Has The Pandemic Changed Your Idea Of Success?

By Samantha Mei Topp

We talk to five Gen.T honourees about how the Covid-19 pandemic has made them reassess their priorities in life and changed their view of success

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3d rendering of Staircase and cloud. Success, steps, ladder of success concept.
Cover  Image credit: akinbostanci/Getty Images

Since the first reported case of Covid-19 in December 2019, I, like millions of others, have been in and out of lockdowns, in quarantine, and separated from my family for almost two years. For others, the pandemic may have resulted in far worse, from financial instability to the worsening of mental health issues to the loss of a loved one. And for just about all of us, it has at least put a pause on some of the well-laid plans we had for our lives.

As the vaccines slowly roll out worldwide, some of us are beginning to get a glimpse of our post-pandemic future. And as I think back to my pre-Covid plans, it hit me that I no longer resonated with the goals I had set for myself back then or what I had viewed success to be. This realisation then made me wonder, how many others feel the same way I do? 

I speak to five Gen.T honourees from across the region to find out how the pandemic has impacted them, and if and how their experiences have altered their idea of success.

Ann and Billie Dumaliang

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Above  Ann Dumaliang (left) and Billie Dumaliang of Masungi Georeserve Foundation. Image supplied by Ann and Billie Dumaliang

National Geographic Explorers and sisters Ann and Billie Dumaliang run an award-winning conservation and sustainable tourism project Masungi Georeserve in the Manila, Philippines. The duo work to protect the area's historic limestone formations and hundreds of plant and animal species, many of them threatened, with 3,000 hectares of heavily degraded land reforested since the 2000s. 

What have your experiences been like during this pandemic?

We had to live inside the conservation area we are managing for most of the pandemic. The lockdowns came with a lot of environmental opportunism. We needed to be there for our team and for the site. We actually faced at least five major encroachments and campaigned against these illegal activities throughout this time. This put us at a lot of risk and it was very stressful, but it also reinforced the reason for the existence of our organisation, Masungi Georeserve Foundation.

Have your views of success changed during this time?
We learned that success isn’t always about yourself or what makes you feel pleasant. It’s also about listening to what you are being called to do at the moment. Some things go beyond what makes us comfortable—and that has a lot of meaning. For example, we wouldn’t say standing up against corrupt people or criminals is comfortable, but we'd still do it because we want to make a difference, change things and support the ones we love.

We also learned that success is taking care of yourself. During this period, we were more anxious than usual because our actions had very high stakes. This led us to learn more about cognitive techniques, psychological wellness and mindfulness to be able to handle extreme events. And we are still learning, reading and improving every day.

How will your pandemic experiences change the way you plan your future?
The last one plus year has been the most challenging, with Covid-19 and the attacks we saw happening to our rangers and the environment. But we learned that we are not always in control of things and we have to let go sometimes. We don’t need to be perfect all the time; it is a balancing act. But when we do get the opportunity to control yourself against bad habits and mindsets, we will take deliberate steps to do so.

See also: Conservationists Behind Masungi Georeserve Recognised In Global Travel Award

Ramona Pascual

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Above  Ramona Pascual

Renowned professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ramona Pascual was one of just 30 athletes selected to join the first intake of the UFC Performance Institute’s Academy programme in Shanghai in 2019. Now, she has made the move to Las Vegas, known as the fight capital of the world, to take her career to the next level.

What has your experience been like during this pandemic?
I left my training centre in Shanghai and moved back home to Hong Kong for seven months, which meant I wasn’t able to do any MMA training throughout that period.

Did the pandemic change your view of success and make you re-evaluate what is important to you?
It further cemented my desire to be successful in MMA. It gave me a deeper appreciation for how accessible and convenient things were, in and out of the sport. Stuck in the void of uncertainty, I thought there was a possibility that my career would end before things got better. But I maintained my fitness and health knowing that once the chance arrives, I will be ready to jump back in and hit the ground running. Athletically, there was nothing to gain, but I could minimise the loss.

As with any version of adversity, the pandemic pushed me to places of discomfort and expanded my mental bandwidth as I grappled with acceptance, patience and being present. When I finally got the chance to return to Shanghai, I quickly got back on my feet and strived to become an even better version of the athlete I was. Fight opportunities were grim due to logistical restrictions in China, but after everything that happened in 2020, I was willing to do anything to make it work. So I made the decision to move my whole life to Las Vegas, the fight capital of the world, to start over and take my career to the next level.

In hindsight, the pandemic shifted my perspective and made clear what I value, and resulted in a greater opportunity.

How will your pandemic experience change the way you plan your future?
Plans hold less value today. There are no guarantees. Nothing is supposed to be because anything can be. It can scare you or excite you, but progress will go to the optimist who is willing to see the open door and walk through it.

Opportunities will arise in my future that I cannot fathom at this moment, and the same goes for misfortunes. I know the person I want to be and the skills I want to possess, and I will let my values and instinct lead me in the right direction. I hold goals and outcomes loosely, using them as a guide, but my process is what defines me and will lead me to success, whatever that might look like.

