When does it make sense to let go of stability to boldly pursue the unknown? In this episode of the Career Relaunch® podcast, Samantha Tovera-Agustin, an HR professional turned founder explains why she chose to move her career, family, and life from the Bay Area to the Philippines. We’ll discuss the challenging balance between work and parenthood, signs that suggest you may need a change in your career, and ways you can prevent career regret.
I also share some thoughts on the importance of reconnecting with old friends during the Mental Fuel® segment.
Key Career Takeaways
- When you work hard to get to where you are in your career, letting go of all this investment is incredibly hard.
- People often regret the inactions they took in their careers to do something bold and brave that honors their values. Surrendering to the unknown and allowing yourself to potentially fail enables you to open the door to new, exciting opportunities in your life and career.
- To be there for others, you have to make sure you’re taking care of your own health and well-being first.
- Societal expectations can lead us to feel like we need to be working and hustling all the time. But slowing down is not only okay but also necessary sometimes to see more clearly and reconnect with yourself.
- We discussed the topic of regret. The book I mentioned is The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink, which I would highly recommend!
I’d challenge you to reconnect with a long-lost friend from your past. f you’re like me, I find it a bit awkward to suddenly drop a note to someone you haven’t spoken to in years.
I’d still challenge you to do it—just to see what happens. Even if you don’t rekindle the relationship, at the very least, you can let that person know that you’re still thinking about them. And that alone can be valuable. You never know what kind of an impact that could have on them.
About Samantha Tovera-Agustin
Samantha Tovera-Agustin is a seasoned HR professional specializing in talent acquisition, leadership development, and employee engagement. When the pandemic hit in 2019, she launched her own business, Masarap Box (Facebook, Instagram) that delivers a monthly box of Filipino snacks right to your door.
The past three years made her realize what mattered to her. In 2021, she and her husband made a big decision to move with their two young daughters (aged five and two at the time) from California to the Philippines, where she’s originally from, to truly honor what they valued most- which was to spend more quality time with family.
Now back in the Philippines, her husband has also recently launched C-Suite Jiu-Jitsu (Facebook, Instagram), a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Training Center, and Samantha’s been able to work as an HR Consultant for Canadian and US firms, helping small to mid-size businesses with HR solutions- which also honors her professional values of serving others. With more flexibility in her schedule now, she’s been able to reconnect with her family, her friends, and most importantly, herself.
Samantha and I first connected in 2018, when she dropped me a note after watching my TEDx Talk, and we’ve remained in touch since. Watching her career evolve over the past few years has been really fascinating, and it’s not every day that I cross paths with people who make the decision to let go of a well-paid, stable job to make such a big international move. I was really excited to get her onto the Career Relaunch® podcast so you can hear how she came to her decision.
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Interview Segment Music Credits
- Ebby & Flod – Giza
- Hazy – Letting Go
- Cora Zea – Faith in Aurora
- Scott Buckley – Jul
- Podington Bear – Infant
- Podington Bear – Satellite Bloom
- Podington Bear – Beautocracy
Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser [first ~15s]: That made me think, “What if I had whether a business or a career that gave me the flexibility to own my own time and be more intentional being able to spend more time with my kids, with my husband, reconnect with myself.”
Joseph: Now, you and I haven’t spoken in a really long time until we hopped on this call a few seconds ago. I’ve got so many questions I want to ask you about your life in the Philippines and your career trajectory since we last connected, and how you came to the decision to move back to the Philippines. I’d love to just start by getting a sense of what you’re focused on right now in your career and your life. Can you also just tell me where exactly you are situated there in the Philippines?
Samantha: [03:34] Yes. We could start with where we are in the Philippines. We live in a small city called Baguio City. This is actually where I pretty much grew up until we moved to California when I was in high school. But there’s a lot of things that I’m focused on right now, personally, in my life and my career. Personally, our family is about to hit our one year living in Baguio. We moved from California last year. And then, my husband and I have two small children, 5 and 2. They are definitely keeping us busy right now. Our eldest started kindergarten this year. She is doing ballet and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Joseph: What a combination.
Samantha: [04:18] I know, right? It’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty awesome! It’s a pretty good balance, right? My husband and I, now that we have a lot more time, we try to be more intentional to reconnect with each other. We have time to breathe and go on dates once a week, even if it’s just a coffee date for an -hour, and unplug. We have this rule to not talk about our to-do list for about an hour and just talk about something else, shows or whatnot.
