I was a young girl that night in late April, when my father, sister, second mom and I arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport, having emigrated from Manila. My mother and two younger sisters had moved from the Philippines to the United States a few months ahead of us, during Christmas 1984.
Our moment of arrival at LAX, greeted by 30 or so extended family members, was the culmination of a life-long dream of my parents – and my resulting anticipation – of coming to America. My mother and father had gone back and forth to Los Angeles over the years. My mom had trained in New York and Chicago while at the Central Bank of the Philippines, where she had working as a Director in the Foreign Exchange Department. That April night in 1985 was transformative turning point and a permanent marker, and it was the first time I encountered Grit.
Upon arriving at my aunt’s house (our temporary residence) in Eagle Rock, my mother almost immediately told my father that she didn’t want him in our lives anymore. As a young girl just entering my young adulthood, I had known that it was for the best. Both of my parents are headstrong – but with a traditional male as a father and a very independent mother – I had grown up with a sense that they were not the right match.
In that moment, without knowing what the word meant, I had to find Grit. I now know that Merriam-Webster defines Grit as “unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” While danger was far from my mind, I knew in then that my mom had chosen a path that would be hard, unknown and yet, the right thing to do in the long run.
The Grit that surfaced in 1985 had to appear time and time again throughout my first five years in the U.S. – through high school and then eventually at UCLA and beyond that in graduate school. Each time I needed it, I didn’t really have to look far: there was my mother right in the thick of hardship, defining for me what “unyielding courage” looked like.
Having transitioned her entire family of four girls from a place where she had a well-established career, a comfortable household, a beautiful home and the support system of friends and family, she made a decision that all that in her native country was not enough for her children. She wanted more and wanted better. And as soon as the People’s Revolution in the Philippines began with the 1983 assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino, then President Ferdinand Marcos’ nemesis, Fortunata – Mom, pulled the trigger on a final and permanent transition to America.
Part of that transition included having to work three jobs. At one point, she worked alongside a high school classmate of mine – at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I realize now that I felt no shame in the fact that a woman who had attained degrees in law, business and was a CPA in her native country needed to do what she needed to do in the face of hardship.
She is not an emotional or sentimental woman – even to this day. Pragmatic. Gritty. Tough. Resilient. These are the words that I would use to describe her.
In future articles, I will share how Grit and Fortunata’s example have shown up in other ways and at other times in my life. But for now, for the year that just ended, I saw 2020 meet 1985 and that night in late April.
Having led an industry organization whose reach included 5,000 homes in Orange County, 2020 started off with conversations about our leadership vision for the year. None of what we saw in January 2020 could have foretold what I now reflect upon.
Two girlfriends and I are scheduled to go on a 10-day trip to China in Spring 2021. We had purchased our tickets in November 2019 and looked forward to having time to plan, dream and imagine such a special trip. By the end of January, one of them had texted saying that she hoped the coronavirus would be gone by the time our trip came around. That was my first interaction with the word that dominated and stopped us in our tracks in 2020.
By mid-March, I had transitioned to handling business at home. Working at home during a pandemic is different from working from home, I soon realized. Within nine days of the transition, my team and I had begun producing a slate of virtual programming for an industry accustomed to gathering in-person every month to the tune of 400 people at a time.
Grit – and in the back of my mind, Fortunata – surfaced – in that first week of our California lock down. The need for it returned day after day, week after week, month after month until by the end of the year we had produced 30 educational programs attended by nearly 2,000 people.
The hardship of facing something unknown and having responsibility for businesses who relied on our business to help generate them business was, at first, an exciting and even exhilarating challenge. Of course, nearly a year ago, I had presumed we’d be out celebrating Easter and all things about Spring.
We created content that helped our audience get facts about COVID-19 from the perspective of public health doctors. I had wanted primary sources from people working in the front lines and so we were joined by our county’s chief medical officer. We created content that helped our industry trade partners learn about loan programs as soon as they became available, and so we had a friend who runs the Small Business Administration speak to us. We created content about mental health during the pandemic, and so we had a county social worker join us amidst a hectic and stressful time for herself. We created content that compared this crisis to the Great Recession of 2008, with the intention of helping to brace an industry – and the homeowners it served – for personal financial hardship due to COVID-19.
As March turned into June and as June turned into September, Grit had to resurface countless times a day. In the midst of it, I consciously chose to strengthen my meditation practice, prayed every morning, learned how to garden, re-established my 2005 blog, hosted online get togethers over food and wine and stayed close to my husband, another individual who is a reflection of Grit.
While in years past, I wrote in a paper planner, in 2020, I found myself writing less and journaling with photos more. I took photos of almost each day since mid-March and what life – the beautiful, ordinary life of being home during an extraordinary time of a global pandemic – held. It was how I kept present and optimistic – by being grateful for the plants we were growing to noticing hummingbirds flock to our feeder and by enjoying the home-cooked dinners we made to sunsets overlooking our creek.
In the midst of the most trying and uncertain times related to work and defining what 2021 might look like, I reflected on Fortunata. I told her story to many people last year, but mainly to keep reminding myself of Grit and unyielding courage.
Moving to another nation, on another continent, is one of the most entrepreneurial ventures one can ever take. Fortunata did that with four young girls and made a conscious decision to do it on her own, not knowing what was ahead for her and her family. But with her self-confidence, faith, a set of well-developed business and legal skills and support from friends and family, she raised us all – now four professional women – on her own. If she – and so many other single parents and immigrants – can do what they do every day, then I can – I promised myself, have the Grit to lead an industry organization and get through 2020.
Well, here we are on January 1, 2021. It’s 8:03 am. Over the past couple of months, I had been reflecting on 2020, and on time, and on purpose and how I spend my time and whether my time spent is aligned with my purpose. I check in about Time and Purpose and Meaning several times a year, to define if I’m in alignment with my values. 2020 made it challenging to do this in light of the urgency of business at hand, yet in many ways 2020 gave me 20/20 vision about Time and Purpose and Meaning. I want to Connect even more, Love more, Give more.
It’s a brand-new year and a brand-new day. It doesn’t feel like it will be 1985 all over again, yet I intended to be every conscious of gratitude, purpose, Grit and Fortunata.