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

Toronto’s City of Colour

Toronto’s City of Colour

Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common.
Celebrate it every day. – Anonymous

We’re meeting for after work drinks. She complains about her no-good co-worker and how she’s been neglecting all her tasks and pushing them onto her.

“What a c*!” she exclaims.

I react with shock. They both turn to me and one asks, “What’s the big deal?”

I explain that it’s derogatory against women. She says, “So what? I say the n* word all the time.”

I look at her with bewilderment. “Well, that’s really not any better!”

One accuses me of being a feminist. I snap back, “What’s wrong with that?”

We all take a sip from our drinks, avoiding eye contact.

We had heard a lot of good things about Kit Kat, an upscale Italian restaurant in the downtown core. My friends and I are excited to give it a try so we make a reservation for her birthday.

I arrive, running late as usual, and go directly to the host.

Before I can say a word, he takes one look at me and says, “Oh, I know which table you’re at.”

He leads me straight to a table with my friends, who happen to be the only other asians in the restaurant.

We scheduled our business meeting at a coffee shop since we wanted to keep the climate casual.

I arrive early, set up my laptop and order myself a cup of coffee. I see him from afar in jeans and a button down shirt. He’s fairly young, in his late 20’s and wearing glasses.

I extend my hand in greeting. He clasps his hands together and bows, “Ni hao.”

I’m stunned. “Ehrr.. nice to meet you. I actually don’t speak Chinese.” The words stumble out.

He looks flustered and apologizes. I ask if he speaks Chinese. He says no, but he’s always wanted to learn.

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He looks up from his textbook at the rest of the class. We had just gone through a reading in French about a Muslim girl struggling to integrate in Canada.

“I wonder – what do you think is better?” he asks in French. “A melting pot or a mosaic?”

Everyone simultaneously says, “A mosaic.” He asks, “Pourquoi?” Why?

One student explains how people should be allowed to maintain their customs and traditions. That’s what makes Canada so great. We don’t expect you to give up who you are.

Our professor considers this. He is an older gentleman who has come from France to Canada a year ago. He talks to us about how he hasn’t been able to find any employment except this one, teaching French at the school. It’s a variation of a story we’ve all heard before.

Everyone is silent.

We’re invited to be speakers at NextDayBetter Toronto, a speaker and food series aimed at empowering youth and the filipino diaspora community. We do our part and chow down on modern twists of pulutan (Filipino finger foods).

The night wraps up with a panel discussion featuring business owners and executives of various corporations around Toronto. The theme is “Your vision of Toronto in 2030.”

One woman who has successfully launched two of her own businesses admits to growing up and feeling like she didn’t belong in either the mainstream filipino culture or Canadian culture. She admits to feeling like an outsider to both.

Another man who is a VP of something in a big multinational based in Toronto admits that even though he is in a senior position, seeing another filipino at the office fills him with so much comfort. It feels like someone else can understand.

The room fills with sounds of agreement.

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The group of us are chatting over wine. Somehow the conversation turns toward growing up in Toronto.

I make a bold statement, “To be honest, despite the diversity in this city, I still feel people are hugely ignorant of each other’s cultures.”

He looks at me for a second, considering my response. Finally, he nods.

“I know exactly what you mean. In a way, Toronto is so diverse that it’s easy to stick with what you know. That’s why we have grandmothers living in Chinatown who’ve lived here for 30 years and haven’t learned a word of English.”

“Or white people who grew up in Toronto and only have white friends,” someone offers.

We all agree.

On the way home, I take the streetcar and pick up bits and pieces of conversation. Someone is confiding to her friend in Spanish about the man she’s dating. Two guys complain about their boss in Tagalog. A couple of French tourists try to figure out how to get home. Another language I don’t know but could be Portuguese.

Everyone turns when the Frenchman asks which stop is coming up. A woman responds and they get off at the next light.

This is a post inspired from Day 13 of course Writing 101: Compose a Series of Vignettes 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

Life and Happiness Online

Life and Happiness Online

I read a post from A Good Blog is Hard to Find about the reasons people blog and how everyone’s goals and writing styles are different. If you haven’t already, check it out. I commented to the author on how his genuine and simple writing style made me reflect on my own goals and authenticity.

I began writing because I was looking for a space to share my thoughts and ideas. If with no one else, then at least writing would let me vent out all the craziness from inside my head and let it diffuse out into the blogosphere. I’ve been able to do that to an extent, but once you’re online and reading and following these amazing blogs, and seeing 100+ comments and follows on other people’s posts, you start to get insecure and wonder about your inadequacies.

This is especially true when you’re venturing into business and social entrepreneurship. The questions can drive. you. mad. How come my blog post only got 20 views? Why are my Facebook posts not being shared? Why can’t I be a better writer? Will we ever make any money, ever? What makes charity: water so great, anyway? (hint: they are actually awesome).

My point is that it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s visions (including your own): visions of what a blog should look like, what “authentic” writing is, how many followers you should have, how outgoing you should be, what a “successful” entrepreneurial lifestyle should look like. No one ever talks about the dark stuff, or they gloss over it and say, “yes, I went through a really tough time but I overcame it and now I’m a hugely successful business owner.”

How about days like the past Monday when you’re too depressed and discouraged to even get out of bed? When you do nothing productive at all because you just can’t stop crying? When you put all your fucking heart and soul into something and it still turns to shit, and then you have to get up the next day and just keep going? What about those moments? Would you like to hear about them?

I sure would.

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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