Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.
As we celebrate Women's Month, I couldn't help but remember all the women who have inspired me through the years, one of them being an old college schoolmate who was always equal parts cool, smart and sassy. Her name is Patricia "Patty" de Belen and I met her over 10 years ago in one of our marketing classes. I remember her as someone who was always self-aware and unafraid to speak her mind. This is the reason why it came as no surprise to see her success as an executive for one of the country's biggest bus lines, a triathlete, and a supermom to six-year-old Justin.
When asked about her journey so far, Patty said, "If you're going to tell me five years ago that I will turn out to be the person that I am today, I would have laughed and said it was impossible to happen. Although I went to the gym regularly, fitness was just a facet in my life than what it is for me now.
As the youngest among five daughters, I've put myself under a lot of pressure to excel especially when I became a mother."
"I had this idea that if my sisters who have multiple children were able to raise their children the way they did, raising one child should be a walk in the park. What I didn't anticipate back then is the fact that there is no template for raising the perfect child and thought I was failing as a mom. I pressured myself so much that led me to be diagnosed with Postpartum Depression."
Patty knew that in order to be her best self, she needed to seek support, "A person who I thought I could trust with my most vulnerable thoughts didn't support me in seeking professional help for depression and even mentioned admitting that I'm crazy. But there are others who knew postpartum depression shouldn't be taken lightly and empowered me to seek help in order to strive to be better. Believing in yourself and having supportive people helped me start my journey in recovery and definitely helped in becoming the person that I am today."
It was this decision that led to her life's biggest and brightest change, saying, "My therapist advised me to ease back to the things I used to do before motherhood and suggested I start an exercise regimen as part of therapy. Since I couldn't leave my son back then, I turned our afternoon strolls as exercise. We started when my son was seven months old while he was in his stroller and I was panting for breath on the 400th meter in the first week. Six years later, I have joined various multisport competitions and my son has joined multiple fun runs and will soon be joining his first IRONKIDS competition."
Aside from being a triathlete, Patty also serves as the Managing Director for Metrolink Bus Corporation, a position she feels she has been preparing for her entire life.
"Marketing has always been a passion of mine. I completed my degree from Southville Foreign University and pursued further studies in Marketing and Project Management from the University of California Berkeley. I had an opportunity to work in the United States after graduation so I ventured to work in public relations agencies in San Francisco and New York."
However, it was both her family that encouraged her to go back home.
"Being the youngest, I decided to go back to the Philippines and started working for a media advertising agency. My mom then offered me to be the Management Director of one of her businesses in providing public transportation services in the metro. Our family has been in this industry for forty years. I grew up spending most weekends of my childhood in our terminals, including my current office. That experience tremendously helped in monitoring overall operations and resources, setting strategic decisions, and organizing suppliers for the company."
Away from the boardroom, Patty has learned to turn her hobby into another feather to her already multi-hyphenated cap, " After how fitness helped me overcome postpartum depression, I integrated it as part of my lifestyle. I started joining fun runs and got enticed in joining obstacle course racing.
Rather than stop my fitness regimen during the pandemic when there is no access to gyms, I decided to get my certification in Crossfit so I can train myself and possibly help others jumpstart their fitness journey. I also love being in the water: being a certified SCUBA diver at 16 years old and was a consistent long distance stand-up paddle boarder and surfer before pregnancy that led my coach to suggest that I should start swimming."
She continued, "I sought the help of Coach Patrick Joson of Jumpstart Tri to teach the proper swim form and technique in preparation for my first swim competition in 2022. That led to participating in various long distance open water swims in the Philippines – including the most anticipated swim event, Swim Junkie Challenge Caramoan – an inter-island swim for 10 kilometers. I was invited to be the team's assistant swim coach and I am now a Certified Level 2 Swim Coach from the world-renowned American Swimming Coaches Association."
She then shared, "But my greatest achievement would be being a single mother to Justin, a 6-year-old boy who's equally hyper and sweet. Since we started having an active lifestyle together, this is also a way for us to bond and he considers this as playtime with mommy. That way, he never would feel the pressure and would always see the positive aspects in competitions."
As one of the strongest women I know, I asked Patty what her definition of being a strong woman is and what are the biggest lessons she has learned so far.
"A strong woman, in essence, is a woman who is dignified in her own actions and decisions. Despite living in the modern world, we still somehow live in a patriarchal society in which strong women are not as respected equally compared to strong men. I used to think that sacrificing my own achievements is the greatest attestment of making any type of relationship work. I'm not proud to admit that I even sacrificed my own career for another person; but I do hope this experience will teach other women not to sacrifice their own beliefs just because the people around them do not share the same sentiment."
She continued, "With that said, the biggest lesson for me is to stand and defend for your own values and principles. I wasn't confident to make my own decisions because I always let others do it for me thinking that it would make everyone else happy. But I realized that I was the one who wasn't.
Becoming a mom also taught me a lot about compassion. Millennial moms are so pressured for their children to excel in everything given the resources available now. But more than achievements, the best time to teach children to be compassionate is at a young age. They have the rest of their lives to prove that they can excel but it's more complex for adults to start learning how to be more compassionate and give empathy to other people."
When asked how she excels in her field which used to be dominated by men, she enthused, "You would be surprised that the industry I work in is dominated by companies headed by women whose workforce comprises mostly men. It was complex at first to assert authority as one of the youngest leaders in the industry (and being a woman at that)."
"As a proud millenial in an industry started by the boomer generation, success can be achieved through hard facts. You can't sugarcoat that your business is thriving if you don't treat your workforce the treatment they deserve. And just like in any industry, hard work can get you to the top but you also need to have a lot of compassion for others to remain there. Being a leader is not teaching others to become slave drivers; providing your employees a chance to grow within the company will teach them valuable lessons that they can carry on whether in their career or in other aspects in life, just like how the level discipline that training for multisport competitions has taught me."
On the other hand, when asked how she felt about the superwoman title, she shared, "I don't consider myself a superwoman because everything I've done is actually attainable. And I wouldn't be able to accomplish a lot of things without the help and support of those who have faith in me. I am very grateful for the people at work who have shown loyalty and compassion for the company and do not just treat their employment just as a means to provide financial assistance. While I respect my mom's legacy of establishing the company, our team has modernized operations that made it more effective. There's always a way to give back to the hard work of those who are the instruments of the company's growth."
She added, "I am humbled by the triathlon community in the Philippines who are collaborative in sports even if the industry is competitive in nature.
Doing a sport with people who come from different walks of life teaches that no matter who you are outside of it, your success is determined strictly from the results. It's not hard to establish friendships in the community since everyone knows the level of discipline one must do to accomplish this sport."
She also credits her 'village' for helping her raise her son as a single mom, "I'm also very grateful for the people who help me raise my son so he can be taken care of while I try to accomplish my goals. I consider myself as a hands-on mom but I also value independence at a young age (helicopter parenting is not my thing!) because it will help my son develop interpersonal skills and autonomy to rules even if I'm not around. I'm proud to see how Justin has a tremendous respect for women that he calls any grandmother he meets a 'queen.'"
And finally, when asked for advice for other superwomen like her, Patty enthused," I would advise not just for superwomen but women in general: you are capable and can be successful in your own right. A colleague and friend who I highly respect shared this with me and I hope this will enlighten others the way it did for me: "Success should never be measured on how many cars you own or how many houses you acquire but rather how many people you helped to reach their potentials." While it's good to have material things from hard work, intangible learnings that were passed from employers to employees can be passed onto future generations and can help shape the future generations for the better."