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.

Train Tracks & Faith

I looked up at the night sky and wondered about the promises I made myself when I was younger.

Who did I want to be? Where would I be at this point in my life? What would I be doing? Was I happy?

As a kid, I always told myself I was meant for something big. I was special in some way, I was meant to do more.

As I grew up, there were moments where my faith in that truth wavered. Life has a way of kicking you down, submerging your head into a toilet like a bully, and making you feel like you’re nothing. You’re small. You’re insigificant. You’re just like everyone else.

But these days, my faith is secure. Running a business, living with my partner, staying up til 4am talking with my siblings over hot cider spiked with rum (a new Christmas  tradition) – I know there’s something magical in the mundanity.

I may be just like everyone else, but maybe everyone else is special, too.

We don’t always know where the train tracks we’ve laid down will lead… they may sometimes go nowhere, or they could lead you into this majestic place undiscovered and untouched, a little bit wild and taken over by green.

The point is to make a promise to yourself and to keep it. Despite the chaos, there is a way to stay grounded. Follow the tracks, let them lead you somewhere new. Promise yourself that you will end up right where you are meant to be.

How starting my own business has made me a better person

How starting my own business has made me a better person

Now that it’s been a bit more than a month since I quit my 9-to-5 job to start my own business Cambio Market, I’ve had time to reflect on what being an entrepreneur really means and how it’s impacted my life beyond the typical “work for yourself” mantra.

For some context, Cambio Market is an online marketplace to connect consumers with socially responsible products and responsible businesses. Every purchase from our store directly gives back to a meaningful cause and helps socially responsible businesses grow. For those of you familiar with the concept of social enterprise, we are one. We just launched last week.

What I realize is I really do like myself more these days than before. That may be a weird thing to say, but I have to admit I think I’m a much better person. Here’s why:

1.  I’m much more informed. We research each of our partner suppliers to ensure their products are up to par and their social impact is real, positive, and authentic. As a result, I’ve been learning so much about business, international development, and the social issues facing different communities around the world as well as the creative ways social organizations attempt to address them. Being a business owner also means understanding how government policy, local, national, and international issues impact how we operate so I pay attention to the news and Reddit much more. I’m still not as informed as I’d like to be, but my knowledge has definitely improved over the past four weeks.

A photo from our Instagram account @Cambio_Market. For every selfie taken with hashtag #DrinkGoodDoGood, Naked Juice company will donate 10 lbs. of produce to help communities in need.
A photo from our Instagram account @Cambio_Market. For every selfie taken with hashtag #DrinkGoodDoGood, Naked Juice company will donate 10 lbs. of produce to help communities in need.

2.  I’m much more connected. I barely used Facebook in the past and my friends used to have to text me reminders to check my Facebook messages (everyone has a friend like that, right?). These days I manage all the marketing and social media for Cambio Market, which means I’m constantly on social media. Not surprisingly, I’ve been much more up to date as a result and know more about what’s happening in my friend’s and family’s lives. This has significantly improved my personal relationships.

I also occasionally publish updates about Cambio Market, which has prompted several of my long lost friends to reach out to me and see how things are going. In the past month, I’ve been able to re-connect with at least four friends I haven’t seen in years. I’ve also forced myself to reach out to people and ask for their help (something I was always scared to do before). This has unexpectedly opened up amazing opportunities to re-connect with good friends and learn from them.

3.  I can have more meaningful conversations. When I was working in corporate, it felt like my conversation skills were going down the drain. Office talk always centres around plans for the weekend, what you did last night, what you ate (though 80% of my conversations are still about this :D), and plans for the holidays. These days, I’m catching up with old friends or meeting new people in the community which opens up opportunities for much more meaningful conversations. It’s been awesome.

Me at last night’s We Are Cities roundtable to discuss issues facing our city and how they can be addressed from a youth perspective.

