Are you thinking like a Young Global Leader?

18 10 2016

Every year, the World Economic Forum organizes the Annual Summit for the Young Global Leaders, and this year in Tokyo, there were more than 600 who descended to learn, collaborate and discuss the most pressing issues in the world that will affect the future generations.

For the first day, I wanted to make sure to document the 5 key lessons that I have learned that might apply to you and your future, and how to make sure that you are indeed thinking like a Young Global Leader.

  1. Optimism is a duty of a leader.
  2. Leading simply means to bring people along with your vision.  The key is to make sure that a leader doesn’t factor out people.  When people ask for directions, a true leaders walks with them, rather than points and waits for the results.
  3. Always asking “what is my transformative purpose?”
  4. The need for social impact and change in a person is deeply rooted in values and spirituality.
  5. Consider that the “Future is here, not just equally distributed in the world.”




The challenge for Start-up Founders: Do you build for survival or build for excellence?

4 09 2016
eric_team

Team with Google CEO

In the past 8 years, I have coached, mentored, invested and advised dozens of start-up companies in a number of countries.  Most of them are early stage, and ran by the original founders.  A stress for most if not all founders is what I call the “survivor mentality” which goes like this:  “As long as I can survive until the next milestone, then we’re good.” Or it goes something like “lets focus on this small thing, and IF and ONLY when that is reached, then we can think big.”
One difference that I noticed though in some of the ones that end up doing well, is the mindset of the founders, particularly the CEO and/or CTO for excellence or to be the “best in the world” in something – and building the business.  Start-ups or in general, starting a company is HARD and for sure the probability is not favorable, so the question I always ask the start-ups before I agree to be their advisor is “where do you think this start-up will be going 5 years from now?”  What I look for is not necessarily what they say, but the conviction I see in the eyes of the founder that they truly will achieve their global ambitions with their start-ups.

Let me play this, and I can share with you what it might feel to interact with a CEO that is wire in a survival mode:

  • Talking about why you “cant” do things all the time vs. thinking of creative ways to make it work.
  • Obsessed when it will be the next funding round vs. customer satisfaction or building product
  • Thinking of random projects because of the revenue implications vs. building a strategic roadmap of products that all fit in the end
  • At some point, operations takes over and strategy goes out of the door

I’m not saying that doing these activities are bad, but I’m saying to be conscious as a founding team if these behaviors become the majority of conversations.

For the “excellence” mindset founders, I’ve seen some of these behaviors that I would like to note as potential best practices that I have seen.

  • Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a team, and complementing the weaknesses through training, getting advisors or board of directors, or strategic hiring.  I’ve seen that some of the first hires make money base salary than the founding team themselves.
  • Being a thought leading in the market – globally.  The founding TEAM, not just the CEO or Head of Sales, should test the idea every week or month and validate with the open market all the time and sell the vision.  The way to do this, is to aim to be the experts in the market and technical domains.
  • Have a clear vision, and product roadmap and milestones that you are building against over time, and this dictates the funding strategy.  This also is based on an obsession of “figuring things out quickly” and a strong bias for action in every member of the team to make this vision work.
  • Every member in the initial team knows “why” they are there and what is their role in the organization.

The challenge for future and current founders, is to always ask yourself, am I operating in a “survival mindset” or am I operating in the “excellence mindset”?  Hopefully this frame of reference can help you and your team focus on whats most important to your company and why you exist in the first place.

 

 





Have you earned your CEO and Founder title?

23 08 2016

640_pangilinan-ideaspace

Picture of the first official Press conference of Ideaspace in 2012.  Photo Credits: GMA News online.

Today was my first day back in Manila start-up scene since I left almost a year ago.  Much has changed – more co-working spaces, new start-up founders, more companies getting into the Innovation space, and the government now thinking that this should be an industry that should be supported.

As I then reflected on certain highs and lows during the time I was “Founder and President” of IdeaSpace, I realize that building a company out of nothing but an idea and a powerpoint – seeing how to company grew, is such a great experience, but I realize that if I had to do things all over again, I would re-do some of my actual moves.

I gave a talk today to the new batch of IdeaSpace founders, not knowing but questions I may be asked today, but instead of them just learning about me, I was also shocked on the lessons that I shared about my own personal reflections more than 10 months after leaving the company that I helped start in March 2012.

