Shannon Hale on writing

“Being a writer is a good, good thing.”


Billionaire Problems*

I remember seeing this article in Facebook not too long ago about Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba.

In that article, Jack Ma, who now has an estimated net worth of $35 billion, was quoted as saying, “I was happier when I was still an English teacher earning $16 a month, because now as the CEO of my company, life is so complicated and I have so many problems.”

I read that I felt very sorry for Jack Ma. If he were here right now, I’d love to tell him, “Mr. Ma, I can help you. I have $16 in my bank account. If you’ll give me your $35 billion, you can have my $16, and we’ll both be happy.”

Yes, I want to be a billionaire, and a dollar billionaire at that. In this brief essay, I want to share with you my reasons for wanting to have a net worth of over a billion dollars. But first, you may be asking yourselves, “A billion? Isn’t that too unrealistic?” Well, I say, not really. There are many examples of people who’ve become billionaires within just a decade or two. I can think of at least three names: Jose Soberano III, who is the founder of Cebu Landmasters; Bunny Pages, who is the founder of Pages Holdings; and Edgar Sia II, who is the founder of Mang Inasal and Double Dragon Properties. So it’s certainly achievable. It may sound improbable, but it’s not impossible.

So here are my reasons for wanting to be a billionaire:

  1. Because it’s cool.

These are some of the people who I look up to as the coolest persons on the planet: Paul Graham, Jessica Livingston, and Sam Altman, of the Silicon Valley-based startup accelerator Y Combinator; Brian Chesky of Airbnb; Elon Musk of Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI; Casey Neistat of Beme; Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia; and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Some of them are billionaires while the rest are on their way to becoming billionaires:

But I want to focus on just three individuals in particular: Casey Neistat, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Casey Neistat is a filmmaker, vlogger, and entrepreneur. He’s the founder of Beme, a tech company he started in 2015 that developed an app of the same name. Unfortunately, the app flopped shortly after its launch. The company was later acquired by CNN (in late 2016). Their focus now is the creation of content for their YouTube channels. I got addicted to his vlogs when I discovered him last year. I watched them almost daily.

Gary Vaynerchuk is also a vlogger, author, and entrepreneur. All of his books landed on the New York Times bestsellers list. He is the founder of VaynerMedia which does digital marketing for several major companies in the US.

What I admire most about Casey and Gary is that they are both extreme hustlers. Their work ethic is excellent. Gary, for example, works 14 hours every single day. So does Casey. I also love the latter’s being well-spoken. I don’t like Gary’s tendency to occasionally cuss, but I appreciate his sincerity and frankness in the way he speaks. I also admire his attitude towards life and work.

With Mark, I admire his simplicity, modesty, and intelligence.

These are very cool guys. They make being a billionaire extremely attractive for me.

  1. Because it will bring out the best in me.

You can’t really become a billionaire without building a successful startup or company. And starting a startup involves a very difficult process. For example, if you’re starting a tech company, you will need to create a product people want. Then, you will need to do market research. Then, you will need to build an awesome team. Then, you will need to iterate and develop your product. Then, you will need to grow your users. Then, you will need to approach venture capitalists and/or angel investors to fund your startup. Then you will need to design a business model canvas. Then, you will need to hire people — software engineers, designers, managers, executives, and so on. So it’s a very laborious process and it will require you to give your all – intellectually, emotionally, and physically. And you won’t really be able to survive and thrive without practicing the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

So the process of becoming a billionaire is character-forming. You won’t really succeed without becoming virtuous. I’ll only become a billionaire if I’ll give my very best to achieve my goals.

  1. Because I want to bless my family and save the world.

My vision for my family is this: I want to give them the best things in life. I want to provide them with books, libraries, beautiful homes, the ability to travel to different cities around the world, the best education in the best universities, funds for starting their own startups, and so on. I want them to live their lives to the fullest.

I also want to save the world, or if that sounds too ambitious and unrealistic, then to just do my part in solving at least some of the world’s, or in particular, our country’s problems. Some of the world’s best companies are attempts at solving many of the world’s biggest problems like pollution, poverty, traffic, and so on. For example, Elon Musk’s Tesla offers environment-friendly cars. His The Boring Company will attempt to solve heavy traffic in California. Brian Chesky’s Airbnb offers alternatives to expensive hotels and resorts, while at the same time helping home owners earn from their properties. And so on.

By being successful in my startup, I will be able to employ lots of people, and thereby participate in nation-building by helping in the alleviation of poverty.

So, 10 years from now, I want to be like Jack Ma. I want to have my own billionaire problems. I want to sit, for example, in my office in Silicon Valley, place my feet on my desk, and say, “I’m happier when I was still in Cebu earning X amount of pesos every month.” Or take a dip in a pool at a five-star hotel in the South of France and say, “My life is so complicated. I have a meeting with venture capitalists on Monday, startup founders on Tuesday, a talk in Amsterdam on Wednesday, a conference in Italy on Thursday, and the launching of an office in Germany on Friday.” Or emote in our apartment in New York and say, “I’m so busy! I have a meeting with shareholders at 8, with the CFO and COO at 10, and with the CTO at 3.”