For me, personally, I also got to reconnect with my childhood best friend. I’ve known her literally since birth. Our dads have been college friends and we grew up together, and now we’re doing yoga every week. Aerial Yoga, which is very like something that I probably would not know in a million years that I would do as a hobby. But it’s pretty exciting, something to look forward to every week. That’s a little bit of my personal life.
Career-wise, right now, I’m helping my husband build his jiu-jitsu business, which recently opened August of this year. He’s the instructor, but I’m managing the front and back-end operations of the business, which is exciting. And then, I am working to relaunch my Filipino snack subscription box business called “Masarap Box,” one that I started in the peak of the pandemic. I temporarily had to pause that and we could probably talk about that later. Just during our move, I had to pause it for a little bit, but expecting to relaunch it next year. And then, lastly, I’m still working as an HR consultant with actually two different firms, one based in Canada and one based in the U.S. Both jobs allow me to have this flexible schedule that I have right now. It’s pretty exciting right now here!
Joseph: Super exciting! You and I actually haven’t spoken in months.
Samantha: [06:03] Yes.
Joseph: I just got an e-mail from you a couple weeks ago just as we were preparing for this. One of the things you mentioned there and I’d like to talk about this. Before we go back in time and talk about your career evolution, you mentioned you have reconnected with one of your childhood friends. I remember getting your e-mail, and that got me thinking a lot about friendship and adult friends versus childhood friends. Any major revelations for you as you’ve reconnected with her after all these years?
Samantha: [06:29] Yes, hanging out with your childhood friends and people that you grew up with in grade school and high school brings out your immature self. I’m not saying one is better than the other. You have those more profound conversations with your adult friends. Although, I still have them with my childhood friends. But I truly get to be my immature self without fear of judgment, being with the people that I grew up with because they saw everything. They saw the good, the bad, the ugly, first heartbreaks, first boyfriends. It’s a different dynamic. Am so glad that I got to reconnect with most of them living here.
Joseph: I know that you haven’t always been an HR consultant. You certainly haven’t been someone who has moved from the U.S. to the Philippines until now. This is your first big move back home. Can we just go back in time? Can you just tell us a little bit about your time as a child growing up in the Philippines, and what was life like for you there?
Samantha: [07:29] I actually was born in Manila, which is more south of where Baguio City is. But then, we moved to Baguio City at 2 years old. So, I grew up here. I went to school here. I developed all of my childhood friends. All of my friendships are here, with all of my childhood friends. My childhood was pretty amazing.
My dad is a doctor. He is a general surgeon but is also focused on cancer surgery. He’s still semi-retired, still doing that just to keep his routine going. My mom, at that time, was working in human settlements for the government. When we moved here to Baguio, she helped manage this corporation, this clinic. My dad and other doctors ran this clinic that is focused on occupational therapy. She was pretty much managing that business for a while when I was growing up. Then in my childhood, I have an older sister and a younger brother.
My parents were intentional with creating those core memories per se, creating those memories for us as kids. We would travel all over the Philippines at least three times a year together with my childhood best friend, which I do yoga with now. Our families would truly go on trips together, and that’s always the highlight every year. Like, “Where are we going to travel to next?” Our family naturally just loves traveling.
I was here until high school. A little background about my dad’s family and how we came to the states is my dad’s family was already set to go to the states in the 70s. He has four siblings, my grandparents, and they were all set to go. But then, my dad was still studying medicine when he was here, and he wanted to finish up and he was going to follow. Then, of course, he fell in love with my mom. They got married and he did not want to separate from us as a family. He wanted to petition us as a family. It was a long process. I didn’t know at that time that we were petitioned as early as the early ’90s and didn’t get approved until early 2000s.
Joseph: To get a Visa to move to the United States. That’s what you’re talking about.
Samantha: [09:39] To get our permanent residency to the U.S. It was tough for me because as you get older, you develop your friends and you’re settled here. At that time, I was in high school, and it was a hard move for me because I was questioning like, “Why? Why do I have to go? I could just go to school here.” Of course, at that time, I felt like I was forced.
In hindsight, I understand now the intention behind it and I’m happy that my parents did that. Because they wanted to give me that opportunity, right? An opportunity that probably not a lot of people had, but I had. One thing that my dad told me is that he didn’t want me or my sister or my brother to resent them for not giving us the opportunity to try to live this life outside of the Philippines, and try to kind of go for the opportunities that we have there. Again, I’m glad now. I didn’t understand at the time as a high school, 16-year-old kid, right? But, yeah, that’s how we came to America!
Joseph: Where did you guys first land and where did you grow up in the United States? What do you remember about that time?
