Founder’s Diary: Happiness Is Now.

I cried in front of six strangers a few weeks ago.

And not drops of tears, dignified kind of pretty crying. I full out bawled, ugly face, makeup streaked, snotty dripping kind of crying.

The last few weeks (months) have been really rough. I’m writing this now after I’ve overcome the worst of it, but it was tough going for a while. I was supposed to go away for the weekend, but through a fortunate (and many ways, unfortunate) turn of events, I had to cancel my trip and stay in Toronto for the weekend.

So, distraught and sad and unhappy and full of self-pity, I took on a Hail Mary of sorts. For years now, a good friend of mine had been badgering me to attend a class with the Art of Living Foundation and I always brushed it off.

“I’m not available that weekend,” I’d say. Or I would say it was too expensive. Or the class wasn’t that interesting. But when my friend, her Spidey senses tingling, messaged me out of the blue recently and told me to take this course, I took it as a sign.

“You’ll thank yourself for this,” she said. I was skeptical to be honest, but I was desperate enough and unhappy enough that I had to try something. So I signed up literally the night before for a three-day retreat with the Art of Happiness Program

I won’t go into details of the program (you should just check it out) but in spite of myself, I did genuinely thank myself for going. And I continue to say my thanks to this day.

The course is called The Happiness Program, so obviously we talked a lot about how to be happy. But my biggest takeaway wasn’t necessarily the tactics or strategies to find happiness. It was pointing out all the ways that I’ve intentionally, or unintentionally, chosen unhappiness. That for so much of my life, I’ve been postponing my own happiness, the same way a kid might postpone her homework.

Jerome constantly tells me, “it’s not about the destination. It’s the journey that’s important.” To which I would roll my eyes and say, “but if the road isn’t bringing you anywhere, WTF is the point?!”

As an entrepreneur, life is stressful af. You can set little goals for yourself like, “reach $1000 in sales this month” or “find 3 more freelance clients” and you can have a mini celebration when you reach it. But the folly of humans is that we’re always waiting for what’s next.

We hit the $1000, maybe treat ourselves to a little mani/pedi or a sushi dinner (for Jerome and I, it’s usually the latter 😉 . But once the party is over, then it’s like “okay, so where is the next goal? The next challenge? The next this and that and this.”

We think, “When X happens, then I’ll be happy.”

But the nature of entrepreneurship is that it’s never easy. And it’s never over.

When I make my first sale, then I’ll be happy.

When our business makes a profit, then I’ll be happy.

When we break $100K in revenues, then I’ll be happy.

When I can go on vacation, then I’ll be happy.

You see, once you reach “success” as a business, that’s not even the last step. How do you stay successful? How do you keep your place in line, continue finding the best clients, stay above the competition, stay up to date with technology, continue to grow?

Is there really a destination at the end of it all?

I learned a lot of things after my breakdown. But one of the best lessons that came to me was this:

Once you accept the beauty of the present, then life becomes more than the pursuit of happiness. Instead, it becomes the expression of it.
Julia, my Art Of Living Instructor

Happiness is now. Not later. Not after a big sale, not after you land 5 clients, not after you book your dream vacation. Being happy is a conscious decision. And you have to make it every single day, every single moment.

I learned this amazing lesson.

And all I had to do was cry before a roomful of strangers.

 

 

Founder’s Diary: Leap

This week, J and I found ourselves in the most unexpected situation.

There we were, in a crowded Moxies. Having dinner and drinks with a guy who, two years ago, we would have had no business knowing. This guy has spent the last 25 years working with the hottest, emerging retail brands, and has the ears of CEOs who manage companies I could only dream of working for.

And somehow we were there with him, swapping stories and talking strategy over potstickers and guacamole.

Surreal, right?

How did we even end up here?

I’ve asked myself this question SO many times in the past two years. Like how did we end up in the Philippines last February, interviewing sex trafficking survivors and displaced peoples? How did we end up in the homes of artisans, people we barely knew, who welcomed us in with open arms? How did we wind up at some exclusive bloggers’ event in Toronto, with the endless flashes from phones and the posed selfies clouding our vision?

The absurdity of it all boggles my mind.

See, I’m a compulsive planner. I love making to-do lists, writing out timelines, figuring out how to get from entry level to senior manager within X years. But even with my obsessive tendencies, there’s NO way I could have foreseen any of this.

Two years ago, I was still working a 9-to-5 job, working in a financial institution (which is as corporate as it gets). I had a so-so salary, good job security, a clear cut path to becoming a manager within the next two years, and a growing sense of dread that my life was not going where I hoped.

So I quit my job and hoped that something better would come my way.

I guess you could call it a leap of faith.

But here’s the crazy thing. Entrepreneurship is one big leap, every day. And as a freak planner, that’s a tough pill to swallow. People like me are not on friendly terms with The Unknown. Not knowing where your next paycheque is coming from, where your business is headed, whether you’ll even have a business in a year, and what you’ll do with yourself if it turns out that’s not the case – all of that gives people like me anxiety.

