked with the smartest and most driven people you’ll ever get to know. I’ve been inspired by both students and co-workers to achieve great things. How then do I explain my discontent? Is it mid-life crisis? Adult onset ADHD? Pursuit of happiness? Just plain getting older?

Whatever it is, I am following my heart, and diving head first into a sea of uncertainty. It’s maybe the craziest thing I’ll ever do in my life. I simply won’t have the courage to pursue my dreams and passions without the people who love and support me. They let me be crazy and still love me. I am super grateful that I have them in my life!

So, I shall quit the only job I’ve ever known, and jump into the rabbit hole. With some luck, I’ll be able to pursue my childhood dream and even make a living out of it. I invite you to come and see what I will discover inside!