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An Irishman’s Pinoy Pride

How expat Mike Grogan works to change the Philippines, the land that changed him.

Words by ANGELO CANTERAImages by LEAH DE LEON

He could’ve chosen to live in countries of the first world, but Mike Grogan—an Irish-born motivational speaker, author and corporate trainer—chose to live in the Philippines instead.

The decision caught many off guard. The man, after all, is a consummate traveler who has been to around 40 countries before hitting his late 30s; any one of which could’ve wooed him to stay for good. Meanwhile, there’s also the option of Ireland where his family remains; he could’ve stayed with them instead of compelling his mother to believe that he’s gone “a little crazy” for his residence of choice. Nevertheless, he was seen at his office in Makati City last August, sitting by a desk that overlooked one of the roads that course through Legazpi Village, declaring that he felt at home.

“I believe in the Philippines,” he said. And in the last four years, he has made a name for himself by telling people why.

Since coming to the Philippines in 2014, Grogan has been privy to some of the finer points of Philippine culture. Local brands of communal unity and conviviality, for instance, were made apparent to him during his first year. Meanwhile, news reports on local typhoons and their aftermaths introduced to him the weatherproof spirit possessed by many of the country’s residents, they who managed to smile and make light of their adversities while wading through belly-deep floods. Also made known to him were the local stories of triumph: the biographies of Filipinos who went from rags to riches, the everyday heroism of the country’s people, the diamonds in the rough.

“These inspire me to become a better man,” he said. But these aren’t the only things he discovered during the initial years of his stay. Much to Grogan’s dismay, the knowledge of local strengths came with the knowledge of local weaknesses. And as he surveyed the intricacies of the Philippine identity, he found alongside its virtues the one thing which he considered to be the country’s greatest deterrent.

“False belief,” he said. “The number one problem of Filipinos is false belief. False belief that they’re not good enough, not smart enough.”

Grogan shared that since he came to the country, he has met many Filipino youths and they have, on several occasions, left him “devastated.”

“So much potential, so much talent,” he said, “but because I’m a foreigner, they automatically think I’m better than them. Absolutely not.”

To prove his point, Grogan launched an ambitious, multipronged campaign to uplift local self-esteem. It started with “The Best of You,” a podcast that Grogan started months just after he arrived. During its heyday, he used it as a platform to bring focus to locals widely successful in various fields.

Picking up on where that left off are his talks which, as of the writing of this feature, have been attended by a total of more than 120,000 Filipinos. Highly regarded both locally and abroad, his speeches commonly zone in on the widely acclaimed traits Filipinos are known for and why they should be celebrated.

The man also released a number of videos through social media and at least one of them got an enormous amount of engagements; in it, he questioned the Philippine obsession with whitening products and urged locals to be proud of their skin.

And then there are the books he has written to promote Philippine excellence. “The Rise of The Pinoy,” for instance, continued the legacy of his podcast. Published in 2016, it streamlines the stories of 21 Filipinos he deems “world class” to give seven tips to success. The second book, meanwhile, puts the spotlight on seven traits common amongst locals to present—as its title explicates—“7 Reasons Why Filipinos Will Change the World.” Published earlier this year, its cover—a butterfly whose wings bear the design of the Philippine flag—is a reference to Grogan’s view of the Philippines.

“The butterfly physically cannot see its wings,” he said. “[It] does not know how beautiful it is, how much potential it has, how extraordinary it is. Sometimes, it needs an outsider to remind it of its potential.” And Grogan—with his blue eyes, his wavy dark blonde hair, and his freckled fair skin—is that outsider. He sees and brings attention to the positive things that many locals have come to take for granted.

“I feel like that’s my job here in the Philippines,” he said; its fulfillment is yet another reason for him to stay. And it is a thing of irony that what led him to this purpose were the people who actually left the country.

When the “OIW” met the OFWs

In one of the talks he gave earlier this year at an event by Accenture’s branch in the Philippines, Grogan said that he was born in Ireland, a country he regarded as “the Philippines of Europe.” His inspiration for this mantle stems from the many parallels between the two nations. Both, after all, were colonies in the past, and both have strong ties to the Roman Catholic faith. That being said, Grogan stated that among the similarities between the Philippines and Ireland that he could relate to the most is the history of mass immigration experienced by both countries—a phenomenon which he too became part of more than a decade ago.

