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).

IMG_2843
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.

When Smart People School You

A few nights ago, I was at a girlfriend’s house for wine and cheese and a little banter. There were three of us there – all of us women, entrepreneurs in the ethical fashion scene, and each of us struggling through business, relationships, and life in general. We get together every once in a while just to vent, and air out our struggles in a safe space.

We were chatting about a range of things, and eventually, as we always do, the conversation turned toward relationships, particularly marriage and kids.

The hostess said, “you and J are going to have the cutest babies!”

My partner J is a white, French Canadian (a true “pure laine”, some Québecois will proudly say), and I’m Filipino Chinese. So whenever the topic came to babies, our friends and family always said things like this.

And I, without thinking, regurgitated what I had heard so often before: “I know! Mixed babies are always extra cute!”

I immediately sensed V., my companion from Malawi, tense.

She said, “Oh… I wish you hadn’t said that. I like to think my child will be beautiful no matter what their race and no matter who I end up with. Race has nothing to do with it.”

I was taken aback. In general, I consider myself an overall enlightened person. I’m conscious of the language I use, and am pretty aware of my own privilege – being an upper middle class, university educated Asian Canadian who was raised here and speaks English and French. I’ve had discussions with people about the intersectionality of race, gender, and class; and constantly remind myself that others’ lived experiences, though there are similarities, are not the same as my own.

In short, I am not used to being schooled.

So I was stunned at first, not quite sure how to react. I think I mumbled something about how I didn’t mean to say it that way. Probably tried to backtrack a little bit. I don’t even remember. All I can recall is the feeling of sinking, and a flaccid attempt to save face.

But as the conversation slid, as it tends to, away from discomfort towards ease (we had already moved onto something like books or films), I sat there not really present in the conversation, reliving what happened minutes before. I knew instinctively that my friend V. was right.

Without knowing it, I had been propagating racist stereotypes and unconscious biases people had towards lighter skin. Typically, when people talk about mixed babies, it’s always a mix of white with black, or hispanic, or asian. Or asians with blacks. Or hispanics with blacks. The overall effect of which is lightening the gene pool. Saying that “mixed babies are cuter” actually props up this hierarchy of skin colours – at the top of which is white, black is at the bottom, and the range of skin tones were inbetween, like a pantone system. Except instead of paint colours, we were talking about races.

I had unwittingly been promoting this idea that mixed babies were cuter simply because I heard it multiple times in the past. And I didn’t think to challenge it because I was benefitting from this misdirected claim. You’re saying my babies will be super cute? Why, thank you, kind madam!

No, of course I didn’t mean anything by it. And of course this didn’t automatically make me racist, but I was propagating a racist perspective – that some babies, because of their genetics, were better than others. And that’s a pretty fucked up thing to say, isn’t it???

In acknowledging this, I felt the embarrassment spill all over me, as though it became part of my skin. And the more I felt it, the more I wanted to cover it up.

I think about what I should have said instead, and how the conversation could have played out differently.

Rather than trying to backtrack and make up some excuse about what I really meant to say, instead of immediately becoming defensive and trying to save face, I could have said, “You know, you’re right. I never thought of it that way before. Thank you for pointing that out to me.”

And then we could have launched into a really amazing discussion about race and prejudice and perception. Wouldn’t that have been a much better way to handle it?

Now let me be clear. It’s never pleasant to be schooled, and unless you’re on a power trip and enjoy pointing out people’s flaws, you’ll find it equally unpleasant to have to be the one schooling others. But isn’t that what true diversity is? Creating safe spaces for people to make mistakes and to correct others and to engage in conversations where there is bound to be disagreement. And discomfort.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in a situation where you’re the one being schooled? Leave your ego at the door, and show appreciation instead. It’s not often you can get educated for free.

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.

Sleeping Alone

Sleeping Alone

A close friend of mine was attacked during our third year of university. A stranger entered her room at night while she slept. Since then, I have trouble sleeping alone though it happened many years ago. When my partner is away on business and I have our apartment to myself, instead of sleeping, I bake. Or I clean. Or I binge watch on Netflix until the early hours of the morning when I pass out from exhaustion. If there are others in the house and I have a room on my own, I sleep with the lights on and my phone next to me. One time, I even hid a hammer under my bed. All the fears and nightmares which most people outgrow from childhood are more alive to me in my 20’s than ever before.

People say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Every negative experience is a learning opportunity, an obstacle to overcome, a chance to become better. I believe that, I really do. But people rarely talk about the various ways that every negative experience can hurt us and scar us, even the slightest things. They leave us damaged in little and lasting ways. I forget who said it, but someone once described all of life as the continuous attempt to build yourself back up when the world tries to break you down. That may sound melodramatic, but I can’t help but feel there’s some truth in that. 

The other day, my sister and I were casually chatting about sleeping alone. When I told her I couldn’t sleep in a room by myself, better yet an entire house, I immediately and unconsciously added, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” My partner overheard and later said to me, “You know why you can’t. It’s not your fault.” 

Fault. Guilt. Failure. There’s always that mix floating around which we can’t seem to be rid of, no matter how hard we try to find peace. To heal means to become healthy again, to recover. But it doesn’t mean or imply to be the same, or to be unchanged. It may seem obvious, but it never occurred to me that this strange fear I’ve developed was related to what happened almost six years ago. My friend is beautiful and strong and so happy now, but I can’t even imagine how that horrific night must creep up on her in the most insidious ways.

Physically speaking, healing involves building new skin overtop of a wound. Sometimes, it leaves a scar visible to the naked eye, other times it doesn’t. One of the most important things I’ve learned as an adult is that we’re all a little scarred, and we each wear our damages in different ways. Two years after “that night”, one friend told me how that entire experience left her angry and hurt. “I feel like I’m tarnished”, she said with dry eyes. She spoke with sadness but conviction, as though it was just a fact of life. I couldn’t agree more with that word – the way it hung heavy in the air.

Tarnished. Scarred. Damaged. All words of encouragement and false hope that had been so programmed into me couldn’t come. All I could do was hold her hand and say, “me too.”