Abi Portillo on the frills and thrills of a 21st-century Filipina



Without a doubt, Abi Portillo is a force of a nature. Her dark curls, boisterous life, and tanned skin reflects a woman whose life is filled with adventures.

Having known her since I was seven, Abi has long been this symbol of what a 21st century woman should be: fiercely independent, ferociously loyal, and determined to make the most out of life, no matter what the circumstance.

For as long as I have known her, Abi has always been this lively character who had a lot of stories to tell. And one of those stories is quitting her high profile job with one of the country’s top magazines in order to forge a path that is completely her own.

Her story is one that millennials dream about as they clock into a 9-to-5 job but Abi starts off by saying that no “lifestyle” is better than the other.

“There’s nothing wrong with a 9-to-5 desk job. There really shouldn’t be a debate on one lifestyle being better than the other, it doesn’t work that way. Some fit better in a structured environment, while others are better off freewheeling. There is no one mold to how to live a life,” she states.

And she knows what she is talking about for she too has spent time in the corporate world, working for one of the country’s top media hubs.

The Ateneo De Manila alum recalls, “After graduation, I didn’t always know that I’d be happier outside of an office. Or maybe I did but I walked that path first because I knew it was what was expected of me as a young adult. Similar to everyone else my age, who are all trying to just figure ourselves out, working for an institution was something I wanted to try on for size.”

Her rationale for trying out the conventional way was this, “If it didn’t turn out to suit me, at least I have tried and I could just figure it out later on.”

Even at a young age, however, Abi knew that she wasn’t well-suited for the crampy corporate lifestyle, “I knew myself well enough to know what would feel suffocating and what would not. Working in the creative side of media kept me on my toes and that was appealing. It was extremely exhilarating. I stayed on because it was invaluable experience that is useful to me to this day.”

Despite enjoying the work she was doing, Abi felt like something was missing, “I was working a steady job, getting paid an alright amount of money but I didn’t have the time or energy to tend to myself.”

Her wake-up call was her barely there life outside of work, “There was no life apart from work. When I was out with my friends, I had nothing else to contribute apart from complaining about work. I’d get home too late for dinner so I ate my meals alone—sometimes at stoplights, stuck in traffic. Home became a place for me to sleep. I was lonely, stuck, and what felt like a dead end. I was angry and crying all the time.”

The bubbly version of her was lost until a trip to Myanmar.

“I saw the sun rise over the temples at Bagan. There was something about the sun that day because it looked more like a computer-generated image rather than real life but it was the most amazing thing I have witnessed in recent years,” she relates.

It was this trip that clicked something inside of her, “When I returned to my ‘cage,’ I decided that it was worth pursuing a life that allowed me to see and experience more of those amazing things.”

However she disclaims, “Don’t get me wrong—amazing things come in many forms and could mean many things to different people. It’s just that for me, they happen to be oriented toward travelling, nature, stories, and culture. Three days after the sunrise, I leapt before I looked and quit my job.”

She goes on to describe it as, “The thing about making great leaps is that nets do appear. Either that or you’re on survival mode and you’re hungrier to make things happen because you have nothing.”

Contrary to movie montages, Abi didn’t initially feel comfortable, “The first few months were a roller coaster though I didn’t regret my decision of veering away from a path that everyone embedded in me to take. It was a constant oscillation of freedom and of anxiety that was trickled scared yet hopeful pep talks where I always told myself that I could do it.”

A little over two years after leaving that job, Abi is now a business owner after having launched Serena, a product line using mainly coffee and coconut oil that best suits Filipina skin.

She also works part-time at a music festival production company and also part-time as a business development and marketing consultant in her friend’s culture space in Intramuros.

She goes on to debunk the myth however that her life is “relaxed” and “worry-free.”

“My life is great, that is true, but it is not without worry. I have had to sacrifice a lot of things like security and living through snide comments of some money- motivated relatives who don’t understand that one’s idea of a successful life is quite different from theirs. I mean I do worry about money because paydays come sporadically but I’ve learned to adjust my own lifestyle. With that comes lessons in being ascetic and learning how to live simply and wanting less. Not having that kind of security ironically took the jadedness out of me,” she empathically shares.

She also says, “A lot of people think I don’t work but of course I do. But the best thing about this life of mine is that I have full accountability of everything. Time, decisions, work, output, mistakes, credit —they are all mine. I have the opportunity to take control and pioneer a path for myself. It’s a freedom that I have never experienced before and I love it!”

How does she describe a strong, modern woman?

“I think being a strong, modern woman means having self-awareness to recognize your strengths, weaknesses, resources, and priorities, taking control, taking names, and taking no BS; going for what you want and not apologizing for all or any of it. It’s choosing the life that you want to live; what sets you on fire and going for it. It may mean letting go of a few things and while this is not a walk in the park, it’s worth it. It’s birthing pains and you’re giving birth to yourself. It isn’t comfortable but it’s worth it to be able to call your life your own,” Abi confidently asserts.



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