Archive for the philosophy Category

Kabbalah for the uninitiated

Posted in philosophy, psychology on December 22, 2011 by gohelpyourself

Kabbalah is supposed to help transmogrify people to become spiritual beings and reach the 99% reality of this world. I'd like that. But not soon, though.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

With a few lines and a few circles on the presentation easel, she was finished.

Ta-da! It was the “tree of life.”

I couldn’t believe it was that simple. It didn’t even look like a tree. I felt like genuflecting but my left leg was numb after 10 minutes with crossed legs.

I was at the Kabbalah lecture titled “Redefining Impossible” held recently at the Mandarin Oriental in Makati. Curious about many things, I decided to see what it was all about.

Kabbalah, according to the brochure given to us, is “an ancient wisdom that reveals how the universe and life work. On a literal level, the word Kabbalah means ‘receiving.’ It’s the study of how to receive fulfillment in our lives.”

It’s vague, I know. Perhaps I can direct you to In any case, it’s not a religion. You can still be a devout Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, or even a Jedi Knight, which, incidentally, is based on the philosophy of Star Wars. Some fans of the movie series actually managed to influence some people to include this quasi-religion in surveys in the United Kingdom, Australia, and some other countries. Don’t ask.

Sarah Lopez, a Kabbalah teacher based in London where some Jedi Knights exist, showed us where most people are on the tree of life–right down there at the bottom circle of the tree of life.

They call it the 1% world, which is the physical world that we live in. The 99% world, represented by nine other circles above the lone circle at the bottom, is the realm of the spirit.

Sarah made references about the atom. Most of the atom, she said, is really energy. It’s not physical. She equates energy with spiritual energy. The universe, as we were taught, was created with a sudden burst of light that led to the “accident”, which means you and me, the awe-inspiring landscapes and animals in the zoo and, unfortunately, some irritating politicians we have.

The goal, Sarah said, is to “bring our consciousness out of the 1%.”

“The spiritual came first before the physical,” she said.

And spiritual is infinite, too, just as the universe is infinite and boundless.

She added that everything in this world is part of that primordial light that started everything. And since we all came from that light, we are all destined to get that light.

This leads to an interesting dichotomy between the spiritual and physical:

  • endless – limited
  • immortality – death
  • infinite – finite
  • cure – disease
  • courage – fear
  • certainty – doubt
  • love – hate
  • solution – problem
  • possibility – impossibility

The lecture was full of anecdotes and parables–the men in the mental hospital, the raven and the dove, the pessimistic kid and the optimistic kid, the Kabbalah teacher in a coma, the drowning man. And there was a lot of reference to the “Light”–seeking the “Light”, receiving the “Light”, sharing our light, the curtain covering the “Light.”

Now how the heck do they teach Kabbalah to the blind? Perhaps Kabbalah for the blind would be an interesting topic.

But perhaps Sarah and the other Kabbalah experts have the answer to this already. After all, they’re already in a higher plane of existence, while I’m here sitting on my chair massaging my numb leg.



Getting it right

Posted in learning, philosophy on October 16, 2011 by gohelpyourself

Being a loser is not a permanent state. (Photo by Michal Zacharzewski, from

By Anthony O. Alcantara

What I love about Google is that it has no fear of getting it wrong. Of the hundreds of products and services it has produced in a little more than a decade, only a handful are making money.

But boy, do they generate money. Billions and billions of dollars to fill the coffers of founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Google is a fearless loser. The company is a loser because a lot of its products failed. And guess what? They loved being a loser. That’s because in the process of losing, they learned, and they eventually came up with winning products.

In a recent talk on “The Future of Communication and Collaboration,” Johan Segergren, Google’s GM for Thailand and the Philippines, revealed that employees at Google thrive on failure.

He said a lot of ideas float around Google. Naturally, many of them died. While most companies are bereft of new ideas and cling to what works, Google encourages people to come up with new ideas.

As you may know, Google still has the 20 percent rule, where employees, using 20 percent of their time at the office, experiment with their own projects and ideas. Google News was developed this way.

“It’s not the ideas,” said Segergren. “It’s the ability to execute.”

In other words, having a lot of ideas is only part of the answer to having great success. It’s having a lot of ideas that you actually execute.

And execution in Google, according to Segergren, is getting the right people to help and cooperate , finding tons of data to support the idea, and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Google+, which is fast becoming a success, would not have been possible without the failures of Orkut and Buzz. Bradley Horowitz, Google’s VP for products, has got it right this time.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was once quoted as saying, “Please fail very quickly–so that you can try again.”

