Keep calm, reframe: It is what it is

What my cab driver’s intriguing life story leads me to

Ang buhay ng tao sa ibabaw ng mundo
paikot-ikot at sadyang mapaglaro
– Noel Cabangon

For weeks now, these lines from the song Ang Buhay Nga Naman have kept playing in my mind each time I remember a brief but memorable taxi ride. It was thanks to my cab driver’s intriguing life story, which he preambled with what I thought was a one-off verbal observation about the pathetic state of our roads in the metro.  It turned out he was comparing the latter to what he was used to driving on in the US, and in a brand new sedan at that. As if to prove his point, he pulled out his Texas state-issued driver’s  license. Those were the good old days, he said.

And how could they not be? Back then, he was earning top dollar as a licensed caregiver. In fact, the brand new sedan was just a part of his very comfortable lifestyle as a petitioned immigrant. Unfortunately, the desire for more money took the best of him. In between his flexible working hours, he found himself  working for a syndicate transporting drugs from one state to the other for thousands of dollars a trip.

One fine day, while making his way to Chicago for what he thought was another uneventful gig, he was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Being a lowly courier, he thought in his naivete that he would just get a slap on the wrist. Instead, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was deported to the Philippines upon his release. Even worse, his green card was revoked, which meant he could no longer set foot in the US. And the most painful part: he could never  see his family in the US again.

Saddened by his narrative, I offered that it’s good that he now accepts his past enough to talk about it with complete strangers. Plus, he made it out alive. There must be something more for him to do.

There is no such thing as stumbling blocks, only stepping stones to eventual solutions

Stanford Life Design Lab founders  Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have a word for what I told the cab driver: reframe. No, it’s not just about seeing only the bright side of things. Rather, it’s about accepting that it is what it is, and being open to the possibility that “it” will help you build your way forward. It is in this exact same context that design thinkers embrace failures and detours like long-lost friends. There is no such thing as stumbling blocks, only stepping stones to eventual solutions. Hence, the mantra “fail fast, fail often.”

That, of course, is easier said than done, especially  if you are not into design thinking.  More to the point, when you experience a disruption like the cab driver did and you have a family to feed, the natural response is to despair and long for the return of a glorious past. If only life were as simple as bringing back the previous scene of your favorite Netflix series with the slide of a button.

Must one always have to choose between money or meaning? Is it not possible to have both? 

While Burnett and Evans would agree that life is not that simple, they would likely disagree that despair and a yearning for the past are the only options for people whose lives are disrupted. In the book Designing Your Work Life, they offer a way forward that anyone could relate to. In addition to reframing the disruption, they recommend that one use such experiences to take stock of what life and work really mean to you. Ano nga ba ang ibig sabihin ng mabuhay at magtrabaho? Or as my philosophy teacher used to say, ano nga ba ang hinuhulugan ng iyong buhay?  Must one always have to choose between money or meaning? Is it not possible to have both?

From the answers to these questions,  Burnett and Evans exhort their readers to get curious about what is calling out to them. This can be done  by reaching out to others who are already in the settings  that interest them, and in so doing, explore new possibilities, albeit on a trial basis—to see if it leads them to what is “good for now” (read: not the ideal state yet). And if it doesn’t? No problemo. Reframe and try again. The key is to consistently try new things in small steps until it all fits. “Hinay hinay basta kanunay,” as the Visayans would put it.

I can relate to all these. After working for corporations for over 25 years, I retired early to join the academe. Three years into teaching, an opportunity I did not expect came knocking on my door. Okay, maybe it was not as traumatic, but it was a disruption no less. I no longer do what has become a comfortable routine of preparing lectures and grading papers in Canvas. Instead, I dabble in instructional design amid never-ending to-dos while continuing to slog through my graduate studies. Is this “good for now”? Thankfully, that seems to be the case. For now. But even  if it turns out later on that this is a misstep, that’s okay. I now realize I can always reframe and begin again. Guess what: So can you.

About author


Von Katindoy is a graduate student and a learning and development professional. 

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