Years ago, at an age when most young women would be focusing on starting the road to financial stability, or collecting trainings to improve their knowledge and skills base and practically, to make their CV more impressive, and/or experimenting with their fashion styles, I was occupied with other concerns– bills for rent, electricity and water; allowance and tuition fees of my siblings; allowance for my own fare and food; and other things that the head of a household would usually handle.

To put it simply, I was a bread winner from my early twenties. I still am, although the situation is better and lighter now.

I was juggling three (3) teaching jobs then. It was not easy but what kept me going, aside from the need to earn, was mainly my passion in helping my students improve their skills in reading/writing/communication and research and in helping them develop their confidence in public speaking.

When I took my Master’s degree, I got good enough grades in the 1st year to qualify for the UP Presidential scholarship for a time and was entitled to receive a monthly allowance. It wasn’t much, but for a struggling student, it was a huge help. That amount, which I looked forward to receiving every month, augmented the budget for our household expenses.

Surely, those years as a new adult finding my place in the world weren’t easy. My graduate studies took longer than I had planned since I only took minimum number of units to have time for work and a combination of running on empty, changing interests, and evolving priorities affected my studies and my choices of my thesis topics, such that I jumped from one to another topic in a span of several years, further delaying finishing my Master’s degree.

This isn’t a sob story, however despite having many “Maalala Mo Kaya?” episodes in life.

Instead, I would like to share some realities and perhaps, a bit of inspiration, and aspirations in the society:

  • Financial literacy is important, no doubt about that. Having savings is needed. But do not look down on people who can’t save because you don’t know their story. I was already nearing 30s when I became capable of opening a basic savings account! Prior to that, my salary was spent on basic necessities for me and my family to the last peso with the utmost budgeting skills. Then, when I became capable financially, I provided the initial bank deposit amount for my daughter and two siblings, telling them to continue depositing at least every quarter. Related to this, how can we really help Filipino citizens to be financially literate and financially capable? Definitely, it should not be through dole outs. Also, there are existing legal cooperatives in the Philippines that help people in the community by providing capitals and manageable loans. How can we leverage these cooperatives’ goals?

  • I was blessed with good health, rarely getting unwell despite my really hectic schedule. Working too much was not because I glorified overwork; it was to survive, even though I can say that I loved the essence of my work (teaching students communication and its elements). But still, I note how important it is to get sufficient rest as one hospital checkup for cardiac arrythmia let me realize (when I paid the money I received from several days of extra teaching jobs in just one day of doctor’s consultation and lab tests). About this, I have these musings: The health sector should be improved. People go to clinics/health centers/hospitals to be well. Thus, they should be treated courteously and attended to promptly. Moreover, the policy of some hospitals to require the patients to pay first before receiving the needed treatment seems to be against the principle for establishing health centers/hospitals in the first place. In the worst case, the patient could die while still in the process of filling out forms or lining up in the cashier for payment.

  • Work opportunities are abundant. I had offers and choices for additional work, which I wasn’t able to get anymore ’cause I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew. Aside from the university work, communication center job, and entrance exam review classes, I handled some tutorials of Korean students, Filipino high school students who need help with their English subjects, and incoming college students who need to improve their essay writing and grammar skills. I cannot say with certainty though that this is the same for everyone. I mean, practically speaking, I came from a good school and finished my degree/s. In this way, I may have been unprivileged but in a way, I still enjoyed some privileges from my education. Still, I’d like to tell fresh graduates and those looking for work, to be open to opportunities and possibilities and to accept jobs in the short term that may not offer a very high salary but compensates for it in other ways (like trainings, incentives and network of people).

  • About self-care, some usual ideas are going to the spa, having a facial or manicure/pedicure, taking a weeklong vacation, splurging on some cosmetics/dresses/bags, etc. Nothing wrong with this. But you may also widen the concept of self-care as something that can be incorporated in your day-to-day life so that you don’t feel that you have totally neglected yourself. It may be 30 minutes of quiet time early in the morning; it may be watching a film once or twice a week; it may be buying your favorite chips when you buy groceries or cookies/ice cream/donuts/empanada every now and then. The important thing is doing something for yourself.

  • Finding a deeper reason, a meaning to get up early and be enthusiastic about things, helps a lot. In my case, being a mom to a dear daughter early in life (and being a single parent to her after a relationship that didn’t work and wouldn’t work) helped me. Otherwise, I might have given in to exhaustion and despair long ago. Being grateful and naturally optimistic (except in a few instances) and having a support network of friends assisted me a lot too in most life’s travails. Loving my work then, seeing my students’ faces when they learn something new, and observing my previously shy students strive to learn the rudiments of communication and speak confidently in front gave me reasons to do better in my craft.

So, if anyone reading this feel like or is an “Atlas,” don’t be disheartened. Don’t lose hope as things usually eventually get better. ❤

And remember, despite the many responsibilities you need to handle, take care of yourself, give time for yourself, pamper yourself every now and then. Don’t lose sight of your aspirations and aim to achieve them one day. Your goals will one day take shape.

Actually, I was intending a short essay, a kind of pep talk on a weekend. But the topic kind of branched out and in fact, there are many aspects on this topic beyond saving money and self-care, which are connected to societal systems such as the economic system, the health sector, the capitalist nature of the society, the need for self-actualization, the family dynamics, and so on.

Plus, being a breadwinner for two decades now gave me so many experiences that cannot be easily contained in one short essay. So, apologies for this lengthy essay/reflection/inspiration on a day of rest.

I’ll just end with this:

Being designated breadwinner in most cases is not by choice but by circumstances. Yet, it is still possible to live the life you choose despite and inspite of being chosen by fate to be an “Atlas.” It’s also an opportunity to help and make a difference in others’ lives (especially for those dear to you) up to a certain point when they have become capable and self-sufficient. That is a reward by itself.

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