StreetTalk: If life gives you lemons, make lemonade


By Greg B. Macabenta

There is a saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In other words, you try to make the best out of what fate has given you.

Jessica cox, a young Filipino-American from Arizona was born without arms. In 2005, she decided to learn how to fly a plane. It took her three years and a plane with special dual controls that she could manipulate with her feet – but Jessica succeeded in earning her pilot’s license.

She became the world’s first armless licensed pilot. But that’s not all. Jessica is also the world’s first armless taekwando black belter. She is married to her karate instructor, Patrick Chamberlain. This suggests that she is also good in this martial art.

Jessica, who has a book on her life entitled, Righthanded, devotes a good part of her time as a motivational speaker, inspiring those who would otherwise despair over their misfortunes.

If a college degree is considered a plum, then dropping out of college would be like getting lemons. But many high-tech legends converted their lemons into lemonade, among them, Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerbeg of Facebook, and Larry Ellison of Oracle. These multi-billionaires all dropped out of college en route to making their fortunes and changing the world’s digital landscape. Of Forbes Magazine’s 2017 list of the 400 wealthiest people in the US, 70 did not finish college.

In another era, industrialist Andrew Carnegie was also a college drop-out, while Thomas Edison, who invented the incandescent lamp, the phonograph and the movie camera, among many others, did not even finish high school.

Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s greatest presidents, had very little formal education. But Lincoln had a voracious appetite for learning. As a barefoot boy, he studied by lamplight in a log cabin.

Max Indolos was the editor-in-chief of the Movie Confidential Magazine, of which I was associate editor as a teenage writer. Max and his wife may not have been in the same league as the high-tech and industrial titans but they did something that most parents would consider daunting. They decided to teach their children at home instead of sending them to regular schools. The kids attained college level education to a degree that would have been the envy of most alumni of exclusive universities.

Well, maybe, these were exemplary human beings who could have made a fortune making virtual lemonades out of the lemons that life had given them. But what about ordinary folks with ordinary talents and skills but subjected to extraordinary streaks of bad luck?

What does one do in the face of the coronavirus/COVID-19 global pandemic that has forced businesses to close down and lay off their employees? And what do you do if you suddenly find yourself without regular earnings while your bills continue coming regularly? What do you do with your time if you are forced to remain indoors for weeks and even months?

How does one make lemonade out of this bitter lemon?

One fine example is the ready-to-wear company in Florida that switched from making clothes to fabricating face masks when the coronavirus pandemic caused most manufacturing operations to close down. The RTW firm has been able to keep its workforce and has even hired extra help.

An Asian supermarket and restaurant chain has developed a new online customer segment among young homeowners who had remained untapped through its regular bricks-and-mortar operations. Restaurants that have not been able to offer dine-in services are managing to remain in business with home-delivered meals.

Hunger is said to be stalking those who have lost their jobs. But, as a little boy during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, I recall that most people did not have jobs, either. But the Japanese army, realizing the need to keep the people fed, made it mandatory for every household to grow its own vegetables. Those that did not have land had to plant in pots which were mounted on the window sills of their homes. Home-grown poultry and hogs provided the meat requirements of people, while those living by the sea or near rivers and streams survived by fishing.

Indeed, the squatter problem of Metro Manila would be significantly solved if people remained in the provinces where seeds stuck into the ground can sprout into edibles while the seas and rivers yield fish a-plenty.

Of course, I should not criticize those who decide to go to the big cities to try their luck. My own parents gave up a comfortable existence in Leyte to bring us, their children, to Manila – because they felt that the city was where we could get our “breaks.” It was a struggle, because no one had a job at the outset, but through God’s mercy and through hard work, we managed to make lemonade out of the lemons of our lives. Of my parents’ five children, four had the benefit of higher education, with two becoming medical doctors.

Only one could not finish college. Me. I guess I was too busy making lemonade out of the lemons.

Years later, my wife and I decided to relocate to the US to give our four children their own “breaks.” To do this, I had to give up my job as CEO of an advertising agency in Manila.

I was willing to take on any kind of job to feed my family and send the kids to school, but being a college drop-out limited my employment options. So I decided to follow a piece of advice that I had been giving to friends who had difficulty finding satisfactory jobs in America: put up a company and appoint yourself President and General Manager. That would look impressive on a business card. With your self-confidence revived, build a network of contacts and prospects. With diligence, luck and prayers, you could hit paydirt.

I got to know Philippine News publisher Alex Esclamado. With his encouragement and a loan, we set up an ad agency, Minority Media Services, that would specialize on the Filipino- American consumer market.

This was at a time when the major advertisers were not even aware of the potentials of this market segment. But like prospectors digging for gold, through hard work and diligence, we finally hit paydirt. We landed AT&T as a client. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

But to go back to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been some positive results, of sorts. With most cars kept off the streets and traffic minimized, the environment has been cleared of smog and the air has been cleansed, The coronavirus scare has also kept wayward husbands at home for their children to finally get to know, although this has also created marital problems among stir-crazy adults and frustrated adulterers.

Of course, life’s lemons can also be used to make bad lemonade. The face masks and gloves that have become necessary as protection against the virus can hide the identities and fingerprints of criminals. I haven’t heard of any incidents, so far – but the pandemic has already been used in other unsavory ways. Hustlers have been soliciting donations from unsuspecting folks, ostensibly for the benefit of the poor and those who have lost their jobs.

It should also have become obvious by now that a certain politician has been using the television briefings on the pandemic as a means to gain high visibility and prominence.

And if you believe in karma, then you may also have noted that this tactic has backfired on the politician. Instead of enhancing his popularity, the TV briefings have exposed his mean-spirited nature and his ignorance.

That’s what you call harvesting rotten fruits from the lemon tree.

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