Q&A with Terry Samala de Guzman:
Q: As a young child, were you already aware of what you wanted to do?
A: I grew up in a small town in an island in the Philippines and had plenty of time as a child to imagine what life could be. I imagined I’d discover far away places, meet different, interesting people, and do interesting work. Of course as a child, I had no idea how that would happen. I reflected and shared a bit about my childhood and how it influenced me in a book I published two years ago. Growing up in a small town where everyone knew everyone grounded me.
We are all born to our circumstances. We don’t get to choose our parents and relatives, our birthplace and early childhood. And yet they all have lasting effects on how we develop and become the adults we are today. But we do have a choice about how we allow these circumstances to shape what and how we will become.
Q: Have you always had a good work ethic?
A: I grew up with parents who couldn’t have had more divergent definitions of what “work” meant. My mother was born poor, while my father was raised in privilege. She studied hard to qualify for scholarships, finished on top of her class as a working student, and modeled what it meant to be financially self-sufficient. When I was a toddler, she went back to work because she didn’t want to have to ask anyone for money. She became a professor of sciences in the local college, and I could still see her, up at dawn, inside our mosquito net, reading, preparing for her classes every morning. My father, on the other hand, did not have to work a day in his life, and I grew up hearing tales of how he wasted his wealth. But he was also philanthropic, finding opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the less privileged. Several community centers in my hometown got built because he donated the land, while he never asked for anything in return - not even a small plaque of recognition. These community centers are now thriving hubs of community activities. I’ve recently been making my rounds, discovering the extent of his donations, and requesting the beneficiary communities to recognize my father’s legacy. It seems to me that if a proper accounting was made now, he’d be judged far more fairly as making a difference in the lives of others more than wasting his wealth.
Q: Growing up, what or who do you think influenced you most?
A: The circumstances of my childhood and my college experiences shaped my values, informed my aspirations, and guided my thinking. Another of my life tenets that I share in my book is “remember where you came from”. While I was born to my circumstances, I realized early on that whether these circumstances were positive or not, they were not permanent for me. I had the freedom of choice to live with them or evolve from them. This awareness grew and developed when I attended St. Theresa’s College for my college education and met some of the smartest, independent and down-to-earth young women who have become my life-long friends.
Q: You have such impressive accomplishments — from your career in corporate finance with AMEX to becoming COO and so many more along the way to now becoming the consultant and coach that you are. What do you think your greatest lessons were on this journey?
A: The primary reason I wrote my book is that my now grown kids encouraged me to share the lessons of my life and career journey. Entitled “Here I Am, Learning Along the Way”, the book contains my tenets - lessons I’ve learned which perhaps could be beneficial to the reader going through similar situations or challenges. (it is still available on amazon, and abscbnbooks,) My tenets include:
While you may have a yearning to make a change or reinvent yourself, you cannot jump to what you’d like to become without understanding your skills, competencies and values. This self-awareness is a critical first step in anyone’s journey.
I am an advocate for financial literacy, which I believe leads to financial self-sufficiency. By this, I don’t mean becoming wealthy, but simply being able to afford to support one’s basic needs: shelter, food, clothing. The poor and rich alike find themselves unable to make important life decisions because of their lack of understanding of their financial situation.
Humility is one of the most important attributes of a good leader and every aspiring leader would greatly benefit from learning this early.
This means literally, and figuratively. I found my way as a young immigrant through the subway labyrinth of New York City by asking directions. I also found my way through my career by asking for help. People want to help. Those who don’t, won’t, and that’s okay. But in general, if you ask for help, you’ll get it. My path has been cleared through the help of those who generously and willingly gave advice, guidance and oftentimes, simply a listening ear.
The truth is, I never really dreamed of becoming a leader. But somehow, I’ve found myself in that role. My journey as a leader has taught me that no matter what our differences are, we can achieve success by finding common ground through the universal values of respect, integrity, trust and humility.
My career journey took many unexpected and serendipitous turns, and I’ve been asked many times how this all happened. I wish I could take credit for “planning” it this way. But I didn’t and couldn’t have. What helped me was the curiosity and audacity to believe in my capacity to meet any challenge that came my way, and this attitude opened up the possibilities.
Q: Tell us what you love most about coaching.
A: I LOVE coaching. I love the entire process of discovery with my client. That moment when my client “discovers” that deep-seated awareness of what it will take for him/her/they to move forward is such an exciting spark of clarity that I wish I can put in a magic potion or snap a picture and post this on Instagram! Except it’s not that simple and the journey is unique and personal for everyone. And that’s what I also love about coaching. It’s complex, ambiguous and beautiful, like the human spirit.
Q: So many of us are confused about the path we’re on. What would your advice be to men and women who find themselves confused about what they want to do in life?
A: Start from where you are. Have a clear understanding of your circumstances first. In my coaching practice, this is fundamental work. More often than not, my clients may think they know their circumstances, but then we discover that their “ knowledge” is clouded by many uncertainties, doubts and fears.
Q: What are your top tips for saving money?
A: A common theme that my clients learn from our work together is their lack of understanding about their financial situation. They “kinda” know how much they make and “kinda” know how much they spend, but not, really. This lack of clarity is a sure show-stopper for moving forward.
Q: What is your take on failure?
A: Winston Churchill famously said, “ Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”. I’ve always encouraged my clients not to be afraid to fail.
Honor the loss or the failure; you cannot move forward unless you’ve acknowledged it, then learn from it and move forward.
Q: What does it mean to you to be vulnerable and why do you believe leaders should exhibit this?
A: Brenee Brown has a wonderful TED Talk on vulnerability. Anyone reading this should check it out. What she said completely resonated with me.
Human beings are wired to seek and want connection. Vulnerability allows us to be ourselves and find those connections; and leaders are better served if they enable their constituents to connect with them at the human level, sharing the same pain, joy and challenges.
Q: As a mother, what are some ways you think we can help our children develop good qualities?
A: My first piece of advice for expecting parents is to trust their instincts, as I believe they know best how to raise their children. As far as my own parenting, I devoted a chapter on this in my book. Entitled,
An example: in raising our children, my husband and I did not have many conversations about religion, but it was clear that “love your neighbor as yourself” guided us. We were very mindful to be inclusive, discouraging any form of discrimination. We also taught our kids financial know-how at an early age, encouraging the basic concept of saving; and that “homework” was their work, not ours
Q: Tell us about your foundation, UNLAD.
A: We founded UNLAD (the Tagalog word for progress, development or growth) to provide our underserved youth with access to educational opportunities that would otherwise not be within their reach.
Access helps level the playing field; without access our youth do not stand a chance to lead sustainable lives. We have initiated programs in the underserved farm village of Baruyan, Calapan City Oriental Mindoro, Philippines; are partnering with Save the Children Philippines to support our common mission objectives around the Philippines; and are underwriting scholarship/financial aid opportunities in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Q: Why do you believe education for the youth is so important?
A: Having worked in elementary, high-school and university education, I’ve learned to believe that education enables our youth to discover their interests, talents and passion - passion that will build their confidence, fuel their aspirations and motivate them to lead fulfilling, rewarding and sustainable lives.
Q: What are the top 5 qualities you’d like all leaders to have?
A:Humility. Respect. Integrity. Empathy. Authenticity.
Generally, a leader’s technical skills and competencies have been tested and proven by the time he/she/they get to the position of leadership and power. What matters then is mostly his/her/their “soft” skills or qualities; these are demonstrated in how they judge, decide, lead and manage.