You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. ~Steve Jobs

If someone asked me about my sports before 2018, I would think twice before saying it’s Chess.  

Chess has always had a special place in my heart. If you look at my family from outside years ago, you would probably say that we are a happy and intact family. The truth is we’re broken. My parents didn’t talk to each other, which affected our relationship with my late father Bienvenido P. Cancino. He was so strict, as I described in Chapter 2. I can only remember a few moments with him. My youngest sister May and I were selling bottles of fish paste and salted fish in front of our house. We also went to Sampaloc, Manila, and I always had it in my memory of how he held my left hand in the middle of the busy crowd. And of course, the times we played Chess. This sport put glue in our hearts!  

His favorite child, in terms of Chess, was my older brother Ryan. Kuya Ryan would always win competitions when he was in Grade VI. But, unlike me, he didn’t pursue it in high school. Well, I fell in love with Chess as I didn’t have any choice. At the age of twelve, I was already wearing a thick pair of eyeglasses. How could I play volleyball in that condition?


Chess unlocked many treasures in me. When all my fellow honor students were busy representing our primary and secondary schools in various fields such as quiz bee, speech contests, arts, and other contests, I was busy minding my own business as a chess varsity player. I needed it the most at that point as I was feeling useless. I kept comparing myself to my sisters and my classmates and wondered why I didn’t have any talent. Because of Chess, at a young age, I experienced receiving a considerable amount of money as an allowance from varsities. I also brought honor to my schools and always gave them medals and trophies as I won Chess competitions.  

The thinking skills I developed in playing Chess became helpful, too, when I was studying B.S. Accountancy, which brought me a Certified Public Accountant license, then landed me a Fund Accounting job in Bermuda. My USD salary was beyond my imagination – PHP to USD is fifty times bigger.  

As mentioned in the previous chapter, it’s because of Chess that I became a Toastmaster.  

Because of Chess, I was featured in the Royal Gazette, a Bermuda newspaper, for the first time and internationally! Since then, I’ve been featured on various platforms. 

The first speech in my years of Toastmasters that brought me to the Division Level stage was Chess Pawn. I shared my learning from my father that life is like Chess: not everyone starts as a Knight, Bishop, or Queen. A pawn is the smallest of all the chess pieces, but in Chess, only the pawn can transform into a Queen. In life, it doesn’t matter how or where we start because, along the way, we will discover and unwrap our gifts with the help of our loved ones, a gift that will transform our lives, a gift that will help us finish strong. I used the same speech in the J.C.I. World Public Speaking Championship (Hong Kong Selection) 2018. The chairman of the program was my friend who asked me to support her by joining the contest. She’s been helping me build the Mabuhay Toastmasters Club, and I love public speaking, so I joined. It was a win-win situation as I finished the competition as a Champion!


I was crafting my Chess Pawn speech in February 2018 when I got an email from the Bermuda Chess Association group. They were inviting me to join the Women’s Team. Let me briefly explain how it works in other countries to become part of the Chess Olympiad. Like a Toastmaster speech contest, you have to win at various levels. In the Philippines, the representatives are all equipped with titles of Chess Master. In Bermuda, as far as I know, only two women joined the Chess Association. One was an Accountant in Bermuda and now based in Slovakia. The other one was me! Automatically, we would become part of the team even if there were no contests and it doesn’t matter if we were still playing Chess or not. 

As soon as I left Bermuda in 2009, I never played long game Chess anymore. How on earth can I say yes to them asking me to join the Olympiad where there are eleven games, and each game can last up to three hours or more in one sitting. I had so many questions, but I felt that the universe was planning something different, considering that my speech contest piece was about Chess. Following my intuition, I said yes. As always, I was busy with so many things: work, Toastmasters, and life coaching. I would read a book and practice to prepare for the Olympiad, but each time I remember that it’s an Olympiad and not just your usual street games, my heart would beat faster.  

