Surfers and MBA

I squinted my eyes toward the blue horizon in the hopes of seeing an impending wave when suddenly I heard singing from afar. I looked east and noticed two local boys on their boards singing Freddie Aguilar some 100 meters away.

“Slow day, huh?” I shouted. I was with my surfing guide, and we’ve been on our boards, bobbing up and down the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea?) for a while now, in the hopes of catching a wave. It’s been a lull of an afternoon, and I can feel the local boys in the same state of ennui.

The local boys paddled to my location so we could talk and get to know each other. Shortly after we were already exchanging stories.

One of the boys tells us that he just got himself a German girlfriend, a solo backpacker he met in surf school. The other boy proudly shared that he just won his first surf competition.

I shared that I just started business school, five weeks into my MBA, and struggling.

I told them things I would never otherwise tell my family, friends, or cohort-mates: that the normally cocky self is having doubts on her aptitude; and even wondering if she’d ultimately survive business school.

Before I could go on my litany of frustrations, a big wave approached and the two boys caught it on time, while I was washed ashore.

“I’m done for the day,”

I told my surfing guide, and suggested we go have beer by the beach.

We grabbed some beers, and the guys we met in the midst of the sea passed by, so we hollered them to join us — and they did.

Of course, I didn’t lose time in continuing my tirade, reveling at my newfound friends’ curiosity (or more like, taking advantage of it).

“I feel like an oddball,” I shared. “I’m an island girl, and this whole corporate culture is completely alien to me. In the islands, there is no concept of time. My social circle is made up of artists, surfers and bohemians. Moving to Makati and going to business school… I don’t know about this.”

“I wish things are easier, like living by the beach,” I said aloud, although I knew in my heart I lied. I was also too neurotic for the island life. I had what it felt like a quarter-life crisis–I wasn’t looking for ‘comfortable’, I was looking for purpose. I felt stuck; like I’m not supposed to be part of this storyline.

And so, I decided to go to business school (because that’s why everyone takes an MBA, right?).

As a Fine Arts major, I had zero math background that would prepare me for an MBA. After some eight weeks of self-study, I took the GMAT, passed, got admitted and suddenly whisked away from the island life to the corporate jungle of Makati.

In the first weeks of MBA, I was completely stumped. I would enviously look as my classmates breezed through Finance, Accounting and Business. The readings seem to me like they were written in Arabic. I wanted some Rosetta stone to land on my lap and become magically fluent in this new, technical language. I was on the verge of giving up because my sheets just. won’t. balance.

The solo trips to the beach somehow saved me from the point of neurosis. When the four walls of the case room felt like closing in, I treated my claustrophobia with a one-way bus ticket to San Juan to just stare at the endless blue horizon of calm.

The surfers were obviously completely clueless about everything I’ve been saying up to that point. One of them, Miguel, finally offered advice.

“Hey, don’t worry. Everyone starts off as a beginner.” Miguel countered, “Every pro surfer looked like an idiot when they first got on the board.”

That totally makes sense if put that way.

That was October of 2016. The surfer’s words were all I needed to come fighting back into the ring–I remember coming home relieved and ready to make mistakes. I was ready to stand on goofy and ready to be wiped out from my board. Starting off a little behind everyone else can be discouraging. Most of us, after all, grew up where success, or being the best, is celebrated. We get brownie points from our parents when we excel, and school institutions reward the top students in academic excellence. In high school, I equated my self-worth to my academic achievement — seeing my name on top of the list validated my being.

The problem with this mentality is that it creates an illogical fear of failure. The biggest victims are the overachievers. Because of the anxiety of failing, overachievers tend to stick to their expertise and what they know best. The fear can cause short-sightedness; which hinders the ability to broaden skill set. They have scripted responses such as “I can’t dance,” “I’m bad at languages,” or “I have no sense of balance” whenever encountered with something new.

It’s always easier to say “that’s impossible,” rather than “that’s hard.”

I started changing my mindset radically from being this anxious failure-phobic (apparently this is known as atypchiphobia). I adapted the fresh new mindset of learning for the sake of fun, and it opened whole new world for me: I hit my butt hit the floor, but I learned to skate. I was laughed at because of my funny accent, but at least I learned to speak another language. I looked funny, but I learned to dance. I went through countless sleepless nights of study, but I finally learned to balance my sheets and make business analysis. I broke my heart, but I learned to love.

My learning curve may have been longer than my MBA classmates. I might have studied harder and slept fewer hours, but my learning experience in business school was more satisfying. In the end, it’s really not about getting the degree, it was the journey to getting to where I am now.

Failure is part of life, so just enjoy the ride, learn to laugh at yourself.

Enjoy the ride.

My weekly column ‘Postcard Travels’ featuring travel stories is published at Sunstar Weekend every Sundays or you can check out more on the blog or buy my book!

I’ve also started a new blog about adulting, business and investments. Trust me, it’s not as boring as you think. Check it out at

About the Book

“Postcards from Elsewhere” is a story of a travel writer who has essentially become a story cartographer—mapping her world not with landmarks and places but with the cast of colorful characters, and life lessons, she encountered during her many travels around Asia, Europe, and the United States. 

Read more on About the Book.

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