Samantha: [10:45] We officially moved there in 2004, but we got to go on vacation there prior. I would say a year beforehand just to do all the touristy things. I vividly remember, I was sad at that time. I didn’t get to go to my high school graduation, our flight was booked before. At that time, it was a big deal. We landed in San Francisco. We lived with my dad’s family at Sunnyvale. We lived there for a while.
I had to jump right into it right away. My family really wanted me to kind of get acclimated right away. They had me like, “Hey, go to Community College. Go to De Anza.” I kind of signed up for whatever. I was already in the middle of the semester or that quarter. Whatever was available, I kind of signed up for it just so I have classes. I remember a culture shock in some ways for me because over here in the Philippines, everything is very accessible. At least in Baguio, you could walk everywhere. You could hail a cab wherever you’re at. In California, you got to have a car.
Joseph: You got to drive everywhere.
Samantha: [11:50] Yeah. It will take you hours before you get to your final destination because of all the bus stops. That was one of the big adjustments for me. I definitely like having friends. I developed friendships over there as well, and people gave me rides. But it was nerve-wracking having to get my driver’s license and all of that because I never thought I needed to drive to get anywhere. It was rough moving from the Philippines to over there.
At that time, my dad was also still working in the Philippines. So our family were kind of separated a little bit. It was also, with my immaturity at that time, that I was just so focused on “I don’t see my friends, I don’t have any friends here.” Eventually, I’m a naturally outgoing person and I started working. You know, working part-time and going to school and kind of just got acclimated, I would say within two years. Yeah, that’s a little bit about our move.
Joseph: This is a career show, and I want to switch gears here a little bit. Can you describe how you decided to go down the path of retail management as your first chapter in your career?
Samantha: [12:53] That was my first career. A lot of my experience before I became HR was in retail management. I honestly just kind of fell into it and vividly even remember getting my first seasonal part-time job at Victoria’s Secret. That was seasonal part-time. I didn’t even have interview clothes at that time. I just found out they had a group interview. I bought my interview clothes that same day and went to the interview and got it.
I, again, didn’t think I was going to be in retail for a long time. I just thought it was just going to be a college job. But then, I was fortunate enough to have amazing leaders who invested in my development. I was at Victoria’s Secret waiting for them to either lay me off and tell me, “Hey, your seasonal job is over.” But then, I got a promotion within I would say less than a year to be a team leader. That’s kind of what jump-started everything and it just kind of grew with Victoria’s Secret until I became in operations, or what they call “category manager” at that time. I was in there for probably about three years. After college, again, I feel like I only knew retail.
I felt the confidence to apply at Target, or actually, I got recruited at Target. But then, I went forward to apply to first be an HR manager. It was more of an HR generalist role at Target after college. But then, they put me in multiple roles for my own personal development as well. I was holding multiple management roles in operations in HR while I was at Target. As you may already know, working retail makes you work crazy hours. For so many years, I pretty much missed all the holidays. At that time, it didn’t matter to me because I didn’t have kids yet.
Joseph: Let’s talk about this for a second. The life of someone working in retail. I don’t know if I told you this, Sam, but I had a brief stint in retail myself when I was living in Honolulu, Hawaii at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is this big outdoor mall there on the island. I was working on the women’s floor in the shoe department helping women find a pair of shoes.
I was in my early 20s at the time, and I loved that job because I got to meet a lot of people and cross paths with folks when they were generally pretty relaxed and in a good mood. But at times, I felt
customers could be a bit condescending at times to people like me working on a store floor, folding sweaters. You know what I’m talking about?
Samantha: [15:20] Yes.
Joseph: Where people think, “Oh, this is just a part-time temporary job for you,” or “You’re serving them.”
Samantha: [15:26] Yes.
Joseph: I guess this happens in service-based industries, too. I’m just wondering what was your experience like working in retail?
Samantha: [15:35] Honestly, I probably felt that one time during Black Friday. I’m sure everyone knows how crazy Black Friday could be. I feel like that’s a really big misconception. To this day, I feel like as an HR manager and as a recruiter, when I’m doing recruiting projects, I have a little bit of a bias for retail workers because I know that they are the hard-working people that I know because they manage multiple projects during a crazy store, meeting all types of metrics while keeping the store afloat, and managing their team.
I feel there’s so much more to that, and I’ve learned a lot of great leadership skills working in retail. There is still that stigma at that time, or I don’t know if it still does now, but I think that that’s a big misconception because I feel like you could get great leaders, recruiting from retail, from someone who has worked in retail management. I’m happy to advocate for them.
