My stomach was rumbling. No. It was on fire. It was about to explode.
Allyn, my wife also felt it. While my teammate Orlan was speechless.
I started imagining a feast. Salad. Grilled chicken. Lettuce. Roast beef. Fried lumpia. Soup. Pizza. Chips.
But maybe we should wait for others. Maybe we should.
Shiela was expected to arrive in an hour. The rest, later in the afternoon.
It won’t be long. But…
Sorry team. 😁
Early birds eat the best worms.
Few more hours, then came the most awaited moment.
Finally met the new faces. But wait. Who’s that bearded guy?
Thrill and joy was an understatement. It’s like a dream come true.
I’ve been working in the company for the last 5 years and this was the first time I met the main man, Damon Burton.
I couldn’t remember whether I cried or not. OK I didn’t cry. But I was over the moon. I think everyone was.
Then we ate. Took photos. Talked about random stuff.
(What stuff?) 🤔
Before we proceed, allow me to provide some context.
This trip was scheduled last March 9th to 14th 2020 — when global lockdown was about to be implemented. Yes we’re that close. You’ll know about that later.
The first day back home, I tried to recall all our experiences. I wanted to extract some lessons just like what I did with our first company getaway (January 2017).
I was eager to write and finish everything in a few days. But that didn’t happen. The following days, weeks, and months were filled with anxiety, uncertainty, and busyness. My thoughts wandered for a while. What a year!
Anyway, I finally did it as you can see (I think I deserve a pat on the back, ha!).
I really hope you can find value in it the same way as I have.
Here we go.
1. Online profiles are not our true selves.
James was the newest addition to the team and the youngest.
Prior to this trip, the seniors — I’m referring to the old team members including me — have been joking about James being a genius because of his Skype profile picture — corporate attire and formal hairdo.
Nothing negative. It’s just the intimidating corporate vibe from the picture. My impression was: He’s serious and smart. I actually imagined him being the next CEO of a giant company someday. Sounds cool.
Again, that’s just my first impression. They, too, had first impressions when they saw my profile picture.
We all do it — labeling others based on their teeny weeny online profile photos. Those who wear colorful shirts have their labels. Those who wear corporate attires have their labels. Those who wear eyeglasses have their labels.
These labels then become expectations. We can’t help it. It’s our brains automatically sorting out.
In hindsight, I’ve learned that our profile pictures are just our own way to signal what we want others to think about us — meaning, it’s not who we really are.
When I met James and the other team members whom I haven’t met before, my expectations shattered.
James was incredibly fun to be around! Not the typical bossy CEO type (oh man forgive me). And even though he’s the youngest, he knew his place.
But there’s one thing I was right about: He’s smart.
Kevin seemed to be the funniest. He’s the clown. And Orlan, although most of the time silent, seemed to be cheerful — it’s infectious. And Damon… man, let’s keep him a mystery (for now).
(NOTE: Shiela was there on the first trip. My wife and I also hang out with Marco before in Manila.)
2. We share the same fears and dreams.
Among the many things we talked about, the one thing that truly stuck with me was: we shared the same fear — the fear to lose the job.
It’s interesting how we both presented ourselves as proud and confident, how we unleashed status signals through our profile pictures, and how we disguised ourselves as well-versed in what we do.
But deep inside, there’s only one fear: To lose the job. And there’s a much deeper reason behind that. Losing the job means losing the opportunity to provide for our loved ones.
And I’m quite certain it’s not just us. Every adult person who is supporting a loved one can relate to that.
It’s weird that we share the same fears. And even weirder that we share a common dream as well: to grow as individuals.
That’s why we wanted to be part of this growing company — under Damon’s wing — for as long as we can. We believe this will help us unlock our potentials, hone our skills, and become better at what we do.
Of course we’re also aware that nothing’s permanent. Nobody knows what the future holds. It’s a scary world.
Plus, we have other big dreams to pursue. Everyone wants to achieve something. A long way to go.
3. Authenticity wins (be your true self).
Wouldn’t it be great if we can only surround ourselves with people who accept us for who we are? And wouldn’t it be great if we can always accept others for who they are? Maybe… in a perfect world.
Being remote workers, one advantage is we don’t have to deal with the usual workplace commotion. The disadvantage (for others), however, is that we lack human connection (see no.6).