Here were my reflections:

  1. Being called “Chief” something needs to be earned.  When I was 29, I was placed as Head of Innovation for SMART, a telecom company with 70M subscribers and I was one of the if not the youngest VP-level executive in the Philippines.  Being naive and crazy, I asked my boss in a 1:1, his initials were “MVP”, if I could also be called the Chief Innovation Officer of the Group or at least CEO of IdeaSpace.  He smiled for bit, and told me “Earl, a C-level title is earned not just given out lightly.”  I was a bit shocked at that time, I was thinking, all my start-up friends had chief this, chief that, even cool names like “Chief Hacker.” After years though, I realize that he was right, it gave me more motivation as “President” to earn my stripes, to not settle, to make bold moves and to show results, and maybe then, I’d earn my C-level status.
  2. Being on the top is extremely lonely.  Find Your peer advisors.  In my time as President of IdeaSpace, there were times that I didn’t know who I should talk to for advice – especially for either large personal or professional decisions – a sounding board.  I was lucky that my wife at home, every night always asked how I was and how she could help.  Professionally, I struggled in some decisions, especially tough ones.  I’d think sometimes, its too small of a decision to raise to my board, but too big of a decision that my team might misinterpret my thoughts as an actual decision. I was lucky that during these times, I had my peer advisors, a group of people that I trusted and can share my pains and stories.  I had dinners with some of the founding teams – Paul, who ran the developer network at SMART, Nick – who was head of our PR, and Marthyn – who was my co-founder and a CIO of the electric utility and 2nd youngest executive in our Group.  I also found solace in peer networks, where at that critical time, I was nominated for the World Economic Forum Young Global Leader Program, and I then discovered that all over the world, “Founders and Presidents” had similar struggles and I always had great advice from my friends in this network.
  3. Go back to first principles – your mission and your key values – and make decisions based on this. When I started IdeaSpace, we did a number of press releases, a number of interviews and a number of presentations.  It was actually funny.  But all the time, the press asked “why does IdeaSpace exist”?  And with a clear conviction, in front of the TV cameras and journalists we say thesame message over and over again – “To build a new Philippine economy based on science and technology – to change the culture so that engineers, scientists and technologists will an aspiration to the next generation and thesame status as artists, models and basketball players.”  Our values were “Global ambition, speed of execution and frugality.”  These were the first principles, the foundation of the company – that guided my decision as President all the time.  I see though that very few founders spend time on this, but in the tough times, this guided my decision.
  4. Be prepared to make the tough calls that even your team might disagree, but you know its right and others think you are crazy.  CEOs and founders have a struggle to make tough decisions all the time, but one trait that I see in my other founder friends, is a strong conviction of the future state that you want to help build.  One such decision was to support a call from our government from my friend Mike Ignacio, the former Trade Attache to Silicon Valley, to help with a conference called “SlingshotMNL”, which was envisioned to be the Start-up and Innovation Showcase for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit which so happens was to be hosted in the Philippines.  The ask by the APEC team was “we need your help, we have 2 months to pull of this world-class conference but we need a private sector partner.”  I thought that everyone would say yes, but for a variety of reasons, no one but myself committed time and resources for this.  Because of this, even my team in a staff meeting said “why are we doing this, how will this benefit IdeaSpace.”  I didnt know what to say but I just said “I dont know team, if there is really a benefit to us as IdeaSpace and there may be zero but I know that this would benefit the Philippines.” I knew it my gut it was a right call, mission-driven, and important, but I had a 2% doubt that why didnt the other companies also join and devote resources – but I made the and could see that maybe this is a way to show that the start-up industry is real.  After 2 months, and a LOT of help from my friends and professors from Stanford  – especially Nico Shea, the founder of Startup Chile and Prof. Richard Dasher from Stanford, and friends in the Southeast Asia, 2000 people applied for a 1000 person capacity conference – and was the spring board to what now is QBO – the National Innovation Center of the Philippines.
  5. Have Intellectual Humility to know what you dont know.  Being CEO doesnt mean you know all the answers – to admit when you need help or dont know the topic.  As CEO, your job is not to HAVE the answers, but to LOOK for the answers.  I myself, came to this realization a few months into the job.  I thought having co-ran the Cisco I-Prize, the global Innovation competition of Cisco in 100 countries, that I KNEW how to run a National Call for Innovation start-ups.  I placed my “online form” had a massive launch, and after 2 months and tons of FB boosts and ads, less than 100 applications came in.  I was distraught and ready to right of this experiment called “IdeaSpace” and ready to go back to focusing full time of my telecom job.  I asked my board for advice, and they said “Earl, have you done a national roadshow first?”  I said in my mind, “Road show – thats so PRE-Internet.”  With hesitation, I said OK.  One of the first roadshows was in a public university in Davao, the University of South Eastern Philippines, a top 5 school in the country but 90+% were in scholarships due to affordability.  One student asked me in the open panel “I am hopeful with your vision in IdeaSpace, and glad you’re willing to invest in my idea, but what if I cannot pay you back, I dont have money, my family has no money?”  I smiled and responded “you dont need to pay it back, because I am investing in you and your idea through equity, which means that if it goes to zero we make zero, but if it goes well, we both do well.”  I saw that teary-eyes shocked and lit up from this college sophomore, and she said “this is a dream come true for us.” This was the moment, I knew that what we were planning for was for something bigger – that first year after our countless roadshows that I thank my wife for bearing that I was on the road every weekend for 6 months – that we got close to 700 applicants for IdeaSpace on the first year and only know how important intellectual humily is for a CEO.
  6. Know the point that you should leave – and that decision should still be about the original mission you set out to accomplish.  One of the most scary decisions of my life is when I was contemplating to leave IdeaSpace to pursue an opportunity to work and learn from one of the largest funds in the world in New York.   I was thinking 4 years I have built this, I cant leave now.  When I got the offer and struggling with my decision, my wife looked me in the face and asked me “Are you thinking of staying in the country because of your rock star status or because you think that staying here is good for the Philippines?”  She continued to say “are you here because of ego or because of mission?”  She knew, that for me to be better for the Philippines, I had to re-learn again, to experience a new beginning, to be a student now and not a teacher anymore, to grow again – in the grander of mission, to be better for the country, so that one day, I’d come back again and be a better me.  After a couple of weeks, I had an appointment with my boss and chairman of IdeaSpace “MVP” and I had imagined in my mind that since he hired me from the US, he’d ask me to also stay.  I had my points laid out, but was hoping deep in me he’d make a big fuss out of this.  I opened the door and he asked me “Are you thinking leaving us?”  I was prepared for my logical debate, but before I knew it, he asked me another question. “How old are you Earl?”  I said, I was 33.  He said, “Go to NY, learn some more, you are young and when you are ready, bring back these experiences and do good things, we’ll be here when you are ready to come back.”  Just like that, I gave him my resignation letter and left and was no longer the President of the company that I grew from a powerpoint that me and my co-founder Marthyn pitched to $12M in funding, 38 teams, over 2500 applications, and hundreds of events and hundreds of thousands of innovators I met though out our national roadshows – all in the span of 3.5 years.  BUT it was time to grow, and re-learn, not for myself, but for the mission – the country.

