Author posing next to a round window

Turning 47 during a pandemic

Erwin Lemuel Oliva · 5 min read

Celebrating my birthday from home or while on quarantine: A rumination

Back then when we still can go out and visit historical spots like this famous monument in Bataan.

I’m celebrating my birthday from home. This is now a common refrain from anyone growing older under today’s circumstances: a pandemic hanging over our heads while your government wants you back in the office because the economy is suffering. The last bit is a serious matter that deserves a separate post.

I blog every time I turn a new page in life. As writing is triggered by inspiration, my writing is inspired by life-changes or milestones — and birthdays are milestones.

If there’s one big lesson I learned this year, it’s this: we’re taking life for granted every waking time. We’re often lost in the fast-paced and blurry moments of work and life. The economy is practically dictating our pace; we consider breaks or moments of ruminations outside of work as an afterthought.

Having worked from home for last 3 months, the line between work and living has blurred. I found myself spending working more during the first few weeks of the community quarantine versus when I was at the office. Why? Some psychologists say that when we’re working from home, it’s hard to tell the difference between work and “play” because they are both so intertwined.

Then, you also have to figure out a way to find a “work space” at home where you have uninterrupted hours devoted to doing, thinking, arguing, and yes, video calls. Thanks to Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, our working lives are now reduced to spending hours listening and watching screens of people talking to a camera on their laptops, while you try to comprehend what they’re saying while multi-tasking between chatting with the rest of the team whose attention spans are challenged, and answering emails.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Our quarantined life

The biggest fear that many of us have right now is getting infected with the coronavirus, which has killed thousands worldwide. With no vaccine in sight this year or even in the next two years, I fear that spending time outside of the four corners of your home is like heading into a battle against an invisible enemy.

Your senses are heightened when you’re in flight or fight mode. So during a pandemic, paranoia is clearly visible among us. Any news of an infection among the people you work with, or the people closest to you, sends your brain into overdrive, triggering thoughts of protecting yourself and your loved ones.

I salute the health workers and doctors who have gone out of their way to serve us despite the risk of infection. Many of them have died, sadly. But with that in mind — and with news of cases still on the upswing —I cannot blame you if you find it hard to go sit comfortably in an office while being told that you have to maintain 1.5 meters of physical distance from each other.

Air-conditioned rooms are also deemed not safe, as I have read, and staying inside a roomful of people can increase your risk of infection. That explains the almost empty restaurants and fast food chains. I also learned recently that air-conditioned offices have to invest in exhaust systems to reduce possible infection.

We use masks, protective gloves, and other personal protective equipment to keep us safe. But will this be enough to spare us from being infected by an evolving virus?

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An unforgettable year

No one will argue with you when you say 2020 is a year that will be etched in your brains, forever. The year started poorly, if you try to scan the news from January to this moment.

However, as an optimist, I am trying to view this year from the perspective of a glass half-full. Amid the uncertainty, I see some silver-linings from this experience:

  1. Productivity at work has dramatically increased — admit it or not. Is this a good evidence that working remotely or from anywhere will not decrease productivity? For naysayers who think that work cannot be done remotely, well, they’re wrong. You can do more work from home or from anywhere as one colleague puts it boldly.
  2. We’ve connected and re-connected with more people. Yes, we’ve had endless late evening chats and video calls with family, friends, and even friends of friends whom we have never even connected prior to the pandemic. This is all thanks to technology.
  3. We took on new hobbies, upped our skills, and read a few more pages of a book. My wife and kids have learned to cook new delicious dishes they have picked up from YouTube. I have seen friends, colleagues taking up baking. And yes, I have finished more e-books now because I am not wasting time stuck in a traffic jam. So, yay for us!
  4. We’ve been drawn closer to our Creator. I am the first to admit this. When you’re too busy with life, time spent on our spiritual lives declines to almost nil. Many people have turned to prayers and spirituality in this time of crisis. Why? Because we’re always searching for answers to life’s biggest questions.
  5. We’re back to basics and realizing we can survive with little, but essential things. Lifestyles have changed. New habits have emerged. They call it the new normal, but what is it? The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into our personal finances, for one. People have lost their jobs because of this pandemic. For those of us who have jobs, we’re forced to rethink about money. It is also pushing us to think about saving up. The pandemic has definitely given us pause; a time to think about personal finances, especially the money that we can save. Are we spending beyond our means? Are we even budgeting our money every month? Are we tracking expenses, loan payments, interests, etc. Money issues are palpable during crisis.
  6. Finally, one of the things that we’ve regained from this year’s experience is time. I believe that time lost to traffic jams, to long commutes, and sometimes work meetings, were given back to us. It is now up to us to figure how we’re spending that time. So, if you find yourself with more free time at home, spend a few minutes having conversations with the kids minus the screens. Spend 20 minutes exercising (I keep telling myself this everyday). And, spend a bit more for rumination about life — and not work. It can help you cope with life during a pandemic.