4.  I’m more in touch with my creative side. Sometimes I forget how artsy I used to be as a kid. I used to take art classes on the weekends and would spend hours drawing. I even still have some of my old sketchbooks. It’s been about ten years since I’ve drawn something, so I’ve loved the opportunity to do all the creative work for Cambio Market. We’re literally just two people in our team and Jérôme is more on the technical side handling our IT, business compliance, shipping and logistics, so I do everything else. I designed our logo, create the creatives for our social media, write all our content, and even spent hours doing arts and crafts to package our orders. I love how I’ve been able to re-connect with that part of myself.

I spent hours doing arts and crafts to come up with our finalized packaging for Cambio Market!
I spent hours doing arts and crafts to come up with our finalized packaging for Cambio Market!

5.  I’ve been able to meet people outside of my regular circles. Networking is always important, regardless of your stage of life. As a social entrepreneur, it’s crucial. I’ve actively forced myself to attend various events in the city and meet new people. Last month, I attended a Creative Mornings Toronto event, a free speakers series in Toronto geared towards the creative community. Last night, I participated in a youth roundtable through We Are Cities to discuss issues facing our city and how these can be addressed through a youth perspective. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone for both events and some were better than others, but I’ve learned a lot from every single event I’ve attended and person I’ve met. It’s been awesome and I’ve become more aware of issues facing my community.

6. Last but not least, I’m happier. Not to say that happy people are necessarily better people, but I’m generally more optimistic than before and willing to fight for things I care about. It’s empowering.

If you’ve had a similar experience or thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them! 🙂 

Photo credit Bruno Ramos: http://brunoramos.es/puesta-de-sol/

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

Go Ahead – Make a Mess

Go Ahead – Make a Mess

It’s Day 11 of the Writing 101 course I’ve signed up for through Blogging U. In this span of time, I’ve written seven new blog posts. Seven! Nothing But Nerd is probably the fifth or sixth blog I’ve started since university, and I’ve always abandoned each one of them before the third post, until now. I also manage the blog for ChooseSocial.PH and occasionally write guest blogs for different sites.

Writing is fun but hugely time consuming and it can also make you kinda crazy. You end up spending a lot of time in your own head, which can be great, but not when you’re already down in the dumps and feeling sorry for yourself. In those gloomy periods, writing can sometimes dig you deeper into your hole of insecurities. Compound this by twelve when you’re starting your own business for the first time.

So, how do I keep myself in check and balanced? Disclaimer: I’m not a poster child for “balance”. With me, it’s either “all or nothing”, as my partner always tells me with a look of endearment and also disapproval. Work in progress, my friends.

I do hot yoga and pilates, but one thing I absolutely love is baking. I love discovering new recipes that are simple and healthy, and the excitement of mixing all these seemingly unappealing items together into a big bowl, sticking them into the oven, and seeing them transform into something delicious and unexpected. It’s like creating life in a way. The other night, I made peach cobbler (not super healthy) out of a mountain of peaches from my parents’ backyard, and I like to surprise people with how easy it is to make homemade raspberry white chocolate scones. I also love to make low carb desserts like the three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, and this super amazing grain-free and vegan avocado lime cheesecake. I could talk about food for hours, as evidenced by my food-centric Pinterest account.

A snapshot of the homemade avocado lime cheesecake I made. Recipe courtesy of Hemsley + Hemsley
A snapshot of the homemade avocado lime cheesecake I made. Recipe courtesy of Hemsley + Hemsley

The funny thing is, I actually started baking only because I thought it was something everyone else in the world was good at except for me. I now realize that only a small number of my friends actually bake or cook, and the rest of them rely on pre-packaged foods or their parents. I don’t know how I got it into my head that people were born with the gift of baking.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise that I’m actually quite a disaster in the kitchen. Things splatter everywhere, I always drop spoons and spatulas covered in the stickiest mixtures on our hardwood floor, I never have all the things I need and hate buying ingredients for a single recipe, so I substitute everything and haphazardly measure quantities. I’m quite a mess.