Those would be awesome problems to have.

*This originally was a speech I delivered at our Toastmasters Club here in Cebu.

Book Review: Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink

This is a novel every kid should read. I’m an adult, yet I enjoyed it tremendously.

It’s written by Jocko Willink, a former United States Navy SEAL commander and author of the New York Times Bestselling book Extreme Ownership.

It’s such an awesome book. It’s told from the perspective of a young protagonist, Mark, a 5th grader who feels he is weak and dumb and who experiences being bullied in school. He loathes and dreads school because of these.

During summer break, a relative arrives — Uncle Jake, who happens to be a US Navy SEAL. He opens up to his uncle about his experiences and the latter decides to train him to be tougher — a “warrior kid” — the Navy Seal way. He learned to wake up early every morning, workout, eat healthy, study hard, and train in Jiu Jitsu to learn to defend himself against bullies and help the weak. At the heart of his program is this principle: discipline equals freedom.

I highly recommend this, especially if you have a son (but I think your daughter will love it, too).

Bad to the Bone (Or, the Formula for Happiness)

When I tell people that I almost entered the seminary to become a priest; or that I pray at least 3 times every day (morning, noon, and night); or that I say the rosary almost daily and go to confession almost weekly, they hear this music in their heads. (Music: O Sanctissima)

They assume that I must be a very good kind of person; that I have a halo over my head.

But that is only a misconception. The opposite is true. Sometimes, this is the song that plays in my head. (Music: Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood)

Madame Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and friends, I am no saint.

For example, sometimes, when I’m at home, I throw tantrum fits at my wife. When she asks me, “What’s wrong you? Why are you being so difficult?” I simply answer her, “Because I want to be treated like a king and a baby at the same time.”

Or sometimes, when I’m driving down the road and a car cuts me off, I deal with it by chasing the driver and yelling at him, “Hey! What the hell is your problem? Do you freaking own the road?”

Or, very rarely, when a girl passes my way and gives me that look, I automatically follow her with my gaze.

In my defense, I would explain to my wife that I was only looking at the female in the most objective and detached manner, in the same way a disinterested observer might look at a piece of painting, say, or a flower, or a piece of sculpture.

So, I am far from being a saint.

I mean, I try to be good, but sometimes I don’t succeed at it. And when I don’t succeed at being good, I feel really sad – I feel miserable. And the longer I am bad, the darker my mind, and the weaker my will, becomes. And I become like that creature, you know, who loves the darkness and hates the light: “Ooohhh, we loves the darkness, preciousss. We loves the shadows, don’t we? We despise the light. We hatesss the light!”

And you know what I found out? I found out that this is actually a constant principle in life: that each time you are good, you feel happy, and each time you are bad, you feel sad.

And the longer you are good, the brighter your mind, and the stronger your will, becomes. And you change into a kind of angel, a person that is so light you can almost fly.

So that is how I accidentally “discovered” the formula for happiness. The formula for happiness is simply this: Holiness = happiness. The more good and holy you are, the happier you will be. And conversely, the more bad you are, the more sad you will be.

That became like a “eureka” moment for me, and I made the resolution to do my best not to be bad anymore, because, why would you rather choose to be sad and wretched? It doesn't make any sense. Sadness sucks and I didn’t want to have a soul as ugly as Gollum.

Today, I don’t throw tantrums as often as before, and when I do, my wife simply reminds me, “I have three kids. You are the eldest.”

And I don’t succumb to road rage anymore. When a car cuts me off, I simply yell, “Hey you! Have you heard of St. Josemaria Escriva? He once said, and I quote, “Don’t say, that person irritates me. Say rather, that person sanctifies me.” So you sanctify me!”

And on the extremely rare occasions that a girl passes my way and gives me that look, I simply tell myself, “Ah, praise God! He has created everything beautifully – the stars, the moon, the sky; the mountains, the trees, the seas. And he has created his creatures beautifully, too. So God bless you, sister, for God’s glory shines through you.”

So I’m still not a saint, not by a long shot, but at least I am no longer bad. I am only naughty. Right, Ga? *Wink, wink.*

Madame Toastmaster.

I Didn’t Want to Go Too Far

19429966_10154803880828358_6844715599479005935_n“So how did it go?” Ben asked.

“How did what go?” Sam said.

“You know what I mean.”

They were picking up their pace now. The morning was new and the streets were nearly empty.

They turned to a corner.

“How did it go?” Ben repeated.

“I just told her that I liked her, that I liked her eyes a lot. That’s it. I didn’t want to go too far,” Sam said.

“That’s it?”