I guess it’s a good idea to be a failure after all. It’s good to not get it right. That way we learn. We soon discover what works.

Only by getting it wrong, will we soon get it right. Take it from a prolific loser like Google.


On Work-Life Balance

Posted in philosophy, psychology on October 6, 2011 by gohelpyourself

Work-life balance has become an illusion, much like my belief that I am a hunk. (Photo by Kriss Szkurlatowski,

By Anthony O. Alcantara

This is a conundrum to me. I don’t know how many people still believe this.

Could there be such a thing as work-life balance?

Balance implies equilibrium. It implies equal proportions, stability through even distribution of something.

So does work-life balance mean 50 percent work and 50 percent life? That means I’d have to work 12 hours a day, and spend the rest on having a good time with my family, doing my hobbies, or sunbathing at the beach with a piña colada.

Oh no! How about sleep? That’s eight hours. Where do I classify that? Under work or under life? Or both?

Tada. I present to you the perfect executive. He’s got a four-digit IQ, dresses well, and has a beautiful and loving wife and super achiever kids. But he spends at least 90 hours a week at the office because he is the president and CEO of a big company.

Does he have work-life balance? How about P-Noy? He says he doesn’t have time for his love life.

Or how about the artist who spends his time almost exclusively at his studio and rarely spends time with friends and family. And yet, he produces some of the greatest works of art in the world, and is considered a genius.

Does he have that so-called work-life balance?

It sounds silly to me. Should it be work-life combination instead? Or work-life mix? It doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s more accurate to me.

I guess the important thing is that we spend time on the things we determine are important to us.

Are you doing what’s important to you right now?


What’s wrong with get-rich-quick schemes?

Posted in entrepreneurship, philosophy on June 25, 2011 by gohelpyourself

It's what you do and not what you have that makes you happy. (Photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

We’ve long been told that get-rich-quick schemes are evil. They lead to financial ruin. Those who offer these schemes in the guise of legitimate business ventures are armed with vacuums for sucking people’s money.

But these charlatans give get-rich-quick schemes a bad name. It’s not bad to get rich quick. If some people get rich quicker than some of our politicians, why deny them the accolade for the feat?

It’s a great challenge: How can you get rich quickly in a legitimate manner and without losing your soul?

I’ve heard of studies that prove money is not directly proportional to happiness. To a certain point, money does not result to more happiness. It’s actually the things you do that make you happy. It’s the time when you finished a gallon of yummy ube ice cream in 10 minutes, or the movie you watched with friends, or the pillow fights you had with your siblings, or the birth of your child that you reminisce. Not the wads of cash you withdrew from the ATM.

In that case, we get rich by investing in experiences and doing the things that we love to do.

Billionaires Carlos Slim, who is now the richest person in the world, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and even Henry Sy of the SM Group all had their get-rich-quick schemes. They did things they loved to do, somehow got better at it, and in the end amassed obscene amounts of money that only mathematicians can fathom. There’s no need for “Pennies Envy” as I wrote earlier.

It’s another creativity exercise: How to get rich quickly, legitimately, and without losing one’s soul?

It calls for unconventional and somewhat unreasonable thinking.

For now, I’ll just enjoy my ice cream, and wait for my Eureka moment, if it ever comes. I hope you find your get-rich-quick scheme too.


An imaginary graduation speech

Posted in philosophy, psychology on May 5, 2011 by gohelpyourself
By Anthony O. Alcantara

Since it’s graduation season again and I suddenly imagined myself giving a graduation speech, I decided to have a writing exercise.
It’s just a draft so please be forgiving.
Good morning, my dear graduates.

I really don’t know what I’m going to tell you. It’s so damn hard to be original these days. Truly original ideas are rare. So I went out into the wilderness, meditated and soon a prophet with a white beard appeared to me and handed me this speech.

He said it’s a nice hodgepodge of ideas that may be useful. As you know, we all have defining moments in our lives. There are signals and triggers that inspire us to be great. Who would have thought that an encounter with a world-class pianist can inspire a young person to become a great musician? Who would have thought that a single word from an admired person can inspire another to become a billionaire businessman?

Signals and triggers can come from odd sources indeed. So I’m hoping this speech could trigger something great somehow.

Anyway, here’s my first piece of advice as handed down to me by the wise prophet:

Please do what you love.

Many others have said this. It’s nothing new. And yet a few weeks ago when I was watching news on TV, a reporter was interviewing new high school graduates about what they wish to take up in college. All of the young graduates said they wanted something that would guarantee them a job, something that would guarantee them income.

And you college graduates are about to embark on the world of work. Will you be saying the same thing?

