A little rain, a lot of grit

Today was a weird day weather-wise. Given the recent eclipse, a bit of change is to be expected. I have been (quite rigorously) planning my next projects and identifying my areas of improvement in detail for the next 5 years and beyond.

The year-by-year and month-by-month plays stowed away in my planner-turned-journal, at the surface of my tote bag as I ran to pick up some french fries to eat quickly in between meetings. This was at 5:47pm, fries were bought, and I headed to the bus stop. At 5:49pm, the rain came. Not just any rain, but those spontaneous torrential downpours that soak your soul (I had narrowly avoided three today; wasn’t so lucky with the fourth).

The bus came at 5:52 and I took a seat behind the heater, dripping wet with my soaked pants, my toes sloshed about in my heels, and my laser-cut crepe top had water droplets falling from it. Using what few things I had, I made myself as presentable as possible during the twenty-minute bus ride: a spritz of perfume, throwing my drenched hair into a chignon, and dabbing the water away with the napkins in my bag (thankfully, the cashier at Harvey’s gave me quite a lot), all while eating my french fries so my stomach wouldn’t growl — been there, done that. It’s awkward.

Within the span of 5 minutes, my day was overturned. My luck ran out, and I was anything but hung out to dry. I was alive.

I probably looked like a swamp creature devouring french fries as I walked on to the bus. Even as I stood taking the brunt of the rain, cars drove past, looking at the situation with pity in their eyes. I did what I could until the bus came, biting my lip and embracing the situation.

It was messy, but the climb is often so messy. There’s no clear checkpoints. Sometimes you just need to grind it out in the elements to chase those deals, learn those lessons, and strengthen that tenacity.

Now, after a nice meeting, some meal prep, and a candlelit shower — I’m prepared to do it all over again if necessary. It’s gritty, but grit is inevitable on my path.

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Meditations for Workplace Success

Exciting and intimidating; the perfect words to summarize the new work venture I’ve undertaken.

As a few of my side endeavours were wrapping up in June, I was given the tremendous opportunity to work for a dynamic company in the industry that I love. Having been out of this line of work for a few months, I’ve felt a little rusty and a little clumsy. My feelings of inadequacy are only amplified when I think about how intelligent and adept all of my coworkers are. It’s both motivational being around such brilliant people, and daunting to try to elevate myself to be on their level of competence – but I need to maintain focused on the opportunity.

Reflecting on previous full-time experiences, I’ve developed a series of meditations to keep me out of my negative feelings when they arise, and guide me towards career-centric success and to maintain a positive mindset:

1. I am gaining valuable experience. I have a wonderful opportunity for exponential growth that aligns with my long-term goals.

2. I am contributing to the creation of a dynamic and sustainable future every time I succeed in the workplace.

3. I am resilient and capable; my work ethic is unparalleled.

4. Coworkers are mentors. I can learn something from everyone.

5. I can bring value every time I take initiative.

6. Grind every day. Prioritize delayed gratification over instant results.

7. A better me is built on a day like today.

8. Maintain balanced focus — eat healthy, excercise daily, cherish your friendships.

Building Savings as a Student

Okay.

I’m sick of watching all of those money-saving life-hack videos that advise giving up Starbucks, because you don’t need that five dollar latte. Lies. First of all, I do need it. Second, my iced coffee is $3.10 with free refills, so I make it work. 😉

Here are my tips for saving money as a student, while still affording extras like Starbucks and manicures — because financial independence should not be synonymous with restricting yourself from items you genuinely enjoy.

TIP #1 Check your Bank Account Daily.
On a daily basis, I check my balance on my phone. This quick and frequent access enables me to have a constant understanding of how much money I have saved, and how much is at my disposal. A habit like this also keeps me on top of whether or not I’ve paid my bills, whether I’ve received payments for work, and it keeps my credit card balance nice and low.

TIP #2 Establish Multiple Sources of Income
As a student, this can be more of a challenge. For me, some great sources of income as a university student were:
a) Teaching Assistant: I was lucky enough to work as a teaching assistant for an online course for more than two school years. The hourly wage was significantly higher than minimum wage ($22-$26/term), and since it was online, I was able to easily integrate this job into my schedule.
b) Don/Residence Assistant: I did this for my final two terms of university. While this job involves a lot of work (read: do not do it for the money – you need to genuinely love it, the compensation will be a perk). Here, I had free on-campus living accommodations, as well as a generously allotted meal-plan (Starbucks was included in this!!). Living on campus also was a time-saver, less time travelling to class == more time doing productive things.
c) What do you love? I like to work with kids. While I don’t see this in my long-term career trajectory, it’s something I noticed I was good at, and something I could help people with. This allowed for an additional $40 – $200 per week during school weeks. Not being bound to a supervisor also enabled flexibility, so I was never too overwhelmed.

