5 Creative Ways to Avoid Toxic Relationships Early

This post is my first attempt to write about relationships. It is timing for today’s Valentines Day.

SUNDAY NIGHT, my friend and I were debating what to do with our evening – we wanted some time off from our normal routine, from work and family – when we went to a new restaurant/bar in Makati. Sitting beside us were two friends, a girl and a guy sipping their cocktails and seemingly discussing some breakup story. My friend reached out to the guy, “Hey, my friend here would like to know your friend.” “Sure,” the guy said.

The girl was in her brown shorts and earth-colored top with some small flower prints. Her hair was down, long and lustrous. She has a heart-shaped face and expressive almond-shaped eyes. We joined tables, I sat beside her and immediately felt the connection. We partied the entire night with some more of their friends who followed them. I went to my hotel around 4 am and eventually missed my early morning flight to Bacolod that day.

The thing is, I didn’t get her number. I intentionally did not.

Long story short, several years after, we met again. And then after a series of events that happened, we got together. In time, I will share with you the details.

But I was fortunate. I was a lucky man in meeting her randomly in a random place, but getting together was not overnight. It was a long process because maybe I was avoiding a toxic relationship, but perhaps not. But in the end, I learned that she’s the most non-toxic person that I’ve ever met. It was worth it.

What I want to share today are some creative ways that I learned to avoid toxic relationships early. The sad truth is that you won’t know until you get into the relationship first. But leaving soon is ideal if you know the signs, so you only get minimal damage emotionally. Because emotional damage radiates to your work, and other relationships and it affects productivity.

  1. Get past the first three months. The first three months are heaven. It is where you’ll experience the best version of the person. Yes, he or she may show toxic behaviors but tolerate it at first. Maybe he/she is just having a rough time.
  2. Be mindful of his or her moments. What is a “moment”? A “moment” to me, are the issues, quarrel attempts, and silent treatments. These issues can be a lack of trust, abuse, infidelity, etc. After the three month incubation period, if the person is still consistently having a moment, then be mindful of how frequent it is. Is it seldom, moderate, or always? Then assess if you can tolerate that frequency for the rest of your life. If not, then break up. Why? Because a person with seldom moments exists.
  3. Assess your moments too. It takes two to tango. If your SO seldom has moments, then assess yours because toxic relationships are a two-way street. To me, the leading cause of those issues, quarrel attempts, and silent treatments are low self-esteem and insecurity. So find ways to build your self-esteem. If it’s your weight, then workout and diet. If it’s your career, then don’t be lazy. Love yourself first before you are ready to love others.
  4. Assess your feelings. What do you feel when you wake up beside him/her?  Are you excited for her to wake up? What do you feel when you leave for work?  Are you glad you’re out of his/her sight?  What do you feel when you eat together, in the car or watching a movie?  Do you feel like you wanna be somewhere else? Can you extend your patience if he/she is annoying?
  5. Be completely honest and respectful. It’s so liberating to be in an honest relationship. If you feel you’re not honest with him/her or vice versa, then it will be toxic in the future. It is just a matter of time. Moreover, being respectful in your conversations, saying thank you’s, good mornings and sorry consistently are significant signs of a non-toxic relationship.

These tips are just practical ways at the top of my head. I know this is a broad topic and complicated. But these are the basics. Breaking up with someone especially if the relationship has been ongoing for years is another topic, but it is important that you leave early. Now if the above is all fine and okay, then you’re on the right track. Having a non-toxic someone for the rest of your life is one of the greatest lucks you’ll ever have.

On Finishing What You’ve Started: My Ironman Experience and Road to Marathon

It felt like someone stabbed me on my left shoulder and then twisted the knife clockwise. It was March 2011 when I had a terrible accident that prevented me from training the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon scheduled in August in Cam Sur. I got my shoulder dislocated. The pain was excruciating. I was sent to the ER and placed it back. After a week, I contemplated having surgery because if not, with the torn ligaments on my shoulder, there’s a big chance it will recur. I had to do it soon so I can keep up with my training.

