I had to pack everything for our 8 AM flight. Make sure everything was in order. Everything we needed was in the right place. And the house was secure. Everything.
3 AM. Exhausted. Drained.
I told my family to wake up before 6. Move fast. Get ready.
I needed sleep.
. . .
“WE MISSED THE FLIGHT!”
Shit! A nightmare!
I was panicking. I was all over the place. What time is it?
I checked everyone — my wife Allyn, baby Sidd, my younger sisters Erine & Kz, and Kz’s boyfriend LJ. All of them were asleep.
I was the last person to sleep and the first person to wake up. Damn it.
I caught myself. It was my anxiety (again) taking over. I checked the time: A few minutes after 4 AM. We’re good. Breathe.
. . .
I’m always like this — hours before flying or even just a regular trip. It’s annoying. But glad, it’s slowly diminishing over the years. Maybe I just need to travel more.
My last flight was 3 years ago to Palawan for our 2nd company trip (2020). Only a few days before the global lockdown — wow, that was 3 years ago?! I wrote about it here.
(Also, our 1st company trip to Puerto Galera (2017) here.)
While the last two company trips were purely fun, this time was different:
- First, it’s longer (July 13 to 18)
- Second, I’ll be meeting more than half of the team members. Most of them are new.
- Third, we’ll be attending the seminal Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within (UPW) virtual seminar (more on that later).
I think it’s now safe to say that this wasn’t just an ordinary get-together. And I wish it was all icing and rainbow. But nope.
Because I have a team to take care of. I have to plan everything. Make decisions. Create a budget. Listen to everyone’s stories. Share insights. Help them understand why we do what we do. Empower them. Learn from them. Ensure their safety. And so on.
In short, it’s still work. 😉
On top of that, the virus was still mutating. And our toddler was with us, which means we have to be more cautious. And then the plane. Ha!
So that’s the pressure → plus the fear of flying → equals me still trying to be optimistic. Hell yeah!
I am not complaining. If anything, I’m grateful for the opportunity. It was a unique experience. And fun too! Thank you, Damon.
Now I’m trying to put everything into words. It took me a year to finish this. But I’m not going to reveal my excuses here! So…
I mean, honestly, some things are just hard to explain. So please bear with me. My goal is to extract the lessons so that you, too, can learn from what I’ve learned.
Too much talking. Let’s begin.
1. Know your why. Stay true to it no matter what.
It’s funny to think that most of our stress/pressure comes from trying to fake something. We crave others’ validation. And we are obsessed with it.
Months before meeting the team, I spent hours researching “the best stories, ideas and approaches” on how to engage with them. Also, “the best ways to spend time with colleagues” or “how to motivate and inspire people”.
I read books. Listened to podcasts. Studied personalities. And so on.
But as the trip came nearer, I started to become more skeptical. “What’s the point of all of these? What’s my real intention? What message do I want to get across? What outcome do I want to get?”
I figured it was so simple it blew my mind. All I wanted was to learn and understand what’s true to them. That’s it!
All these fancy terms I researched about “teamwork” serve nothing — unless I already have a rock-solid foundation of my why (see #5).
My intention was to help them unlock their full potential so they can thrive. Victory for them. Victory for the company (SEO National).
Sure, we can always prepare something — a script, outline, slideshow, or any tools. When done right, they can be helpful and convenient. And in some cases, these tools aren’t an option — they are a necessity. Say for example you’re speaking to a large audience. You get the idea.
Point is, whatever you do, whatever approach or tools you use, always know your why. Start there. Your why is your core message. It’s your truth. The source. The foundation. It’s the one thing you really want to get across. Everything else is secondary.
2. Always try to see the good side.
“Let’s cook our own food.”
I didn’t like that idea. Why would we cook our own food? (1) It’s energy/time-consuming; (2) We should focus more on the virtual seminar; (3) It’s risky.
Plus, we were staying in one of Bohol’s most sought-after hotels, North Zen Villas — their food was already amazing! For god’s sake, I couldn’t understand why would they prefer cooking.