I am back again in the Philippines, going to Geeks on Beach Part 4 where our original idea came out of a funny conversation between 5 people on how cool is it to have people hang out in the beach and talk tech.  After 4 years, over 500 people will fly to Bohol to attend this, and Im lucky that now I can come there with added reflections, growth and am in the processes of becoming a better me to hopefully plan out that one day, I’d be back again permanently in these shores, to continue the mission to “build a new economy based on science, innovation and technology.”

 





My Graduation Speech: Never Forget Where You Came From

9 08 2016

Posted below is the entire speech I made during the Graduation of the University of South Eastern Philippines, a top 10 academic institution in the country where I was invited to be the graduation speaker on April 2013.  This speech is a reminder of nuggets that I have reflected on the first 30 years of my life and a reminder again on what I hoped I told my self when I graduated when I was 20 years old.

More on the Commencements rights: http://ic.usep.edu.ph/index.php/university-life/news/209-usep-holds-34th-commencement-exercises

President Dr. Perfecto A. Alibin

USEP Officials, Deans, Faculty, Staff

Parents, Relatives, Friends

Most Especially the Graduates

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to graduate from a fine institution. Actually, I always wished I had a degree from the Philippines, but after 2 years in UP, I found it too hard and moved to the US. So for all of you who are graduating today, definitely envy all of you – because you are in the Philippines at the right time and most especially in Mindanao, who can potentially be one of the biggest growth engines of not just the Philippines but of the entire Southeast Asia. As what my dad always said to me when I was growing up, Mindanao is “the land of promise.”

