Lessons in Humility Are Best Served with a Punch in the Face

French politician and philosopher, Charles de Montesquieu, said it best when he stated, “To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

When I first came to Brunei in December 2009, my situation seemed very daunting.  I was the only Filipino among my company’s and my client’s employees. Everyone was of a different background, race, education level, social status, and religion. I had ZERO friends and family to help cushion this culture shock and to help make sense of it all. I spent a lifetime building my relationships back home. Then, in a foreign land with no resources, I had to build new friendships from scratch or risk going mad from the unbearable loneliness, alienation, and paranoia.

Through a blessed act of serendipity, some Filipino employees from Jollibee Brunei were able to reach out to me during my first week in the country. Thus, I was able to spend my first Christmas abroad in the company of new friends instead of staring blankly at my bedroom ceiling. The welcoming warmth of people here in Brunei is really amazing, even when compared to a land known for hospitality such as the Philippines. In fact, after only a year since my arrival, I made friends close enough that they made me godfather of their first-born; for Filipinos, this is a great honor.


I have several close friends back in the Philippines, however, most of them have backgrounds that are very similar to mine. My high school friends are mostly intellectuals. My college friends are all engineering degree holders. My colleagues from work are high IQ individuals who graduated from top Philippine institutions.

Among my Philippine peers, finding a high paying job was never a problem; we were very anxious, though, to know whether or not we have chosen the best career path and negotiated the highest possible salary. Not having enough money to eat three square meals a day was unheard of; there was a big fuss, however, about not having an XBOX 360 and an HDTV. The world was our oyster, so to speak. Yet, it was as if we thought that our professional, financial, and personal problems were soap opera worthy.

Brunei is a wealthy country with citizens that are well provided for while the Philippines have a 39% poverty rate. It is ironic then that I became more concerned towards the conditions of the poor after I came to oil rich Brunei.


In Brunei, I began to create bonds with people who have situations far different from mine – far worse than mine. Some of these people come from very poor families and are working for measly salaries such as household helpers and laborers.  Some have to work very long hours, 7 days a week, just to make ends meet. Even so, they still send most of their wages back to their families in the Philippines. They are content to starve, live uncomfortably and save nothing while working here in Brunei just to make sure that their families back home are living well.

These are the types of people that I was too busy, too self-absorbed, and too arrogant to even care about back in the Philippines. Yet here in Brunei, they welcomed me and treated me like family. The stories of these people crushed my heart but their friendship touched my soul. This humbling experience slapped me in the face and made me realize that I have been given a lot but have done nothing to make a real difference and to improve other people’s lives.


My wife and I, in our own little way, have since started to help these people achieve a better life. We have set aside a portion of our savings to support our new friends financially in times of need such as sending a family member for surgery. We also help them build their financial futures by funding debt repayment and business ventures. We offer our time, money and effort because want to help our friends reach for their dreams.

This micro-financing initiative that we have started is enabling but one-sided. To truly make a difference in other people’s lives, a broader approach is needed. We need to build mindsets, characters, and hopes to transform dreams into achievable realities. Therefore, a group of my professional friends and I are endeavoring to create a non-profit organization devoted to promoting the holistic development of the individual Filipino worker in Brunei. A legacy that we hope will help improve the condition of Filipinos as a whole.

It has been more than 1 and a half years since I started working overseas. If I can take out only one lesson from this experience, it is that of true friendship transcending age, race, faith, and socio-economic status. It is never too late to leave your mark in other people’s lives. Let’s make the world everyone’s oyster. Have a blessed day.

What was the most phenomenal personal transformation in your life? Have you made a difference? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

14 Responses to “Lessons in Humility Are Best Served with a Punch in the Face”
  1. davosan says:

    This is truly a genius writing, very touching and moving. I, for one has been a witness of how truthful every word you wrote here. I also have witnessed how humble you are in spite of all your achievements. I am confident that what you and Ann have started, will in due time make a difference. ,I too, is overwhelmed and excited about our new project so let’s keep meeting together, encouraging each other and also praying for each other for that is what we needed most. Thanks for your company, your time, your ideas and all your support. You really are a great encouragement. God bless you more…

    • vladcardenas says:

      Maraming salamat, Dave! Your friendship has been a great blessing to me and Ann. And I am sure our new project will make our bonds stronger and at the same time we can touch other people’s lives. I am excited about the possibilities. We can help build the future. We can help develop future leaders who have noble principles and compassion towards his fellowmen. We can help untap the boundless potential of Filipinos!

  2. Venus says:

    Hi Vlad!
    ‘so glad to hear some best thoughts and deeply felt emotions from you… ‘am really proud of you.
    That was a real awakening experience !…
    Good Luck on your journey towards making the world everybody’s oysters. God bless


    • vladcardenas says:

      Thanks so much for the encouragement, Auntie! We will not let you down. We will improve the lives of others and make a mark in our own little way. Small efforts by a a lot of people can add up to something very significant. Please keep us in your prayers so that we will have grace in all of our endeavors.

  3. Janina Quijano says:

    Very inspiring, Vlad! Keep charging forward! God bless you and Ann.

  4. Reese says:

    So proud of you Vlad and Ann! A big marked of Excellence!

  5. The power of one man or a woman, doing the right thing for the right reason, and at the right time, will make a great influence in our society…..
    It always starts from small beginnings… starting from oneself…. touches the other…. little by little…… soooooner or later…….will touch the world!

  6. Jeff Valdez says:


    When you encounter hurdles that will make you consider forgetting about this dream of yours (and you most certainly will), look back to how you felt when you were writing this piece. That should keep you going.

    Keep writing, brother. We all miss you.

    • vladcardenas says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Pare! You are correct. In retrospect, there has never been a time when my determination stood unchallenged. I know that I will face these hurdles. When that happens, I will remember your advice and anchor my resolve on the feelings of hope that I have while writing this.

      I am also inspired by you, pare. As a future leader of our countrymen, you are an example of a government official whose noble principles are reflected in his great accomplishments. Likewise, the rest of the barkada also have very promising futures. Ann and I have always found ourselves in the company of great men and women. With such people watching our backs, supporting and encouraging us. We have faith that we can always draw enough strength to keep pushing forward even when things start turning south.

      Ann and I miss the gang too. See you when we come back for the Christmas holidays!

  7. Russian says:

    Vlad! I knew you as my intellectual block mate but never cross mind that you will be as mature as now! I wish that you’ll keep your game up so you can reach many people’s lives!

    • vladcardenas says:

      I am still immature most of the time. Especially when my wife asks me to do household chores. I act like a brat and flat out refuse. Haha. 🙂

      Seriously though thanks for the encouragement. It really means a lot. I pray that you reach your dreams too Russian!

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