Fortunately, I have a friend doctor who can do the Labral tear surgery in Baguio at half the price. The big day came, I drove for 6 hours and checked-in the day before. The next morning, I walked in the operation room, observing nervously. The doctor asked me to countdown from 100, then when I woke up after a four-hour surgery, it felt like there’s a huge dagger pinned on my shoulder. The operation was a success.

While recuperating, I was also suffering from a major heartbreak. Though I still feel a powerful urge and belief that I can again resume my training and finish the tri. I attended a weekly shoulder therapy for a while, and by May, I went back to swimming without yet gaining my full range of motion. My conditioning was horrible. My shoulder was weak, and my heart rate went back to zero. For two and a half months I stayed resilient and persevered. Both physical and emotional. But for strange reasons, those pain were my motivator.

The Ironman Experience

The big day came. Gun start for “30-34” age grouper, was 6:20am. It was 5 minutes after the pros. But before that, I sat down on the sand and did my dynamic stretch. I felt the anxiety and excitement of the participants and the audience around us. Some athletes were dipping in the water and doing some kind of prayer. There were several pro athletes that I noticed like Noy Jopson and Monica Torres and celebrities like Drew Arellano and Pia Cayetano.

The swim course was really intimidating. Looking at it, it seemed like from Guadalupe in EDSA to Megamall, back and forth. I was really nervous because I am worried about my left shoulder having it repaired five months before the event. I was thinking where to position myself, and then I decided to place myself at the rightmost corner so I can have a good view of the trail.

Swim – 1.9km
People started the countdown from 10 to 1 then on the 6th, bang!!! Take-off began, I plunged in the water and started my swim gradual. But then, as expected, I had elbows, kicks, and collision with the participants both left and right, front and back. I checked my heart rate, and to my surprise, it elevated above my maximum. Sadly, I remember the guy who died in the first-ever tri in the Philippines while swimming and then realized why. I slowed down to make it drop. At the 20min. mark, I found myself gliding smoothly and people have already spread around. I felt the confidence of finishing strong. I did it in 50min.

Bike – 90km
I got out of the water, put on my bike shoes and ran to the bike, I noticed that I don’t have the bib number with me, so I went back to the changing area. I started strong and maintained a 30-35kph so I can meet the 2.5-hour target.

During my training, I already knew that the bike course is my weakness. I bought my bike just 3 months before the event and what I got was just an entry level road bike. I didn’t even have the time to fit it with my height and length. My training was even poor because of the rainy season in the months of June and July.

About an hour during the bike course, the rain poured. I was worried about the air friction, and yes, I started to slow down. From 30kph, down to 25kph. I was confused with where to put my gear, and I experimented. I reached half-way for 1:30. I stopped to drink, and that was the biggest mistake. When I took off, my upper legs started to cramp. I didn’t know what to do. Participants were already taking a pass over me, and I was on a 15-20kph, and then about 10kph on steep roads.

I was on the verge of giving up when I started talking to myself. “I am strong, I am a fighter, I am going to show you how great I am.” were the words coming out from my mouth. I finished the bike leg in 3:30.

Run – 21km
Yes, I trained the transitions, but in the actual event, I couldn’t explain the feeling on the bike to run transition. I was limping exaggeratedly because of thigh cramps, but then I heard encouraging words from the marshalls and told me it will only last a few minutes.

I ran for just about 75 strides per minute which is below my target of 90spm while maintaining a 75% heart rate. My shoes were wet because of the rain, but the sun began to shine. I was worried about the “rice cooker”, the term they use to describe the hottest run course in the country. I ran stable until I reached halfway, they handed me the rubber band marker and put it on my wrist.

I stopped again to take a piss, and when I ran back, this time, my calves began to cramp. I alternate running and walking so I can make it go away, and it did. But after several minutes, it came back again. My only objective was to finish the race while I think of ways how to survive the heat, deal with the cramps and endure everything until the finish line and before the 8:30 cut-off. To me, that’s the actual playing of the game.

