20 ways for politicians to keep sane

I’ve been away from this space far too long, I’ve missed it.  I remember in January, one of my resolutions was to never miss a Sunday column.  Well, what do you know, I’ve missed many. But I have all these random pieces of paper with my thoughts scribbled on them, little notes I’ve typed into my mobile unit, strings of stories that I want to tell —  they are all just here and there and everywhere, and I am looking forward to the many Sundays when I can finally share them with you. 

For now, let me begin by sharing a speech I wrote when I was asked to speak before Neophyte Representatives a few days before the First Regular Session of the Sixteenth Congress.  I am sharing it with you in full.

The fact that we are all gathered in this one room today means that congratulations are well in order.  You all, as have I, just survived the battlefield that was Elections 2013.  Cheers! Whether you had it easy or not, your victory is now yours to relish.  More importantly, it is yours to honor.

I am starting my speech on these two points because I feel that, essentially for us public servants, it can never be just one or the other.  As we appreciate where we are now, so should we honor the commitment it requires of and from us. Very closely attached to our victory in the elections is the responsibility to make it for the people we have vowed to serve so much more than just that.

I know for sure now what I didn’t way back in 2010 when I first started.  A winning attitude will carry you throughout your entire term, through good days and bad, but especially the latter.  You need to remember that often enough because along the way harsh realities may cloud that truth. When that happens you have to step back  — just so you can breathe, take heart, find your core, keep your eyes on the goal. Usually in that order.

The job we have been called to task is not easy.  Innocently speaking, it is not entirely impossible for even the most seasoned of public servants to expect that there is a formula that reads: Be kind, and the world will be kind right back at you.  Unfortunately for all of us, it does not always work that way.  Especially when politics gets in the way.  So let me go straight for the jugular.  The bad news first.  Because your world invariably becomes bigger in the line of duty, you will have less control when it comes to the people you will have to welcome into your space.  Not everybody will like you, there are those who will step on you, be rude to you, challenge your patience, try your tolerance.  How do you survive that?  Well, you just do, because you have to.  Besides, if you allow yourself to fall apart, who will do your job?

It is an honor to be asked to speak in front of all of you.  I hesitate because I know some of you have had undeniably more experience in public service than I do.  What can I possibly say to you that you don’t already know? Nevertheless, today I speak purely from a personal standpoint, and I hope that in the process I am able to share some things that will resonate with you at one point or the other.

On my office walls are two quotes.  The moment you enter the door the first one greets you.  It is by President Theodore Roosevelt and it reads:

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

The chance to work hard at work worth doing.  Not everyone is afforded that.  Today, we all know that that chance has just been given us.  We have three years in this esteemed institution. Before I entered the world of public service, I was of the belief that you need not hold an elected position to do your share in making this great country a better place.  I stand corrected.  We can do so much more in an elected post, so while we are at it, siksikin na natin.  This now is my personal list of how to make the most of your first term, bullet-point style, and in no particular order:

1. Fix your office. Really.  I am not saying you have to spend so much but do make an effort to make it a place you look forward to going every workday.  After all, it is your personal space and whether you like it or not, will be seen as an extension of yourself.  In my case I went through the basement of our home and brought out furniture and accessories I had lying around doing nothing that could make my office not only function efficiently but also look nice.

2. Empower your staff.  They are your direct support system.  Their efficiency will dictate how successful you will be at performing your duties so choose carefully, and choose well.

3. Never take your time.  Three years seems so far away but it will just go by.  Sabi nga ng suki ko na porter, tatlong beses lang magbubunga ang santol elction na ulit.  So what are we waiting for? Squeeze in as much work as you can. That way, there will be lots of good news to share with your constituency.  And when the next elections roll by, you will be running on a platform of performance. Our constituents need to see results.  The thinking ones at least.

4. Take nothing for granted. Nothing is ever promised.

5. In 2010, I remember Congressman Boying Remulla sharing this during his speech.  He said to write lots of letters.  You never know what will come back to you with a positive answer. So yes, I’ve written lots of letters, some of which, I admit, have been ignored.  But write anyway, because just when you least expect it you break a wall and the universe rewards your patience with a happy yes.  Besides, even if they say no, at least you tried.

