By Raoul Suarez

“You lack focus. You aren’t determined enough. You are not successful like your peers.”

My old folks would tell me that a lot. Well, give me a break. I have heard this line so many times it is starting to get old. I’m sure you were told things like these too. No? Good for you. I heard this again today. I’m not even supposed to be minding this but today I feel like I’m not in a good mood. I was so irked at the remark that maybe I smoked a whole cancer stick in just three puffs.

I lack focus? Seriously? I lack determination? Sit your ass down and let me tell you a nice heartwarming story then you can go cry in the shower afterwards if you feel like you should.

I was 33 back then. Married. With 2 kids. I went back to school and did a good four years because of the changes in the curriculum. I already had a nice resume filled with supervisory and managerial work in the BPO. I can throw it around and I can find work if I need it and when I need it. Also, it’s not just the mediocre rank and file kind of work. I can just stay in this sort of industry until I can’t be able to work anymore. I was earning my own bread. I was doing good.

But no. I quit it and did rackets so I can allot more time for schooling. I wanted that diploma. I had to get it. I had to wear a school uniform again – and a lanyard with a laminated ID to go with that. Monday to Thursday. I had to wear black leather shoes. Except for Fridays. Fridays were dress down days.

I asked my friends to join me. They did not want to go back to school. They said they never will. It’s a hassle. It’s shameful. They don’t want to wear a uniform anymore. They’re too old. What will people say? I was met with a whole lot of excuses.

“A diploma means nothing anyway.”

That’s what they said. That’s what most of my friends said. Sure. But it meant a lot to me. It will open doors for me one day. A Master’s degree maybe. A Law School eligibility. Yes, that’s what it can do. And without it, those doors will forever remain closed. I wanted those doors to open and I had to take it by force. So, there I was. I had to go it alone and soldier on.

I had to take that humiliation from my old folks. They said I would be awarded with a cane or a wheelchair instead of a diploma because I was too old for school and I would be classmates with kids half my age. I was an embarrassment and I was already washed up; way past my prime. I took it like a man.

I had to do just side rackets here and there and some part-time jobs to get by. I had to do the whole four years climbing up and down the stairs of that same old school building, lining up and waiting for my turn during enrollment time, reading books until the wee hours of the morning, bringing my boys to school once in a while because we could not afford a babysitter, just so I can finish my degree. I had to borrow money here and there. I had to do cross-enrollments because some subjects were not offered anymore unless you pay a hefty sum. I had to do it.

I finished it eventually. No failing grades. No back subjects. Clear cut. My face wilI not be on that yearbook because it was too expensive; I would rather use that money to buy my kids what they need. I was lucky enough to have awesome classmates who were very supportive. My teachers were also approachable. It was easy to keep on going because of these people. I soldiered on. I finished what I started and I did not even look back. Yeah sure. I should have done that years ago but I didn’t. I should have finished that degree. But that is not a good reason to tell me I lack focus and determination. I took care of unfinished business so I won’t come back as a ghost when I’m already dead. The timing wasn’t bad either. I gained new friends and connected with people I rarely talked to. The school system was a mess but the people who were in that flawed system were wonderful.

All the while when I was schooling, I was writing for the newspaper. My professor told me I should do it and he will arrange a column for me. I’m still here. I’m still writing. My parents laughed at that sort of job I was taking. They said it wasn’t a real job. It wasn’t going to earn me anything. I should be in the government. I should get a post-grad diploma. They whine like there is no tomorrow. They never read my articles. They never took the time to check my column. I didn’t write for them anyway. I write because it keeps me sane. I write because I like doing it. I don’t need affirmation. It’s nice to have a small bunch of people appreciating the work I do, and for me, it’s a win.

All the while when I was schooling, was attending Karate classes religiously. I got mixed with people younger than me. I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore. I can always buy a gun if I wanted to defend myself. Sure. I have always wanted to do it when I was a kid, but it was always put off by my old folks because playing the piano, studying, and going to church was always better. Well, to hell with piano lessons. To hell with going to church. To hell with school medals and trophies.

Growing up, I missed out on all the important football games and trading card tournaments because I was forced to go to church and to attend choir practice so my old folks can show people how religious they can be. I had to live a double life until I decided to earn my own bread and live somewhere else.

Oh we got a little lost there. Let’s go back a bit and talk about small wins.

So there I was, sitting at the dojo and waiting for my uniform. That day when I decided to fill up that membership form, I promised myself that I will not keep my belt white. I was going to train double time and get me that black belt. I was training with kids half my age calling me “Tito” and they were taking it easy on me during sparring sessions because I was slow and I was old. Eventually they didn’t have to and they took me seriously. I broke some of my own bones. I injured my fingers once in a while. Bruises here and there. Day in and day out. Promotion after promotion. Testing after testing. Transmission after transmission. I was there. Every night. I gave it a go. I met new friends in the process; people who treat me like family. I am always welcome and I can come in anytime. I was always there. I did what I had to do. I got what I wanted and I’m still at it. Maybe until I die. If that isn’t focus and determination, then I don’t know what it’s supposed to be. My old folks said it was useless. I should go to church more. Well, to hell with church. This is my small win. I will take it.