Water stations were available every 1.5km, and I poured water from my head to toe on each and every station. One of the runners saw me and advised me not to wet my shoes because I may get abrasions, but I didn’t care because I cared more about not to get dehydration. And I did get abrasions.

I reached the 20.5km mark, about an hour remaining before the cut-off and 500m left. I couldn’t run anymore because my legs were really painful. It was like there’s a big bear trap clamped into my calves. Then after a few moments, I could already see the finish line. I finished my first-ever Ironman 70.3 triathlon in about 7:30.

This by far is at the top 5 of my happiest moments in life.

The Road to Marathon.
A few years after the triathlon, I contemplated finishing a full 42k marathon. I already checked Ironman in my bucket list and so the urge to check marathon this time. When I was in NYC January of last year, I dreamed of running at Central Park. It was a snowy night, but I didn’t care. I ran full clothes and jacket on, started on a walk and had that runner high moment. That was a go signal to start the marathon training.

Similar to Ironman, I downloaded a free program online. I bought a new pair of Nike shoes and strictly followed the plan. Sundays were the long runs. I had to wake up at 4am again, and I had been consistent for about three months until I reached my 25km mileage. I got bored and trained on and off. Imagine running for 2 hours or more. I ran out of podcasts and audiobooks to listen to. I still persevered, but June and July were the worst times to train because of the non-stop rain. I looked for marathon events that I can register to. The only schedule left was Milo marathon but in Cebu and Lucena and that discouraged me from continuing. I failed, and then I gave up. I tried rationalizing the urge, but I couldn’t come up with a good reason to persevere.

The thing is, the thought of finishing a marathon doesn’t go away. The logic says no but the heart says go. I tried connecting the dots and relate it to work, in relationships and life in general. Your intuition, gut feel, or whatever you wanna name it, is your guide to success. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, follow your heart. It’s a cliche, but it’s true.

I’ll try to walk you through the experience and my road to marathon in the coming months. I may fail again yes, but I trust that my heart will tell me the right thing. The obstacle is the way.

Just recently, I registered to Run Rio trilogy marathon. The leg 1, 21km, is on April 7. It’s funny that I wrote this in the middle of the night around 3:30am. It’s just another manifestation of my passion for finishing what I started in life, in business, and in dreams.

Five Stages of Happiness with Children

Dec 2018

I walked up to the lying-in clinic in our condominium in Makati and asked my grandmother how’s the labor going. She said I have to wait a little more. I waited, then after a few hours, she called me and I raced inside. I saw the most beautiful thing in the world. The doctor wrapped her in a clean white cotton sheet and handed over to me. I held her in my arms for the first time while her eyes were tightly closed. I named her Fiona, and she was born on June 3, 2003.

It was March 13, 2008, when my second child was born. His sister was around five years old at that time. We were in Makati Medical Hospital, and I got there mid-afternoon after skipping a business meeting. After a few minutes, the nurse told us that the baby’s ready for viewing. Fiona and I walked holding hands to the nursery. The nurse opened the curtain, while Fiona was jumping up and down with her head tilted upwards to glance her brother. And there we saw the cutest thing lying on his stomach with powdered-white skin and dimples he got from me. I named him Charles.

About six years after that, I was in another hospital, in Lipa, Batangas. The labor took so long. We got into the hospital around lunchtime, and it was already 10:00 pm and still no news. I had to go outside to get some beer and feel relaxed. I ended up napping on the stairwell of the hospital past midnight. It was June 7, 2014, at 3 am when the doctor came out of the operating room. I scrambled onto my feet and looked at her. She’s the sweetest baby girl I’ve seen. I knew right away that her long cute fingers were from me. I named her Isabela.

Above were the happiest moments of my life. I still feel those sweet moments while I write this. The difficult times of appeasing them in the middle of the night and shaking their formula bottle to feed them were nothing compared to the joy that they bring every day. Yes, things change when they grow up, but that’s the exciting part. You’ve been a part of them in their first smile, first time to sit down, to crawl, stand, walk and talk. As kids, their attention span is so quick, when you arrive from work, they kiss and hug you for a while, and then they play.

