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.
Millennials have been typecast as the “me, me, me” generation. But many times, we’ll come across inspiring people, like Meryl Jalani, who prove that millennials can contribute to the greater good.
Meryl is the national president of Millennials PH, a group of young leaders that “rallies” online and offline for truth, justice, freedom, and advocacy. And she exudes girl power in a team of 8 men that runs Impactville—a web service that measures the impact and sustainability of development projects. But becoming the empowered woman she is today didn’t come easy; it was a constant push and pull between other people’s expectations and her own passions.
How can you find your voice amid the noise of external pressures? How can you measure your own success if society has different standards? Are there opportunities “outside the box”?
The technopreneur shares the answers she’s found on her way to finding her strongest life.
Favorite subject in school and why
Literature! My professor at that time [was] a very strong-minded, powerful woman.
At 17, through words, stories, books, and poems, she brought me to worlds that I would have never gotten the chance to know [of] if not for her passion. She taught me what the word “juxtaposition” meant by making us read a love story written centuries back, instead of just making us read the [Merriam-Webster] dictionary meaning for it. She made us write our honest opinions about what the stories we read meant to us (stories surrounding women was always a topic of interest!) and debated constructively on our line of reasoning.
It was around this time in my life [that] I figured out what [being] a feminist meant and that gender equality in [our generation] and the generations before us still have a long way to go.
We heard you shifted courses many times in college. Tell us about that experience.
I took Nursing. And then I flew to the US to be an exchange student for a Peace and Conflict Resolution Program. I came back, and studied Accountancy. Shifted to Education. And then finally, took International Studies Major in Diplomacy. You see, when I shifted courses, I still had to ask permission and get a “compromise” solution from my family. For example, I wanted to take Arts in Literature or Mass Communication but was told to take Education—because being a professor was better than being a journalist (I was told).
I finally took my final course, but only to satisfy expectations. After college, while building my startup, I also took [an] Entrepreneurial Development Program Course at AIM.
How did your course help you become the person you are today?
I haven’t used the courses/majors I took in college in my profession or in real life. If anything, it helped me figure out who I didn’t want to be.
I didn’t want to be a nurse, an accountant, a professor, or work for the government as a consulate or an ambassador. Ultimately, it was [a] waste of time what I did. But the process of deduction (if you think about it) through experiences helped me see the world differently than I already did.
What was your biggest insecurity as a student? How did you overcome it?
In college, my biggest insecurity was not belonging anywhere. I felt lost and out of place most of the time. Because I shifted schools and majors, I didn’t know 95% of the people in my classes (they [had] their own groups of friends), I was most of the time younger or older than them, and it almost always became awkward when we had to group ourselves for reports or certain activities.
Ultimately, I overcame this by mentally telling myself I have to be a team player to survive. I had to nudge myself to talk to people who were shy to talk to me in class, or practiced my patience with people who couldn’t get their parts done for group work.
This insecurity about being a lone wolf helped me build my confidence and in turn, turned my eccentricity into wisdom. It was my edge.
What achievement are you most proud of during your school life?
In college, even when I changed majors and transferred schools, I was consistently a dean’s lister. I was part of the debate team. I trained, debated and adjudicated with my peers and in competitions. I was a journalist and a photographer in the school newspaper. And [I] won many public speaking competitions. What came with it was prestige, being treated differently by professors, and being excused for exams.
But even with all that, I believed then, and I believe now that my best achievement really was how I unlocked the door to becoming who I am/ was. And knowing and accepting that being like no one else—being weird—was actually really cool. That was around the time my view of the world changed from black and white to rainbow colors.
What’s the most important thing you learned in your student life?
That you have to stop finding yourself. Instead, you have to start creating yourself.
When I was 10, my eldest brother was already 24. At that time, he didn’t live with us anymore. One of my past time adventures was sorting through his stuff. One of the many things I found were books! I was a kid who read Sweet Valley High, Archie Comics, Nancy Drew. But his books brought me to my own Narnia. I read about things I [hadn’t] read about in my first choice of books. I read about loss, pain, and struggles. I read about love, faith, and dreams.
My favorite was: The Early Bird Catches The Worm, But The Second Mouse Gets The Cheese. This book taught me that the world isn’t what it seems, and that in order to know the answers, one must know the questions.
After reading this book, I challenged myself to know more and to keep my thirst for learning on point by reading more books, and talking to more people who are older than me.
Who’s your life peg? Why?
My biggest role model is the female artist Frida Kahlo. To anybody who doesn’t know her, I suggest you watch the movie Frida. And get to know her more by reading about her or researching the art that she made in the span of her life. She used being a woman, her physical difficulties, the risks she took, her failures, her bad decisions, her weirdness—she wore all that like an armor.
She taught me to be afraid but be brave to take risks, to turn wounds into wisdom, to love fully, to forgive purely, and to live life to [my] fullest maximum potential.
What are you passionate about?
If there’s anything that we can’t stop besides time, it’s the development of new technology daily. I get excited with augmented and virtual reality, the touch commerce, mobile apps, voice recognition, robots, GPS, fast internet speed—name it!
But I get even more excited when I see people from different generations trying to understand the digital/ techy world that we are living in, and using these new technologies to elevate the quality of human life instead of treating [gadgets] as an enemy. I get excited to hear about friends or young people [who] create their own inventions to make an impact, and transform how social enterprises and community development work.
I think it’s time that more people understand that being on the good side of technological innovation doesn’t only mean use of social media. Because seriously, I don’t even have Snapchat and Twitter. And I dislike checking Messenger, Facebook and Instagram notifications.
I am a Tita at these things, but I take pride in being able to enjoy life’s little pleasures: fresh air, sunrise and sunsets, rice fields, hot showers, good food, jazz music, laughter—and still use my phone to my advantage (to book a Grab, a flight, or Airbnb any time, to Google absolutely anything, or use GPS even without internet). It’s the best of both worlds!
What’s your advice on finding and pursuing one’s passion and purpose?
Whatever you’re doing to find your passion and purpose, do it afraid, and do it with your eyes, ears and heart wide open.
Being afraid isn’t [a] weakness. Knowing you’re afraid and still being persistent and committed to do what you think you should do is bravery.
You should know you’re going to fail many times, but if you’re going to fail, don’t fail fast like most cliches say; fail mindfully. Learn from it, get back up, and always keep in mind Einstein’s definition of insanity. 🙂
What’s the hardest thing about being a girl?
The hardest thing about being a girl is feeling unsafe in private and public spaces. These could also be emotional, mental, psychological—even digital spaces! It’s the 21st century; we have gone far from what our ancestors experienced (good and bad) in their time, but we still have a long way to go!
What’s the best thing about being a girl?
The best thing about being a girl is the little pleasures of life: hot showers, good food, great music, new places to see, new people to meet, family and friends, deep, peaceful sleep, occasional naps, a joyful heart.
Oh, that could also be the best thing about [all] genders! *wink*
In your own words, what is gender equality?
Gender equality is for anyone to have the freedom to express themselves (with equal barriers as anyone) and still have the same playing field on opportunities and rights to life.
What is something that makes you proud to be a woman this National Women’s Month?
What makes me proud this National Women’s Month is celebrating this very moment with more women and now, MORE MEN from different walks of life! I’m proud to use my voice and proud of those who use theirs to make life the best quality as it should be.
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.