I, Stubborn Dreamer

There’s an anecdote of me as a child, that my mother used to tell me about over and over again. She said that when I was about 5 y.o., she and my father were watching me work on a coloring book. They were instructing me which colors to use (e.g. green for the leaves, blue for the sky), but I was too stubborn to listen. I did things exactly as I wanted them done, damn all the rules. It was then that my father said of me, “She is going to be difficult.”

Indeed I was, and in many ways I think I still am—I am still the most stubborn person I know.

So five years ago, when I resigned from my fulltime job to embark on a journey of finding myself through a career change, I never listened to those who kept saying how “impractical” it was for me to do so. I felt like nobody understood me and my decision back then, but I was willing to risk it, because I knew in my core that I was supposed to be doing something else with my time here. So sue me, I thought, for taking a shot at trying to find out why I was born, why I am here.

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It was then that I decided to go into psychology, a field I love and I’d only dreamed of being a part of, and try to see if I could maybe become a psychologist. You know, this will sound silly, but there was a time when I never thought Filipinos could become psychologists, too. Being exposed only to Western psychology textbooks, I thought the profession was practiced only by Westerners. So when I learned that a local university offered a masters program in psychology, which would put me in a track to eventually get a license to be a practicing psychologist, I enrolled right away. I was broke, but I did what I had to do and was helped a lot by family to get through graduate school.

After getting my master’s degree in psychology, I waited two more years before applying to take the licensure exam. In the interim period, I taught college-level psychology courses and worked as a psychology associate for an orphanage, both of which broadened my knowledge and practice of applying psychology concepts in real-world situations.

Then about two weeks before the licensure exam, my family was hit by crisis after crisis, the magnitude of which shook me so much that I thought twice about pushing through with taking the exams. I was emotionally distraught beyond any I’ve ever had to endure, but I knew I had to keep going. I had to make an effort, to constantly call to mind the thing they say about each one of us being born already a champion.

[Forgive me, but I’m about to insert a brief lesson on basic reproduction, something I’ve often shared with my students]. See, each of us is a product of a unique egg cell-sperm cell genetic combination. Usually, only one egg cell from the mother is around, and for fertilization to occur, this egg cell needs to be in the right place at the right time. Then there are millions of sperm cells from the father, and all of them race to the egg cell, but only one out of millions will be the first one to break through the shield of the egg cell and fertilize it. ONLY ONE. OUT OF MILLIONS. And YOU are that ONE who broke through. If it was a different sperm cell that fertilized your mother’s egg cell, it wouldn’t be you who’s here right now; it would be your brother/sister. But it was the sperm-cell half of you that was stubborn enough to push past the swarm of other sperm cells to get to where it needed to be, and it was the egg-cell half of you that was in the right place at the right time to meet the sperm cell.

In other words, you are here because you are the perfect combination of stubborn and serendipity.

And I kept trying to remember that about myself, especially as my mother had told me I was not the product of a planned pregnancy (which is why there is such a large age gap between me and my older siblings). So I thought, my sperm-cell half must have been extra-stubborn. I did not arrive here on Earth just to give up at life. Nahiya naman ako sa ibang sperm cells, sana sila na lang pala nanalo kung susuko lang din ako.

So even as my path to becoming a psychologist began to feel like an impossible uphill climb, I soldiered on. Come hell or high water, I was gonna go after what I want.

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

And by the grace of God, or the will of the universe, or whatever Higher Power holds the key to life, I did pass. I cannot explain the feeling of seeing my name in the roster of successful examinees, and the thought of getting to hold a professional ID card that says “Psychologist” under my name. Masyado akong kinikilig. Hahaha

The journey I’ve been through was, all at once, terrifying, exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, and ultimately redeeming. It taught me a lot—about the world, about people, about myself—but my highest hope is that it may teach others too, that it’s okay to take a chance on your dreams and challenge the status quo if you have to. Never mind that the rest of the world says you should just do things the way they’ve always been done. Never mind that some days feel like the universe is conspiring to block you from accomplishing what you set out to do. Stubbornness could be a gift, too. So go ahead and color your leaves blue and your sky green.

The world is waiting to marvel at the art of a life that’s uniquely your own. ♦

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Image from The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna (2015)

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