6. Find and maintain a hobby or activity that makes you truly happy. It will keep you sane.  Some play badminton or basketball, others run, there are those who garden or do yoga.  Just keep a place for yourself where you can escape for a while and do whatever it is that you truly love.  It will ground and recharge you.

7. Unless it’s there already, don’t announce it yet to your district. Better for them to be pleasantly surprised than terribly disappointed.  Where am I coming from? In 2010 I was assured of  x number of ambulances for the district.  We constantly followed up.  Finally, ang sabi lalabas daw in one week.  Yungone week naging 12 months, yung 12 months naging three years.  Until now, wala pa rin.  Pero darating daw. So don’t make the same mistake I did.

8. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you will never be disappointed, frustrated, angry, sad.  This is important.  Of course at one point or the other you will feel those, sometimes even all of those at the same time.  Don’t ignore those feelings in the hope they will all magically disappear.  If you do, you will just succeed in intensifying these emotions.   Take a step back to gain some clarity, and then decide how best to act on it when emotions have settled.  Never be impulsive because then, you stand to lose more.

9. Build good working relationships, wag masungit.  The person you are talking to could just be as tired as you are.

10. Ask.  If there is anything you do not know or cannot understand, ask.  We have colleagues who are so learned, so seasoned, so full of wisdom.  They have a wealth of experience, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much they are willing to share. Our job may not be easy, but Congress is a wonderful place.  Make no mistake about that.  It’s like being in school, but you are in a classroom like no other. We are all classmates, except that it is so much better because you don’t compete with each other.  Generally speaking, people are magnanimous.

11. Be active in the committees.  You don’t have to speak each time you attend one but go, because you learn a lot from listening. Soak it all in. Listen to the brilliance of great minds, and there are many here.  You do not have to look very far to be inspired.  Ang daming matatalino, ang daming magagaling.Take advantage of the proximity you now have with esteemed men and women who shape part of our great nation’s history.

12. Remember people. Thank people. Be grateful.  Forgive people.  Forgive. Kahit mahirap minsan, it can be liberating.  Spend time with family.

13. I have this coin that simply says “One day at a time.”  Sometimes that is all that is required of us.  Just surviving today.  Planning is good but sometimes if you look too far ahead, it can get overwhelming.  So there are days na, today lang.  All I have to do is get through today in one piece. You tell yourself, “Just for today I will keep it together.”

14. You cannot be onion-skinned.  Mamatay ka sa sama ng loob.  I admit, I am so far from reaching that level where nothing affects me but I’ve succeeded, to a certain measure, in not taking things personally.

15. There are people who are difficult to helpAlam natin lahat iyan.  But as Cong. Bagatsing said, we help anyway because we can.  That is a sign of maturity, a mark of real public service.

16. Commit to your work daily.

17. You are not a superhero.  People will never be 100-percent satisfied, someone will always have something to complain about.  So let negative comments and opinions roll off your back and don’t beat yourself up about it.

18. Read the Bible’s Book of Proverbs and Su Tzu’s Art of War.  I’m sure I need not explain further why.  Pero magandang balance yan.

19. Follow up. On letters you’ve sent and calls you’ve made.  It is your obligation to do that.  You get faster results.

20. Keep the faith.  In yourself, in others, in all the good that you know is still out there despite the worse of days.

In a spectrum, this is probably the only job where you are, at once, very young and very old.  The system is not perfect, it will never be.  It is true when they say that public service is a thankless job — it will wound you, it will scar you, but it will thankfully also teach you to be stronger.

To the point that you forge on, the way real winners do, even when you don’t want to, even when you think you can’t.  Everyday is a call to positively grow beyond the expectations of others and we have to meet that the only way we should — head on.

And ultimately, we hope and pray that when our time is all over, as President P-Noy once said during one LP gathering “By the time we step down, what we leave behind should be so much better than what we found.”


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