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From Where We Sit

Handling difficulties successfully

Benjamin R. Punongbayan Benjamin R. Punongbayan

Commencement speeches are usually clarion calls to action. As the new graduates commence a new phase in their lives, they are advised by the commencement speakers, invariably, to conquer one’s field of expertise, to better one’s self or to go beyond and change the world.

Last week, two of our C-suite executives were commencement speakers. Jun Cuaresma, our managing partner, was the commencement speaker at the University of the East Caloocan graduation rites. He talked about his formula for success – his traits, his virtues, his management style – his so called “self commandments.” He hoped that graduates would pick up one or two or some of those traits as they journey through life. We featured the summary of his speech in our last article here.

This week, we are featuring the commencement speech of our Founder, Ben Punongbayan. He was the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremonies in FEU Silang Cavite. BRP, as he is fondly called in the office, provided some practical advise and guidance on how the graduates can equip and prepare themselves more successfully for the difficulties and problems they will surely be facing one day. Maybe drawing from his deep experience, he expounded on GRIT, a critical ingredient for success.

To the graduates, we congratulate you.

– Jessie Carpio, partner and head, BPS/Outsourcing Division, Punongbayan & Araullo; President, P&A Grant Thornton Outsourcing, Inc.

I am truly happy to be with you, the graduating class of FEU Silang, this morning. Today is the day when you savor that high level of fulfilment as you celebrate the completion of your chosen field of vocation. And, of course, this is also a joyful day for your parents and guardians who helped you achieve your success and who are now witnessing the fulfilment of their own dreams for you.

As most people would say, this important event today is the end of a beginning and the beginning of a long quest for a happy and successful life thereafter.

To a number of you, of course, there still remains another important step – to take and successfully pass the required government examinations to enable you to become the professional that you aspire to be. To those of you who belong to this group, I also wish you success in this endeavor. Please remember that adequate preparation is the key to passing professional examinations. You must do no less.

Soon, when you step out of this graduation hall, you will be on your own facing a long future, which is full of wonderful opportunities but do present big challenges to exploit them. It will be very helpful if you will think through as far away as possible into the future and envision your place in it. I say this because your life will be transformed as you travel in time – you will need to be independent from your parents, most likely you will get married and have children. These transformations will create demand for increasing resources that you need to acquire to provide the means to support yourself and your future dependents. To enable you to do so, you will need to continuously improve and sharpen your own abilities. You cannot remain static. And that, in itself, is a big challenge.

I cannot tell you how you should deal with life’s challenges. You have to figure that out for yourself as these challenges present themselves. What I can do is to provide you with some guidance on how to equip and prepare yourselves so that you can deal more successfully with the difficulties and setbacks that you will certainly face.

First of all, let me give you a probable time span during which you will need to deal with life’s challenges. You probably notice that the life expectancy of Filipinos is increasing. During my boyhood days, when someone reached the age of 60, he or she was old – and it showed. Nowadays, age 60 is young. As for your own generation, I don’t think I will be exaggerating if I say that you can expect to reach 85 to 90 years of age. If you deduct from that age range your own age today – which is probably an average of 20 years – then you need to acquire the means to support yourself, not to mention your dependents during their period of dependency, for 65 or 70 years. That is certainly a very long time.

I hope you will keep that in mind.

In your pursuit of life’s happiness, it will certainly help if you marry later and have fewer children, maybe just one or two. Doing so will require a strong resolve and strength of purpose. Here is where the development of a strong character and setting up of your own goals in life will be of great assistance.

In my observations, the biggest stumbling block for many people in their quest for success is a low level, or even lack of, self-confidence. A lack of self-confidence is brought about by a feeling of low self-esteem. Self-esteem, in simple language, is a personal quality of possessing a strong belief in one’s self and one’s own abilities. Having a low self-esteem is a big obstacle to success. Based on my observation, young persons who come from modest economic background are more susceptible to this condition. But in any case, for those of you who may feel you are in this kind of a situation, be conscious of this weakness and try to overcome it. You can seek advice from your elders or attend motivational seminars where you can discover your own true self and, therefore, your full potential. But it will help a great deal if you try to be aggressive in facing challenges. What I mean is, given an opportunity to prove your abilities, do not hesitate to face up to the challenge, as opposed to deciding to walk away from it. Don’t be afraid of failing, because if you fail, you become smarter. And when you win, the victory results in adding a layer of confidence to yourself.

