Read This If You Have Time

Walking Away
By Lesley Jeanne Y. Cordero

At 27, how can one simply say “No, thank you” and walk away from the lure of power, fame, and money… not once but, twice?
In February 2006, I started working as a legislative officer of a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines . I had my ticket to the fast lane where the political exposure was infinite and the opportunities were limitless. For a new lawyer who is fresh out of law school, I could not help but be overwhelmed by the immensity of the power entrusted to me. I had an inside scoop of the inner workings in the hallowed halls of the Philippine Senate; I saw how the lawmakers of our country called the shots and made crucial decisions during crunch time; and I witnessed the events that land on the news unfold before my very eyes. Sounds like “The Dream Job” that every young lawyer would envy. But just when I thought that I was riding high on the wave of success, reality knocked me hard on the head.

October 2006, I made a very difficult decision to leave a great job that I actually enjoyed doing. I was chosen to represent the Philippines in a Youth Exchange Program in China for two months. I was so excited and immediately applied for leave without pay. The boss disapproved my leave application and his people proposed some other free trips. The offers were so tempting, but I could still clearly recall saying “Sir, thank you but I think someone else is more deserving of those free trips than I am.” Right there and then I realized that there was nothing else left to do but to tender my resignation letter and simply walk away. At that time, I was so angry at my boss for not giving me enough credit for the work that I had done. And worst, he did not even have the decency to stop the people working for him from enticing me with their counter-offers.

When I resigned from my work, I was so scared. There was not a day that passed by when I did not doubt my decision. There were times in my sleep when I could still hear the whispers of people asking why I gave up a position that so many people were aspiring for? Well, maybe it was sheer pride or just plain disillusion with my ex-boss and politics. But after two months, I was finally convinced that I made the right decision. When I left for China , I took a leap of faith not knowing what was in store for me there. When I came back I discovered that the whole experience taught me how to soar and to soar higher. What made the letting go and moving on easier was the realization that it is difficult to work for someone if you no longer believe in him. Like everyone else, I want to work for a boss who can inspire me, a boss who does not only have the ambition but the conviction to make the tough decisions.

But my story does not end there. December 2006, I came back to the Philippines after the exchange program worried to death because I was officially jobless and without a game plan. But as they say, God writes a straight line in crooked broken strokes, so if you cannot understand his plan then you just have to trust his hand. Mid-January, I got interesting offers from four senatorial candidates to join their campaign teams. And interesting because I got an offer from my ex-boss’ camp too.

Late January 2007, I was on board the campaign team of one of the promising senatorial candidates in the 2007 Elections. How interesting can one’s career get at 27? Heading the Legal Team of a senatorial campaign, I felt that this was my second shot at power, connection and fame. I was given the license to sit at the big men’s table where power politics was at its finest. I was offered a front row seat on how national campaigns were mounted and senatorial candidates were packaged to win the Philippine elections; I got to meet and interact with some of the most powerful people in the country; and I was privileged to have participated in two celebrated Supreme Court oral arguments in a span of one month. What more can a young lawyer ask for in terms of career opportunities?

July 2007, my boss was finally proclaimed Senator of the Republic of the Philippines . After everything that happened in the campaign, who would have thought that I would walk away again from the thrill of politics, power and connections. I was invited to head the Senate legislative unit of my boss, but I politely declined his invitation. He asked me several times why I would not join his senate team and I just smiled.

To date, perhaps the Senator still believes that I declined his offer because I went to China for a scholarship program. But truth to tell, I had reached a stage where there are certain standards and values that I could not compromise anymore. And at this point, I have realized that settling for less is no longer an option. Good pay and some power that one might get from working in the Senate are so tempting but they are not enough. This whole experience taught me that in life -- character, integrity and credibility are more important. They are non-negotiables, something that cannot be faked, either you have them or you don’t, and when you do, don’t ever sell out.

Now that I am away from the daily grind of Philippine politics, do I miss the adrenaline rush of knowing the inside stories behind the political events? Yes. But do I regret walking away from the opportunity to be a part of it right now? No. Walking away does not mean quitting… walking away does not mean you are weak… sometimes walking away might be the braver and more difficult thing to do.

Someone once told me that men and women of character know when to walk away and when not to take less than what they deserve. True enough, it is always better to know your worth before you allow yourself to be dragged into the false promises of power, fame, and money. I could still recall a colleague proudly betting five grand that I cannot give up and walk away from everything at that moment, and I just said, “watch me!”

Today, I am in a place far enough to give me a good perspective of what is happening in the crowded circle where I used to thrive. And here I realized that my decision to walk away was one of the toughest that I have made in my lifetime, yet, one that I am truly proud of. Walking away does not mean turning your back at an opportunity for the rest of your life. Sometimes, it is just taking a stand and not settling for less than what you deserve. Or it can simply be taking a good break and reinventing oneself for that bigger and better comeback.