Discovery / Fulfillment

The Block of Wood

Last June 19, 2013, I attended my nephew’s honors’ assembly. Their inspirational speaker was a 3rd year high school student from the Philippine Science High School who has a lot accolades to his name: a member of the Mensa, ranked in the top 2% of the smartest people in the country, an athlete, a philanthropist on top of being a darn brilliant kid. It wasn’t his achievements that got me though — it was that youthful wisdom that touched me and reminded me how to be young again. What got to me most in his brief speech could be summed up as such:

“It’s okay to fail.”

And thus, I wrote my own little essay. It was supposed to be submitted for a gathering last June 26 2013 of the alumni of the French government scholars, but then in my sleepy haze and finally having an excuse to write something about my own struggle with failure, I failed to see that the “essay” wasn’t supposed to be 5 paragraphs long, but 5 sentences long.

It’s okay to fail — because at the least, I was able to write what I have meant to write a long time ago.

My scholarship grant from the French government in 2010 came at a time which has been called by pop culture as “making oneself”. On one hand, I was at a professional crossroads where I was experiencing burnout with the routine presented at my job back then, having held onto it for seven years. At that same time, I have discovered the joy of teaching, and have considered making a full time career of it, if not for the financial constraints the local profession presents. On the other hand, it also came at a time when I had spiritual and emotional conflict in which I started to question all of the good things that had come to me since I graduated in 2008, and I had started to doubt if I even deserved them.


September of 2010 wasn’t the first time I set foot on French soil. In fact, I had been a scholar for five years — 1993 to 1998; a scholar of my father, that is, when he worked with UNESCO at that time. The difference, 12 years later, was that I had no family who were in a real capacity to back me up. I was on my own, with no one else to answer to but myself.

The University of the Philippines — the institute I had graduated from and where I was temporarily employed as a Lecturer — then had a partnership agreement with l’Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle; and thus it was there where I was sent to undergo my first year of Masters in la Didactique du Français Langue Etrangère. I had earned it by passing le Diplôme Universitaire et Certificat de l’Enseignement du Français with the generous and gracious support of the l’Ambassade de France. I have to confess that studying in “La Sorbonne” was far from easy. Its demands were fitting of one of the most prestigious universities in the world and, in the end, as far as grades were concerned, I found that I still had a long, long way to go. To cut a long story short: I failed my Masters. I returned to Manila on January 2011, crushed by this failure and defeat — but my story has far from ended. Little did I know, it had only just begun.

I write this testimonial after two years of having of having returned from Paris to say this: I may have failed grades-wise, but I feel that the experience of being on my own — away from my homeland, left to fend for myself in foreign soil — has seen in me not a failure, but a new and clean slate upon which I build myself from. There comes a point in your life that you think you know everything, you think you have experienced everything, you think that you have everything you could ever want in life; until life flips you around and proves you wrong.

Being a scholar of the French government allowed me to wake up from my self-inflicted illusion that I had it all figured out, and made me realize that there is still more that I can do, more that I can give; that I can still grow, that I can get out of my comfort zone and open myself up to new things.

Thus, shortly after my return, I quit my job of seven years, realizing that it no longer gave me the joy and satisfaction it once did. Doing so allowed me to pursue a new career — one in which I not only get to use what I have learned in my studies, but one which also allowed me to rediscover my love of the arts: drawing, dancing and singing — the things that truly make me happy and make me feel whole.

I end this testimonial with gratitude, borrowing an imagery from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: France saw me as a complete wooden sculpture, albeit one with cracks and imperfections I was blind to. I returned to the Philippines feeling like a sculpture destroyed; but in reality, my experiences in France made me into a simple block of wood once again. I write this today, not as a complete work, but as a work in progress. I will never be perfect, but as long as I bear in my mind and heart the things I learned about myself during my brief stay, I can take comfort in the fact that I can work further on myself and that perhaps, others may be inspired to make a path for themselves in France (with the kind support of the hard-working people of the French government, of course) or whichever part of the world their heart takes them.

My little mishap aside, it felt good to finally put those thoughts into words, all thanks to the wisdom of someone half my age. It was a very opportune time, and I really want to thank that kid and let him know that he has inspired not just a hundreds of 6th graders, but this child-at-heart as well.

Today, along with a boost of spirituality, I am able to face each day, looking forward to new lessons that I will learn, and confident that whatever the outcome of my actions, I will be able to pick myself up again as a new and better person.

About the Contributor

Cielo enjoys languages, pondering on the human condition, listening to people’s stories (and, if given the chance, give advice), drawing, reading, watching anything animated and anything recommended by friends, and blogging. She also enjoys singing, dancing, going on runs with family and friends, and cooking for others.  She is very fond of animals, and cats top hre list, followed by dogs.  It’s tea over coffee, but she won’t say “no” to either.

Otherwise, she is a French-speaking paper-pusher for a legal shared services company by day, an obsessive note-taker by night, and a wannabe artist in-between. She is also a Professional Space Cadet.

This contributor is a customer of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf®.

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