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The load that goes with 17 years

A few weeks ago, I marked my 17th year in Philippine government service. I certainly feel every day of those 17 years. All those press conferences, media events, interviews, trips, hosting stints, and stories packed into those 17 years that I feel its weight, and it’s not a light load.

The Philippine government can be described as a demanding lover. You cannot say no to requests for information after office hours or on weekends, particularly in my field of work which is government communications. If the President of the Philippines will drop by in my coverage area on a Saturday or a Sunday, then my social life is basically screwed as early as 2 days before and then 2 days after the visit. If a disaster strikes in my area, it’s expected that my phones are on and I’m online to respond to official and public requests for information. It’s not important how I make sure that happens, I just have to. Like the ad for Banco De Oro, we find ways.

In my 17 years of working for the Philippine government, I’ve had two relationships that didn’t last very long. (I’m still friends now with the other parties in these relationships so I guess all is well that ends well.) Since then, I’ve been in a relationship with my office desk.

Money is never a motivating factor to work for the Philippine state. Trust me when I say that civil servants can never fatten their bank accounts with honest public service. In view of the strict auditing rules, I have even shelled out my own cash several times to ensure that a project or an activity gets done without a hitch. I pay a higher tax compared to my married co-workers because when you don’t have any dependents, the government taxes you more.

So why did I stay this long? It’s complicated. I’ve had two communications-related job offers since I started working in Cebu, one from a business conglomerate that operates a chain of malls across the country and the other from a foreign embassy based in Manila. One of those was an offer that was so tempting it took me days and days of soul-searching before I gave them my decision.

I would blame passion as to why I stuck this long at where I am now. When you’re doing what you love and what you do is important not to you but to the populace, I guess it all makes everything worthwhile. All that greater good principle. At the end of the day, I serve not the one who occupies the highest position in the land but the public.

I admit though that I wish at times that I wasn’t such a passionate animal, driven to prove that I can do whatever personal challenge I have set for myself. I usually end up bleeding a little bit each time just to see these challenges through. Maybe I would be the owner of a luxurious condo unit by now, or own the complete DVD set of Indiana Jones and Star Wars, or driving a Buick or a MINI Cooper, or better yet a vintage Volkswagen in pristine condition, or jetting to exotic places like the Caribbean.

So, 17 years and what do I have to show for it? Strands of grey hair, wrinkles, additional pounds in the hip area that I can certainly do without, and a penchant for cafe lattes because there’s nothing that a cup of coffee cannot solve during a stressful day, and I’m driven to drink coffee almost every day at the office.

But of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. I have also acquired a skill set and a network of media, business, and diplomatic contacts so desirable that a politician still keeps trying to pirate me and hire me to work for him. (No can do, dude. I may work for the government, but politics isn’t what I do.)

There is, however, a plateau, that strange period following a brisk activity. My passion may have plateaued out. I am feeling at a loss, in a limbo. More and more lately I feel the urge to break out, seek out new glass ceilings to poke and maybe smash, new territories to conquer. Not that I have really done much conquering where I am now, but 17 years with the same agency can speak just as much about how comfortable this zone has become for me.  I feel that the proverbial fork in the road is coming for me. I wish I can delay it as much as possible, but nothing lasts forever.

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