Turned out, they’re not really into Chinese food (which for some reason the majority of the hotel’s menu at that time, except breakfast). Another reason was they wanted to save money (oh god here we go again).
Of course I love them. So we did try dining at a nearby restaurant. It was better. Yum yum. More variety. Yum yum.
Still, they wanted to try their idea. And holy molly are they serious. What the… Fine. I didn’t want a mutiny. 😀
So on the second day, we gave it a try with the agreement that they’d stop if it complicates things. This idea came first from Sal. Backed by Jennie and Nina. But it was mostly Sal who kept insisting.
And to my surprise…
It went smoothly. Totally beyond my expectations. I was blown away by their culinary finesse. Epic teamwork. I realized it was just my stoic mind kicking in. I was thinking about the worst I forgot about the good.
I remember Sal sharing the reason that made him fall in love with cooking. It’s not about the finished product — but the process of finding the right ingredients and creating something out of them, and then making people happy. That’s what satisfies him.
I don’t know. But I can tell he’s right. And it’s obvious that he enjoyed it.
One thing I noticed was the drastic change in the atmosphere when we were eating our own cooked food. I can see the warmth in everyone’s smiles. They felt at home. Finally.
3. Adapt or go home.
Funny how we often identify ourselves as “this” and “that”.
I am an introvert. I am an extrovert. No, it’s ambivert. I can only do this. I can only do that. I am like this when people are like this. I can’t. I might.
We have this image in our minds that we are this specific person who only does specific things, has limitations, and can’t do everything. And that’s it.
But here’s a thought experiment: Imagine a person you completely know. And then put that person in an uncomfortable situation where they don’t have any other option but to adapt. Meaning, they need to change for that situation. Otherwise, they’re doomed.
That person, if wants to get through the uncomfortable situation, will have no choice but adapt. There’s no other way.
That’s the beauty of being a human. Adaptability is our code for survival. Our superpower. Anyone can change at any given moment if a situation calls for it.
Approaching the UPW virtual seminar, I knew it would be uncomfortable. The seminar’s timezone (New York) is 12 hours behind ours (PH). They start at 10 AM. We start at 10 PM.
Plus, it wasn’t your ordinary seminar where you just sit, listen, and take notes all day. Here, you have to be active. You have to move your body.
Dancing, jumping, stretching, or any unusual movements was one thing. Staying up all night was another.
But here’s the common denominator: Only a few of us have met personally prior to this trip.
Sure, people attending the UPW in person in New York obviously didn’t know each other. But there’s a significant difference when a group of strangers crammed in a hotel room and are tasked to move their bodies in ways they never usually do. Ho ho ho!
The human instinct to hold back was undeniable. But what’s fascinating to me was the progression from being shy to being comfortable (and goofy!) as the seminar progressed. Which explains, adaptability doesn’t happen overnight. You have to give people time to adjust and get used to it.
I’m proud of you guys.
(NOTE: This was also one of the lessons I learned during the first company trip. Interesting.)
4. The sweet spot. Whatever works.
To get the most out of the UPW seminar, you need to focus. I mean extremely focus. I wish we could just sit there and absorb everything. But that was not the case.
And since focusing requires energy, we have to make sure we still have energy reserves to last the night. But remember, it’s 10 PM to morning. Holy smokes. It would be too much to ask for the team. They’re not vampires.
So what we did was divide the team into two cohorts. The first group was from 10 PM to 2 AM. The second was 2 AM onwards.
Hallelujah, it worked!
I was with the first group, but also tried to join the second group until 4 AM. Then woke up at 7 AM for day trips/activities. Some even woke up earlier. And yes, they’re happy with it. How the heck did we even make it? (see #5)
Of course, it would be unfair not to ask them what they want for the seminar. So we had pizza, ice creams, chocolates, coffee, and a margarita for Sal. (On a side note: Some team members thought it was ordinary juice, so they drank the margarita!) 😀
Again, whatever works for them.
It’s funny how most people are obsessed with following a template or what an influencer advises or what a book says. I am no exception. I can spend hours and hours researching how other teams operate.