Joseph: Definitely. A lot of times when you are working in retail, on the floor at least, you are directly interfacing with customers in a way that people back in the corporate head office may not be. You’re literally representing the brand.
Samantha: [16:53] Absolutely.
Joseph: A couple questions for you here. One is just trying to get a sense of how you were feeling about your career in retail, and also at what point did you feel like that schedule was no longer going to be sustainable for you in your life?
Samantha: [17:09] When I didn’t have kids, I was just in that mode of I just needed to do my best and work my way up as much as possible. I was driven. I was driven to succeed. I wanted to get to the highest management level as possible at that time. Those were my priorities. I felt like it was an investment. It was an investment of like, “I’m working all of these hours right now. It will all pay off once I get the money and get the fancy position.”
It took a toll on me when I had my daughter in 2017, my eldest daughter. Because with holidays like Christmas Eve, I didn’t leave the store until 4:00 in the morning, and my daughter missed Christmas Eve! I knew that long-term that I did not want my daughter or any future kids that I had to miss those holidays because that’s building that core memory for my kids. I’m not going to be able to take that back if I continued working retail. Development-wise, the company developed me as a leader, as a person. But my priorities have shifted when I had my firstborn.
Joseph: It’s kind of funny because our daughters were born at the same time. My daughter was also born in 2017. Once you had your firstborn, at what point did you decide you needed to make a change?
Samantha: [18:32] I started having anxiety when I have my closing shifts. I felt like I was very short-tempered, lack of sleep. At the same time, you have a toddler who doesn’t sleep through the night. I feel like I’m doing my daughter a disservice of not being the best and available mom for the very little time frame that we have together. I knew I needed to make that change, and I knew that if we were going to have more kids that it cannot move forward with that schedule.
In 2018, that’s how I came across your TED talk, which inspired me to make that career change. I saw that as a sign because I didn’t know where to start. You said earlier, there’s this stigma that when you’re in retail, you kind of just settle for that and it’s hard to get out of it. I felt that way. I felt like, “What do I do next? Retail is all I know.” But then, I saw your TED talk, and that’s really what jumpstarted. Me being that motivated to start actively looking. I even messaged you and thanked you, “Hey, this is the push I needed!”
Joseph: Right. That was how we first connected.
Samantha: [19:37] That was when we first connected. A few months after that, I got an offer. That was when I kind of gave up. I started applying. Before I gave up, I just updated my LinkedIn profile. This company was the one who reached out to me. I got an offer from this construction and development company to be their HR business partner overseeing the Northern California Division. It’s exciting for me because like, “Oh, it’s my first 9-to-5 job, and I’ve never worked a 9-to-5 job before.” It was all exciting and new to me at that time. It was in that role for about 3 and 1/2 years until again, we made this move here in Baguio.
Joseph: Okay. I want to get to that move in a moment. But before we do, you mentioned something there about applying to jobs and not getting the positive response that you had hoped to get, at least initially. This is a pretty common dynamic that comes up with people where they are in a role and they are starting to think about making a change. They start applying for other roles that they think are more promising, but they don’t end up getting the traction they want, at least initially. How did you know that you were on the right track in spite of the fact that you weren’t getting the traction that you were hoping to get at the very start?
Samantha: [20:56] At that time my goal was just get out of retail. Whatever translates to getting out of retail that gives me a better schedule, I was so focused on that. As I continue to apply, I wanted to think long and hard, “Okay, what do I value?” Kind of seeing that connection of, “What am I good at?” But then, “What also aligns with the next step of my career in my professional life?”
Being in retail management, I had that passion for being in the service of others. For me, the biggest reward is being able to see someone grow in their career. I know at Target at the time, whenever people ask me what my biggest accomplishments are, is being able to be a part of someone’s growth. I was able to promote team leaders into the next role, which is at the time being an assistant manager, prepped them for interviews, really being that strategic partner for team members. At the same time, also being that partner to managers.
Being in retail management, you have to be that kind of that the balance of advocating for employees, but kind of advocating for the business as well. That kind of got that lightbulb moment for me. Like, “Oh, I would love to be an HR business partner and be that strategic partner for a company that also truly values their team.” That’s kind of what narrowed down my search at that time.
Joseph: You identify this path. You end up moving into an HR business partner role. I’m assuming things are working pretty well for you professionally. How did things end up ultimately transpiring for you during this specific chapter in your career?