Just a little about myself, my family is from Davao, my grandfather built his business here, my dad was born and grew up in Davao and I also spent the first 5 years of my life here in Davao. Thank you for inviting me USEP, it feels good to be back home.

Someone said, that no one ever remembers their graduation speaker. I hope today, you might not remember me or what I will be saying in the next 15 minutes, but I hope you will remember how you felt in your graduation day.

Regardless, what I want to say, before anything else, is to cherish this day, as this will be in your memories until the day you die. This is a culmination of all your academic work, the all nighters that you had to do before an exam, and most of all a proud moment for all the people that supported you until today. Graduates, please standup, look back, and give your applause to the people that helped you get here today, your parents, teachers, family and friends.

Congratulations to all the graduating students that are here today. I realize that it might be a difficult task to get here, as I heard from the YANO Facebook Group and video “Taga USEP Ka Kung” on YouTube, that being a USEP student means that it takes hard work just to pass a subject, let alone have PE under the Acacia tree or having to brave both the flood and the lines.

This is all part of the USEP experience. Regardless, you will graduate today from one of the finest institutions in the Philippines, and the best university in Mindanao. But despite the fact that you are in a top school, never forget your values, “na mga YANO lahat kayo – simple, matalino, maabilidad, iskolar ng bayan.” (You are YANOs – simple, smart, wise, scholar of the nation)

My speech today consists of a number of stories, all linked to some of the life lessons I wish I knew when I graduated. I know most of you are excited, anxious, hopeful, scared or even sad, or a combination of all of these emotions. But in general, I hope I can impart lessons to you that you can take with you throughout your lifetime.

First lesson – YOU are the only one that will determine your story.

Most of the time, your professors, your grades, your diploma are the ones that you think will limit your story. I have something different; no one in the world, besides yourself can limit your dreams.

When I was 16, I wrote down a list of achievements I wanted to make before 30, a list that I never thought I would achieve.

1. Get a girlfriend

2. Graduate with honors

3. Get a graduate degree

4. Go to Prague, Ibiza, and Cancun

5. Be an astronaut

6. Buy a BMW

If I followed what my professors and classmates told me when I was 16, I would never have achieved any of these. But what did I do? I did limit myself to what people told me what I was.

Here’s an interesting fact, I didn’t even graduate in the top 10% of my high school class, as well as failed 1 class in college. This was my story, but I didn’t limit myself to how I was perceived when I was growing up. What I knew is that if I put my mind into it, worked hard and most especially never stop focusing on achieving this list, then things would magically happen.

In the end

1. I married my high school crush

2. I graduated top of my college class

3. I had 2 graduate degrees instead of 1

4. Travelled most of the world

5. Didn’t become an astronaut but worked on satellites

6. And bought a BMW with my own hardwork

Never in my wildest dreams, especially marrying my high school prom date and high school crush, I thought I would come close to these things, but if I listened to everyone who said that this cant be done, then I wouldn’t have tried.

Most of you today, are thinking, what if I have an English degree, and there are no teaching jobs, or an engineering degree and theres no way but to go abroad, or the worst, is if you always wanted to start a business, but everyone says you should work first, think again. Your story cannot be architected by anyone else but you. You can be whoever you want to be. You have the luxury of being young. You have the privilege of being in a generation at which the world is looking to invest in the Philippines and believe that we could be one of the major growth drivers in the world. You can indeed make your story.

Second Lesson: Be the best in the world at what you do – and maximize options

Michael Jordan, one of my idols, and one of the top basketball players said one thing I would never forget: “I was aware of my success but I never stopped trying to get better.”

With being in this growth and a new world built on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the Internet and Mobile Phones, the world is indeed becoming flatter every day. This is the opportunity but also the curse of your generation. It is simply not enough to be the best in Davao, the best in Mindanao, or even the best in the Philippines, but try as much as possible to be the best in the world.

It is a cliché in graduation speeches that everybody says this line: “Do what You love, follow your passion.” As much as this seems repetitive, I am repeating this again to you. The only way to be the best in the world in something, is if every day, you do something and you say I wish I would never stop doing this. This would just fuel the fire, and you will spend more time than any other person in the world doing this.