But on those quiet mornings when I have a chance to slow down and reflect, maybe while I wait for the kettle to boil, or while I stand on the subway platform awaiting my next action, I see the lesson. I see my life then, and my life now, and I see the void inbetween.

Could I have imagined any of this? Probably not. But my reality is far greater than what any figment of my imagination could have drummed up, or planned for.

So, the way I see it, my life right now is about taking leaps forward.

Where will it all lead me? I don’t really know.

And for the first time, I’m tempted not to care.

Founder’s Diary: Sometimes, Everything Is Shit

I’ll let you guys in on a little secret.

I don’t always love my business.

Some days, I hate it.

That may be taboo to say in the world of entrepreneurship. We’ve been fed so many tales of how being an entrepreneur is sexy and savvy and liberating.

We listen to the Gary Vaynerchuks of the world who talk about the hustle and grind, how you just can’t stop, that somehow living off of ramen noodles is part of the glamour of being an entrepreneur. You might be broke and have no social life, but you still better love every freaking minute of it because otherwise you have no business being here.

Case in point, I went to a panel event recently and lo and behold, this is what one of the speakers shared:

“I can never turn my phone off. When I bring my kids to school, I’m working. When I’m with them at practice, I’m working. But I love everything about what I do. I work all the time because I love it. Work doesn’t feel like work to me because I love every second.”

Um… LIES.

NOBODY feels that way. You’re telling me you love doing your taxes? Sifting through all your receipts and inputting them? You love dealing with poor performing employees? Supplier issues? Broken products? Difficult customers? Scrambling to find clients? Working weekends all summer instead of lazing about sipping sangria on the porch (I would LOVE a lazy sangria porch day).

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One of my favourite greeting cards from Cambio Market. Very fitting, don’t you think? 🙂

Maybe someday when you’re actually Gary Vaynerchuk and have a team you can delegate the humdrum to, then perhaps. But most of us are not in that boat. I definitely am not.

Truth is, even if you’re the most passionate person in the world, you won’t love everything you do. ESPECIALLY if you’re a startup or a solopreneur. There’s many things to dislike, and I’m going to tell a truth that’s been buried for ages:

Work feels like work. Running a business is work. Creating a brand is hard as fuck, and life can be pretty thankless.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my business. When I think long-term about what J and I are building, I am filled with so much excitement (and anxiety) I feel I could burst. I enjoy the work I do, many parts of it I love. But there are many parts of running a business day to day that are just awful.

Like waking up at 5AM to pack all our inventory for a farmer’s market, unloading things in the rain, working 50 hours during the week and then eight hours on a Saturday to sell products instead of spending time with family. Having to fire poor performing employees. Dealing with lost packages or broken inventory. Struggling with uncertainty. Scrambling to find contracts or part-time work so you can still pay the bills. Trying to find time to still be a good mom/daughter/sister/friend.

But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I love being an entrepreneur. I love building something that’s my own, having creative and strategic freedom, connecting with other entrepreneurs and likeminded people, doing work I’m fucking passionate about. I’ve made so many new friends, learned different skills, and grew so much as a person.

But don’t buy into the myth that entrepreneurship should be beach days and sparkles all the time. When people used to say things like “work doesn’t feel like work” to me, I used to feel guilty. Did I not love my business? Was I unhappy? Am I not cut out for this?

I still have those days when I wonder if I should just pack it all in and get a 9 to 5 (health benefits would definitely be nice). But a year and a half into it, i realize there’s nothing wrong with having off days. There’s nothing wrong with you if sometimes you feel like a mountain pile of crap everyone keeps shitting on, if you just want to give up, if somedays you just hate everything.

I’ve been there, my friend. I will be there, again and again.

Let’s stop making each other feel bad.

Work is work. It’s okay to admit it.

Because I Said Yes

Because I Said Yes

I remember sliding my clothes off, the apprehension and excitement of not knowing what would come next. Thankfully, it wasn’t a full moon that night, but the half that was visible shone an ethereal glow that bounced off the Madre de Dios river; calm and quiet and tranquil.

We were a group of us, all from different countries. One of us was Dutch, the other German, another from France, if I recall correctly. I was the sole Canadian, non-white, and proud of it.

I stood fully bare, took in a deep breath, and ran into the water, wanting to cover up my nakedness and also knowing that if I waited long enough, I would change my mind. The four of us waded in the water, laughing and teasing one another. I floated on my back and let out the breath I subconsciously was holding in – here I am, looking up at a blanket of stars and moon, naked and skinny dipping in the Amazon Rainforest. What the fuck.

Some of the best memories of my life were exactly those: what the fuck. How did I end up here? How is this even possible?

When I think back to how any of it happened, it was because of a single word: yes.

