They say the two most important days of our lives are the day we were born and the day we find out why we were born.
The first day is straightforward, that’s my birthday on October 30. The second day, that took a while, roughly 23 years after the first day. This is the story of that second day.
Back in 2007, I’d recently resigned from Ace Saatchi & Saatchi where I’ve been working for a little less than two years since my residency during my Masters in UA&P. I learned a lot in my short time there handling Safeguard for P&G and being part of several pitch teams. But, in early 2007, I kept having this nagging feeling that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be nor was I doing something that fulfilled me, despite the challenging nature of the job. By May, this feeling reached a boiling point one day and I just typed up my resignation letter on the spot and handed it to my boss. It caught everyone by surprise, except for Ellen (who was also in Saatchi at that time) who knew about my unrest and was supportive when I told her that day that I’ve decided to quit.
After the customary grace period, I soon found myself free to pursue what I will find more fulfilling. But what exactly was I looking for? How do I find it? Where do I even begin?
In the months that followed, I read up. I reviewed my notebook of ideas I’ve kept since college. I tried to start a side venture for nanotechnology-based products my dad and I found in Singapore. I went to seminars, some helpful, some dubious in nature. I worked in the family business from time to time. I even enrolled as a guest student in a Social Entrepreneurship class in Ateneo. To show how confused I was at this time, I would also still go and interview for jobs in other ad agencies, and even entertained for a while going back to Saatchi. Truth be told, I felt lost and I wasn’t sure how to find myself. I’m sure Ellen would remember the many times I’d ask her “Who am I?” sometimes as a joke but oftentimes in earnest.
One time in the Social Entrepreneurship class, there was a guest speaker from Harvard named Steve Koon who explained the hedgehog concept from the classic book Good to Great. Essentially, it is the intersection of 3 things: what you’re passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine or income. Given the subject matter, he added a 4th dimension to this which is how can you help the world or have social impact. This concept was instrumental in making me really look inward and gain some realizations about myself.
For one, I’d been into branding since college but did not really put too much thought into it. Even if I don’t consider myself a designer, I’ve been looking at and buying design books for quite some time. I’d also been reading books and blogs on branding and design during my free time even if it was not my field at the time. I loved learning about how certain brands started, and in particular details like how decisions were arrived at that shaped the brand as we know it now were exciting for me.
Secondly, I also enjoyed coming up with ideas and concepts for new business and brands dating back to college. I did not put much stock in it though because I had this limiting belief that I can only pursue one idea. But even if I consciously tried not to come up with another idea, my mind couldn’t help it so I just kept writing them down. Looking back, I think it was my subconscious sending me signs that maybe I had some knack for this kind of work.
As to how I can use it to generate an income, that was where I often told myself that branding was a dead end, that it was nothing more than a hobby. There were no branding or design agency that did the kind of work I liked back then. Moving to another country wasn’t an option for me for reasons I’ll explain shortly. So for months I kept putting branding out of my options because I couldn’t see yet how to make it work for me.
The fourth dimension that I learned from that particular lecture though is what helped gave me clarity. I mentioned earlier that moving to another country was not an option for me. The reason is (and this may sound cheesy) but I love the Philippines so much. I’ve always believed that the country’s best people should do their best work in and for the country. And that’s also why I love branding. The world’s best brands also significantly and positively impacted their countries of origin. And I’ve always felt that if only the Philippines had better brands, the world’s perception of our country will be a lot better and nuanced than the stereotypical crap we’re mostly associated with.
Thinking of all these aspects of the hedgehog concept finally allowed me to have a breakthrough. About a year after I left Saatchi and started my journey of self-discovery, I made the decision to pursue branding fully. Since there was no company I could work for where I can do the work I wanted to do, I was going to create it myself. A company that creates and designs brands, where my ability to come up with ideas will be a strength, and whose singular purpose is to help redefine the Philippines’ brand by having the brands we create represent the country in a positive light as they reach other countries around the world.
June 23, 2008 is when Antidote was officially born, and in a lot ways, that was also when I was reborn, with the full understanding of what my purpose and my life’s work is going to be. That’s why I have the famous line from Robert Frost in the byline of this blog. In a lot of ways, I took the road less traveled, and it has really made all the difference in my life ever since.