TIP #3 Play the Market.
Play the stock market if that’s your game. Investments are good to have! Although, here I’m referring to the student housing market. Often, I lived on a term-by-term basis. Moving every 4 months allowed me to always get the cheapest rent available. I could negotiate for additional fees, like internet, to be included in the rent. And as a student, summer terms mean less students in town, therefore more empty rooms that tenants are looking to fill for a discounted price. One summer, I managed to get a room in a luxury student building that usually charges ~$730+ per month (plus utilities), for just $375 all-inclusive.

TIP #4 Budget with Cash.
I frequently use cash to pay for goods. This allows me to budget more carefully, as I leave my “digital” money out of sight and out of mind when shopping. It’s said that a country’s economy works in one of four ways: They’re rich and act rich, they’re poor and act poor, they’re poor and act rich, or they’re rich and act poor.

It’s always best to act poor, even when rich, and spend accordingly. This will make you more frugal when you don’t have to be, which results in more savings. Little efforts, like looking for sales on groceries and things you need, getting student discounts, selling gently used clothes and books, let you save more while also making accommodations in your budget for “fun” things, like that $3.10 coffee from Starbucks. 😉

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And those are some of the tips that helped me to build a savings account and repay student debt while still in university! Best of luck with your financial goals, everyone!

 

Productivity as a Student – Optimizing your time

If I could describe my university experience in one word, it would be overcommitted. I hated having spare time, and I hated wasting time, so I always bound my schedule to a plethora of extracurriculars.

For instance, one of my busiest terms involved me: Working a 40-hour work week for an internship, Taking two university courses, Working as a teaching assistant for an additional 10 hours, Tutoring 5 students for about 1 – 2 hours each, Freelancing consulting and web development for two local start-up companies, in addition to studying Mandarin and taking painting classes for fun.

Needless to say, it wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but I managed it. Even during school terms, I typically balanced similar responsibilities – except raise the number of courses, switch the full-time work week to part-time work, and add being an executive member of 1 – 2 university clubs. All this, and I still felt like it was never enough, yet I was extremely busy.

Here are some tips that I suggest if you’re trying to navigate a busy life!

1. Meal prep
This one’s obvious. Meal prepping has become super popular in recent years. I watched a ton of YouTube videos, bought in bulk, and invested in a nice glass tupperware set (getting glass tupperware is ESSENTIAL!) Sundays were dedicated to cooking, and some of my favourite meals to prep are curries, mixed beans and lentils, deconstructed tacos, summer rolls, and pasta dishes. Then I also prepped snacks and breakfasts like overnight oats, chia puddings, baked french toast, toasted granola, etc.

If you’re working hard to make money, don’t waste your efforts by eating out every day at work – your wallet and body will thank you.

2. Understand your work habits
Some people are night owls, but I find that I’m most productive during mornings. I had a routine where I would wake up at 4:30am Monday – Friday, and then sleep in until 7am on the weekend. This allowed me to get in two meals before work – typically a smoothie later followed by toast and fruit. I would work out in between the two meals for about an hour (5am – 6am), then eat and do some grading for the course I’m TA’ing, reply to emails, or prepare readings for class depending on the day. By the time it was 8am, I was ready to leave for work and had a few tasks crossed off my to-do list. This also gives me 4 – 5 hours at night to allocate to other committments.

3. Optimize your spare time
If I had a few minutes before class started or a 30-minute lunch break at work, I rarely wasted time on social media. For example, one of my courses required students to post in discussion groups twice a week and submit a paragraph summary of readings. Which took about 2 – 2.5 hours, given that I had five 30-minute lunch breaks in a week, I was able to knock out this assignments before their Sunday night deadline and made effective use of a seemingly small pocket of time.

