Breadwinner’s grad post about hard work is going viral 2
Leo Jaminola recently finished his master’s degree in Demography at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Photo courtesy of Jaminola

This breadwinner’s grad post is striking a chord for its message on sad truth about hard work

For 25-year-old Leo Jaminola, he’s definitely put in the hard work, but it’s become more and more obvious that hard work just ain’t enough
LEO JAMINOLA | Jul 31 2023

Graduation essays tend to be about conquering struggles and the value of hard work, but there’s something about 25-year-old Leo Jaminola’s Facebook essay that rings different. It says hard work is never enough and, for a breadwinner like him, the struggles are hardly over. The day-old post is clearly striking a chord among netizens that it has, as of press time, gotten more than 3,500 reactions and has been shared 1,600 times. 

“I’ve always felt like stories about failing, being a working student, and struggling financially are not reflective of many of the graduation speeches I’ve heard,” Jaminola told ANCX when asked what brought about his essay. “So, this post is essentially my little way of saying to all the working students, all the breadwinners, and people struggling that ‘I see you and you can get through this.’”

Leo Jaminola
Leo Jaminola currently works for a global environmental non-profit focusing on reducing waste and implementing solutions with grassroots organizations.

Jaminola just finished his master’s degree in Demography, which followed the completion of his undergraduate degree in Political Science at UP Diliman in 2019. “To say that the journey toward getting my undergraduate and graduate degrees has been challenging is an understatement. I faced so many difficulties and there have been many moments that I nearly gave up.”

Below is Jaminola’s full essay: 

This year marks nearly a decade of being a working student, five years of being my family’s breadwinner, and the completion of my master’s degree at the University of the Philippines Diliman. 

Four years ago, during my graduation with my bachelor's degree, I shared that I took as many as six jobs to finance my studies — an encoder, a transcriptionist, a library student assistant, a tutor, a writer, and even a food vendor.  As such, graduating with honors back then was nothing short of a miracle. In the years that followed, the list of jobs I took just grew longer as I became a research assistant, a government employee, a development worker, and a consultant for different projects with some engagements overlapping with each other.  

I applied for jobs even when I wasn’t confident in my skills or didn’t have experience in that particular line of work. I still risked and fought tooth and nail to get those opportunities because the potential income I could get to ensure my family's survival far outweighs any uncharted territory I need to cross with these jobs. Through all of this, I imbibed the mantra of faking it until you make it, and I still live by this up to this day. 

Apart from taking up jobs, I also often entered into essay writing competitions and fellowships that offered cash incentives in an attempt to augment my income. I succeeded in some of these competitions and earned some cash but I also lost in so many others.

In short, the past years have been a long-winding maze of seeking financial security and I have still yet to find a way out of this crisis. From full-time work, part-time work, and competitions, I did my best to provide not only for myself but also for my family. 

To be honest, there are moments when the pressure becomes overwhelming and I wish that I can disappear – even just for a tiny while. But then I remember that the needs of the people I love largely depended on me so I dust myself, drown the chorus of self-doubt in my head, and breathe deeply before continuing work once more. 

Photo after the college recognition ceremonies.
Photo after the college recognition ceremonies.

I constantly tell my friends (and myself) that life is not a race. Because if it is, I am definitely on the losing side and trailing by miles and miles. 

While some of my peers have hefty investments in high-yield financial instruments, here I am still overthinking whether I deserve an upgrade to a large Coke while ordering in the local fast food chain. 

While some of my peers have multiple properties to their name, here I am still dividing the price of shampoo by their volume to see which brand and size have the best value for money. 

While some of my peers are traveling the world and trying all sorts of adventures, here I am still spending most of my weekends in front of a laptop and finishing deliverables for my ‘rakets’. 

My lack of privilege has greatly affected my pursuit of education as well. Having a full-time job and various part-time engagements meant that I have less time to study for my coursework and comply with class requirements. This lack of focus has also translated to lackluster thesis submissions leading to a constant barrage of comments from my adviser and multiple major revisions. As a result, my graduation from the program was delayed for one whole semester. 

You see, I grew up in a place where a college degree remains elusive for many community members, and people enrolling in graduate programs are rarely encountered. This is not surprising as families in my community struggle with the most basic things like providing food on the table. During my childhood, I saw how poverty manifested itself in the form of cramped makeshift houses, children playing near litter-filled canals, and senior citizens succumbing to illnesses without even getting a proper diagnosis. Growing up, I thought of these as normal occurrences that should be accepted as it is the way of life. Now, I do not think that this should be the norm. 

Some people will say that poverty is a personal failure and that the members of my community should work harder but I know better. One of the things that I learned from my experience is that hard work as the primary factor in being successful is a myth. That’s not to say that it doesn’t play a role but privilege and access to resources have greater impacts on whether a person ends up successful or not. 

Leo Jaminola
"I had no budget to take my parents to Manila to attend my graduation, so I invited my friends to the [graduation] ceremony instead," says Leo. 

Frankly, breadwinners are the biggest evidence to counter this prevailing myth. We try our best every day but constantly feel that it is not translating into the future we want to achieve. When we think of breadwinners, we usually envision a diligent person buried under a mountain of responsibilities but still barely making ends meet. This is because for many of us, hard work, especially in the short term, really only translates to mere survival. 

If hard work is all it took, then the many young breadwinners I know who continue to support their families while chasing their own dreams would not be constantly organizing their budget trackers to find ways how to stretch their salary until the next payday. 

If hard work is all it took, then my neighbors who wake up at 4:00 AM to go out to sea and catch fish should not face financial issues. 

If hard work is all it took, then the ‘nanays’ in my community who juggle multiple domestic responsibilities while still trying to contribute to household finances would be enjoying a comfortable life. 

Others will read this and use it as some kind of living proof that people, even those from the most marginalized groups, can make it in life simply by working hard rather than addressing structural barriers. But what of those who didn't make it despite working as hard or even harder than me? How are their experiences not evidence of the continued inaccessibility of education and opportunities in our country? 

Rather than success, we should see my experience and the stories of so many others as systemic failures. If anything, my story should make us angry and move us to demand a much better society – one that allows our people to live with dignity, dream freely, and enjoy equal opportunities.