“OIW ako [I was an OIW],” he said to the crowd before clarifying his claim. “Overseas Irish worker.” He earned the right to that handle in 2006.

After graduating from Belfield’s University College Dublin with a degree in chemical engineering, Grogan landed a job at Merck’s operation in Philadelphia. He started out as a process engineer and slowly moved up the ranks in a span of around eight years.

“I was pursuing the American dream,” he said.  “I went to America not to help America. Wealth, excess, quality of life; those were my motives.”

This changed, however. Soon enough, Grogan found himself eyeing a Philippine migration and it is because of one realization that confronted him in a life filled with travels.

“Every country that I’ve been to always [had an overseas Filipino worker,]” he shared. “In the Middle East, in Africa, in the US.” And meeting them struck a chord with him.

“I couldn’t put words in it,” he added, “but I always felt that they were different to the other nationalities that I’ve met. Maybe it’s because I’m Irish. There were a lot of values that we shared.” But there were also differences between him and the Filipinos he met which he was quick to note.

“The one thing that really impressed me was sacrifice,” he related. “Every single overseas Filipino that I’ve met was there not for their own benefit and I want to compare that to me.” “For me,” he added later on, “the dream was money, holidays, cars.”

This urged him to visit to the Philippines after working for two years in Tanzania. He wanted to understand where this capacity for sacrifice is coming from. And after some time in the country—after seeing his first jeepney, getting his first taste of the Philippine lechon and discover the realities of its people—he had this to say to himself: “this can be your home for the rest of your life.”

From inspiration to action

Since seeing his future in the Philippines, Grogan has wanted to see the country do well. And to him, that meant the realization of a “First World Philippines,” a country he imagines from the roof deck of his apartment building, a nation where “no one will be left behind.” This, at least, is how he describes the dream in the epilogue of “The Rise of the Pinoy.” And he’s been doing his part to make it a reality.

True, the man has his own professional pursuits in the Philippines and it takes up some of his time. He is, after all, a trainer with corporate clients tapping his expertise in habit creation, leadership development and the Lean Kaizen management philosophy. But what really keeps him busy these days is his advocacy of inspiring Filipinos.

Just recently, Grogan and his team went to Cebu to give motivational talks to about 1000 students. After that, he went to the Middle East with the support of GSC-PhilCAD to give inspirational speeches to Filipino workers there and businessmen with interests in the Philippines. And in between these two out-of-town engagements, the backend support of his operation was at work in translating his books to Tagalog.

“And next year, I kinda wanna learn Cebuano,” he said. He expected that this (along with a better grasp of Tagalog) should aid him in his goal to speak to and inspire “at least 10 million Filipinos.”

But if he wants the first world Philippines to become anything more than a goal, Grogan understands that providing inspiration isn’t enough.

“Yes,” he said, “I left a thousand students in Cebu feeling very good after the talk and we shared some good stories and we felt inspired but—I know there’s a Filipino term for this…”

Ningas-kugon,’’ he said after remembering, that custom wherein enthusiasm, while present at the beginning of one’s pursuit, disappears soon after. Many Filipinos are afflicted with this, Grogan said and “that’s my single greatest nightmare as an influencer.” This is why he wrote his latest book: “Unlocking the Habit Code.”

Published this year, “Unlocking the Habit Code” leverages Grogan’s process expertise to create a guide on how to “make change easy in both business and life” through habits. At nearly 300 pages, it begins with Grogan talking about his own personal difficulties with the act of creating lasting change. He then rallies the wisdom of several influential people throughout history and cites scientifically backed methods on habit formation. He also throws in a few anecdotes about his own successes and failures to drive home his point.

“I really believe that habits are the answer,” he said. “Inspiration on its own is not enough. So, that book and the message of that book is to help people take action.”

Nevertheless, inspiration is present throughout its pages. At the end of the book, for instance, Grogan talks about greatness being more accessible in this day and age thanks to the abundance of available information. Meanwhile, at the end of it is a promise, the same one he’s been giving to the Philippines ever since he came here four years ago.

“Your greatest days are ahead,” he wrote. And should those days ever come for the country, Grogan expects that despite the misgivings of many, he’ll be around to see it.

One Response to "An Irishman’s Pinoy Pride"
  1. Where can I find your published books? How much are they (per book?)
    God bless your dear heart for trying to help the Filipinos for the better, for the best.

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