Essa: No More Shortcuts

July 26, 2020


Want to know my secret to success? 

I was 17 years old when I started carrying 7 boxes of brownies and walking up 7 flights of stairs of the engineering building of my school. When I reached the top, I put the boxes down and shouted, “Palit na mo ug brownies. Tag 10 pesos lang.” (Buy brownies for 10 pesos only!). Every day, I did this with much success. At the end of 4 years, guess how much I saved from selling brownies? More than 200,000 pesos!

I worked hard because of poverty. Ever since I was born, my family lived as squatters and moved from place to place. Each time we had to move, it was because the house we rented had to be demolished. When we finally had our own house, the shouting, blaming and name calling between my parents didn’t stop. My security guard father and my homemaker mother couldn’t make ends meet and, in their depression, they drank a lot and fought over money constantly. They eventually separated but not before agreeing to allow me to live with a rich aunt who paid for my college education – in exchange for me helping around her house. 

It was a hard life. I was a teenager and had to wake up 5 to 6 o’clock every day. Because if I didn’t, my aunt would shout, “Vanessa! Mata na! Hayag na ang adlaw. Pagtabang na dria kay wala tay maid!” (Vanessa, get up! The sun is up! Better start helping around the house because we don’t have a maid!) So, every day, I jumped out of bed like clockwork and groggily started cleaning the house. 

My main task was to sweep all floors. I started sweeping on the second floor, down to the ground floor, all the way to the terrace and the garden. I then fed the dogs and cleaned up their poop. After which I’d take a shower and eat breakfast – so that by 7 am, I could get out of the house and start walking to school. Rain or shine, I walked every day – so I could save the 8 pesos which I would have otherwise spent on riding a jeepney. Never mind if walking made me arrive at school – sweaty and tired – because being thrifty was a necessity. 

You see, my aunt gave me only 2,000 pesos to spend a month. I saved half of it and disciplined myself to live on the other half. Crazy, I know. To live on only 1,000 pesos each month was no joke. I never ate out, I never watched movies in the cinema, I never bought branded clothes, and turned down all offers to go out and party. I even turned down all suitors – so I wouldn’t be distracted in reaching my goal to graduate with money in the bank. On top of all these self-deprivations, I doubled my efforts to  sell brownies until I was earning 350 to 500 pesos a day.

After I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in BS Entrepreneurship, I thanked my aunt and left her house to live on my own. I rented a one bedroom space for 1,500 pesos a month. I loved sleeping in during mornings and cleaning up after myself. There was no one to tell me what to do anymore. This was the start of my complete independence and I loved it!

But I was young and gullible. I was so eager to become rich that the 200,000 pesos I had made from selling brownies, I invested in three businesses without first investigating whether my partners were honest and reliable. 

The CEO of a fertilizer business convinced me to invest 50,000 pesos in his “pioneering” business.The deal was that I had to sell fertilizers and talk with farmers and clients. I was able to sell a few fertilizers, but before I could get my share and commission, he explained that the business was having a hard time, and I must wait until he comes back from a “business”  trip. I waited.  But he never came back.

When someone else approached me to invest 50,000 pesos in cryptocurrency and in trading stocks, I was more careful. The deal was to wait for at least 1 year to see high returns from my investment while still earning a bit every month. Indeed, I earned a bit for the first month! Finally proof that the business was legitimate! So I invested another 50,000 pesos. But my heart sank to my feet the next month. Whenever I logged-in to my account, the screen screamed: “the system is undergoing maintenance.” To make a long story short, the company had gone bankrupt.

I was devastated and vowed to be extra careful next time. When someone approached me to join his lending business, I was skeptical. But his offer was irresistible. He promised me that with my 50,000 pesos, I’ll earn 3,000 pesos passive income every X. Guess what happened? He ran away with my money, too!

What was I doing wrong? I was working hard, saving, investing, but losing it all each time! I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think this is my problem: 

  1. Just because people say they want to help, doesn’t mean they really care. 
  1. Just because people look rich, sound rich and they are rich, doesn’t mean they are good business partners. 
  1. When people give business proposals that seem too good to be true, they might exactly be that – too good to be true. 

So, how is my financial stability now? 

I’ve stopped taking shortcuts – and work smart! I’ve channeled my love for dance into yoga. For a month, I joined an intensive yoga teacher’s training in India and things have never been the same. 

These are my life’s lessons in a nutshell:

(1) Living in poverty with my family pushed me to improve myself and not be like my parents. 

(2) Living and working for my aunt helped me become disciplined and determined to be independent and not rely on dole outs.

(3) Selling brownies in school taught me that hard work really pays off.

(4) The get-rich-quick business investments taught me to slow down and be discerning. 

(5) Yoga taught me to be strong yet flexible in body, mind, and spirit.

Bottomline: I don’t have a secret to success. I mean, there are no shortcuts to becoming rich. I’ve forgiven myself for not realizing this sooner. 

I suppose my pursuit for easy money failed so many times because the lesson I needed to learn was to stop making life a race. My newfound success is learning to be content with simple things like sitting in lotus position while drinking coffee and eating a delicious vegan cookie. What is yours?

*About the author: This was Toastmaster Vanessa Quinanola’s speech delivered during a Durian Toastmasters Club meeting. Check out “Flow with Essa” on Facebook and Instagram for her yoga classes, yoga mats, and vegan cookies.

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