I had said yes to travelling to Peru by myself, despite never having left North America since we immigrated from Philippines. Despite not knowing anything about travelling abroad or taking a flight by myself or knowing Spanish. My mom was livid and tried to discourage me, but supported me when I made the decision, and for that I love her. Upon landing and feeling my feet touch the ground, I knew. Anything I experience these next few months will hinge on that first yes.

That was over six years ago, and this year will make it seven, since I travelled to Peru. I still think back on that trip often, not because of what I said or did, but because of how I felt. I felt alive. I felt free. I felt like I had taken the best and worst parts of me and reorganized them into something brand new.

The next time I took such a plunge was in 2015, the year I said yes (or in this case no) to my corporate job, and said yes to starting my own business. I knew nothing about retail, knew nothing about fashion, knew nothing about sustainability or running a business. What the fuck.

Since then, I’ve learned and am still learning. Less than six months after launching our business, we travelled to Philippines to source products, and then Indonesia. This year, we’re going back and adding on Vietnam. I’ve rekindled friendships, ended unfruitful ones, and created new ones. I’ve fallen in love again and again with J, my partner in life and in business. I’ve challenged myself to grow in ways I never thought possible.

I feel like a nervous ball of energy teetering on that familiar edge between apprehension and excitement. Years from now, I won’t remember what I did or who I met, but I’ll remember how I feel: I feel alive, I feel free. I feel like me.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know that whatever comes is because of that one word: yes.

One month in: What I’ve been up to since I quit my job

One month in: What I’ve been up to since I quit my job

It’s been exactly one month since I quit my job to embark on my latest adventure -starting an ethical business out of my own home. It’s called Cambio Market, an online shop selling socially responsible and handcrafted products sourced from ethical businesses around the world. We just launched this week.

The last month has been a whirlwind. It’s no lie when people say starting a business takes over your life. I sometimes start work at 8AM and don’t stop until midnight, occasionally finding time in there to pound out a blog post or two (though this week has been a poor example of that *sad face*).

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Cambio Market is an online shop selling socially responsible and positive impact products from around the world. Good Paper handcrafted cards are available in our store.

Over the last four weeks, we’ve set up our social media channels, met with various suppliers (all positive impact businesses), ordered our initial batch of products, developed all of our web copy and content from scratch, took product photos, set up our Shopify store and website, and continue to source new suppliers. I also spent a whole night figuring out packaging – strips of ribbon and kraft paper strewn across our living room floor. We’re pretty happy with how our initial experiment turned out though 🙂

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Experimenting with various packaging options. Our apartment still has scraps of ribbon and kraft paper scattered about.

For the month of October, we’ll be busy with marketing and trying to drive sales. We’ve also just placed orders with two new suppliers and hope to receive their product before end of October, just in time for the November/December peak. We’ll be prepping our inventory and re-marketing all of our content for the holiday season, reaching out to bloggers and influencers to get our products out there. We’ve also got more shipping and logistics stuff to figure out, and there’s the endless work on social media and communications. I also hope to continue blogging about careers and social entrepreneurship, Cambio Market, etc. The list goes on and on…

Despite all the extra work, added pressure, and basically zero income right now, I am so blissfully happy. Working 9-to-5, somehow I always felt I was waiting for something – waiting for the day to be over, for the weekend to start, anticipating my next raise – basically, waiting for my life to begin. With Cambio Market, I wake up early and stay up late because I don’t want the day to be over. I don’t want the weekend to start because that’s the time I should “relax and rest” instead of working. The difference in perspective changes you. I only wish everyone could be this happy and excited about their jobs.

So when I think about the future, I’m filled with excitement but I’m also filled with  A LOT of fear – all. the. time. My good friend told me, “if you’re not afraid, you’re not driving fast enough.” I have to agree.

But where am I driving to, exactly? I couldn’t tell you.

I’m just here to chronicle the journey.

This is a post inspired from Day 20 of course Writing 101: The Future through Blogging U

Food, start-ups, and social enterprise: The story of a Filipino outsider

This is a post that I originally wrote for international organization NextDayBetter. It was then reblogged on ChooseSocial.PH. I’m re-posting it here on my personal blog because it was a very personal post that means a lot to me, so I want to share it with you as well.

We're bringing social enterprises into the mainstream

This blog post was originally published on NextDayBetter’s blog by our co-founder Gelaine as part of our content partnership with them. 

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I’m not your definition of a Filipina role model. I understand but don’t speak Tagalog. I was born in Philippines but couldn’t tell you much about life in the country. I grew up eating ‘adobo,” palabok,’ and ‘pancit,’ but only recently learned the difference between ‘lechon’ and ‘lechon kawali.’ I’ve lived most of my life in Canada where I was raised to believe that Philippine-made meant cheap, and “opportunity” was always paired with “abroad”.

So, it must be a surprise that here I am – co-founder of ChooseSocial.PH, an organization that aims to connect and educate people about social enterprises in the Philippines and the work of Filipino social entrepreneurs. It’s a surprise but an honour to be part of an organization that proudly showcases the work, impact…

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