“Do not judge a book by its cover, and do not judge your autobiography because of one bad chapter.” This was the takeaway message I left to a group of Year 12 VCE students when I was asked to speak to a group of senior students at a high school. When I was on the dais, I had a flashback to when I was in Year 12; I was thinking to myself, I wish I heard this message when I was their age.

We are all created equal but our opportunities are not. A person’s quality of life is based on what he/she does with what was given to him/her. He/she accepts it or create his/her own opportunities and take control of one’s destiny. I told the students about a letter I wrote to my future self when I was 17 years old. At the time I thought that my whole world was about to collapse and my future was limited and I was in a really negative state. I made a promise to myself that I will write a letter to myself and I will open it 20 years later. In that letter, I wrote how my life was going to look like when I turn 37 years old. The letter was full of anger, it had the undertone of “I will show them, don’t say I can’t! Just watch me.” It also had what I thought my life would look like in my late 30’s, goals, aspirations, places I wanted to visit. I still remember this moment when I wrote this as I was studying for my final Year 12 exams. I remember the clock radio in front of me with the AM talkback radio playing in the background in that caravan that smelled like an ashtray where I briefly stayed.

So fast forward 20 years later, I moved on, I got stronger, I knuckled down and worked. I found the old letter. I had a laugh and gave myself a pat on the back, because at the time I wrote it, it was a low point in my life but I used it as a stepping stone to create a new path. It was not necessarily easy but I am so glad I did not drown in self-pity and took action; I created the outcome that I wanted. I want to impress upon you that your autobiography is a working document; you control what happens to the main character. You write the plot. You are in charge with what happens to the character when faced with adversity. You can downplay or eliminate the role of villains in the story. You are in charge; you are in control. You may be in a chapter of your life that is bleak, with a lot of uncertainty, or you may be in a dark place. But I guarantee you this chapter will not last. It is only setting you up for the upcoming chapter and the next volume of your own story. So just turn the page. You will laugh about it 20 years later.

Until next time, STAY FOCUSED!

(For comments or feedback, email thadmangalino@gmail.com)

— First published in The Philippine Times, September 2017 Edition

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