I can sometimes become so idealistic to the point where I upset myself and the people around me. That’s not something to be proud of.
But I really enjoy doing it (not the upsetting, but the researching). And I won’t deny that I am also looking for that one “magical thing” that can improve the team. Well, if there is such a thing. Give me that!
Over time though, I’ve become more interested in understanding the unique dynamics of our team instead of copying what other teams are doing. It’s not easy. But to me, it’s more fulfilling.
Lay the foundation. Try things. Figure out what works. Discard what doesn’t. Consider everyone’s nature. Work with it. Not against it. Flow, my friend. Flow.
5. The stronger the why is, the greater the energy.
So, how did we manage with less sleep throughout our get-together?
As with the last two company trips, it’s the same reason. The intention. The purpose. The burning desire. The why.
It’s that authentic-almost-magical-irresistible drive to make the trip a super memorable experience. Of course nobody wants to miss something. How could you?
I know. Cliché. But it’s true. Very true!
And even if we all have different whys, doesn’t matter at all. What matters is we all have a target to aim for. A collective energy that radiates across. That alone made a huge difference.
Think about it. This same energy is what fuels us in pursuing our wildest dreams. You can think about it as spiritual energy — that unexplained energy you gained from being too obsessed with a certain thing.
Without that energy, it’s hard to do big things — things that seem impossible.
Like traveling the world. Or raising funds for a non-profit. Or stepping up to lead people. Or launching that product you’ve been building for years. Or that business you’ve been longing to start for god knows how long.
If you find yourself in a not-so-ideal place — you lose the desire and your energy levels are low — it’s time to reassess.
Ask yourself: Why are you doing it? What is it for? What’s the point?
Maybe you don’t really love it in the first place? That’s OK. Keep searching.
Or maybe your desire has diminished over time. That’s also OK. But you need to know why.
Whatever it is, the fact remains: If your desire is not strong enough, then you’ll keep making excuses. And guess what, sooner or later you’ll wake up old, cranky, unhappy, and full of regrets.
You make time for the things you truly love.
6. Our expectations almost always never meet reality.
Bohol is a place of wonder. Seriously. It’s my second time, and I still can’t get enough of it.
On our first day trip, we went to see some dolphins. Took us a while to see a few of them. That’s fine. Everyone’s patient. Hmmm.
The next stop was the renowned Turtle Island. But was overwhelmed by the huge crowd. What is happening?
The last time I visited with my wife and some friends, it wasn’t that packed. Perhaps people have been itching to travel since the lockdown. Maybe?
Things got a little icky when I made a mistake calculating the cost. Some of the team members didn’t prefer snorkeling. They chose to stay in the cottage and chat with each other. But last minute, others changed their minds and joined. Then, I forgot to recalculate. Ha!
Here we go. With all the crazy stuff happening on the island, I overlooked the error. And so as our tour guide. And when it was time for the team to witness the majestic sea kingdom, the in-charged person was pissed off. Why are we paying so little? Bwahaha! It was an easy fix. But cost a slight delay for everyone. A lesson for me.
The second day was a tour of Bohol’s famous tourist spots: Chocolate Hills, Floating Restaurant, Man-Made Forest, and Tarsier Sanctuary to name a few.
Again and again, I kept asking myself: why are there so many people? I remember we had to worm through the long stairs to the top of the Chocolate Hills’ viewing spot — only to careen down back as it was about to rain. But you couldn’t just breeze all the way — the stairs were jam-packed!
At the floating restaurant, we waited for at least an hour before they let us in. Again, too many people. I thought there was a virus?! Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience. Relaxing ambiance. Delicious cuisines. Breathtaking sceneries. Music!
After all these trips, I talked with some of the team members about their experiences. I was surprised. I remember them saying it was the best vacation of their lives. And they’re forever grateful. Because they haven’t gone to those places yet.
That’s it! I was expecting too much because I visited those places before. Sure I had moments where I was just in the present. But I also had moments when my mind would say, “Hey, why is it different now?”
News flash: That’s normal. Happens to everyone. So no big deal.
