Grace D. Chong was Executive Vice President of Dentsu Young and Rubicam, a Japanese-American advertising joint venture in Asia. But when Young and Rubicam was purchased by WPP and Dentsu went with Publicis, the Manila office was dissolved in 2004 and employees were asked to retire. After being a successful career woman all her life, suddenly Grace was out of a job.
Butterfly in the Spring had this chat with her about her journey:
Butterflyinthespring (BITS): Can you describe your life then?
Grace D. Chong (GDC): Busy, stressful…worldly [grins].
BITS: Was that transition one of your greatest trials?
GDC: Yes, because I was used to working all my life and suddenly there’s nothing to do. Imagine you had fifty people under you. All of a sudden, there’s no one there. I never had to dial the phone before. Those are things you take for granted. Before… ‘I’m Grace, I’m from Creative.’ Suddenly, ‘I’m Grace, I’m………………’ I don’t know. I don’t know who I am or where I’m from. I’m not even a housewife, I don’t even know how to do housework, I’m not even in the workplace. Who am I?
BITS: What were your feelings that time?
GDC: Depressed. I never really had to shop before except on Sundays then this time around, I go to the mall at ten am, they’re not even open yet. I’m asking myelf, ‘What am I doing here? Who are you?’ It’s like you don’t know who you are…
BITS: Did that affect your being a mother or wife at that time?
GDC: It was too late because my kids were already older.
BITS: Was uncertainty of the future one of your struggles?
GDC: It wasn’t really uncertainty of the future because my kids had finished schooling. It wasn’t lack of money because my husband was still working. It’s about “Who am I?” Before, I’m AVP of this. People ask; I say, “I’m Grace. I’m from Advertising.” Now it’s, “I’m Grace. I’m… ” what?
BITS: It was loss of identity?
GDC: Yes, loss of identity.
BITS: How do you think the Lord was ministering to you at that time?
GDC: First of all, He taught me that the fringes don’t matter. I used to have a driver paid by the company. I used to have a car paid by the company. I used to have people doing things for me. All I did was say’ ‘Do this.’ and they did everything for me. Suddenly, all I had were two househelps at home and a telephone line. I had no one. Even the driver was taken away from me. Of course I had a car but I had to hire my own driver whom I had to pay. I didn’t realize how much a driver or a tire cost. I was spoiled. When the driver didn’t come in, I had to take the tricycle for the first time in my life.
BITS: You also struggled with loss of position?
GDC: Yes! Loss of power, position, identity, money, financial independence… it was like losing yourself.
BITS: That must have been very difficult for you. How did you journey out of that?
GDC: What got me out of depression was before I retired, I was already writing a children’s book.
GDC: No. Somebody gave me a Palanca entry form and then I saw the categories and I was charmed by the Story for Children category. It talks about values.
BITS: Life shaping…
BITS: Is that what attracted you to writing children’s stories that you have a hand in shaping young lives?
GDC: Yes and it’s through literature. I attended the Palanca and I won… first place.
BITS: That first attempt and it won!!? That’s amazing! [We both smile from ear to ear; it was like watching your own reflection]
GDC: If that isn’t an affirmation yet, I don’t know what is. I decided there is life after advertising. I pursued that . I looked again at my collection of writings and sent them to various publishers and OMF loved the Gifts of Grace series. Another publisher that got interested was Bookmark. They published one. They all came out at the same time. Philippine Eagle Foundation was also looking for a book against poaching and I had a book, “Hunters.” Maybe the Palanca award did it and I was inspired to write more so I just kept writing and writing and writing and they got published. The Lord took me out of the depression.
BITS: Was it like a therapy?
GDC: Yes. I had nothing else to do at that point. And writing was my first love.
BITS: Can you share a word of encouragement for people who may be currently experiencing a loss of job or career identity crisis?
GDC: Look for something you love doing where you are good at. Focus your attention on it. Get busy.
BITS: How long was the period of transition between retiring from your job and starting your career as a published author?
GDC: About six months.
BITS: Do you think things turned out for the better?
GDC: When my son asks me, ‘Are you happy?’, I say, ‘I’m one million times happier but I’m one million times poorer. [Mutual hearty laughter]
BITS: How do you process that?
GDC: Money is no longer my currency.
BITS: What’s your currency now?
GDC: My currency now is helping people change lives, helping people find God, helping shape kids becoming better kids and growing up into better adults.
BITS: If you had a choice, would you still have gone into advertising?
GDC: Looking back, I feel the Lord was preparing me for this assignment that I’m doing now [writing books]. I learned my discipline from advertising. I learned to write in a very simple manner that people can understand. I learned all the tricks of the trade from advertising. So I’m using that now in writing. So I think it was really supposed to have been a part of my life. Like it was my training ground, my training lab.
BITS: Do you think it was your calling to write?
GDC: Now, yeah! But when I say, ‘Should I have started earlier when I was younger?’, I realize I couldn’t have started younger because there was no story to tell. There are no hurts. There are really more stories to tell when you’ve gone through the mill. There was no way I should have started earlier.
BITS: Are you glad that in this stage of your life, you are a writer?
GDC: Oh definitely. I’ve never been happier, I’ve never been happier.
BITS: Do you have a life verse?
GDC: Yes, Matthew 5:16 [With a bright, steady smile] Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
BITS: Can you tell me now, who is Grace Chong?
GDC: Grace Chong is someone who writes about God’s grace.
BITS: How apt! (I love the pun!!)
Grace D. Chong’s journey took her from loss of a job, loss of power, loss of position, loss of identity, loss of money, loss of financial independence. But all things worked out for her good. Out of the rat race of busy, stressful, and worldly, she was armed with the tricks of the trade along with the refining trials that make one complete to embark on a career doing what she loved most, in fact her first love… writing. Couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more fulfilled, she is now an accomplished author with at least fifty books published and according to her blog, Leaves of Grace, fifty more “in various stages of writing and self-editing.” She is a recipient of six Palanca Awards, at least three Catholic Mass Media Awards, a National Book Award, and a Gintong Aklat Award for her book, “Grace Found Me: 365 Thoughts for Busy Women”. She also wrote the book, “What, Me Retire? Discovering More Blessings After Leaving the Workplace.” You may read more about her and from her at her blog: http://leavesofgrace.blogspot.com/
If that isn’t a beautiful story of God’s grace, I don’t know what is!