Samantha: [22:40] It was definitely a great role. I learned a lot. But really what kind of made us transition again is COVID. We hear a lot about the great resignation. A lot of things happened in 2020, for us and our family on top of COVID. In 2020, we had our second child. At that time, we kept getting asked, “When are you going to buy a house now that you have two kids? Your family is getting bigger.” The interest rates at the time was at its lowest, right? It’s time to jump in.
What was going on just at that time that was happening, my husband and I started becoming more stressed out at work. My husband was working for the county at that time as a — they called them “eligibility services technicians.” Basically, they are the ones reviewing and approving government assistance and aid, which got stressful in 2020 when many businesses shut down. A lot of people are following up on their aid. Backlog of calls are happening because everyone wants to get their aid as soon as possible. It was a stressful time for him. It was a stressful time for me working as an HR business partner with COVID is in its infancy at that time. There were so many unknowns. As HR, you have to keep up with all the ever-changing safety guidelines. It was honestly a recipe for burnout.
I hope if you have other HR professionals listening right now, I hope I get an “Amen” from them and hope they can relate. At the time, I kept hearing HR’s getting burned out. There’s no HR for HR.
Joseph: Absolutely right. Yeah, who’s helping you guys help the other people who are coming to you because they’re stressed out and trying to deal with all their different challenges?
Samantha: [24:21] Yeah, that was one of the elements as well that kind of made us think hard. Again, going back to our priority with our little kids. We’re stressed out at work. Our kids are in day-care, 12 hours a day. You know, again, we felt guilty. We felt like we were being unfair to our kids at that time. Because A, they already spent time in day-care for more than 12 hours, probably, a day. By the time that we get home, we have a solid three hours to spend time with them until we have to do it all over again.
And B, we would feel very wiped out after work. We felt like we were just not being the best version of ourselves. We’re not being intentional parents, being just wiped out at work by the time that we get home with the kids. We just kept feeling like we were running on autopilot. From getting your sleepy kids at six in the morning and doing all over again. By the time weekends hit, we’re either tired or we have to force ourselves to make these memories for our kids. Take them to the park, take them to whatever. But we only have those two days, right? It just felt like it wasn’t sustainable, for our family, at least.
Joseph: You mentioned picking up your kids at the end of the day, where I’m guessing you didn’t have a ton of energy left after having a full workday.
Samantha: [26:39] Yes.
Joseph: When you think back to those days, what kind of parent did you catch yourself being during those events? Did you notice anything?
Samantha: [25:21] I was probably like — I wouldn’t say an angry parent, but I would snap pretty fast and I felt bad. We were definitely screen-time parents. If we didn’t have time to deal with it, “Here’s your iPad. Here’s your phone.” I just need a minute to myself being like a headspace where I’m not thinking about work and not stressed out about what’s the next meal we would order in.
We probably had food delivery almost every day because I didn’t have the energy to cook. I go for convenience. If it gets delivered. If I don’t have to go out of my way. I would put in the order before I drive home. By the time I get home, it’s delivered. Groceries are also delivered. I was that type of parent. Whatever’s convenient, I will invest in that. Good thing we were in a good financial place at that time. To me, that time is that investment. It saves me time. We invested in laundry. Not having to do our own laundry because we wanted that time back for our kids.
Joseph: You’re trying to stay afloat. You’re trying to give yourself some time. Sometimes, delegating is really the only way you can do it. Around this time, you also decide that you are going to launch your own business. What motivated you to venture into the world of entrepreneurship and being a small business owner?
Samantha: [27:08] I was starting to miss home. Because my husband and I usually would visit the Philippines at least every two years. And because of COVID and the restrictions, we didn’t have that capacity to do that. It was also during the time that I was still pregnant with my second and I was craving Filipino food. Even living in California, I feel like Filipino food is easily accessible. Of course, the stuff that I was craving, growing up in the Philippines, are the ones that are hard to find. That kind of made me think, “Oh, I wonder how many people else out there, even living outside of California, Filipinos out there, working professionals there, are probably feeling the same way that I’m feeling. Kind of just missing those nostalgic Filipino snacks from our childhood in the ’90s, or early 2000s.
I started researching, and at that time, there were some other businesses that were doing kind of like gift box, Filipino gift boxes, as well. But it was still very new. I didn’t see a lot of businesses and I’m like, “Well, a lot of those businesses, they’re featuring their own products.” Versus for me, it’s sourcing those products from the Philippines, which ended up evolving, connecting with different business owners. I ended up also featuring some of their Filipino food products in my boxes, which was a great opportunity to connect with the Filipino-American community across the United States. That’s really how it started. It’s just my own personal kind of cravings. I was like, “Oh, what if I do this?” I kind of wanted to test it out. And by December, before our move, my husband and I were packing 60 boxes before we had to leave.