*This author makes certain that he has time to write his ruminations, less he forgets it.

‘Social media for dummies’

Some key takeaways from a workshop I conducted recently

Source: pixabay.com

Now that I got your attention, let me share what happened over the weekend.

I was asked to talk about social media and how should one “survive it.” So I culled lessons and some ideas from my past presentations, plus additional notes from a colleague. I needed to engage attendees in a three-hour long workshop about social media. But prior to the workshop, I created a quick and simple survey to understand my audience. The demographic was quite diverse: I had young, social media savvy attendees who were doing social media management full-time (at least that was what I gathered). There were also a couple of older attendees who wanted practical tips. The other people in that workshop where somewhere between “I am familiar with social media, but I also need to understand how to create a strategy.”

As I went on to research on my talk, I stumbled into numerous “rules on social media.” One of them was this article that identified seven simple steps to understanding social media management. So, I took inspiration from that, and added them to my presentation. I also found this interesting take by George Takei who distilled five lessons he has learned about dealing with social media.

Source: pixabay.com

Takeaway #1: Know thy audience before working on your presentation.

Good thing I did a survey. It gave me an idea on how to frame my presentation. I used surveymonkey.com, a very intuitive service that provides you the fastest way to get feedback (in my case, answers to questions I had about my audience). Presentations may all look the same, but it becomes more effective if you know who you’re talking to. (I learned this lesson the hard way, believe me).

Takeaway #2: Show more than tell. Use visual cues, videos and photos well.

I grab videos from YouTube. I download free stock images from Pexel.com and other services. I try to find some funny cartoons to make a point. And, I use less words in a slide. One idea/message per slide. And if you want to reiterate several ideas in one slide, make it 3 points only. Five is a stretch.

Takeaway #3: As much as possible, avoid reading from your slide. Create a narrative, if you can.

A pet peeve of my former boss. Everyone can read a slide, he would often chime in when he catches any of us reading from our slides. Don’t make your slides the highlight of your talk. Use the slides as visual aid. It shouldn’t take away attention from you. (Even the best of us are always tempted to read from a slide). Don’t…fall…into…that…lazy…trap.

Takeaway #4: Pause. Take a break. Give your audience time to digest your ideas.

I cannot talk for 3 hours. It’s impossible. I would stop listening at a speaker at 30 minutes or less. So how can you sustain the audience’s attention? Play a game. Ask them a question. Call them out, especially those who seem to have disengaged. In my case, I created games that would allow me to get some audience participation. Or, just do some more research and find an appropriate physical exercise that would get your audience’s blood flowing. I’m not kidding.

Takeaway #5: No matter how much you’ve prepared, you would get curve balls.

After I finished the workshop, I immediately got an honest feedback. A man in his 50s told me bluntly that he only understood half of what I said (the exaggeration was from me). I asked why. He replied that he attended the workshop to pick up more basic lessons. He found my talk to highfalutin. That statement floored me. But it was an opportunity to understand what he needed to learn. We ended up exchanging contact information.

Takeaway #6: Always find a way to insert some humor.

I love a laugh. Why not an audience in a workshop. Sometimes I learn faster when I’m having fun. Laughter also breaks the ice, the tension, and the invisible barrier between me and the audience.

Takeaway #7: Listen to what your audience is telling you. Observe them.

I try to always look my audience in the eye to see if they are paying attention. I feel lucky if I can find at least 3 to 5 people listening and even “smiling” at some jokes that I throw at them. Again, look at your audience. Don’t stare at them.

source: freestocks.org

My biggest fear

I’m no expert in doing talks, or conducting workshops. But years of failing and learning from previous talks that I’ve done helped me improve my presentations. Mind you, I’m scared of public speaking. I’m a nervous wreak. I’ve also been told to speak louder, as I tend to speak softly in public. I’m scared of standing in front of a crowd.