See also: Trailblazing MMA Fighter Ramona Pascual On Overcoming Adversity And Inspiring Young Women In Martial Arts

Jordy Navarra

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Above  Jordy Navarra

Co-owner and chef at Toyo Eatery, a restaurant based in Manila, Philippines, Jordy Navarra's goal is to put Philippines on the culinary map. He trained at Heston Blumenthal's restaurant The Fat Duck in the UK and Bo Innovation in Hong Kong before opening Toyo Eatery in 2016, and has since earned multiple accolades, notably being included in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 and receiving the Miele One to Watch Award in 2018.

What has your experience been like during this pandemic?
It's been a rollercoaster; there's been a lot of ups and downs. The downs have been intense, with periods where we didn’t know if we could survive the sudden loss of cash flow, especially since we wanted to make sure everyone still had a job. And the ups have been amazing, because we really felt the love from the people who went out of their way to support and buy our stuff. We’re still in the thick of it now with a new lockdown in place, but I’m hopeful we can push through this pandemic and come out of it stronger.

Did the pandemic change your view of success?
Success right now really boils down to survival and making sure we get to the end healthy, happy and ready to take on what comes next. We’re better than we were before the pandemic, but there's always room to grow. What makes me the happiest now is realising how we’ve overcome each obstacle put in front of us. 

How will your pandemic experience change the way you plan your future?
I’ve never been the type to obsessively plan what comes next, but I do have an idea of the direction I want to go and I feel more strongly about it now more than ever before. The long-term vision is still the same, but the situation really dictates what we have to do to continue the journey. There are silver linings like the extra time I get now with no travel, and I’ve taken some of that time to plan projects my crew and I never used to have time for.

See also: Jordy Navarra On The Importance Of Putting The Philippines On The Culinary Map

Emily Teng

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Above  Emily Teng

Former radio presenter Emily Teng is the founder of Blessings in a Bag, a volunteer-powered nonprofit that collects used clothing, household goods, hygiene products and school supplies, and delivers them to partner social service organisations in Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines to help communities in need. 

What has your experience been like during this pandemic?
I’m currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area and it was surreal to be here during the Covid-19 pandemic—everything was shut down by March, streets were quiet and nobody was headed out. I was locked down with my husband and two of my dogs, which provided much-needed relief and release spending time with them.

The death of George Floyd reminded many that systemic racism and oppression on minority groups is very much alive. During the pandemic, the world witnessed the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting against incidents of police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. While this was occurring, there was a growing sentiment of hate and violence to the Asian community, too, which surged over the year and resulted in the #StopAsianHate movement earlier this year, and unfortunately I experienced racism in my everyday life; while walking down the street I was shouted at “to go home, you f****** disgusting coronavirus” and noticed when people would cross the street to stay away from me if I was walking in their direction.

Later in 2020, I received the unfortunate news that my grandmother suffered a stroke. I tried my best to remain hopeful despite being so far away and unable to fly back home, but she passed. Grief was overwhelming and I felt I couldn’t catch a break because some months later, on New Year's Day, my husband and I were told we miscarried.

Through it all, I provided support and resources to other community leaders and change-makers located around the world through virtual community connection calls, workshops, one-on-one sessions where I listened, coached and encouraged.

I also continued to remotely lead Blessings In A Bag, a non-profit organisation in Singapore, which provides a safe space for children and young people from vulnerable neighbourhoods throughout the pandemic. We are appealing to the public this year to give generously as we were hard hit during the last year having cancelled or postponed many in-person programming that would usually allow us to create awareness and raise funds.

I am still feeling the weight from all I’ve experienced in the last year but I am committed to taking things a day at a time.

Did the pandemic change your view of success and make you re-evaluate what is important to you?
I was already in the process of redefining what success feels and looks like for me. But the pandemic pushed me to deeper reflection on what possibilities my next chapter holds and reminded me of what matters most to me.

When my grandmother passed, it reminded me that life is precious and we have limited time from the minute we’re born to do good, do something meaningful and serve others. I was also reminded that she passed with dreams still in her heart and it pushed me to want to encourage and support others to turn their dreams into reality—that’s where the name "Dream Doula" comes about. I provide people with the opportunity to clarify their visions and dreams, to create a road map of their next steps. One of those people was my mother, who was in deep grief herself but I supported her by providing a safe space for her to reconnect with her childhood dreams.

I've always loved supporting people who are doing something for the greater good, whether you’re working in a non-profit or a visionary founder of a meaningful business or a heart-led leader. But with the pandemic, I saw a greater need to explore how I might be able to create safe spaces for community leaders to rest, reimagine and realign their lives and work with what matters. I’m looking forward to launching a virtual community space, hopefully by the end of the year, to support both the inner well-being and outer practices of community leaders globally. In doing so, the world can be transformed, one person and one dream at a time.

How will your pandemic experiences change the way you plan your future?
For me, the pandemic has been a reminder that nothing is certain in life and we can plan for our future, but what truly matters is the present moment and the bits of life that bear meaning. It’s been a reminder for a planner like me to live a little more spontaneously and to look for the blessings even when I might be going through what feels like the worst time of my life.

These days, I’m all about slow growth and slow living; creating more time and space in my calendar of white space, where I do nothing or engage in an activity that isn't necessarily considered as productive. I no longer get impressed by hustle culture, I’m no longer fixated on just the end vision or goals, and perhaps most important of all, I no longer feel guilty for honouring my boundaries and personal capacity.

See more Gen.T honourees from the Gen.T List 2020

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