Joseph: You’re doing it yourself?
Samantha: [28:53] Yeah, we were doing it ourselves. It was really, truly a test run. It was just, honestly, also a distraction for me. I felt like I was losing myself in a sense that, “Hey, I don’t have any hobbies.” I pretty much just go to work, go home, be a mom. I wanted something for myself. And that’s kind of what also jumpstarted me to start this business.
Joseph: Okay, so you have started Masarap Box, which is what this is called, where you’ve got Filipino snacks that you are selecting and delivering to people. What triggered you to then start to consider making another move at this point in your career?
Samantha: [29:31] I just felt like, “Oh, there’s opportunity for me to be able to either run my own business or own my own time.” I didn’t know that I could be — I don’t say successful, but semi-successful or at it, to get the response that I did at that time when I launched Masarap Box. That made me think, “Oh, what if I had whether a business or a career that gave me the flexibility to own my own time and be more intentional with, again, my time. Being able to spend more time with my kids, with my husband, reconnect with myself, right?” I felt like I was myself again, and I had this “baby” that I owned, that I truly owned.
That is really what jumpstarted me and my husband thinking. We kept entertaining the idea of moving to the Philippines. We’ll have easy access to food, and I feel like where I grew up is a good city in Baguio. It’s a good city to raise my kids in. Overall, that’s kind of what made us think a lot until we took action, but that’s kind of what jumpstarted that thought.
Joseph: Now, on the one hand, this sounds great. You get to reconnect with family, long lost childhood friends. You get to reconnect with the culture you were once a part of. What most concerned you about making this sort of a move at this point in your life and your career?
Samantha: [30:53] The biggest fear or concern that I had was letting go of all the investment that I put in myself in my career. I went for my master’s. I went to school. I felt like I worked hard, worked long nights, worked so many hours to get to where I am now with my position and my pay, right? What if I made the wrong decision, and I come here and I don’t find a job? There’s just so many unknowns at that time. I was just thinking of all the “what ifs.” Like, “What if I fail? What if this is the wrong move?” It was also letting go of my past career because I felt I’ve created this career for myself. Letting that go and starting over was definitely a big concern for me.
But then, thankfully, my husband kind of led me back to the bigger picture. Then, how’s your mental health, right? Is it worth it? Is it worth it that you’re staying in this job? Yes, you’re making this great pay, but does it align with how we want to raise our family and how we want our kids — what childhood do we want them to grow up in? What do we want them to experience when they look back at their childhood, what would we want them to say? We want to be those present parents. That was really the defining moment for me. “Okay, this is definitely should be the right decision because this is for our kids as well.”
Joseph: It sounds like, Sam, you’re thinking about your kids. You’re thinking about the impact your job was having on your kids. Was there a particular moment that, ultimately, tipped the scales for you guys where you said, “Okay, we’ve got to make this move back to the Philippines. This is the right moment for this sort of a transition in our lives and in our careers.”?
Samantha: [32:42] We were saying, “Okay, we are going to go to jobs that we are stressed out about, paying for a home that is probably something that we couldn’t afford, or maybe we could afford, but we’re barely getting by. Or, can we use that money for this move and have a better quality of life?” That was truly when we could say, “Okay, we could do this because I’m.” I have a little bit of type A in me. Whereas, I need to see it and what we need to do and how much will that cost. It’s still good for me to kind of see something measurable, and how are we going to get there, and what the sub path looked like. So we really put that pen to paper. Once we saw the numbers and we saw everything, “Okay, we could do this.”
Joseph: Well, there is a book called the “Power of Regret” that I’m reading right now by Daniel Pink.
Samantha: [33:27] Oh, I love Daniel Pink!
Joseph: Yeah. One of the four major regrets that people have at the end of their life or even midlife is a boldness regret where they don’t do something bold.
Samantha: [33:40] That’s part of it, too. It’s like, “Okay, if I’m not going to make it now, am I going to regret it later?” Retail really helped me find of made me learn, “Yeah, fail fast.” Because in retail, you fail fast on a lot of things. I kind of apply that in my real life. I’m like, “Well, what’s going to happen if I fail? I’m not going to know until I know and I jump into it.”
Joseph: Before we get to your time back in the Philippines, can you take me back to the moment when you and your husband, and your two young daughters hopped on the plane? On your way to the Philippines, as you guys took off from San Francisco, what was running through your head?