One other contributing factor to success that will greatly help you is to develop a strong attitude toward continuous learning, not only in your chosen field but also in other areas of knowledge that interest you. Along this line, one important activity that will help you is to develop the habit of reading. Try to devote one or two hours a day reading. Read anything of interest to you that come out on print or even on the internet – newspapers, magazines and books, preferably non-fiction books. Remember that reading is storing information and knowledge into your brain. So that when you write or speak, you can draw the relevant information and knowledge that you have stored. Clearly, if you don’t have much in store in your brain, there is nothing much to draw from that storage. So, place a lot of information and knowledge into your brain through continuous reading. When you speak and write, you can speak and write more sensibly and with confident authority.

There is yet another important ingredient for success. This is the characterizing quality called grit. Let me spell that: G-R-I-T. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines GRIT, which of course is a noun, as an unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger. In the field of Psychology, GRIT is more widely described than what that definition conveys. In Psychology, GRIT is broken down into two elements. These elements have been specifically described and articulated by Angela Duckworth in her book, GRIT. One element is passion. You need to have strong passion in what you do. The second element is perseverance. You need to have perseverance in pursuing your passion. Passion, in simple language, is a strong liking or desire for an activity.

Perseverance, on the other hand, is the quality of persisting in doing an undertaking in spite of contrary influences or discouragement. In sum, the message I wish to convey is, in the pursuit of life’s happiness and fulfilment, choose an activity or activities that you have a strong liking or desire for, and carry an unyielding and persistent courage in undertaking that activity or activities to perfection. Do not be discouraged by the occurrence of intervening events of failure or distraction.

I realize that I may still not have been successful in describing clearly the personal quality of GRIT. Let me try to give you a simple example. A number of you are graduating with a degree in Education. After you pass the professional examinations, I assume that you will engage in teaching in elementary or high school. In pursuing this activity, first of all, you must possess a strong liking and desire for teaching young people. If you don’t have it, get out of teaching quickly and do something else that you are passionate about. If you stay, I anticipate that you will not be successful in teaching. On the other hand, if you have a strong liking for teaching, it will become easier to become very good at it and even excel in it. In addition to having the passion to teach, you must possess an unyielding courage and persistence to deal with setbacks when these occur as you perform your teaching vocation.

Believe it, setbacks will certainly come your way. There will be occasions when your superiors or peers, or even students, may tell you that there are things you are not doing well. When these occasions happen, find out quickly and in clear terms what those things are that you are not doing well and seek advice on how you can fix them. You must have an attitude of seriousness in fixing the problems. If the problem is that you do not have the desired facility of language, say English, then you have to develop a program in fixing it. You may need to get a tutor or attend part-time courses, or whatever it takes to fix the problem. If the issue is that you still do not have a good knowledge of the subject that you are teaching, say Mathematics, then you have to acquire a good understanding and knowledge of Mathematics in the best way you can. I can go on and on, but the message is, you have to like very much what you are doing and become very good at it despite occasional setbacks or distractions. If you do, I do not have any doubt that you will be successful.

I hope I have left you with something to think about. You can start thinking about that tomorrow. But on this day, be happy and celebrate. You have done well and you deserve it.

To the parents, you have achieved your dreams. I am sure you are also proud and happy today. To the University officers and teachers, you have done a great deed to these new graduates and I am certain that our new graduates will remember you for a very long time. My congratulations to all of you.

Thank you.

The author, Ben Punongbayan, founded Punongbayan & Araullo (P&A) in 1988. Today, P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 20 partners and over 850 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our website:


As published in The Manila Times, dated on 03 May 2017