The weekend has always been the best days of the week. That’s the only time I thoroughly enjoy them. Here are the five stages of happiness with children :

  1. It’s always the first time you hold them. Then the first few months of putting them in the crib and carrying them on your arms and shoulders. Bathing them is enjoyable. You prepare the warm water, the tub, and the towel. You see them react for the first time to temperature change. And that sudden quick arm and leg movements in the bathtub.
  2. In the first year, just by looking at them will make anyone smile. You want them to giggle almost every moment. You enjoy their self-weaning time. Watching them wean on their own like a drunk little person taking food to their mouth and all over their face.
  3. As a toddler, making fun of how they talk is so enjoyable. Every word that comes out to their mouth is so cute. Their hugs and kisses are the warmest though very fragile. Isabela has her ways to give sweet little actions when she’s with me.
  4. At five to ten, they are excited about life. They quickly absorb anything. I enjoy bringing them to hikes, and beaches. It’s so refreshing to teach them how to survive life in a way that it will be easy for them to realize and comprehend. It is their grooming years. Charles right now enjoys sketching and solving puzzles.
  5. Fiona is now nearing sixteen, and from a little one, she has now grown into a young teenage girl. My happiest day when I first held her always give me that sense of memory every time I see her. I enjoy talking to her about her friends, about her school lessons, her struggles, and her dreams.

I can’t wait to see them experience adulthood, solve problems on their own and have their own family. They are the most fulfilling thing in the world.

Integrity: A Positive Model to Solve Problems

“ca. 2004, while most of our prospective clients are in the pre-sales stage, my brother was becoming impatient about the nature of our business. The sales conversion process was really long. A typical cycle takes 3-6 months. Because of that, our team was already shaking. I got frustrated, we all are.

One of our few and critical programmers, on the other hand, was changing career. He was destined to take over their family business in Lucena. A mom and pop but famous auto-supply retail shop. During his last days in the company, he enrolled at Don Bosco for a mechanical course. Then suddenly, his dad died from a sporadic disease. That forced him to resign early. Then he left.

Dann and I have decided to dissolve the company. We agreed to talk to our uncle Manny about our departure. The night before our mtg, for some reason, I took a book from the office shelf that had been sitting there for years, it was a book given to us by Manny. The title of the book was Built to Last by Jim Collins. I started reading when I got home. I read overnight for hours. I knew my purpose. I knew I have to be resilient. I knew that more than profits, the company has to do a mission.

Next morning, we sat down at Starbucks near the office. The awkwardness was galling, making me fidget. Dann had no idea that I won’t be leaving the company. I cleared my throat and said, “I am staying.” He was disappointed to know that I changed my mind. It was the first time I felt independence from under his wing. I took that courage to stand alone and try to turn things by myself.

I went to the office right after the meeting. It was gloomy. I knew I had to take over Dann’s engagements with the prospective clients, Unionbank and its clients, Summersault Outsourcing to name a few. I knew I had to do presentations with corporate executives. Just by the thought of it was so nerve-racking.

I sat down and gaze around the office thinking about the weight on my shoulders. But deep inside, it was fulfilling. I survived.”

Integrity, as defined, is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It presents as a positive model within morality and legality. When a person is faced by problems, integrity is a tool for solutions, increased performance and quality of life. Though commonly ignored, I firmly believe of its significant role in productivity and performance.

Here are practical ways to exercise integrity in solving problems:

  1. Determine your core values. We all see this in offices and corporations but do you know what’s this for? These core values guide organizations in decision making. When faced by circumstances where we have to choose between path A or path B, one of the criteria for the decision is, it is aligned with our core values?
  2. Keep your word. Many of us can relate to when friends or colleagues who commit to call back, reply back, promising this and that but always fail to deliver. It has become an acceptable norm for many of us. Please don’t say yes if you wanna say no because if you do, then expect that the solution to the problem you agreed upon will not happen.
  3. Keep an open mind. Listening to and respecting the opinions of others is one of the keys to problem-solving. A leader will never know everything. Don’t assume that you know everything especially when solving problems. It is essential to gather thoughts of the people around you and analyze what they have to say.
  4. Do the basics. Solving the problem by doing the unethical and illegal is a big NO.

