How Becoming A Better Writer Could Change My Life: A Post About Damn Fine Words

How Becoming A Better Writer Could Change My Life: A Post About Damn Fine Words

I remember back in fifth grade when we had to write short stories for class. Our teacher would make each of us go up to the front and read our stories out loud, word for word, for everyone else to hear. Others dreaded this exercise and hated the thought of having to share their intimate creations out loud, let alone write them down. I, on the other hand, took delight in it. I recall one particularly gory story I wrote about a young knight trying to avenge the death of his mentor, Sir Albatross, who had been beheaded by an evil ruler and sent his butchered remains to the rest of the knights as a warning. Even as a kid, I remember being impressed with what I wrote. Already I could tell that writing can change people; it can influence what we think and how we feel.

I still feel that writing has the power to do that. Sadly, the process isn’t as effortless or nearly as enjoyable as it used to be for 11 year old me, especially when I’m up after midnight banging out blog posts for my business after a week of zero sales. What I used to find so effortless, exciting, and fun has become a roadblock. Worse, it’s become a source of resentment. But what if I could become a better, more confident, happier writer? How would that change my business and my life?

I’ve been following this website called Men With Pens for the past two years and have subscribed to all their newsletters. James Chartrand, the mastermind behind the Men With Pens website, offers an online writing course called Damn Fine Words which I’ve read plenty of damn fine things about. I found out that James is hosting a writing contest to win a free scholarship to her course. All you have to do is write about how DFW could help you. Simple, right?

I want to tell their stories and to educate the masses, but I don’t have the tools or skills to create compelling content that influences people to take action.

First, there’s my business. I quit my corporate job and launched Cambio Market last year with my partner. Based in Toronto, Cambio Market is an online shop for socially responsible products which give back to a social cause. Eco-friendly greeting cards made by survivors of sex trafficking, jewelry made from upcycled T-shirts, bags handwoven by indigenous artisans – these are the sort of products you can find in our shop. We’ve invested plenty of time and money into building our business and it’s been a wonderful journey, but there are so many days where I just want to curl up into a ball and cry my soul out. You see, we have compelling stories and we have beautiful products – but none of it translates online. Our social media lacks real engagement. Our blog posts dissipate into the black hole of online space. Our website barely garners 40 visits a day. And don’t even get me started on our sales…

Yet when I’m in front of people at a local flea market and I tell them the stories of our products, people are floored. Their eyes light up and I feel an instant connection. They get it. They love the products, the story, and the impact. But how come this same connection isn’t happening online? Our website copy, blog, and social media aren’t terrible – but we’re lacking a real connection with our audience. Actually, we don’t even know who our audience is. We don’t know what to write about, how to write it, and how to reach the right people. If what I’ve read about DFW is true, this course could help us identify our ideal readers and understand how to genuinely connect with them. We could finally stop throwing things against the wall and hoping something sticks. With DFW, we could build real relationships with customers, grow our sales, help our artisan partners grow, and develop an engaged community of individuals who want to make a difference like we do.

I want that wash, rinse, repeat process that James has promised – that steady process that could help me bring the best part of me to life whenever I needed her.

I could also help myself. I have ideas in my head but I don’t know what to do with them. I try to write them down but I quickly become daunted by The Blank Page. I dream of writing for magazines and blogs on topics of sustainability, food, and culture (and make money while doing it), but I write too slowly and too hesitantly. Sometimes I get so engrossed in researching a topic that I amass mountains of information, only to abandon a post halfway when I become overwhelmed with the thoughts in my head. DFW could help me develop a process to organize all the ideas floating in my head and bring them to life down on paper in a way that’s fast, effective, and impactful. If I could do that, I would quit my minimum wage part-time job and write freelance about topics I actually care about.

Despite the hurdles, I actually do enjoy writing once I can get into the groove. Writing brings out the best part of me when I can do it well. At my best, I’m funny and courageous and compelling and informed. I’m inspired and inspiring. When I’m in the “zone”, I feel like my mind is clear and I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. There is nothing like that sense of accomplishment at completing a blog post and seeing people share it. I want that more. I want more sales. I want to be able to tap into my best self when I want it, not when the wind happens to blow in that direction. I would have the confidence to start a lifestyle blog and talk about my experience being a woman of colour and an entrepreneur.  I want that wash, rinse, repeat process that James has promised – that steady process that could help me bring the best part of me to life whenever I needed her.

So how could Damn Fine Words help me? It’s about more than just making me a better writer.

Damn Fine Words could make me a happier and better person.

Continue reading “How Becoming A Better Writer Could Change My Life: A Post About Damn Fine Words”

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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.”

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

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