Life’s Work: Being Present

Photo is of Gabriela Murillo (right), Lindsay Laguna (left), and other family members.

What does life’s work mean to someone early on in a career path? What did it mean to you when you were in that stage? Last week, I continued the Life’s Work series with the colorful, adventurous, and winding professional trajectory of Dr. Montserrat Andreys, DC, MS, in Life’s Work: Striving for Understanding. Since then, I wanted to gain the perspective of someone who has launched their career and is imagining more possibilities. That is when I asked my relative Gabriela Murillo, or Gaby as I know her, if I could do a profile on her.

Why did I choose her? 1) She offers a younger perspective than the ones I have shared with you in this series. 2) Another informal aspect of this series is for me to ask these questions of people already in my life. So often, we separate the personal from the professional, but it has been illuminating to hear the professional perspectives of people that I have met both through my career and social circles. I am recognizing the gap between what I perceive to be someone’s life’s work and what they actually think of it. Join me in learning more about Gaby in how she remains present in her life’s work.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity.

Tell me about yourself.

I am a Consular and Diplomatic Affairs undergraduate venturing into the world of Human Resources in the civil service. Prior to this, I taught English to speakers of other languages for roughly three years. I wanted to be a translator-interpreter or an English teacher in East Asian countries, but I do not think that I am called to do either of those. My interests are picking up foreign languages (I am currently juggling Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish to add to my English, Tagalog, and Korean language skills), learning about foreign cultures (through documentary films or people’s stories), reading books that catch my eye, and losing myself in theatre and music.

What does the term life‘s work mean to you?

“Life’s work” could be very subjective, but I would think that it would objectively make an individual feel an unspeakable kind of satisfaction and fulfillment—kind of like reaching the peak of a mountain the second the sun rises and watching the colors breathtakingly break through the horizon, or finally getting to hold your infant in your arms after hours of grueling pain and labor.

“Life’s work” would probably be less about being somebody remembered and more of somebody who cannot be forgotten.

Do you have something or some things you consider your life‘s work?

I would think that staying out of trouble growing up could be counted as my life’s work thus far.

Growing up under a strict household should have given me a reason to rebel against or be defiant towards my parents, and having to deal with pretty heavy events during my formative years and puberty should have given me reason to go astray. Surprisingly, I grew up pretty straight-laced. Sure, I would dabble into a bit of trouble and temptation every now and then, but it was not anything grossly destructive to myself and most especially the people around me. It took what seems like a lifetime of work from my mother, professors, mentors, and myself to make sure I did not go past the point of no return.

Being present. Here are things I consider as my life’s work so far.

Growing up with people much older than I was and being put in situations where I had to grow up meant that there was not much room for crying over spilled milk and allowing myself to react to events the way a young girl naturally would. That was quite a challenge for me as I am naturally emotional. The hurt I have accumulated over those years heavily taxed my mental health later on, and it was during those times where I thought I did not want to be anymore, but I was able to move past that and heal. I am still here and I am alive. I romanticize every little thing I do—from waking up in the morning to sitting in my apartment’s veranda and listening to the city fall asleep. It took a lot of work that seemed to last a lifetime to get to the level of peace and love that I am living in now, but I am thankful for every second of it. 

Being is my life’s work thus far.

Some things that have not come into fruition yet, but will be counted as my life’s work are starting my own cosmetic business and sharing the fruits with organizations that assist women and children who are victims of cyber trafficking, victims of abuse, and HIV/AIDS patients, writing a few short films and theatre plays, and being the best wife and mother I can be.

How has your life impacted your work?

Given my age and the society/culture where I grew up, I believe I was able to go about my work in ways that very much went against tradition—I often went against tradition anyway.

When I taught English, a lot of my students expected me to speak for an hour, only asking them questions twice or thrice in a class, but I am not a fan of the traditional classroom setting. I pushed my students to speak more and to be honest with me. This brought them some sort of discomfort at first as most of them came from cultures that expected them to be silent and meek in front of the teacher. This honesty crossed over to the way I communicated with my former boss, who also came from a culture that expected silence from subordinates and did not really encourage raw, unfiltered honesty.

I work with a lot of people much older than I am in the civil service, and I would like to think that I have at least given them an idea or two about how young people, specifically women, think these days. It still baffles them that I am not rushing to settle down, but I believe that it makes them think a little bit more about how priorities have shifted over the years. Given the age gap, there is also a disparity in the way we work. While most of my colleagues would prefer seeing ink on paper, I would much rather prefer sending them an email. The former option always wins given that I’m outnumbered. Though its victory will not stop me from having thoughts about how tedious (or at times, wasteful) it could be to print draft after draft.

How has your work impacted your life?

There was not much impact on my life when I was an English teacher, save for the fact that I would often come home exhausted in all aspects and desperate for a vacation.  

However, working in the civil service has given me a sense of caution when it comes to relating to people and being in tune with what they are thinking and feeling. I do not really like saying that it has taught me to pay a little more attention to my “image” in the workplace, but it has.

When I shifted fields, I was completely unaware that there was a certain attitude, behavior, and personality expected of me as a human resources employee in the civil service. In the beginning, I was often scolded for being a bit too frank, sarcastic, assertive, or all of the above. I would find myself in tears over it not because I was hurt or sad, but because I was thoroughly frustrated at the thought of not being able to be myself. 

I was not used to having to adjust my attitude just because somebody did not like it. I was not raised to live for people to like me, or I at least learned the hard way that not everybody will like you anyway, so might as well just be honest. 

Eventually, I eventually found a middle ground where I would act according to the workplace’s unwritten, unspoken expectations (for the sake of keeping the peace rather than obsessing over what they were going to think of me) without losing myself in it.

What do you consider to be the highlights of your life‘s work?

The highlights of my life’s work thus far are the willpower, determination, discipline, and faith that I held very dear to me during the process of materializing my life’s work. I do not believe I would be able to achieve what I have if I did not honor the aforementioned values. I could also highlight that I surrounded myself with people who were very instrumental in building my life’s work by being very supportive, honest, and loving towards me all throughout.

What have you learned through your experiences?

I definitely learned to be more assertive and to ask for what I want or need. I learned that things can be handed to me on a silver platter, but only up to a certain age and a certain point. Most of the time, I have to work toward, or even fight, to make sure things are done morally and in the way I need or want them.

I first heard the Bible verse Proverbs 4:23 (“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”) when I was 15 or 16 years old, but l was only able to understand what it meant when I gained a little more life experience. I had to love and take care of myself in a way nobody else can, lest I fall into self-destruction that could destroy everything else around me.

What do you hope to experience in the future?

I wish for nothing but to experience what He has planned for me, and for the discernment and humility to see how those experiences, good or bad, will shape, mold, and help me grow into the best version of myself.

How do you hope the workforce evolves in the future?

From my past experience where I was overworked and underpaid, and knowing that there are millions of people out there who are still being overworked and underpaid, I hope the workforce evolves in a way that is more humane and appreciative of each and every member.

What action steps can you take now?

At present, I could do my part by working with integrity and doing what is asked of me in the most moral way that I can. I often try to put myself in my boss’ shoes and think about what they would want in an employee, then try to live out the expectations/standards without losing myself in them.

Once I get to run a company of my own, I want to lead by example and materialize the aspirations I have for the workforce in hopes that it will show the people the proper way workers should be treated. I want to show how a healthy work environment/culture should be promoted.

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