In my story above, I came up with the decision of continuing the company because I kept my word to the stakeholders, partners, and customers. I solved the problem in sales by determining my mission, which is to help them solve their business process problems through software automation.

Solving Problems By Entrepreneurial Thinking

Our team of about 25 people is mostly sitting at the conference table. Some are standing up while their smiles fade about the agenda I am about to discuss. It was a Friday, March 30, 2007, about 6 p.m. It is a payroll day, and I am announcing that I am giving them all up together with the office and all company expenses because the cash flow cannot justify them anymore.

I went home, and inside my bedroom, I leave it dark, I lean against the wall and put my head in my hands. What should I do? I sink to the ground, and I want to make myself as small as possible.

I have never been in this kind of situation. My co-founders and all the staff were all gone. Several clients, a couple of desktop computers and my coding skills were left. Get it together, Dennis.

What is the principle behind entrepreneurial thinking? I read research written by Dr. Saras Saravathy at the University of Washington entitled “What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial?” In 1997, she traveled across 17 states in the United States over several months, and she met with 30 founders of companies, ranging in value from $200 million to $6.5 billion and spanning a variety of industries including steel, railroad, teddy bears, semiconductors and biotech.

She coined the term “effectual reasoning” and “causal reasoning.”

“In general, In MBA programs, students are taught causal in every functional area of business. Causal rationality is the traditional approach where you predetermine goals and a given set of means, and then identify the optimal, fastest, cheapest, alternative to achieve the goal. This is also synonymous with strategic thinking.

Effectual reasoning, however, does not begin with a specific goal. Instead with a given set of means and allows goals to emerge contingently over time from the varied imagination, diverse aspirations of the entrepreneur and the people they interact with.”

Causal thinkers are like generals while effectual thinkers are the explorers, setting out on voyages into uncharted waters.

To summarize her study, entrepreneurs are entrepreneurial, as differentiated from managerial or strategic, because they think effectually; they believe in yet-to-be-made future that can substantially be shaped by human action; they realize that to the extent that this human action can control the future. It is important to point out, though, that the same person can use both causal and effectual reasoning at different times depending on what the circumstances call for. In fact, the best entrepreneurs are capable of both.

In my story above, unconsciously, using the principle of effectual reasoning, I have to work with readily available resources. I began with some questions like who am I, what are my traits and abilities, what do I know and whom do I know.

Instead of revalidating our products by doing market research and business planning, I started by setting up a workstation at home while working on projects by myself. When I realized I needed extra hands, I sourced for interns from several universities and asked one of my existing customers who is also a good friend/mentor to accommodate me in his office in Makati. I used desktops from the old office and hired the interns. By word of mouth, I started booking new customers again, got a new office and hired regular employees and then eventually changing our name to Hilsoft, Inc by 2012.

In summary, in relation to my experience and the study above, below are some keys to solve problems by entrepreneurial thinking:

  1. Solve problems using existing resources and means.
  2. Execute solutions focusing on affordable loss and not on expected return. It means for example not to exert too much effort on market research and to choose the target market, but instead do the actual selling and adjust products accordingly.
  3. Solve problems by trial and error, leverage on contingencies and be open to surprises.
  4. Take advantage of opportunities while solving problems through human action.

As I say all the time, we can solve anything as long as we do not tolerate problems. By adding this concept, I wish that each of us can find what we are looking for.

Three Steps in Solving Real-Life Problems Using Software Debugging Techniques

I was struggling to speak. No words were coming out from my mouth. It’s 8 am, and my desktop was still on after working overnight with my brother. It was interesting to experience my vocal cords collapsing after a 24-hour work to debug a complex problem.

The challenge at that time was how to convert the existing users of our accounting software from multi-database to single database/multi-tenant model. There were about 30 company subscribers we need to migrate in a software-as-a-service (SAAS) or application service provider (ASP) model that was the term at the time around the year 2004.