Samantha: [34:18] There was a lot of anxiety and excitement. Getting dropped off at San Francisco with two restless children, while dragging our luggage and two big car seats was definitely the first hurdle.
Joseph: Yes. Any trip with young children . . .
Samantha: [34:36] That was definitely the first hurdle. Yes. That was the biggest hurdle for us. Did we pack enough snacks? And then, the next hurdle is when we checked in to get our tickets.
Joseph: This is December 2021, right?
Samantha: [34:48] Yes.
Joseph: Okay, so this is about two years into the pandemic. Still lots of travel restrictions and entry requirements.
Samantha: [34:55] Yes! We’ve heard stories and we witnessed it while we were checking in that there were some people that were not able to get on the plane because they didn’t take an RTPCR test 24 hours before. Because there was an easy miss if you look at that checklist on the website.
Joseph: Very confusing, yeah.
Samantha: [35:12] It was very confusing. At the time, there were still quarantine requirements. We had the quarantine with two small children in the hotel room before we got picked up after quarantine and we finally made it to Baguio. That was when we were able to have that big sigh of relief. Like, “Okay, we did it. We made it with two small children. Now, it’s where do we start and where do we go next?”
Joseph: Was there a point where you felt like this had gone from being something unknown to the right decision for you and your family?
Samantha: [35:47] Is when I hear my eldest saying, “Oh, today was a good day. I really like the Philippines. I don’t want to go back to California.” When we asked her, “Why don’t you want to go back to California?” It’s like, “Well, because Mommy and Daddy gets to spend more time with me.” That like, “Oh, my gosh!” I was bawling my eyes out! That was the defining moment for us where we knew that even as a 5-year-old, she could tell the difference of having stressed-out parents to having more present and intentional parents. That happened within less than a year, right? Kids will always tell the truth. They would never put a filter on anything, and I think that was the defining moment for me for sure.
Joseph: Did you notice anything about yourself? The Sam back in the Philippines versus the Sam in the Bay Area. Just on a day-to-day basis, how you felt, anything you noticed about yourself during that first year back there?
Samantha: [36:46] It was weird. I felt weird at first. Because Bay Area Sam is always on the go. Like, I would feel weird if I slow down. “What’s next?” Or we have downtime, we could check this off our list while we have time. Versus over here, I get to slow down. I get to reconnect with myself and it’s refreshing to have some time for myself as well because you need that. As a mom, as a wife, and just as a person, to reconnect with yourself and being able to kind of have something that you call your own.
For me, that’s being able to spend time with friends, having yoga, or anything that I only do for myself. Not because selfishly, but it’s just helped me feel a human being again. Yes. I feel like I’m the more laid-back Sam in the Philippines versus California Sam.
Joseph: I can’t help but think about myself as a parent as you’re describing these stories to me. Because I do sometimes feel guilty if I’m just taking a moment for myself to just do something for me. I don’t know why. Why do you think that is? As a parent that that’s so hard to give yourself permission to do that.
Samantha: [37:57] It’s so funny because that’s what me and my husband were just talking about a few days ago. It’s hard because you missed your kids. That’s why you feel guilty. But, at the same time, I feel like for you to be able to be at your best for your kids, you have to be your best self first in however way you need to — I wouldn’t say disconnect, but channel that or cope with that. You have to have some type of way to cope with life because you are still a human being, and you need that reminder that you still need that. You have your own needs as well.
However way you do that, whether it’s yoga, whether it’s working out, whether it’s taking a walk, that makes a difference and put you in a better headspace, and be available and ready for your kids. There’s always going to be that guilt. It’s because you miss your kids, right? You need time away from them, but the moment that you get time away from them, you miss them right away. It’s just going to be an ongoing challenge as a parent.
Joseph: I do want to talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way during your move back to the Philippines. I am curious to hear what has been the most surprising thing about returning there.
Samantha: [39:13] Living in Baguio City, even though traffic is probably worse from years ago, I feel like you could still get to where you need to go within 20 minutes. I feel like that takes back a lot of your time. You could be intentional with your time depending where you’re located. It plays a big deal. If you’re doing this two-hour commute at work, there’s so much you can do living in a smaller city, within two hours that you probably won’t have living in California. The time, how much I could do in a day. Because again, it’s such a small city and everything is still accessible. That’s what surprised me is how much time you could take back.
