We all want a happy and fulfilling life. But the question is how do we find it? That joyful state of ikigai, or the intersection of doing what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs.
As a girl, there’s the added pressure of people telling you what you can and cannot be. If you’re dealing with self-doubt, you’ll need an assuring voice to remind you that you will find your way—in this case, through the stories of successful women who have gone through the same struggles you’re facing.
On this note, we welcome National Women’s Month with heartfelt “slam book” conversations with our #FutureOfYoungPinays ambassadors.
Here’s hoping you find the inspiration and advice you need to succeed in your own path.
Details Ink founder Kara Pangilinan made a name for herself as a pen and ink artist after 8 years of doing her art “on the side.”
As a student, Kara excelled in extracurricular activities but felt insecure in a classroom that favored academics and grades. The artist shares, “No matter how well I did with my art, whenever I was placed inside a classroom, I still felt worthless. Because the unit of measure was standard. And by that standard, I was not going to be successful.”
And so it was a matter of crafting her life as far away from those standards as possible—carving her own career path.
Kara uplifts creatives who struggle to fit in amid society’s expectations. Her words will surely leave you feeling empowered to be true to yourself.
Favorite subject in school and why
I was always more active in extra-curricular activities as a student in high school.
In college though, I loved what I was learning. My favorites would have to be Design (especially the class where we studied Designing in relation to Human Behavior) and Urban Planning.
School and course in college
BS Architecture, UP Diliman
Why did you choose your course?
It was my childhood dream! I wanted to become an architect ever since I was 9 or 10 years old.
How did your course help you become the person you are today?
Strangely, learning architecture contributed so much to my art. In school, I learned how to design experiences and how to design with empathy, which are also essential when creating murals and artworks for clients.
UP Architecture changed my life because it changed the very questions I was asking about life. I entered the school with a fixed set of goals and a closed mind; and I left [as] a completely different person—one with an open mind and heart, one who was ready to start pursuing a million dreams.
What was your biggest insecurity as a student? How did you overcome it?
My struggle then is still my struggle today.
Ever since high school, I excelled in my extra-curricular activities. I directed plays for the school, sang at almost every event, led different groups in various organizations, and even modeled at fashion shows during the fair. But [all of] that never really counted. All that mattered was what was reflected on our report cards or the grades we got [in] exams.
That always made me question my worth as a person and it always ALWAYS made me doubt my success in the future.
The same was true in college. I did well in my design classes and was very active in my organizations. Still, I organized and performed at events for the college. By then, I was also very much involved in my art brand, joining bazaars every other weekend and staying up late to finish art commissions. My struggle in Architecture school was Math 53, Physics 71 and 72… and of course the Mechanical-Electrical-Plumbing-Structural part of Architecture.
No matter how well I did with my art, whenever I was placed inside a classroom, I still felt worthless. Because the unit of measure was standard. And by that standard, I was not going to be successful.
And THAT is my forever frustration with society and with myself. It was only a few years ago that I re-framed my mindset. I had to own up to my being an artist and accept that that was my STRENGTH, not my weakness. Also, I learned how to leverage on that strength in other aspects of my life. Eventually I was able to free myself of the standards and norms of society and find my own path. Since then, life has been pretty great! 🙂
What achievement are you most proud of during your school life?
It would have to be… surviving my thesis year in college! That school year had to be the craziest, most hectic—but most fulfilling one—because during the end of my first sem, I held my first solo exhibit entitled “What’s Stopping You?” and it was sold out!
And at the end of the year, after all the breakdowns and anxiety and sleepless nights, I won the Philip H. Recto Design Excellence Award for 3rd Best Thesis in Architecture: “Angono Artist Village: An Artist Retreat and Residency.”
Awards never really mattered to me but, that particular one changed my life because, somehow, it served as my permission to fly.
It was tangible proof that I should be allowed to do everything I dreamed of doing, that my art was not just a distraction or pastime, and that the uncertain space between art and architecture—a place that once caused me so much anxiety—was exactly where I was supposed to be.
What’s the most important thing you learned in your student life?
In school, I learned how to learn, and how to become a student of life.
When I was ten years old, I asked my dad, “Why do we spend half of our lives preparing for life?” That kind of mindset allowed me to live life beyond the four walls of the classroom and to learn as much as I could from all of life’s experiences, not only those that would benefit me academically.
