bahala na

Bahala na: When Filipinos Do the Unreasonable to Succeed

Bahala Na is a Filipino attitude that expresses courage and faith in God. It means to let go and let God. It has always been an expression of optimism. These days, however, people are misusing it. Bahala na si Batman is an expression of fatalistic resignation. These two expressions, however, are never the same. I do not know anyone who believes in Batman.

To many Filipinos, bahala na is the attitude of a risk-taker, of the unreasonable man. It is the last resort for someone who has exhausted every available solutions.

Those who say bahala na is not letting go of logic or of their lives. They do so because they believe that not doing anything is worst. Not doing anything is accepting defeat.

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I said, bahala na. Then, I jumped.

I jumped from a 15-meter high waterfall. Others did it before me, but it was my first time. I wanted to do it. I had no idea if it would hurt me. But I did it. And it felt good.

When I first tried rappeling, everyone around me was afraid. But I thought professionals are there to guide me. We wore harnesses. But I was afraid. I said, bahala na.

Bahala Na is an attitude. It is an attitude that says I will be going out of my comfort zone. I am not 100 percent certain of the result, but I need to do this now. Bahala na is an unreasonable man’s attitude.

jef menguin rappeling
I can only smile.

Is being unreasonable bad?

Here’s what uncle George Bernard Shaw 1 I learned that Bernard Shaw though that playing safe is foolish said,

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

― George Bernard Shaw

Being unreasonable is not so bad, after all.

Much of modern literature focus on the so-called negative connotation of the phrase. I often wonder why.

It is as if there is an effort to put down Filipino culture. Bahala na is a beautiful expression of beliefs like bayanihan and malasakit.

Let me explain.

To understand Filipino culture, consider both etymology and context.

The phrase “bahala na” comes from Bathala na. 2 I leave everything in the care of God.

Let God.

It is not fatalism. You are leaving it to God. 3 Here’s an interesting take on Bahala na from Mindanao. It is a declaration of faith in action.

“We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of the Almighty God” is the first sentence of the Preamble to the 1987 Constitution.4 Here’s the whole Preamble. It is not so different from “In God We Trust.”

Then, consider the context. We Filipinos do not say bahala na as our first option. We say bahala na when we have done everything we could do, and the future remains uncertain. We calculated the risk, and it does not seem to be in our favor. But we will proceed because much is at stake.

For example, many of our OFWs decided to work abroad because they have families to support. The future of their family may change. They are not sure about their lives in other countries. But for the sake of their loved ones, they let go of their fears and let God do the rest for them.

You can appreciate this even more if you consider the Filipino belief that says, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa.”5 God helps those who help themselves.

Bahala Na attitude is an expression of one’s courage and faith in God. We embrace uncertainties because we care about our future. Bahala na means let go and let God.

Young Bill Gates
So young yet so brave.

The attitude is not unique to Filipinos. Entrepreneurs, innovators, and changemakers often demonstrate bahala na attitude. If Bill Gates were a Filipino, he would say “bahala na” when he and Allen build “Traf-o-Data”. 6 They were courageous high school students.

If the Biblical David were a Filipino, he would say “bahala na” when he volunteered to fight Goliath. He knew that he has the skills, but fighting a giant is different from fighting wolves.

There are times the odds of winning are not on your side. You cannot decide based on what you have in a spreadsheet because your gut says something else. But to stop isn’t your option too. You need to jump.

Bahala na.

Bahala na is a leap of faith.
Bahala na is a leap of faith.

Bahala na is the attitude of the unreasonable man.

I will tell you my “bahala na”. story. I hope you’ll learn something that will inspire you.

When I was young, I was always dreaming big dreams.

And a lot of people don’t believe the dreams that I had because of who I was. I was born to a low-income family.

I was living in the slums. People thought there was no hope for us, but they were wrong. I became a seminarian. I got a college degree.

I became a teacher, and from 1996 To 2004, I was teaching less than 200 students every year. And I knew that I inspired some of them to aim for greatness, that when I shared with them my story, they realized that they are more capable of achieving great dreams.

I was living proof that someone gets to achieve a dream.

Before 2004, I was already reading some business literature, which made me realize that there are other opportunities to teach, motivate and inspire people outside the academe.

I have read Tony Robbins’ Awaken The Giant Within. I learned the importance of doing “massive action”.

I have read how Zig Ziglar found ways of promoting himself to the top. And I realized that somebody like Ziglar, who started from a door-to-door salesman to a million-dollar speaker, is something that I can also aim for myself.