Joseph: As you leave a city like San Francisco, which sort of I guess on the outside and even on the inside when you’re living there, feels like this city of opportunity and growth, and a lot of the tech companies are there. Well, I’ve got clients sometimes, or cross paths with people who are about to make a move away from a big city, which feels like the place to be, with a lot of opportunity to then move to a smaller city or away from the “professional scene.” Did that run through your head? And if so, what advice would you give to the Samantha who was pondering whether to move away from a city like San Francisco?
Samantha: [40:34] Manage your expectations and do your research. Another thing too is, you know, how it was when I was a kid is probably not the same. There are probably some similarities, except that there are some things that you’re probably going to have to address to. Managing those expectations is very important. Really knowing what you value the most. Yes, there’s all of these things, but does that align with your values? Or how big will that impact your personal or professional values if you were to move there? As long as you know what you value the most, which in my case is being able to spend time with my kids, everything else is secondary.
Joseph: Well, that’s a great segue, Sam, into the last thing I want to talk with you about before we wrap up, which is just a couple questions about the lessons you’ve learned along the way. And then, we can talk a little bit about what you’re up to right now. What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself moving away from the Philippines to work in the U.S. for many years, and now returning to the Philippines?
Samantha: [41:33] One thing that I’ve learned about myself is that I needed to slow down. I just felt I was not being productive or I always felt restless. If I wasn’t doing anything, if I wasn’t keeping myself busy, slowing down helped me see things more clearly and speed up the process. One thing that I learned about myself, that I was going too fast and that’s slowing down is not a bad thing.
Joseph: What is something that you now know about career transitions that you wished you had known in the past?
Samantha: [42:11] The advice I would give myself is to be bold. This is probably cliché to hear, but life is short. But it truly is. The exciting part begins when you surrender to the unknown, even if it means that you might fail in some areas along the way. If you’re just kind of settling because you’re too afraid to fail, it’s better to just fail fast so you could learn faster and move forward.
Joseph: I want to wrap up with what you’re doing now. You mentioned this at the beginning of our conversation that your husband started some jiu-jitsu lessons. It sounds like your daughter is benefiting from this right now also alongside her ballet. Can you tell me a little bit more about C-Suite Jiu-Jitsu? What is that?
Samantha: [42:50] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. C-Suite Jiu Jitsu is Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons that we offer for kids as young as 5 through 16 years old, to adults as well. We also have women’s self-defense classes. Virtually, anyone in any size, as long as you know the right techniques, you’re able to escape from someone attacking you, whether they’re 100 pounds bigger than you. There are some ways to combat that. I feel like it’s a good life skill to have.
My husband, Benjamin Agustin, is the one running it. He’s the one teaching all the classes. I am running the operations. We just started this year but been having a lot of great feedback from people and there have been a lot of great signups, which is very exciting.
Joseph: In college, I very briefly took jiu-jitsu myself.
Samantha: [43:41] Oh, nice!
Joseph: I didn’t make it past white belt because I just didn’t have as much time in college. I was so caught up with my pre-med studies at the time. I feel like if there were one martial art I’d want our daughter to learn, it would be jiu-jitsu. Just because it’s so practical to everyday life and self-defense. Whatever happened to Masarap Box? What’s the current status of that business for you?
Samantha: [44:04] There were a lot of unexpected things that I didn’t anticipate with our suppliers. And just the cost, we are trying to reassess what would be a better value for everyone. I’m sorting that through right now. I just thought it was best for us to pause shipments this year, but something’s brewing, and I am working on rebranding it for next year. So, stay tuned. Hopefully, I get to update you as soon as we get that live again.
Joseph: If people want to learn more about C-Suite Jiu Jitsu, or if they want to keep up with what’s happening with Masarap Box, where can people go?
Samantha: [44:41] At least for C-Suite Jiu Jitsu, we are most active on Facebook and Instagram. If you just look up our handle, @csuitejiujitsu. For Masarap Box, @shopmasarapbox, mainly on Instagram. Yes, if anyone wants to learn more about just me personally and wants to shoot me a message or have any questions about my story or about career transitions, they could also easily look up my name on LinkedIn as well. That would be Samantha Tovera Agustin.
Joseph: Well, thank you so much, Sam, for telling us about your life as an HR consultant and business owner. How you managed your transition from the Philippines to the U.S., then back. Also, the importance of just getting clear on your priorities and values along the way of your career journey. Best of luck with C-Suite Jui Jitsu, Masarap Box, your HR consulting work, and also your life there in the Philippines. I hope it all continues to go well for you.
Samantha: [45:37] Thank you so much, Joseph. Thank you again for having me today.