I was never allowed to play football. My parents would tell me that I’m a sickly kid and I should just stay home. But every afternoon when I was in high school, I was there. I was at the playing field. I never missed practice. I was never late. They said I couldn’t do it. I was not cut for it. But I was there. I pushed myself all week long. I played until it was too dark to see. I did it again the next day. Just honing my craft and trying to get better. I was blessed with wonderful coaches and teammates. I played with people who were better than me. I played with people who were just starting out. I got old enough and was able to coach some kids and the experience was good for the heart. I met wonderful people. After all these years we are still good friends. My old folks said football was useless. I should go to church more. Well, to hell with church. This is my small win. I will take it.

I have been playing video games for years on end. Even after most of my friends quit because most of them are just “intro boys” who hop from one game to another without even accomplishing anything stellar, or making a statement by retiring during their prime. During all that time I was grinding and trying to also make money from a video game, I was able to meet awesome people who are still a good part of my life. This is my small win. I will take it.

I have been playing Clash Royale for a good 5 years. This game was my go-to during breaks in school. It burned time during those days when I did not have enough money to buy myself a decent meal. I was able to max out my decks before taking a break from the game for almost a year, and when I went back, I was still up to speed. Not too outdated. My clanmates were still there. They were still at it and they welcomed me back with open arms. I have been playing other video games with them for years on end too. This is my small win. I will take it.

I have been doing Mobile Legends for 3 years running, with stats that aren’t pro level but far from what some people at my age (or younger) can accomplish. I did it out of spite. I did it to jist prove a point that I can still be good at it even if I came in late. I was 36 going 37. The pandemic hit hard and I had no job. I used it as a moneymaking tool, aside from the entertainment and escape aspect of it, just so I had extras. I’m still here making money and waiting for those, who said I couldn’t do it, to catch up with the numbers I put in. You can call me a brag. Sure. But I worked my ass off while you were all busy watching Tiktok videos. This is my small win. I will take it.

I have been playing Magic: The Gathering for over a decade, maybe two, and I can say I’m semi-retired but I must say I was part of the whole crew of this city’s enthusiasts when we gave it a go and put our hearts and minds into it. I did my grinding. Every Friday Night. On Saturdays. Even on Sundays. Small Tournaments. Big Tournaments. We won some. We lost some. I was there. I’m still here. With a room full of cards that you can sell for a hefty price. My old folks said it was useless. Games are useless. I should go to church more. Well, to hell with church. This is my small win. I will take it.

I always finish what I started. At my own time. At my own pace. In my own terms. I play for keeps. I play until I can’t play anymore. I play to win. I win because I am not afraid to lose and go at it again. If that isn’t focus and determination, then I don’t know what it’s supposed to be. Relentless should be the word, I guess. I have turned most of my lemons to lemonade and sold it for a profit. I have climbed most of my mountains. I am still climbing, but I stop once in a while to enjoy the view.

This is my life. You can’t tell me what to do. Nobody should tell us what to do especially if it isn’t solicited. I don’t tell people what they should do unless they ask me outright.

Parents should learn what lines they should not cross. I’m not that 14-year-old choirboy anymore. I’m not that kid who brings in the medals so you can boast to your friends like you put in all the work. I’m my own man. I do what I want. I do what I like. I have been looking out for me when I turned 19. It isn’t going to be any different when I turn 40.

Well, maybe I’m not really focused. Maybe I’m not really determined. Maybe I’m not really successful. But I have my small wins. I have my big wins. And that’s good enough for a celebration before moving on to the next phase.

People have different definitions for different words based on how they see the world. It’s hard when you are always told that you are not always good enough; when you have to get affirmation from people who set very high standards but have not achieved much in this life either. It’s hard when they compare you to some other person’s kid, who’s got a title, when they themselves don’t even have one. It hits you like a truck operated by some drunk-driving son of a squatter. You either take the hit and die or you dodge it and move on.

Focus, determination, and success does not equate to a title. I don’t need a title. I don’t have to become a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, or an architect. I want none of those. It was never my dream. Most of my friends are already doing that and I can always give them a call when I need them. I can be whatever I want to be. At my own pace. At my own time. All of us can, actually. We can all be what we dream to become if we work for it.

I must say I’m a product of toxic parenting disguised as tough love. We don’t show affection at home. It’s all about achievements. It’s all about the medals. It’s all about social status. It’s all about who earns more than who. It’s all that talk about “actions speak louder than words” kind of thing. True. But there are things that need to be verbalized and it isn’t a bad thing to do so. I think it’s too late to fix that now with the Boomers and their screwed-up traditional values but we still have the next generation and we can always pay it forward. We do not have to pressure our children. We do not need to be toxic.

I’m not going to be that kind of parent to my children. I try my best not to be. I have to break the cycle. That chain stops here and now. We should teach our children how to win by telling them to not be afraid to lose and try again. Failing is a part of success and you do not always get it right the first time. You work for it. You work until you cannot work anymore. You can take my advice. I don’t use it anyway.

Are we done yet? Yes, we are. Now, tell me again that I lack focus. Tell me again that I lack determination. Tell me I’m not successful and couldn’t do it. I want you to.

(Diary Entry: July 29, 2021)