With myself, I was lucky, that I rejected what was at the time, a crazy proposition, a free PhD admission to MIT, the top engineering school in the world. Another one was a scholarship to have a free master program at the University of Illinois, the top 4 engineering school in the US. What I realized that it wasn’t right for me yet to do this. I instead, worked in R&D for a classified US project, went to masters in space systems, moved to 4 cities exposed to robots, planes, leading edge algorithm thinking, and got mentored at an early age but top senior executives in a Fortune 500 company.

This led me to realize what my passion was, the intersection of technology and the emerging markets, thus applied to the toughest business school to get into in the world, the Stanford business school.

As what I mentioned in the beginning, the goal is to be the best in the world. With my R&D and business background, I got into the Business incubation team of Cisco Systems at their global headquarters in Silicon Valley. For you who don’t know what Cisco does, it is what we call the “pipe of the internet,” it is how your data gets from your computer, to Facebook servers and back to your internet explorer. I lived in a world of unlimited bandwidth, thus unlimited imagination.

After more than 3 great years in Cisco, I got a text, that the Chairman of PLDT, Manny Pangilinan wanted to talk to me about technology innovation for the Philippines. If someone like that asks you to meet him, you go.

This bring me to the last point: Never Forget Where You Came From

Gandhi, the national hero of India said something that I think about everyday: “Be the Change YOU want to see in this world.” What was missing from my story, is the desire to come back home. Since I left the Philippines, I knew, someday, somehow, I would come back, I just didn’t know that it would be this soon.

When I was 21, during my first week at work, someone asked me where I was from. I said the Philippines. Again, they asked… no like when did you move to the US because surely it was 10 years ago or so, and I said less than 2 years ago. They all were surprised, not understanding how an immigrant from the Philippines can go head to head with PhDs and top engineers from all over the US. From that point, I realize one unfortunately reality – we in the Philippines are not known to be good world-class scientists and engineers. I said, one days, I will create the change I want to see in my world, that in my lifetime, we will create the next big technology idea that would revolutionize the world. I hope this will also open opportunities for Filipinos to leave the country, even without leaving a Filipino company.

My discussion with MVP was such an inspiring one, that after a few months, I was on the way back home to the Philippines. After a few months of brainstorming with my co-founder Marthyn Cuan, IdeaSpace was born. IdeaSpace is a non-profit foundation aimed to find and fund the best science and technology ideas, funded by the entire First Pacific Group of Companies, which includes PLDT, SMART, Meralco, Metro Pacific, IndoFood in Indonesia and First Pacific in HK with a commitment of half a billion pesos. The story actually was that we asked for a billion pesos and in the end, we got half.

Its amazing that if only you follow your heart and you are sincere, good things tend to happen. We got an amazing response, of close to 700 submissions for the 10 winners for our competition. Actually 4 projects from USEP made it to the top 40 and 1 team from Davao, won the competition.

Again, what was inspiring in meeting all these technopreneurs from all over the Philippines, they too said yes to the challenge, they wanted to do something with their world and created inventions and innovations that hopefully will address the most pressing problems in their communities and most of the world. Most said, they simply wanted to make the lives of people better.

Maybe there is another, bigger, more impactful lesson here. Never forget that you are from USEP, Never forget that you are from a school in Davao, Mindanao and the Philippines. Some of you might leave this community, some of you might even leave the country, but I am hoping that you do intend to come back and ultimately give back. No matter what, this school and region made you who you are and will be a part of you forever. As what Jose Rizal famously said “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan or “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”

Come back to Mindanao, come back to USEP. These 2 will be part of your life forever.

Conclusion

Graduates, you are embarking in probably the most exciting time in the Philippines today. Youcan be an employee, an entrepreneur, a technologist, a government official, a professor, all in your lifetime. I just hope that in the end, you remember my 3 major lessons: 1) YOU are the only one that will create your story 2) Be the best in the world 3) Never forget where you came from.

These are the lessons, and even if you forget everything I said today, I hope you wont forget thefeeling of accomplishment you having made it and graduating from one of the best schools in the Philippines.

Congratulations. Thank you for the opportunity.





What are the corporate culture differences in major markets?

9 08 2016

The past few years,  I was lucky to be able to work in the different start-up ecosystems in the world – notably Silicon Valley, Manila and now in the Greater NY area.

There are many different areas that I would like to share, some might be true, some may not, but it is interesting how an ecosystem and its major industries influence business culture and how people get “cred.”