I read Tom Hopkin’s ideas on how to sell when I was in high school. And it’s always been my dream to sell to people, either products or services. I felt that I have these, you know, seeds of opportunities that I must plant to grow.

I could not plant these seeds on good soil, and I wanted to do that.

Then one day, I was inspired by the speech of Mr. Pagsi, an educator who inspired a lot of people every time he speaks on stage.

And so I said to myself, I want to become like Mr. Pagsi. I want to be on that stage, inspiring people to achieve what they want.

I want to use my speaking skills to help other people achieve their purposes. That was my leap of faith.

It was a leap of faith because I was a school teacher. I didn’t know much about business. Yes. I read articles and books on sales marketing and creating our company.

But reading books is not the same as having the experience To do it.

But I said to myself, if I’m not going to do it now, how many more years will I delay the achievement of my dreams?

And so I decided to do what some of my friends called a stupid move. I left the world of the academe to become a motivational speaker. I was running away from safety (Thanks to Richard Bach).

First airplane flight.
The first of many things is often a product of “bahala na”.

Unreasonable men changed the world.

Bahala is a leap of faith. You do not say bahala na for anything you deemed unimportant. You know that you’ve got to do something.

It is not reasonable because you and those around you have not experienced it before — or because they don’t see what you see.

None of my friends was a motivational speaker. None of them transitioned from being a classroom teacher to a speaker on a bigger stage.

And though I had experience in speaking before huge crowds, the pressure is huge. I’ve got to be successful so people won’t laugh at me. I’ve got to do it right.

And I was also second-guessing myself. Imposter syndrome is real. So, I hesitated somehow, though eventually, I decided to jump.

Because I was a teacher, the first audiences I had in mine were students and teachers.

I said I could teach students how to gain confidence in public speaking. I could teach teachers how to become better teachers.

The first targets were the easy target. Or so I thought.

I sent 50 letters to 50 schools offering free public speaking to their students for free.

During that time, I was reading one of those marketing books. If you want to get an audience, you have to offer your services for free if you want people to hear you.

So I sent 50 letters to 50 schools. A day, a week, a month passed by, and I did not get any response.

Direct response marketing did not seem to work. Zig Ziglar was persistent, so I must be persistent too.

Instead of 50 letters, I sent 100 letters to 100 schools. And lo and behold, after a week, I received a response from an exclusive school

“Thank you, Mr. Menguin, for offering your services to us. Unfortunately, we already have many seminars and conferences for our students. Our schedule is packed. We’ll take note of your offer probably next year.”

Of course, I did not stop. You see, I’m persistent.

So I contacted people. I look for organizations that can help me become a better speaker. I learn in some marketing books that you have to build your network.

And I found Metro Manila Toastmasters club. Toastmasters International is an organization that will help you become a better speaker. 7 I had no extra money when I joined the club. But my membership to Toastmasters was a good investment.

So I joined the organization. I learned something about public speaking, but more importantly, I found people who were able to help me get connected to some good people.

Somebody brought me to the mayor’s office and told them I have an offer for teachers. The mayor’s office endorsed me to the DepED with the pledge that he would allocate a budget for teacher training. And when we went to the District office, one of the supervisors talk to us and said that my offer for teachers is excellent.

But she said that they already have so many seminars for teachers.

To cut a long story short, my well-intentioned friends told me to quit. In their mind, I was a colossal failure.

I was starving. Not only for clients. I was starving because I had already spent my little savings six months after leaving my last teaching job.

Bahala na, my leap of faith, it seemed, did not work.

Three years after that, I got a five-day speaking engagement where I got paid almost twice my annual salary as a teacher.8It was 375,000. My annual salary was less than 180,000 pesos.

No one can see the future.

Most people will stay in a corner and play safe until all the data is available.

And you have the unreasonable ones, like me, who one day said Bahala na.

Footnotes

  • 1
    I learned that Bernard Shaw though that playing safe is foolish
  • 2
    I leave everything in the care of God.
  • 3
    Here’s an interesting take on Bahala na from Mindanao.
  • 4
    Here’s the whole Preamble.
  • 5
    God helps those who help themselves.
  • 6
    They were courageous high school students.
  • 7
    I had no extra money when I joined the club. But my membership to Toastmasters was a good investment.
  • 8
    It was 375,000. My annual salary was less than 180,000 pesos.

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