Baking is a science, but somehow, all the mess and disasters throughout still turn into this delicious and wondrous dessert (granted, usually a variation of what the original was supposed to be). Some might call those failures, but I like to think of it as an analogy for life – we make a big mess and things are rarely as simple as they seem, even with all the steps laid out – but somehow, it works and becomes something wonderful in return, even if it looks nothing like in the pictures.

This is a post inspired from Day 11 of course Writing 101: Writing and Not Writing through Blogging U

Life Updates Over Coffee

Life Updates Over Coffee

If we were having coffee right now, I would greet you with a warm hug and exclaim how long it’s been since we last saw each other. I would ask what you’ve been up to, how your husband and parents are, how work is going, and comment on how adorable you look in your outfit and matching headscarf.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you how blissfully happy and excited I am for the future, so much that these days I can’t focus because I’m going to burst like a piñata full of sprinkles and colourful candy. I would pause to take a sip of my coffee (slightly too hot), and excitedly tell you about my new venture. It’s called Cambio Market and will be an online boutique specialized in socially responsible and unique products sourced from social enterprises around the world. You would ask me to remind you what that means – social enterprise. I would explain that it’s a business – so it sells products and services like a business – except that it prioritizes positive social impact above profit. Your eyes would light up with excitement and you would exclaim, “that’s perfect for you!” I would enthusiastically nod my head in agreement.

If we were having coffee right now, I would recount what he and I have been doing these days. How I wake up in the mornings, lay around in bed reading Twitter and Reddit for an hour, then get up to make my coffee. I draw apart the curtains and look outside, breathing in distant sounds of cars and people driving past – sounds which have served as the backdrop to my inspiration. I spend an hour writing a blog post about, well, anything, and then I get back up to start my day. I research and meet with social enterprises and potential suppliers, spend hours on social media (sometimes productively), contact partners, and write.

If we were having coffee right now, you would ask me what it’s like to start a business with him, if it’s impacted our relationship in some way. I would pause for a moment and reflect, and then I would coyly respond with a “yes and no.” I would explain it all to you and you would listen with understanding and compassion. I feel immediately thankful to call you my friend.

If we were having coffee right now, I would confide how terror and excitement seem to go hand in hand, and that I am downright terrified of failure. You would listen and then tell me not to be afraid, I am going to be fine because you believe I can do it. I am comforted but almost immediately anxious at the same time.

If we were having coffee right now, you would tell me how unhappy you are at your job. You wish there was something more. You want to travel, to see the world, to be the person that can change things. I tell you, you can. I tell you to take the time you need to wrap your head around it and build up your confidence, but you can do it because I believe in you. You thank me and smile, but I know you don’t believe me.

If we were having coffee right now, at this point we both look down and realize it’s been three hours since we began talking. You have to get home and cook. I have to go home and get some work done. We hug and promise to see each other soon, both reassuring each other that everything is going to be alright.

This is a post inspired from Day 10 of course Writing 101: Update Your Readers Over a Cup of Coffee through Blogging U

A Letter to Confusion

A Letter to Confusion

Dear Confused,

You may not want to hear this or believe what I’m about to say, but please trust me when I tell you  no, there is nothing wrong with you.

I know you grew up expecting your life to be a certain way. Throughout school, you were probably told you should work hard, get good grades, and graduate with honours. Then once you graduated, people told you to get a job, work your way up, get married and then somehow live happily ever after. I know you expected life to be like that, and I know you secretly hope it still will be.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if it’s not. Life, unlike the stories you’ve been fed, isn’t clean. The complexities of life can’t be resolved in thirty minutes, one hour, 75 years. The protagonist one day may be the antagonist the next, and you may not always be the main character. You change every day, and so does your vision of happily ever after.

To borrow the beautiful words of Mary Schmich:

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

So my dear confused friend, please trust me when I say… you are going to be okay.

Sincerely,

Wisdom

This is a post inspired from Day 9 of course Writing 101: Reinvent the Letter Format through Blogging U