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.

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.

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/

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

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

The Cure for All Doubt

The Cure for All Doubt

This is a post inspired from Day 5 of course Writing 101: Let Social Media Inspire You through Blogging U

We’re cautious creatures, us humans. By nature, we’re risk-averse and when presented with opportunities, our minds automatically flit back and forth between the positives and the number of things that could drastically go wrong. How many times have you heard people say (or said yourself), “you’re so lucky. I would love to be doing something like that.”

As an entrepreneur, there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – that drives me just completely crazy more than that phrase. When I first told someone at work I was resigning to start my own business and return to school part-time, she actually said to me, “wow, you’re SO lucky!” Umm, no. Luck, by definition, means you had no control over the situation. Choice, decision, action – these are all verbs. After months of deliberation, I decided to forego the safety of a salary, a stable routine, a safe career path. I actively and willingly worked 18 hour days to set up the foundation for a business. I contacted entrepreneurs and industry professionals weeks in advance to meet them for coffee and learn as much as I could. Luck always has its time and place, but here it had no part to play.

When you’re watching from afar, it’s easy to see what people are doing and think, “wow, that’s amazing. I could never do anything like that.” Our brains are instinctively tuned in to develop all these theories of reasons why we shouldn’t do something, but we have to make the conscious decision to act, to choose, to decide. Even something as simple as dedicating 10 minutes a day to pursue your passion is a step – a small one but with a big footprint. All overnight successes take years in the making.

Before quitting my job, I met with a woman who left her 9-to-5 job years ago and has since launched two of her own businesses. When I asked her about her doubts early on, she answered:

“Once I quit, I just knew there were no other options. I knew I had to be resourceful and smart and hard-working enough to make this work.

There was no alternative.”