I learned to not let myself be defined by grades, labels or by any of society’s standards. I learned that the only way to survive in this structured world of standards, was to build my identity, craft and entire life as far away from those standards as possible.
[Also] I learned not to judge, to love all people and to stay humble, so [I could] always be able to learn from others.
Lastly, I learned that it’s important to keep learning. In order to maximize this life, we must always think like students. After all, every single life experience—good, bad and ordinary—is an opportunity for us to learn.
My all-time favorite song is Vienna by Billy Joel.
Slow down, you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart, then tell me
Why are you still so afraid?
Slow down, you’re doing fine
You can’t be everything you want to be
Before your time
The lyrics will always move me. It’s my life song. My forever reminder to myself.
Who’s your life peg? Why?
First one that comes to mind is Natalie Portman. Haha. But, it’s not because she is amazing and beautiful. I love her because of her story.
Even if she was acting since she was 11, she was so concerned of how she was viewed by others and by society. And because she didn’t want others to think she was just a “dumb actress,” she fought her way through Neurobiology at Harvard University, only to find that she still loved making films and couldn’t wait to return to her craft.
Plus, she gave the Harvard Commencement Speech for the Class of 2015 and it is, hands down, my favorite speech of all time.
What makes your heart sing? What excites you?
This question itself already excites me. Haha! SO MANY THINGS MAKE MY HEART SING:
– Good Design (be it architecture, interiors, furniture, brands, urban spaces, I just love design)
– Musical Theater
– Good Furniture Stores
– NATURE + THE OCEAN (I also scuba dive and free dive so, YES TO OCEAN!)
– Planners and lists
– Pens and art Materials
I could keep going, really. There are so many good things in this life!
What’s your advice on finding and pursuing one’s passion and purpose?
My advice would be… to be brave enough to do what you love. I think one of the best things we can do for the world is develop our strengths and pursue our dreams. And then MAKE THINGS. Imagine if everyone was allowed to do what they loved and what they were good at? Do what you ‘have to’ do and do it well BUT make time for that which you love.
If you love dancing, do not stop.
If you enjoy cooking, keep doing so!
If you like taking pictures, be the photographer for org events.
Are you a graphics person? Be the next pub head!
Do. Not. Stop.
There is so much that you can do in this life. So enjoy every step of the process of learning and growing. I mean, that’s all I’m doing. And lastly, 1 Cor 14:9, “Let love be your highest goal.”
In your own words, what’s gender equality?
To me, it is simple. Men and women should be given the same opportunities, and should be valued the same way in the work place. I know so many amazing women. The world is changing and women are at the forefront in so many fields.
Can you imagine how difficult it was for women before? The design world used to be dominated by men! There was a time when women weren’t even allowed to step foot in certain buildings or to be hired in many firms. Women had much more to prove in the world. But, because of those who were brave enough to change things then, we are able to do what we do today.
So, I believe with all my heart in the importance of staying brave. We have to keep fighting to keep our place in this world, just as they fought to simply have a place in this world.
What is something that makes you proud to be a woman this National Women’s Month?
This month, I’d like to give the spotlight to all the amazing women I know in the fields of art, architecture and design. There are so many amazing artists, designers and creative-entrepreneurs right here in the Philippines. Seeing all of them inspire me to do better myself. And it just makes me feel so proud and happy to be a part of this world.
We often forget that we are meant to shine. And that when we shine, others will be empowered to shine too.
And with that, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes and greatest life lessons, written by Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure . . . We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ . . . Your playing small does not serve the world.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
There’s a Swedish proverb about the magic that happens when we openly talk about our troubles and achievements: “Shared joy is double joy; Shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”
When we see the relatable struggles that other women face, our own obstacles seem less insurmountable. And when we hear about people who succeed, it sparks a confidence in us to work toward our own goals. Moreover, these success stories point us back to ourselves—with an encouraging inner voice that asks, “What are my strengths? What more can I achieve? And what achievements have I already made that are worth celebrating?”
Many, for sure.
The National Women’s Month Celebration every March is part of the worldwide observance of the International Women’s Day (IWD). Since 2017, the National Women’s Month in the Philippines has been highlighting the empowerment of women as contributors to and recipients of development.
Find more stories that will inspire you to be the best that you can be.