How can we know whether or not the people we’re dealing with are being true if we’ve only seen their Skype profile pictures? Anyone can ‘fake it til you make it’.
In a company trip, however, everyone is exposed. You can have a taste of your teammates’ different personalities. And you’ll really learn more about them if you try to connect genuinely.
I’m actually grinning reminiscing Marco’s out-of-the-blue jokes; Kevin’s funnyyyy goofyyyy gestures; Shiela’s optimism; Orlan’s composure; James’ modesty; and Damon’s… hah! Let’s keep him a mystery again.
I love how they tried to just be themselves. They didn’t worry what others may think about their quirkiness.
4. We create time and energy if we want to make things happen.
At 6 AM we wake up for breakfast. Then head out to our day tours by 7 AM (what? OK I confess: we’re always late we never made it on time).
Throughout the day we had fun activities. At nights, tried to squeeze in some work. Then we slept past midnight. Repeat the routine again the next day. We did that for 3 days.
Looking back, I wonder how we actually did that.
And it’s even harder for Damon due to the huge time difference between Utah (USA) and the Philippines. Morning in PH is nighttime in Utah. So when we’re actually touring, he should have been sleeping that time!
This is a great reminder for me. I often blame lack of time and energy for delaying my creative projects.
I know there are circumstances beyond my control. But if I really want to make things happen, I should not wait for more energy and time. I should create them instead. That’s the only way.
5. Meaningful experiences matter more than we think.
At the beach, I told Damon my idea of a different bank. Instead of money, how about memories? A bank of memories.
If that is possible, then I am a rich man (take that, Damon).
Even better than the money bank because I can access it anytime. I can easily withdraw and deposit without hassle.
If I’m having a bad day, I can just close my eyes and teleport to the land of my meaningful experiences — those days I played music in front of a huge crowd, or the day my wife and I overcame a big challenge, or the day I gave bread to a beggar and she smiled back. And so on.
This trip for example was one of the best trips of my life. The destinations were breathtaking. The cuisines were delicious. The hotel was awesome — off the charts awesome!
And the most memorable part was spending quality time with the team: we snorkeled; we played a board game; we met indigenous people; we sailed from island to island; we watched the butterflies in awe; we coasted into the enchanting underground river.
A one of a kind experience. I’ve kept it inside a special vault in my memory bank.
I’m not a huge fan of reminiscing though. I like to live in the present as often as I can. And for sure, we still need the money bank.
But life can be so hard at times we want to escape the misery for a while. Sure there are activities we can do to escape it — but most of them are destructive, addictive, and unhealthy in the long run: getting drunk, shopping, video games, binge-watching a TV series, etc.
Nothing’s evil with these activities. When done in minimal, they are fine. But there’s a healthier alternative. We can’t deny it.
It’s safe. It’s more accessible. And it’s free:
Close your eyes and recall all your meaningful experiences. Any memorable experiences you have with people. Flood your thoughts with those memories. Cherish them. Feel them. Keep them coming.
It’s like meditation. But instead of focusing on your breath, you’re focusing on the meaningful memories.
It shifts your emotional state. It overthrows any negativity. It reminds you that life is good. It’s magic.
6. Human connection is priceless.
On the last night, we rounded up and shared our aspirations, fears, dreams, uncertainties, opinions, ideas, beliefs, struggles, and many more.
We discussed. Argued. Agreed. Debated. Empathized. And the most important part: We laughed our asses off.
This is the kind of conversation that sparks me. I love where everyone just drops their barriers and share what they think without the filter.
There’s something transformative about connecting. First, you’d realize you’re not alone. Your struggles aren’t unique. Your dreams are not the most important. And you, yourself, aren’t the center of the universe.
No matter how privileged you think others are, they still have insecurities and desires and problems they’re working on. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Some are just good at hiding it.
Connect. Be kind.
(NOTE: Damon missed this night. He had to fly ahead due to a virus threat (see no 7). I think it would have been different though if Damon joined us that night. Ha!)
7. Be proactive.
I like to call Damon the “President of Proactiveness” (I know he’ll hate me for this. But I’m telling the truth). Since I joined SEO National, I’ve always been inspired by his proactiveness. And over the years, I’ve learned how to be proactive as well in many ways.