I reckon I needed to do something! I remember what my mentor said, “As long as you did your best, the result doesn’t matter.” I asked my colleague and my manager if I could take a week of unpaid leave in the first week of September 2018 to focus on studying Chess. I was so happy that they allowed me to. I spent my time in the Philippines. I decided to go back to my roots and contacted a Chess group in Monumento, Quezon City, to train me on the basic Chess openings, middle game tactics, and end-games. I’ve been playing Chess for years, but it was only then when I realized that there are still lots for me to learn in Chess. I became more scared, but I did my best! Rain or shine, I was traveling using public transport to the meeting place. I felt more pressure as I am now aware that there are still things I am yet to learn – at this point!  

The Olympiad was in Batumi, Georgia. I’ve always wanted my mother to be with me during significant events in my life, so she joined me with my older brother Jonathan. Our flight was from Manila to Istanbul, Turkey, for almost thirteen hours, then Istanbul to Batumi for two hours. I was happy seeing my mom and my brother enjoying in-flight T.V., overflowing foods, and drinks. Usually, for long flights, I would enjoy watching a couple of movies and reading self-help books. During this flight, I was reading a Chess book! We reached Istanbul with eleven hours layover. My mom and brother were taking a nap, and I was still reading Chess books.

Two hours before the flight, we went to the boarding gate and met a Filipino based in the U.S.A. He was representing the Philippines. He was a Chess Coach in the U.S.A. and had been regularly playing Chess since he was four years old. My mother looked at me as if to say, “Uh oh Shiela, you’re in trouble!” There were also other Chess players in the waiting area. The Filipino player was introducing themselves; with him was the famous Anand, the Grandmaster in India. On the plane, I thought if I should read a Chess book. Others may think I am so serious or they could judge me because I was still reading basic books before going to the Olympiad. I saw a guy on the other side studying a chess engine, so I opened my Chess book. I heard my mentor’s voice, “As long as you do your best, the result doesn’t matter.”

There was accommodation provided by the Chess Federation, but I chose to stay in a different place to be with my mom and brother. With this, I got to enjoy their company more and not to mention the Filipino foods they prepared for me. It certainly felt like home. 

It was a different level of experience being part of the Olympiad. I can’t believe that there were lots of Chess lovers other than me, and the Olympiad was enormous – there were 185 teams, representing 180 national federations for that year.

Each game lasts for about three hours or longer. It depends on how you and your opponent move the pieces fast or slow. Knowing opening games would help as you don’t need to think hard for the next moves. Since I was not prepared, I always took the time to make moves. The games were live-streamed on various chess applications. My family, coach Jony Habla, and friends would be chatting, “What happened to Shiela? Why is she not making moves? She will lose again because of lack of time!” Whenever I did well, the messages would be different, “We’re so proud of you, sis! I know you got our genes. You make our father in heaven happy!” My mom would chime in too, although she didn’t understand Chess. Her prayers every day before I went to the Olympiad site gave me strength.  

I got to compete against women from Egypt, Maldives, South Korea, Palestine, Uganda, South Africa, Rwanda, Cameroon, Syria, and Palau. Out of ten games, I won four! Had I won one more game, I would have been crowned as a Candidate Master. Overall, it felt so good for first-timer and for someone who stopped playing Chess for a long time. I was proud of myself, and I promised to do better in the next Olympiad in Moscow, Russia.


I picked up life coaching in 2019, which could be why Chess was suddenly revived in 2018 through a speech and Olympiad opportunity. My coaching portfolios were pointing to Chess. My coaching model describes the process of a client’s transformation symbolized by a Chess Pawn turning into a Queen. In Chess context, a pawn is just an ordinary soldier who is the first line of defense to protect the King. Unlike the other Chess pieces, it does not have any unique ability, and it can only move one or up to two steps forward around its territory and only one step beyond. The most powerful piece in the Chess game is the queen. It can attack anywhere, and it does not have any limitations in movement. Surprisingly, of all the chess pieces, only a pawn can become a queen when it reaches the base of the opponent; this is called promotion in Chess. The focus of my coaching model is to assist my clients in transforming through various stages from (1) Pawn into (2) Self-exploration, then (3) Taking Actions, which will eventually lead them into becoming a (4) Queen. 