I ask you to be different. We are at a time when there are really no guarantees. Jobs are being created and abolished at the same time. Unlike before, job security is not much in vogue. It’s much like politics too. If the people don’t like you anymore, they vote for somebody else.

So you must be prepared for change. The saddest thing that could happen is if you choose your careers because you want a secure job that will give you money. Just like Steve Jobs of Apple, you can choose a career that you love and be successful.

It’s the most sensible thing to do. Why? Because when you do the thing that you love, there is a great possibility that you will excel in it. And when you excel and become remarkable in what you do, people will look for you. And when that happens, you’ll have a job that is relatively stable. You’ll have a job that will bring you money for the long haul.

So there. Don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise. Find something you love and do it, excel in it.

But you may ask, “What if I’m not particularly good at this thing that I love? What if nothing I do will really make me excel in this job?”

My next advice is this:

Please find something that you can excel in.

The questions I  asked earlier are valid questions. The sensible thing to do is really to  find something that you love and something that you can excel in at the same time.

There must be an overlap. Sir Ken Robinshon said in his book The Element that one must find that sweet spot of what you love to do and what you’re good at. It may take time. It may take some reflection. It may take a little experimentation. But nobody is going to do all that for you.

So after this graduation ceremony and after your celebration, you can look for  that sweet spot if you haven’t found it yet.

The next piece of unsolicited advice is:

Please find a way to make good money out of the thing that you love to do.

As I said, when you find that sweet spot, the next thing to do is to figure out how you can make money.

That’s where your creativity comes in. If you love to bake cookies that your friends like, can you can make a living out of it? If you love to paint, can you can earn enough to support yourself?

There must be something you can do to make that possible. You can look around for people who have done it. You can interview them and ask how they did it. You can research. The internet is a rich resource. Then see what works and what doesn’t.

If you love playing with computers, you can ask yourself how you can make money out of it? Some have gone on to make their own games. Some have become elite players who win contests.

You can work on your passions one by one until you find something marvelous that will suit you.

My next piece of advice is:

Please find something that is meaningful to you.

A lot of books have been written on this topic. The Purpose Driven Life is a good one, and so is Rick Warren’s The Leap.

When you find meaning in what you do, you put your whole being into it. You give more of yourself. Everything makes sense. That’s when you begin to be excellent.

In a study by psychologist Adam M. Grant, it was found out that employees who know the “why” of what they are doing outperformed those who only have a vague idea. So it may be a good idea to regularly remind yourself why you are doing the things that you do. Only you can give meaning to your own life. If you think the meaning of your life lies in cheating people, then you get the fruits of your decision.

If you think the meaning of your life is to educate the youth better, then that’s the meaning you assign to your life.

So ask yourself why you are studying, why you are working, why you’re here. Bakit nga ba nandito kayo?

My next advice is this:

Please dedicate your life to something big and noble.

Dedicate your efforts to doing what you love and direct them toward something big and noble.

For example, if you love baking, you can perhaps form a group in your own circle of friends and dedicate yourselves to helping each other. Perhaps you can exchange tips or provide resources. Who knows what may come out of it? Then you can go further and have even bigger and nobler goals.

Let me clarify that “big and noble” are relative terms. You determine what is big and noble. But please be a little ambitious.

So after you leave this place, find something that you can dedicate your lives to. It’s going to be a long journey so please be patient and please be ever discerning and aware.

Perhaps you can even begin the process right now. Dedicate your graduation to somebody. Now everybody say this,  with conviction please: “I, (mention your name), dedicate my graduation / to ___./”

Now how do you feel? Is there somehow a sense of pride and a sense of pressure to do well.  Manny Pacquiao has dedicated each and every fight to some cause, particularly the Filipino people. Maybe that helped him win his fights somehow.

So please become a great dedicator. Dedicate  everything you do to something big and noble. It could be the cause against animal cruelty, health and wellness, or even the plight of the cute tarsiers.

Find something big and noble that means something to you. When you find it, dedicate yourself to it and do your best. Don’t support causes that other people think is right for you. It must emanate from  you. It is the only way to make a real difference in the lives of many.

The government is dedicated to something big and noble. I don’t see why you can’t be the same. Whatever your career, there must be something big and noble that you can dedicate yourselves to.

Here’s my last piece of advice:

Please be a failure. (Pause.)

I hope I got your attention. Let me explain what I mean. Be a failure. Be a failure and learn from it. Most of you are probably afraid to fail. I can’t blame you. But failure is a part of life. Collect your failures early and learn from them. Be smart and curious enough to find out what made you a failure.

