Are You a Victim of the Diminishing Dreams Syndrome?

When I was in high school, I dreamt of someday owning a huge firm.

Then I entered college.

When I was in college, only the ones with the highest grades were given the most recognition. So I figured, only they could one day “own a company.”

So, from thereon, I dreamt of becoming a high-ranking corporate employee – perhaps a C-whatever-O!

Then I joined a corporation.

I came in as an entry-level HR Officer. The more I learned about my field, the more I realized how incredibly difficult it is to overcome my chosen corporate function and make truly strategic decisions.

So, from thereon, I dreamt of becoming a “Head of HR” one day.

Moreover, I also saw that in corporations, the best managers were often given “car plans” or “company cars.” Of course, I wanted to be the best.

So, from thereon, I dreamt of getting my own car – a FORD ESCAPE if possible, because I thought it looked good.

More than once I thought. “Hey, I’m not really happy! I can’t wait for the week to end and the work is getting repetitive.” But then when I asked around, everyone else felt the same way.

So, from thereon, I thought, “That’s life.” And then I just forced myself to chug along, day after day after day after day after day.

Then, one day I was the Head of HR for an entire firm. My salary was higher, so naturally, I quickly got a loan to purchase a FORD ESCAPE (which I eventually loathed because it was such a gas-guzzler) The monthly loan payments were debilitating, and in truth I could have used the money for more important stuff. But hey, who cares?  I had my car, right?!!!

Then, after some time, I got a bit confused. Wait, so what was left to dream of? I dared not dream of being a CXO. Owning a firm was even more laughable.

So, I instead “dreamt” of just getting higher pay, year after year. Maybe get a job outside the country to earn higher currency. That’s it. I figured, nothing wrong with that right? Everyone I talked to dreamt of the same thing, and talked about the same thing.

In around a decade’s time, society and corporate life had subtly diminished my dreams from “owning a firm” into “receiving a higher salary increase next year” and “owning an Escape.” At one point, these two were my professional dreams. DREAMS. Egad.

My friends, our dreams should be saved for bigger, much more meaningful things. God placed us on this earth for far greater things than a nice car and nice pay. Our dreams fuel our hopes, which in turn, fuel our souls. We should take great care of our dreams. 

Buy hey, you know, my dreams include the really big things, like having a family and travelling to Europe and stuff, they don’t involve work. Work is just work.

Stop thinking this way. Work is such an important part of our lives. It is where MOST of our waking hours are spent. A person who feels broken about “just work” is simply just a broken person. I was.

What, so inspiration, meaning, and feeling great are just reserved for the weekends?

When I took stock of where I was, and I made a conscious decision to follow my younger, more childlike dreams, I noticed something very different.

My dreams grew.

My initial dream was to “just earn enough to get out of corporate.” And I did (with a great leap). Then I figured we could “grow this baby” into an industry leader. We did. Then I figured I could use the experience to create more startups. I did. Then I figured I could use everything I learned to help people create more startups. This is my passion dream now, and it excites and burns within me furiously. I would do this for free. And when I think of it, I think it’s an aspiration worth being called a dream.

Are your dreams getting less and less worthy of being called a “dream?” Are you a victim of the Diminishing Dreams Syndrome? If you are, then this recognition alone can prove to be a monumental asset. Get out of this downward spiral, fast.

It might be good to take a long leave. But don’t go to Boracay with your friends first. Retreat. It might be tough to see the forest from the trees, so take a step back first. Take stock of who you are and what is meaningful to you. Pray. Consider. Be open.

Then ask yourself this question: what do you REALLY want to do?

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How God Founded Our Startup

When a new employee starts in STORM, or any of the startups I’m associated with (we’re all in one building), they are treated to something different (especially if they’ve previously worked in corporations before) which happens every three o’clock. We invite the newbie to our conference room, where we read the Gospel for the day, and then everyone gets her turn to say a prayer.

When we celebrate a victory, we quickly remind ourselves that ultimately, it was God who enabled the victory. Yes, we have very talented and intelligent people on our team – but where do all these gifts come from anyway? We cannot and will not take full credit.

On the lower-right corner of our website, you will see Whom we dedicate this company to.

Why am I so obsessed with creating a workplace where culture is defined by faith?

During the company newbie orientation process, I give the talk on our history. A history of a startup is pretty much the history of its founders. When I give this talk, I get quite emotional because it is my life I am sharing. I tell new employees about how truly blessed we were in those early years – about how timing would always be so eerily perfect. The right client when we need it. A founder who backed out, only to become our first (needed) client. The right employee when we need it. Never missing payroll even in those times when we didn’t know where we could get the cash – I consider this nothing short of a miracle.

Soon, I reach the point where I talk about making my great leap in 2008 – from part-time to full-time, from corporate lifer to full-blown entrepreneur.

I made that leap at the MOST inopportune time ever – a full-blown recession, STORM having all sorts of problems, a person borrowing a huge chunk of money from me disappearing (and in doing so, wiping out my funds), a newborn son and a wife to support, our then-largest client alerting us through fax that they were letting go of us in two weeks, an impending 80% salary cut if I went full-time in STORM.

It was a completely idiotic decision.

So why, why, why, did I choose to make that leap when I did?

Discernment – I knew God wanted me to do so.

That’s it.

There was no secret client I was wooing, nor did I have a cash stash somewhere. No ace in the sleeve. Nor did I possess any irrational confidence that I could turn things around. I was wracked with doubt. Logic screamed at me to reconsider. I was not at peace.

(side note: I find that having “peace” with a decision is an overrated discernment element. I find that a lot of times, God talks to us by disturbing us. Oftentimes, when God asks us to grow and expand our horizons, it isn’t peace that is felt. It is disturbance. It is disturbance because when we expand our horizons, we always step out of our comfort zones)

But God was my rock.