With practice and with a lot of preparation, though, I have overcome one of my biggest fears. Talking seems so natural to most of us. However, being able to pass on some knowledge to an audience who doesn’t know you is one of the toughest challenges for me, at least. I am storyteller (at least in writing). And then I remembered my Sunday School stories, in particular, Moses.


Writer’s Note: This writer turned corporate still finds time to read and…write. He often gets told that he is too hyper-educated, which refers to a person who keeps on learning without any clear action in mind. Okay, it’s a joke.

My 2018: A pivotal year (What happened this year and the lessons I’ve learned)

Circa: January 4. 2017. Somewhere in Poblacion, Makati. Met with my two former colleagues who I started working with again starting April 2018.

Lots of things have happened in 2018. Left my job of close to five years. Started a new career in an industry I never thought of going. Daughter is well on her way to College, but she revealed one day that she got herself a boyfriend. A few months later, she broke up with him for reasons I cannot say here (or she will kill me!) I also got me new friends and colleagues who are mostly younger than me.

I also bought my second car, thanks to my new job that offered me a wonderful loan package. My daily work dress has transformed dramatically. I now own more than 20 ties, a set of decent suits and blazers, dress pants and several pairs of formal leather shoes. (I used to own a pair and worn only in December or during special occasions). My jeans and sneakers are only seen and worn on weekends.

I’ve learned new things at my new job and I fell in love with the convenience of mobile (Internet) banking. I finally got rid of two unused mobile phone plans (one was from another telco which proved useless anyway), and cut down on my online subscriptions to the barest minimum. (I subscribed to numerous online news services sans local news).

And, just a few days ago, I got the best news (perhaps the best news so far for the year): I’m on my way to purchasing a new home, just after I finished paying for the first home my wife and I procured years ago.

At 45 years old, these changes are welcome.

Session Road at my hometown, Baguio City, early in the morning. Jan 6, 2018.

Close friends and people I knew from childhood also passed away in 2018. Some of them were younger than me. Some were the adults when I was still a kid, running amok. They all left a mark in my life, an empty spot in my heart.

2018 was a tough year, if I remember it right. It proved difficult leaving a job you’ve been used to for close to 5 years. It was tougher to break that news to colleagues who have become your confidants and friends. (We still stay in touch; in fact, a number of them I am working with now!)

I also didn’t travel much in 2018. But I spent more time with the family. My daughters are getting older (and bigger) and my wife wants to retire from government service (she’s been there for more than 20 years!).

Me, my two brothers and their spouses and mom (in the middle) in a lodging place in Baguio City.

As tradition dictates, I will try to remember the lessons (things that summarizes important things that happened) I have learned and share them here.

2018 stuff that I learned: A rundown

  1. It’s hard to stay and be healthy. It takes a lot of hard work and discipline (save for time management). I need to plan my 2019 better. I have one former colleague who has already joined two Ironman competition in two years, same time when we both started learning how to swim better.
  2. And yes, I need to plan my life better. I learned this recently during a personal visioning exercise in my job by a newly minted friend and colleague. I realized that while we do a lot of detailed planning at work, we don’t take this practice home and make it work for ourselves.
  3. Habits die hard (read: I’m too lazy to get into new habits). New habits are hard to come by. I need to finish my backlist of books. I also need to return to swimming and running every week. I need to always clean up and live a simple life without clutter, both physically and mentally.
  4. Time on gadgets are still a lot. Needs to be less. Social networks are time-sucks. Binge watching is bad for our health. Gaming, much as I enjoy it, takes a lot of time to finish (100+ hours for one game, for example).
  5. Need to simplify life. Get rid of things that I don’t need. Apply Kanso method, hopefully.
  6. Always find time to laugh.
  7. Read to learn. Apply learning, if you can.
  8. You have fewer friends as you get older (real friends).
  9. Money and time are finite resources. Don’t waste them.
  10. I should be working on my retirement fund, soon! Invest or start to learn how to invest.
  11. Find time for your spiritual health. I also found out recently that I badly need to recharge this part of my life. It’s low on battery.
The author inside the BenCab Museum in Baguio.

Note: The author tries to write more 140 characters to keep the brain healthy.