Dear 40-year-old Anna,
Early this year, I had the birthday blues for the first time. I was about to turn 30, and I was reflecting on, you know, life and what I’ve done and what I haven’t. I thought about other people born in 1988, like Adele and Rihanna, and felt like a such an underachiever (oo, girl, sila talaga yung bar natin).
When we turned 20, we didn’t have a 10-year plan. We were in the Philippine delegation to the 35th Ship for the Southeast Asian Youth Program, appointed as the Cultural Head and tasked with everything that involved performing. We couldn't imagine a future that didn't involve being on stage, singing and entertaining crowds. We were also part of the discussion group on environmental issues, and in every session, we always had a lot to say or ask about. After all, having an environmental lawyer as a father meant learning about environmental issues were part of everyday life.
On board Nippon Maru, December 2008.
We didn’t know it then, but we were making our way out of musical theatre’s stage — our first and forever love — and entering a new one that would involve corals, mangroves, and seagrass.
I’m bringing this up to remind you that so much can change in a decade. I write this on a flight back to Manila from Siargao, where I just spent a day and a half facilitating a workshop on integrating sustainable practices in business operations (which included talking about corals, mangroves, and seagrass). It turns out that being an environmental educator still involves being on stage and entertaining crowds, and occasionally, singing "Part of Your World" or "How Far I'll Go."
In Siargao, December 2018.
Last night, before falling asleep, I found out that I didn’t get an award I was nominated for. A few years ago, we would have opened and reviewed our application form, reread every line, cried, and said, “Why wasn’t I good enough? Maybe I’m not good enough for this job. Maybe I should quit.”
That’s exactly what we did when we read our rejection letter from Oxford University in December 2013, remember? We even downed a bottle of red wine, ate jalapeño-flavored popcorn which we would NEVER eat sober because jalapeño-flavored anything is gross, and cried to the point of incoherence.
But last night, I scrolled through the message and moved on. I was more interested in learning decluttering tips from Apartment Therapy. I understood, right away, that the award wasn’t for me — not now, not yet, maybe not ever. It's okay. Awards don’t matter much; impact does.
This, Anns, is the actual win. Congratulations.
That said, we do need to think about our career. For the last seven years, we’ve oscillated between closing and continuing Save Philippine Seas. I fucking hope we’ve figured it out by now. Did we stay? (And if we did, are we still called the Chief Mermaid? What does SPS look like now? Have we saved all the sharks? What other puns have we thought of?) Have we moved on? (And if we did, where do we work now? Where do we live? Have we found a new field in development to pursue or are we doing something completely different?) Or or or have we found a happy balance? (And if we did, what does that look like?! CAN YOU TELL ME ALREADY?!?!)
Whatever your answer is, I have a few requests: that we are growing personally and professionally, and that we are giving others a platform to shine. I hope we are happy and fulfilled.
We were raised in a society where a woman’s happiness and fulfillment are supposed to come from being a wife and mom. Right now, I can’t imagine that life. I can't imagine raising a human (a) with my inconsistent income, and (b) in a country where a politician who stole PhP224 million from the Filipino people is acquitted, and will most likely secure a Senate seat next year (among other issues). I am so sure of this that tomorrow, I’m planning to get another contraceptive implant, our second one. This means that we’re child-free until 2021, at least.
If, at 40, we remain unmarried and childless, I hope we’re having amazing sex, living in a house with a thriving garden and lap pool, and still traveling the world (ideally in business class). If we change our mind, I trust that we did because we want to, and that we are giving this mom and/or wife role/s everything we’ve got.
(Actually, whether we have kids or not, the amazing sex, house, garden, lap pool, and traveling in business class are still the goals. Make good choices.)
And while our career path and civil status remain open-ended for now, there are other parts of life that shouldn’t be. Like our commitment to do our best in everything, whether it’s a new hobby or a project. Like our sense of wonder and curiosity. Right now, Chief Mermaid-ing makes this easy: I wave and blow kisses at schools of fish underwater, and pat plants with fascinating leaf patterns. I ask questions. Lots of questions. We take pride in our ability to nurture relationships, even long-distance ones. We constantly carve quality time for people we love and make sure they know we love them.
The relationship we need to work the most on is the one we have with ourself. We have to work on embracing the idea that we are worthy of love, even at our darkest and ugliest. We have to work on accepting vulnerability, and how that can and must co-exist with strength and independence. We have to work on treating our body right — I have the workout routine locked in now, but I still need to sleep and eat better. We also have to really work on forgiving ourself and others, then really, truly let go. Untangling these issues is a work in progress, and I am certain that they will continue to resurface at different times and depths in the next decade. At 40, I expect we'll be better at handling them.
I’m looking forward to meeting you, 40-year-old Anna. Let me know what Adele and Rihanna are doing, too. And oh, I hope all the sunscreen you applied daily in your 20s and 30s pays off. Tang ina lang kung hindi.