So I leapt when He said so. It was truly a leap of Faith.

And ever since that leap, God has remained so faithful.

Not only has STORM been doubling revenues every year since ’08, but I have found what I want to do for the rest of my life: building startups and helping people build startups. I can talk about this topic nonstop for weeks. For the first time in my life, I have voluntarily devoured tons of (non-fiction)books on a topic. You could ask my wife – I have given up radio and I now instead listen to audiobooks and podcasts while driving. I would do this for free – I love this stuff.

I sometimes think of what I do now: the thrill of starting things, the experience of learning something by making decisions and truly being accountable for the ramifications, growing my startup family, work becoming my hobby and vice-versa, being involved in radically different but interesting things, writing and talking to people about something I am truly passionate about, I think of all these and I shudder. I shudder at the thought of how quickly and easily I might have decided to ignore that call to leap. Then I thank God again and again for the inspiration I was given.

I am utterly convinced with my entire being that if God had not intervened, if I had not been sufficiently guided, if I just followed what the world would have had me do, I would not have taken that leap. I would still be in a corporation now – completely uninspired, working for just my salary, totally waiting for Friday just like everyone else. No startups for me. No juangreatleap.

Instead, I had been redeemed.

This month, I met up with two blog readers I haven’t previously been acquainted with who invited me for coffee. Both asked me why I was doing this. Both noticed there weren’t any ads on this site. Both noticed I wasn’t asking for money during the meeting.

This is my answer, guys 🙂 There will never be ads on this site, nor will I be asking for money for “consulting” when I meet people. This part of my life has been Gift. And so, for my part, I will share what I can with those who trust me enough to ask.

In all the ways I can think of, I try to make God the center of my work.

Just simply to give credit where it is due.

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The ONE TRUE RISK I faced in taking the startup leap

One of these days, I’ll post the full-blown story of what exactly happened when I took the leap and kissed my corporate career goodbye. It was truly a Faith-Leap for me.

Till then, kindly make do with this super abridged version:

I was a 33-year old corporate lifer with a wife and a newborn son I was supporting. It was the middle of the 2008 recession. The startup firm I was working part-time putting up was struggling mightily, partly because I wasn’t giving it the time it deserved.

I had two paths to take.

One was to continue on my 12-year corporate career as a line HR director, continue receiving my comfortable salary, continue with the peace of mind that my family would be ok. I would also continue working in a career I had since realized wasn’t for me, and didn’t stoke my passions anymore. It would also mean the sure-death of STORM, my startup baby.

The other path was unthinkable: to go full-time in the startup, in an effort to right the ship. In doing so, I would be swallowing an 80% salary cut during a recession year and I would be leaving behind a career which took a decade to build. It would mean my startup would have a chance of surviving.

Easy choice right? Bye-bye STORM. After all, what idiot would risk his family? The more I thought of it however, the more I saw the real risk.

It then became clear: I could always go back to my corporate career. There would ALWAYS be someone in need of a good HR guy. If my experiment with STORM didn’t work out, I could always go back. Malamang may increase pa. 

On the other hand, I realized I could never go back to STORM. Had I let go of it, it would have died and that would’ve been it. I would never find out what could’ve happened if I took the leap. I knew it would be hard to live with that what-if. The real risk was to grow old one day and never find out.  

And so, with confidence and faith amidst a trying time, I took my great leap.

My wife Pauline supported me that time through and through. We tightened our belts and made small sacrifices to make ends meet. It never became desperate though. In a few months, we were Blessed with a big client, and revenues started growing.

The benefits of making the leap are fantastic: I am able to pursue what I am passionate about everyday. I wake up in the morning actually excited to go to work. I am learning tremendously. I am able to decide and do what I feel is relevant and important, like this blog, in the context of my work. I feel God more in the workplace, and feel surer that I am where He wants me to be – pursuing my God-given passions.

These are things which I feel everyday, which I seldom felt in my corporate career. I believe everyone should be given the freedom to pursue these, work is such an integral part of our lives. We can’t and mustn’t settle.

Think about it. Is the risk even that big?

Young people. They say “startups are for the young” because of two things: first is that it takes a lot of energy to pursue a startup. You will work HARDER than you did in corporate. Hopefully it’s not only because of your intense will to make it, but also because you’ve chosen a product you love. The other reason startups are for the young? You have nothing to lose. You don’t have mouths to feed yet, nor a house loan to pay. You can always go back climbing the corporate ladder. It will always be there for you.  The ONLY thing you might be sacrificing is lifestyle (the one your corporate salary allows you to afford), which really if you think about it, isn’t worth it. At all. If you have that itch, there is no sense stalling. Take that leap now.

Slightly older folks. You probably have something to lose. It’s the large, 2x-a-month cash that comes in like clockwork. You use it to feed your dependents. If you think about it, your career is NOT really at risk – you can always go back to it.  By now though, you probably have an idea if that career of yours really is something you really love, or its something you are stuck with. If it is the latter, you owe it to yourself to take a leap – don’t settle. Not necessarily a giant, hairy leap, but perhaps smaller, more calculated leaps that build momentum. (I talk about that here) Create a definitive plan. Partner with young people who can take the big leaps. You are the one they will look for needed domain knowledge. Small, low-risk steps.

Look, startups are not for everyone. They require a high tolerance for ambiguity and failure, as well as high intestinal fortitude. I remember the early years when my partner Pao and I would face not knowing where the money would come from WHILE losing a huge client WHILE losing a key employee WHILE having to clean the office. Grabe. However, if you have that fire in your belly, there is NOTHING as exhilarating as being the captain of your own ship, I tell you.

There is only one way to find out though. Take a chance.