What is Debugging? According to Wikipedia, Debugging is the process of finding and resolving defects or problems within a computer program that prevent correct operation of computer software or a system.

Debugging tactics can involve interactive debugging, control flow analysis, unit testing, integration testing, log file analysis, monitoring at the application or system level, memory dumps, and profiling.

To me, the most effective way to debug is bug isolation. It is a technique where you break down the big problem into small chunks or small modules, then solving it one at a time. In the problem I mentioned above, we isolated the problem by identifying which part of the program can we modify with the least effort because we were also pressured in time.

So how do you apply debugging techniques in real life? Here’s my take:

Step 1 – Simulate the bug. When the bug is reported, you have to ask the reporter how did the bug occur. What was the user input, what was the process, function or the button pressed and what was the output vs. the expected result?

In real life, you have to define the problem first clearly. A money problem, for example, may not be the real problem. The real question is the person who doesn’t make efforts to find a job or business and make money.

Step 2 – Isolate the bug. Breakdown the functions or methods line-by-line and see where the problem occurred. Was it when the button was pressed? Was it the data type the user inputted, was it when the button press signals the function to proceed or was it when the function returned the value? In coding, we put breakpoints to see exact behaviors or return values each line.

In real life, we can break down the problem as well. Going back to the money problem, we can iterate the possible causes like, am I spending more than I earn? Why am I not motivated to find a job? Is it depression? Am I an impulsive buyer? Once you have identified the cause, then it is easier to find a solution.

Step 3 – Solve and test. Solutions mostly are theories at first. In coding, you have to test your work by simulating the problem again and see if it still happening. In real life, if the cause of your money problem is being an impulsive buyer or spending much, then the solution is to devote efforts to analyze the budget and follow it. There are a lot of free apps where you can set a budget monthly, track it and forecast what happens to your cash balance if I buy this piece of equipment using my credit card and pay it in installment. That’s where testing happens.

These are just very few examples. Other real-life problems like relationships, business, health can be solved using these techniques. The most important thing is you don’t tolerate your problem when you see it.

What is your Brand?

When I think of a go-to pizza, Shakey’s is the first thing that comes up to me.

When I think of an old-school but stable bank, it’s Metrobank.

When I think of a sports brand that most athletes wear, it’s Nike.

To me, this is the true meaning of a brand. The customers brand you and not the other way around.

The problem with most businesses or marketers is that they create their brand message based on the image that they want to project, not based on how customers are branding them.

I always ask in interviews, “if I call your former colleagues, what do you think will they tell me about you?”. That’s your brand.

I am writing this because I’d like to share the proper mindset in discovering your brand. Also, Hilsoft never used a tagline, only a slogan “Loved by Filipino SMEs for over 17 years“. I think its about time to use one this coming 2019.

Looking back, I often hear from customers or partners that if you want your problem to be solved then call Dennis. Even in our team, if the devs couldn’t solve the coding problem, then they call me. Debugging that takes days, I can solve in minutes.

So I am branded as a guy who can solve anything. Relative of course to business automation problems whether if it is a user issue or a software issue.

Just recently, I encounter different cases during sales meetings with clients. So we in the sales team always come up with solutions. It can be a simple software customization tweak, hardware integration or even iOT.

Now I can confidently say that not only me but we are tagged as a company who can provide solutions to each business process problems that the customer have.

A few years ago, I printed and posted a message in our office wall, “You can solve anything.” I posted it to impart to our team that with resourcefulness, creativity and having an innovative mindset, any programming problem can be solved. So I figured, why not use this as a company tagline to tell the world that there’s a solution to every problem and Hilsoft can help and collaborate with you in solving them.

My next job is to make sure that I communicate this tagline to our team, so we are all aligned as to who we really are and how we are different from the others.

The most important thing is to create a process of how our team can systematically execute this brand to customers.

So in your case, what is your brand? Or should I say, what do your customers tell about you? I hope this writing can help you in discovering them.