There were many instances when I felt like a pawn: when I compared myself to others when I experienced homesickness during my first few months in Bermuda when I couldn’t express myself because I wasn’t comfortable in English and many more. Because of self-awareness, support of my loved ones, determination to change, trying new things, and God’s grace, I eventually managed to be a queen.  

If you are one of the people who would like to make changes in their lives, just like how a Pawn does when transforming into a Queen, you can visit these links for more details: and


Life can be compared to Chess. Every piece has its purpose. Likewise, each one of us has a purpose in this world. There will be moments when we feel like a little pawn, but remember that a pawn can transform into a queen. 


  1. What were the moments where you feel like a little pawn?
  2. What do you think are your strengths that can help you transform from a pawn to a queen?


Your Dear Friend Before Can Be Your Greatest Enemy Now

The last few months have been a roller coaster ride.

I was quarantined for three times: in the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong. What I realized was we are in quarantine imposed by us or others, and we have options: stay down or get up. The choice is ours.

During my lockdowns, I chose to get up (i.e., I decided to do something instead of not doing anything). One of the things I’ve been busy with is writing my long overdue dream book.

I’m also writing and producing songs.

And the biggest one is I’ve started life coaching.

As a life coach, I need to ensure that my head, heart, and gut are well aligned, and my four wells: head, heart, health, holy spirit (faith) are taken care of.

As I write my book, blogs, and songs, I realized that being empathetic brought me to where I am today. Being empathetic allowed me (with the help of my friends) to do “extraordinary” things such as setting up a scholarship foundation, creating a program for Overseas Filipino Workers, and setting up a Toastmasters Club initially intended for my fellow migrant workers.

Because I felt the sufferings of the youths in our community who can’t afford to study, I was able to overcome my fear of public speaking. Because I felt the need to share what I learned as a Toastmaster and an Overseas Filipino Worker to my fellow Filipinos who need inspiration and communication skills, I co-created programs that could help them. Being empathetic is my dear friend!

As I looked at these three significant accomplishments, I realized that the benefactors are all in my circle: from the community where I grew up, from the organization I’m a member of, and from my country.

It’s a different story as a life coach, as I’d like to reach many, not just within my circle. As a life coach, I need to ensure that my head, heart, and gut are well aligned, and my four wells: head, heart, health, holy spirit (faith) are taken care of.

To reach my goal, I’ve been studying and doing lots of things in the last three months. What I find the hardest skill to learn as a coach is the letting go of the emotions. Because of this, I’m learning meditation as well. I’ve always wanted to learn meditation and attended a few classes years ago in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. I learned, but I didn’t practice.

Last week, my Trainer asked me why I want to learn meditation. I told her that I tend to absorb emotions, and I’m doing life coaching so I need something such as meditation to be able to let go of my emotions.

I haven’t told her yet about the scholarship foundation I set-up and the other programs I co-created for my fellow Filipinos, but what she said struck me.

“It’s natural because you are caring.”

I was astonished and, at the same time, felt validation, recognition, or whatever positive feeling it was.

She said, “but it’s not good for you and others that could benefit from your life coaching service. You have to take care of yourself first so you can serve others better.”

Being empathetic turned out to be my greatest enemy!

From that day, I resolved that I’d practice meditation and learn other techniques to let go of my emotions.

I also ordered the Empath’s Survival Guide book.

Today, I will share with you my letting go practices.

  1. Visualize a butterfly carrying your emotions and watch that butterfly flying away from you. Credit to the article I read from another coach.
  2. Write your feelings on a piece of paper and put it in the jar as if they are trapped and can’t come near nor influence you. Credit to Taize Youth group in HK.
  3. Have an e-sponge in a bowl of water, and put it near your laptop. During the coaching session, to be an effective coach, we have to observe the emotions. The e-sponge’s purpose is to absorb the emotions. Right after the coaching, throw the water in the bowl and press the e-sponge to remove the water. Credit to my coach, who helped me uncover this in our session.
  4. Letting go dance where you shake your hands. This will ensure that if there are still emotions left on your body, you are letting them go. Credit to my Meditation Trainer.

What techniques would you add to this list?

What attributes you have that made you successful before but not serving you anymore?


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