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Dream big

This is a continuation of the Commencement Speech I delivered to the 2018 graduates of the University of the Philippines Visayas last June 22 in Miagao, Iloilo.

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About five years ago, I also had my “graduation.” After 21 years in public service, I left politics in 2013 and returned to my first love – being an entrepreneur.

As I went back to my status as ordinary citizen, I immediately fell in love with entrepreneurship again. It was like a reunion I was so excited about. I felt like an apprentice. It felt like my first day at work. It is true what they say, “love is sweeter the second time around.”

Upon my return to business, I began to see the world differently. I love comparing it to watching television. When I was in politics, my view was monochromatic, it was in black and white, it was blurry. As an entrepreneur, I was seeing the world in super high color definition!

I began to study the lay of the land of our business, after all, I was absent for a long time. It did not take long for me to find a new challenge, a new opportunity – retailing and malls. Can you imagine a retired politician selling coffee, home furnishings and furnitures, and baked goods?

When I broached this idea, many people in Vista Land shook their heads. “Sir, this does not make sense. There are already heavy players in that field. It will be difficult to compete.” One look and it does seem corporate suicide to embark on retail and malls already dominated by a number of big players.

Some had doubts. But I never doubted myself.

If there is one lesson I want to impart to you as you embark on your own journey, it is this: Embrace challenges and erase the idea of giving up in your DNA.

This is what keeps me going. I could have easily retired and do what retirees do but this new challenge keeps me up. I leave my house at 5 a.m. to go to work. It’s a 24/7 job. Even on Sundays, I would go to the gym, have a light breakfast and then start my meetings for the day.

I have always believed that entrepreneurship is the key to both personal and national progress. Despite many success stories, our society is still designed to train our young people to work as employees. We need to push for a radical change in the way our people, especially the youth, view wealth creation and progress.

It is not about working for a big corporation, dressing in a coat and tie or some hip corporate attire, sitting behind a desk, buying the latest smartphones when you get your bonus. That is not success.

Rather it is when you build something from the ground up with your blood, sweat, and tears. When you can put up something that can provide you profit, give other people jobs and help in building our nation. When I see people turning the houses we sell into their own homes, when I see them enjoying a cup of coffee, I feel a sense of fulfillment. That is success. That is the Filipino dream.

By way of concluding, let me repeat what I consider to be an important lesson in my life, which I hope can also help you: Your circumstances today will not determine what is possible tomorrow.

In other words, where you are now, whatever difficulties and challenges you face, do not determine where you are going. Armed with the values and principles you learned from your parents and strengthened at school, you can make your life better. And as UP has taught us, let us also make sure that we uplift the condition of our neighbor and our communities.