That will pave your way to success. Thomas Edison had a lot of failures with the light bulb. But guess what? He learned from them. He continually improved himself so he can come up with his huge successes.

This is my message to you: don’t work for labels. Don’t work to be called smart or successful. These are all fleeting things. You will not always be smart. You will not always be successful. There is one sure thing though: you can always work to be smart. You can always work to be successful. You are a work in progress.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, said the mindset of growth separates the achievers from the perpetual losers. If you can manage to live a life of growth, a life of continual improvement, then you will be more likely to achieve your full potential.

Be humble enough to acknowledge that you are not perfect and that you need to continually work on improving yourselves so that you grow as a person.

Please do what you love.

Please find something that you can excel in.

Please find a way to make good money out of the thing that you love to do.

Please find something that is meaningful to you.

Please dedicate your life to something big and noble.

Please be a failure.

Now don’t accept what I’m saying to you at face value. What I’m telling you are just some things for you to think about. Our country needs people who will make a difference. I know that right now, I’m looking at young people who have the potential to do so.

Have a good morning everyone.


Less crowded

Posted in philosophy on April 2, 2011 by gohelpyourself

Few people aim to be No. 1 at anything. (Photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

“Go for excellence. It belongs to a space less crowded.”

That’s the advice that Manuel V. Pangilinan, one of the country’s most influential and successful businessmen, gave to the graduating students of San Beda College yesterday.

Most people don’t know that. They haven’t been there. Who would have thought that there’s plenty of room in a place called excellence or success?

MVP said, “I learned how to set high goals, and high ambitions. Even today, I tell myself and my associates, if our goals are not high enough, why bother?”

This is the memorable part of the speech for me:

“Of course, ambition is one thing, and execution another. I learned not just to dream, but to work towards that dream–inch by inch, stone by stone, step by step. Setting high goals means taking big risks and, inevitably in some cases, making mistakes.

“This is another lesson I’d like to share with you: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you’re still young and can afford it, and because you’re likely to learn more from them than you will from your successes.

“Today people see First Pacific as a hugely successful business. But they also forget that we made mistakes along the way. The difference is that I wasted little time on feeling bad and sorry for myself after a failure. The best antidote to failure is action–because the world out there is nothing if not a world of endless action, of choices made daily, of decisions taken constantly.”

I feel like running a full marathon now. In a nutshell, the key takeaways for me are:

1. Go for excellence. Not many are trying.

2. Set high goals not mediocre ones.

3. Work on your goals one step at a time.

4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can always bounce back.

5. Action is the best antidote for failure, which is always a temporary condition.

All these seem to be common sense, and they echo the wisdom of other successful people in the past. What if many people aimed for excellence? The world would probably be a very different place.


How people underestimate the improbable

Posted in book review/summary, philosophy on August 27, 2010 by gohelpyourself

I've never seen a black swan, but this one looks beautiful. (Photo courtesy of

“The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 366 pages, Random House, 2007

by Anthony O. Alcantara

Imagine that you are a chicken. Since you were born, you had all the comforts you could ask for—warm cage, cool companions, flavored water and, of course, overflowing food.

Everyday life was like heaven. And since it was like heaven day after day, there was no reason at all for you to think that tomorrow wouldn’t be as great as today. One day, the cage opened, and you, along with some of your feathery friends, were taken out for a trip. Little did you know that you’ll end up in the dinner table of some “cruel” human beings.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book “The Black Swan,” used the turkey to illustrate the problem of how we think about risk in our lives. I just used the chicken because that’s more familiar to us Filipinos.

Absence of proof is not proof of absence. That’s the message. Too many times, we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do, according to Taleb.

He argues that most of us are not prepared for the black swan. The black swan has three distinct characteristics: it is very rare, it has a huge impact on society, and it is subject to retrospective predictability, which is reflected in our tendency to explain why events occurred as if they were all too obvious and predictable.

Remember 9/11? How about the current global financial crisis? Many pundits seem to have very intelligent explanations for these events.

Aside from what Taleb deems as the mathematical folly of the bell curve, other psychological and philosophical biases and falsehoods such as the error of confirmation, Ludic fallacy and the dangers of Plato’s pure “forms” were discussed.

It’s not an easy book to read. But it will leave you thinking about how poor we are in assessing risk and opportunities, how we foolishly simplify and categorize events in our lives. It will leave you thinking that you’ve also succumbed to some of these biases and falsehoods in the past.

Because our world is dominated by extreme and unexpected events, Taleb says we should use these black swans as the starting point in our thinking and not just sweep them under the rug of oblivion. It could save us from a lot of pain in the future.