“Yep. That’s about it. And then I told her that I really liked how she smiles, you know? The way the corner of her mouth slants so slightly like that when she’s happy or something? When she’s amused by something. And that’s it. I didn’t want to go too far. I didn’t want to cross the line.”

“That’s it? Sounds like a lot. What line?”

“Oh, you know. The line of our friendship. I didn’t want to cross that.”

“That’s only an imaginary line.”

“Nevertheless, it’s a line that demarcates her space from my space.”

“Hm,” Ben said. “So that’s it?”

They were both quiet again. A few cars passed them by, honking for no reason. A few shops were starting to open. Above them, the sky was bright and golden.

“I should’ve said more, though,” Sam continued. “I should’ve said that I like the way she looks with her glasses and all. And how she speaks and whatnot. How she comments on things. I like how she talks and thinks and moves. Every time she’s about to say something, I always pay attention because I feel it’s going to be about a very important thing. Even if it will turn out to be a remark about the weather or the news or about a person we’re common friends with, it’s still very important and interesting. But that would be too much to say to her.” He was panting as he finished his sentence.

“Want to take a break?” Ben said.

“Sure,” he said. He checked his watch. “5 KM. Not bad.”

They both drank from their bottles.

“Did she say anything?” Ben said.

“Yeah,” he answered.

“What did she say?”

“She laughed, which upset me. And then she said there’s something she wants to tell me.”

“Well?” Ben said. “Out with it, then.”

“She said she really liked me, and this is where I excused myself because her expression was so serious and stuff and I wasn’t used to seeing her that way. So I just said, there’s something I forgot and I needed to go. I got into my running shoes and just ran, you know? I just ran. At first, slowly. And then I built momentum and just ran my heart out, you know? I ran all the way from the cafe where we met to the Banilad area. And I ran through Maria Luisa — the guards were asleep — and went down Busay and Lahug. Then I got to the rotunda and made my way down South. It took me a while for the road was pitch black at times but I made it here, eventually, at the break of dawn.”

“That’s almost 50 kilometers,” Ben said. “Are you insane?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “I should’ve stayed and said more, you know, because that wasn’t half of what I really wanted to say, but I didn’t want to go too far.”



In order for life to be bearable
there has to be romance.
Not necessarily between persons.

A longing glance at a shaft of light
one Sunday morning;
an aching look at an old book on a table;

a yearning remembrance of a person long gone.
Such things pain the heart a little
and at the same time makes one smile.

The Machine

TypewriterDear Sam,

The machine worked! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, obviously. Gosh, this is so awesome, man. I am so excited, beyond words. You have no idea how excited I am. My hands are not fast enough to catch up with the thoughts that are flowing out of my head right now.

Alright, first things first. I am okay, thank God. I came out in one piece. Everything’s here: the smartphone, the laptop, the SLR, the point-and-shoot, the period clothes, the power generator, and of course, the machine.

As expected, the smartphone is not working, so the only way I can communicate with you is through letters. I will write as often as I can and send it though the machine.

You will never guess what I am writing this with. A vintage Royal typewriter! Or, I guess it would be wrong to call it “vintage” since it is new now. So it’s a new Royal typewriter! I’ve always wanted to try out one of these things, and to write a letter the old-school way. You will notice that I omitted to write the date at the upper right corner of this page. This is supposed to be a formal letter, so I should’ve followed the rules of formal letter-writing. My reason is simply this: I want to keep you in suspense.

Alright, here it is: The date is — are you ready? — June 27, 1873! Can you believe it? The calendar says so. When you first proposed the idea to me a year ago, I thought you were out of your mind. I had zero confidence that you’d actually be able to pull it off, and yet here we are, or rather, here I am. This changes everything. This is the single greatest invention in all of history, and this is going to make us obscenely rich. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk will look like misers. Hah! Thank you for not wasting my investment. Two million pesos is just spare change for me, but I’m glad you didn’t squander it.

Okay, it’s now almost noon and I am starving. No one seems to be home. The house is utterly quiet, but I have a feeling the owners will be home soon.

I took a peak out the window just now — Gosh, how marvelous their windows look! They’re wide and smooth and adorned entirely with Capiz shells — and saw some tartanillas pass by. They were filled with people. The men wore camisas and the women wore sayas and panuelos.

This room is every bit as fascinating as I imagined it to be. Everything is made of polished hardwood: the floor boards, the tables, the chairs. There are glass-covered bookcases behind me and more to my left. There are busts and figurines on the table to my right, and more books, pens, and sheets of paper in the middle of the room. There is a portrait of a lady hanging on the wall. She looks very lovely. Probably a mestiza?

Wait, I hear something. It’s coming from downstairs. They’re probably here. I better stop now. I’ll send you this letter later. I ought to slip into my outfit. By the way, who should I pretend to be? A visitor from out of town? The new tartanilla driver? The latest household cook? I can’t make up my mind yet.

I’ll send you more news tomorrow. I sure hope they won’t turn me in to the civil guards and have me shot.