Crazy how I had to relearn this lesson over and over again. And I’m still learning it.
Want to be happy? Lower your expectations all the way down. Then be ready to be blown away.
When dissatisfied, switch perspectives. Look at the things to be grateful for. See the good side of everything (see #1).
We have the power to choose what thoughts to dwell with and reframe our interpretations of our experiences.
NOTE: By the way, all of these trips wouldn’t be possible without Damon. You the man!
7. Capture crazy ideas. Execute them ASAP.
Remember the floating restaurant? A teammate — perhaps Nica or Jennie or another I forgot sorry — suggested filming the singer singing “Happy Birthday to You” for Damon (though we’d have to wait until Damon’s birthday next year before showing that to him).
What a crazy idea, I thought. Genius! Super proactive.
During one of our day tours, we went to Sikatuna’s Mirror of the World unplanned. I think the van driver suggested it last minute. Turned out to become the team’s favorite among the many places we visited. Thanks our beloved, driver.
In there, an impressive long stairway caught our attention. Then someone suggested that we all line up filling all the stairs, and scream, “Thank you, Damon!” Again, brilliant!
Cooking our own food was another. Proactively greeting “Happy Birthday” to our COO Vlad was another (his birthday would be a month after the trip). Creating our own version of “Breakout Room” was another (see #9).
And the craziest part was when Sal found a way to cook the fish semi-grilled — since grilling was prohibited in the hotel. When served, many thought it was actually grilled. Groundbreaking!
I’m always eager to know how things come to life. And it always inspires me when I discover that most things start from genuine curiosity — a “what if?”
“What if we put people on Mars? What if we put a library of music in our pocket? What if people don’t need to go to physical stores to buy stuff? What if there are robots that will do all our repetitive tasks?”
Of course not all ideas are beneficial. That’s why sometimes you need to marinate them for a while. Come back to them later. Are they still worth pursuing?
In some cases though, you need to act fast and test the idea. Because that’s the magic. Success likes speed.
I have an idea that when I grow old, “What if there’s something I can read that will transport me back in time — that time when I traveled with SEO National team members? What would it look like?”
8. Happiness begets happiness.
When we transitioned from eating ready-made meals to our own cooked food, I started not joining the team while eating (not all the time, but most). Why?
To make sense of what I’m saying here, we have to understand that part of Filipino culture is to eat together. It is a big, big deal. If you can visit PH, and get invited by a Filpino family to their house, you’ll know.
Back to the story.
So whenever the team eats, they would insist that I join them. One teammate would say, “Jade please eat.” And then followed by the same sentiment over and over again until they’re all done with their food. It didn’t annoy me at all. I know it’s our culture.
But yep. I was there, watching them. And what they probably didn’t realize was that I was watching them in awe — enamored by flames of joy. <3
As cheesy as it sounds, I was there watching them as if they’re my own kids. Ha!
And I’m so happy that they’re enjoying the food. That they’re safe. That they’re with me. That they love each other. That they turn out as good responsible people.
I am familiar with these emotions watching my toddler playing with the toy that I hunted for hours. Seeing him happy is my own happiness.
But seeing the team in that exact moment — laughing and teasing each other while eating the food they helped prepare/cook — man, that is on another level.
And maybe, this is the same feeling parents feel when they see their adult kids visit them with their own kids, too. Maybe this is the same feeling anonymous philanthropists feel when they donate their money to treat terminally ill kids.
I don’t know. All I know was I freaking love this.
9. Vulnerability breaks the wall.
Something embarrassing happened to me during the “Breakout Room”.
The “Breakout Room” is a segment in the UPW seminar where everyone meets together (in our case, virtually meet) and evaluates how things are going.
There’s a coach in it who asks questions to the participant. The intention is to help the participants understand themselves, reinforce what the speakers taught, and eventually eliminate all self-limiting beliefs.
Although it’s beneficial, I wouldn’t deny how scary it was — revealing things that you’re not comfortable sharing.
As the team’s representative, I was the only one to participate in the breakout room.