There were even situations where I’d ask myself, “What would Damon do?”
I know it sounds crazy. But it works (for me).
Remember I said that Damon cut the trip short so he can fly back to the US due to the virus threat? Had he delayed his decision, he would have been trapped in the Philippines for days, maybe weeks, or months.
Damon trapped in the Philippines or in some foreign land away from his family?! I couldn’t imagine it.
Worse is that it would have been more difficult for the rest of us to fly back to our hometowns. Couldn’t imagine that either.
In the end, we all arrived in our respective homes safe and sound. And after 14 days of home quarantine, all was well.
Imagine how one small decision changed our course. What if Damon ignored the news? What if he decided to continue the plan?
(We were supposed to attend Greenday’s first live concert in Manila after this tour. Oh forget it.)
The default for most people is not to anticipate future problems. I’m not faulting others. I admit it’s hard to be proactive all the time.
(NOTE: This was also one of the lessons I learned last company trip! I’m such a live-in-the-present person I have to keep reminding myself about being proactive.) 😋
8. A team that works together wins together.
Company trips like this are always an eye-opener to me. It’s where I can have a glimpse of what my teammates are working on.
Orlan does a lot of technical web development stuff; Kevin works on Damon’s podcast; James dives deep into content research; Shiela juggles a wide range of SEO tasks; Marco creates infographics and designs websites.
Incredible. These people are highly creative, analytical, and technical. I’ve come out as a different person after having conversations about what they do (I secretly wished I could have all their skills, seriously).
And the most interesting part was Damon’s insane work ethic. He even brought an extra monitor to stay productive. Can you believe that?
As I learned more about what each team member does at the micro level, I realized how each one of us matters. Everyone plays a vital role that contributes to success. We are all connected.
It reminds me that no matter how small the task is, it does impact the whole process. And it also means that if I fuck up, it will have a domino effect.
Being part of the team is not just a privilege — it’s a responsibility.
9. A little fun/humor goes a long way.
“My name is Gera. Welcome to the butterfly garrrrdddddeeennnn!”
Damon confessed he couldn’t imagine himself doing the same introduction every day. I couldn’t either. But we were both fascinated.
I think Gera the tour guide didn’t really care about what others think. She’s doing her best. And she’s killing it. Her tone was bubbly as bubbly as bubbly as bubbly…
What if she wasn’t that lively? What’s the opposite of it? Serious. Dry. Boring.
And everybody knows that… boring is the end.
What a great lesson. If I feel bored working from home, that means I’m doing it wrong!
No matter how repetitive my tasks are, there are different ways to make them fun if I want to — attitude matters, a lot (this is what I’m working on right now).
Damon is a perfect example. Even before this trip, I already had expectations that he’s fun to be around (we often talk about fun stories via Skype).
Holy moly, was I right. See that image below if you wonder what.
Sprinkle that with Kevin’s playfulness and Marco’s witty jokes. And you’ve got the perfect package.
10. It’s not impossible.
Snow in the Philippines?
I was joking. I wasn’t serious about it. I mean… who would think it’s possible?
Damon changed my mind. He shoveled bits of snowpack into a shot glass and sealed them with wax. Voilà!
I have hundreds of excuses why I sometimes get lazy working on my dreams. Or why I’m not doing the things I really love to do:
“My country sucks, the government sucks, my parents aren’t rich, the music industry is rigged, my skills are mediocre, the place I live is chaotic…”
And on and on and on. You name it.
I know there are things beyond my control. I know that I live in a developing country. And I know that natural disasters here are more frequent.
But those are not actually the problems. The great stoic Epictetus said it well (one of my favorite quotes):
“It is not things that trouble us, but our judgments about things.”
Those things I think are impossible could be possible. I just need to change my belief about them.
It’s hard. Absolutely. But I’d rather die trying than live a life of regrets.
Thanks for the snow, Damon. For the privilege to spend time together with us.
Thanks a lot, team. I will forever treasure our adventures.
Also, a million thanks to the tour guides, hotel staff, travel agency, and the fruit shake vendor (avocado, please).
Hoping for another round with all the new teammates. Yohooo!
PS: I admit defeat. We failed to convince Damon to eat balut. Or should I say we failed to deceive him into eating the most precious delicacy the world has ever known? 😁