4. Say “No” to things, tasks, and people that don’t align with your goals
While it may seem difficult, having a colleague you’ve been doing freelance work for try to convince you to attend a meeting that’s before an exam, or a friend who asks you to join her for lunch when you’re swamped are sometimes worth saying “no” to. It’s important to surround yourself with people who understand that sometimes your life is incredibly busy (after all, whose isn’t?) and who understand that it’s best to spend time together when you can be fully present, and not stressed out.

5. Find a motivational rule
Whenever there’s something particularly groan-worthy on my to-do list, I remind myself to “expect problems and eat them for breakfast” – or to get these tasks out of the way early. Whenever I have a block of time to dedicate to said task, I tell myself to spend 15 minutes working on it and I’ll eventually have two options:
1) Is it more challenging than expected? Continue working at it until it becomes easier.
2) Is it easier than expected? Good. Finish it while you have the time!

And those are some of my main tips! Of course, don’t forget to work out, eat right, and treat yourself when able. Balancing ideal commitment goals and realistic time constraints is a learning curve, but not limiting yourself is key. Try what you can, while knowing when to say no.

How to Launch a Successful Side-Business!

With two new business ventures in the works, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection about my first forays into the trenches of entrepreneurship. First was launching a local tutoring service in August 2014, followed by the working to establish myself as a freelance graphic and web designer in September 2016. I’ve been thinking about what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and I constantly find myself having ideas for new ways to build on what I have, connecting services with clients, and identifying gaps to be filled within the current ecosystem.

My first two endeavours have largely been independent initiatives, driven and sustained entirely by myself. Occasionally, I offer some work to people I know when time is tight, and I have prospective tutoring students who I just can’t feasibly accommodate – or when I’m tasked with a design job that could also use some coding assistance, I often look to two of my close friends for support with those responsibilities. Even though I haven’t outsourced growth with either of these endeavours, it’s something I am comfortable with and intend to do with both of my next two ideas.

Admittedly, I’m quite a shy person and not the best at outreach, which resulted in entrepreneurship being a never-ending learning curve for me in an area that always seemed to be on the periphery of my comfort zone. Here are some tips I have for others, especially introverts, who want to launch a side-hustle of their own. (Side note: not the biggest fan of the word side-hustle, it’s such a millennial hot-word that’s often tossed around to describe minimally lucrative endeavours like being a survey-answerer).

1. Know your worth.
If what you’re providing is actually valuable, charge competitively and competently. For instance, I can write poetry, but I know that my poetry is not of immense monetary value as it is not a need. High grades, however, are needs by many high school students. Having taken courses focused on language acquisition, English grammar, and some weekend certificate courses for tutoring, I feel that I am of value to the average high school student. All of this enhanced by the fact that I myself maintain high grades, and am able to transfer my skills and strategies to others, make me a competitive tutor. As high school grades are not only more competitive than elementary school grades, but also serve as a numerical metric, I can charge a higher rate here than I would for elementary school. From talking to locals and scoping the internet for local tutoring service feeds, I was able to verify that my rates are not too high, but still reflect my skill set.

2. Preparation is key.
Let your clients know what they are getting with your service. Have a portfolio, testimonials from past clients, and a schedule or itinerary available to prospective clients. Being well-prepared and having a defined self-image enables you to establish more trust between yourself and a client in a short period of time. Don’t disrespect a prospective client’s time, be prepared to show them exactly how you intend to meet and exceed their expectations.

3. Focus on building a long-term reputation.
While you may only intend your side-hustle to last a short period of time, you never know where it may take you or if it could potentially grow larger. For instance, I’ve had clients from my side businesses offer me full-time employment when I finished my short-term work with them. When beginning a business, your clients are both your customers and your referents. Word of mouth and validation from previous clients has been integral to building my image as a tutor and designer. Beyond the first 8 months in both ventures, I’ve had to do considerably less outreach as I worked hard to impress clients – which allowed them to refer me to their friends, colleagues, classmates, and even family members. A credible reputation for success can be just as impactful as a well-constructed portfolio or outreach campaign.

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Now that I’m starting two ambitious and separate ventures in two separate industries from the ground-up, I’ve been thinking about the importance of those three components incessantly. I need to understand their values within the current climate, prepare to articulate and demonstrate their significance, and build up a reputation from nothing. Each of these present their own unique array of challenges and difficulties, but I think the most important takeaway from having ventures in the past, is to understand that good preparation early on mitigates future stresses, and once I overcome the hurdle of acquiring the inaugural clientele I’m going to have a lot of work to do – which is exactly why I do what I do.