I remember sharing my existential crisis years ago. How I ended up reading books and writing. How I started meditation and delved into Zen philosophy.
I also remember sharing about how my parents disowned me and how I bounced back from it. There were probably more that I forgot. But that doesn’t matter.
Fears, Hopes, and Dreams
As I was sharing all of it, the team was just in the background. I don’t know what they’re thinking. They’re probably bored. But after the call, I had an idea: make our own version of breakout rooms.
So on the last night, I divided them into 4 groups with 4 people in it.
A few hours before the session, I gave them 3 questions to ponder with the intent of understanding how they see themselves not just as “employees”, but as ambitious professionals.
- What do you want to pursue/achieve outside the company? Why? (Clarity)
- How can the company support/assist you? (Competence)
- What change/progress do you want for the company? (Sustained satisfaction)
- The first question aims to understand what could be the motivation of the team members.
- The second question aims to help them realize they need to unlock their potential to become fully competent at work so that the company can help them achieve their dreams.
- The third question aims to deconstruct what they think the company needs to sustain job satisfaction.
Look closely and you’ll realize that these three questions are chained to each other.
1. Clarity – If you have a dream and you understand that you need experience/support/money to achieve it, you’ll be more motivated to work in the company knowing that your work funds everything you do in life.
2. Competence – But it doesn’t end there. You have to be competent as well. This way, the company can see your value. You support the company, and in return, the company reciprocates. Win-win.
3. Sustained satisfaction – If you don’t tell what’s wrong in the company or what needs to be improved, you’ll never be happy at work. You’d start to hate it. And when you start to hate it, you’ll eventually quit. And everything falls apart.
One of them said she dreamed of becoming a school teacher for kids. Another said he’d love to have his own seafood restaurant someday (made me hungry).
Another one said her ultimate dream was to build an animal shelter to save abandoned cats and dogs. And a lot of them expressed their desire to start their own company and be a boss. Admirable.
A common theme revealed: Other than providing for their families, each one of them has big dreams for themselves, too.
And I’m rooting for all of them!
Don’t worry team. We’ll get there, soon. 😉
Some of them cried. Which I haven’t really prepared for. Ahhhhh. Emotions billowing, cascading.
I don’t know for others. But for me, it was the best part. Everyone’s guard was down. Everyone was vulnerable. Everyone was true.
And one more thing. The most interesting thing. Their greatest fear: To lose their job.
Nobody wants to lose a job. Obviously.
But there was more to it. And it truly blew me away as this was exactly the same fear we (with different team members) discussed during the last 2 company trips.
I finally found the answer why: Because it is the best job ever. (insert tears of joy emoji)
10. Great service is great service. Period.
North Zen Villas is the epitome of a dream vacation haven. I’m not exaggerating. They’re not paying me to do this.
You’re right. There are probably better and more expensive (I’ve been to some of them). But how about their customer service?
This is what I’m saying: Gorgeous place + Brilliant customer service = Raving fans
People remember something that moved them emotionally. I can easily remember the hotels/resorts I’ve been to based on the friendliness of their staff.
You can try it yourself. What makes a place/business/brand memorable to you? Is it the pool or the rooms? State-of-the-art amenities? Probably yes.
But you can’t deny that what stands out the most was when a staff smiled at you. Or when they secretly broke their rules just to make you happy. Heyyy you!
For a second, you felt special. The most important person in the world.
So why I’m writing this? Because this is something that is very universal. In business, in the workplace, in relationships, and in many areas of life.
And this is the same practice Damon has been doing for years — always recognizing the value of his team.
And now, it’s time for us to do our part.
To the team: Let’s keep growing and become the best version of ourselves so we can make our clients happy and successful. The rest follows.
I’m now out of words to further describe how memorable and transformative this trip was. I’ll end this by saying I’m grateful for everything.
Thanks, Damon. Thanks, team. Thanks to Meae and Nina for helping me organize the trip. Thanks, SEO National. Thanks, North Zen Villas. Thanks to all the tour guides and drivers and every person who helped.
(All photos by SEO National team)