Im not sure, is this true or not?

  Wall Street Silicon Valley Manila
Value Chain Focus Capture Value Create Value Service
Top Industries Finance, Advertising Technology Outsourcing, Services
What Is the “Respected Profession” Finance, Sales, Marketing & PR Engineers, Designers Doctors, Lawyers, Marketing Executives
Dream Companies by College Grads Hedge Fund, Private Equity, Ad Agencies Big Tech, Start-ups Consumer Products, Retail, Lifestyle Business
Dominant Incentive Structures Bonus (mostly Cash) Equity Stock Options Predictable Net Monthly Salary
What will get You Respect Efficiency Creativity and Innovation Relationships
Top Question to Ask an Interviewer? What was last year’s bonus? What Is the Company’s mission? Who will be my boss/colleagues?




What is Your Personal Mission Statement? What are your personal values?

30 07 2016

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My old boss in Cisco, Guido Jouret’s favorite quote was “Vision without execution is Hallucination.”  Years now after having left Cisco, I then realize that the mother of a compelling vision, is a deeply-rooted mission.

As innovators and start-ups enthusiasts, the biggest questions that you have to face is your “Why” – your mission.  As founders, this is even more difficult because each one of your founding team should have aligned personal missions, and each employee that you hire should have an aligned mission with the company your created with your own common mission.

A few start-up founders asked me before what are my tips on retaining and attracting talent – and I only ask a few questions, but I always ask: “Why are you here, and why do you want to work here?”  The next question is… “How does this role align to your 5 year vision for yourself.”

So my challenge for each one is to figure out first … what is your own personal mission?

I have drafted my own mission below as of now, as one of my colleagues asked me “why” recently.  Here was my answer:

My personal mission is to give or develop the best technology for emerging markets that lead into an equal opportunity for all and improvement of the lives of the people and its country.

I am still evolving it, but after the mission, this now stems your core values – what you really really really care about.  Do you know your own personal values?  What is very important to you?

For me I value a few things which include:

  1. Family First- From a personal side – family is first priority – be there for your baby’s first smile, their first say in school.  A good mom or dad, makes a good worker.   From professional side, care for each other and the company as family.  A CEO told me once that effective companies “treat your company brand and as it was your own last name” – and thats when you get true results
  2. Meritocracy – best people, best idea wins.  Its not “who your know” but “what you know” trumps it all.
  3. Innovation and Creativity – innovation scales, creativity differentiates
  4. Respect – a quote says “I was taught to respect the janitor as much as the CEO”
  5.  Make opportunities- I want to dedicate my life to give more opportunities to people who might not have gotten opportunities in the past.
  6. BFA – Have a strong bias for action and execution.  Make things happen dont let things happen
  7. Global Ambition – the world is your playground, think of all the possibilities, never limit yourself, don’t let your local universe define you or your company
  8. Frugality – spend it like its your own money, be thoughtful on the resources that it put into the company and ask “is it a need or a want?”

I made my mission and values list – have you made yours?

 





The way to know who you are is to lose who you wanted to be and get it back

30 07 2016

It is July 2016 and I am a few months from my 1 year anniversary from leaving my dream role in enabling entrepreneurs, and I take inspiration today from my friend Prim Paypon, the founder of the Dream project, from his FB Post:

“Never put and lock your dreams in a box, with a promise that you’ll retrieve them once you’re ready.

Always hold them with you. Like how you hold sand, hold them while you can.

But when life tells you to let go a few ounces, let go.

Because letting go a few ounces won’t make you less of a dreamer and will never make your dreams smaller.

Grow with your dreams and journey life finding yourself with them.

I can’t think of a person who once boxed and locked his dreams but was able to successfully go back to where he kept his dreams to unlock and retrieve his dreams.

Because even if they have more money in their pockets, they now have more gray hairs on their heads, less youth in them and a thick wall of unfamiliarity between them and their boxed and locked dreams which made them once truly happy.”

Reading this, it makes you question, have you postponed your dream?  Do you think you can get it back now?  Did you make trade-offs that seems to make sense the time, then years go by, and your dream then fades away?
The time is now to try… to at least write down that dream, and act on it.  I’m not saying to quit your job or school to pursue your dream, but give it a shot… try.. it could be your second job, the next 40 hours.  Have you thought about this?