How to Keep your New Year Resolutions

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In 2014, I actually stuck to a big resolution and lo and behold I accomplished it! I paid off my student debt and all my accumulated start-up debt that was made up of a credit line, 2 nasty maxed out credit cards and a loan. #boom. Debt-free at 32…I guess it doesn’t have the same ring as debt-free at 30, but hey I will take it!

It wasn’t easy! For about 10 consecutive months I didn’t go out or do anything fun other than go to the gym and play with my nieces. But, after a whirlwind few years, I was ready to just hibernate and take some time to get myself back on track. I worked from home and unsuccessfully looked for a “real” job. After a few months, I indulged and had a protein shake at the gym. But that was it, I didn’t allow myself to get any new clothes or eat out at all. To make up for my lack of money, I learned how to cook and did all of the household chores. I finally felt like an adult who could take care of others and also take responsibility for my actions.

Here’s some tips on how to actually keep your resolutions:

  • Daily reflection. I reflected on my bank account and finances almost on a daily basis, writing down figures and going over monthly goals. I had a figure in mind that I had to reach, which I wrote down, stared at, and burned into my skull. I imagined my loans going to $0 before I went to bed. It was almost an obsession, I even imagined myself celebrating. Funny how when I finally reached my goal, it didn’t feel any different!
  • Don’t announce your resolutions to the world, especially big and ambitious ones. Keep them close and alert only immediate friends, family, and those who will support you.
  • Reward yourself along the way!
  • Don’t give up and don’t compare yourself to other people. You will have many people  question your habits, intentions and even make you feel bad about your lifestyle choices.  There is no point trying to defend yourself or argue, just keep focused on your goals.

My word for 2015 is: GROW in all aspects of my life – in the businesses that I own and am a part of, in my fitness aspirations, and in relationships.  Of course, I have some ambitious goals for 2015 which I will share with you in January 2016!

Wishing all of you dear readers, a successful and prosperous 2015!

Do you have a specific word to describe 2015?

Feed Your Brain: Healthy Chunk Energy Bites

This year has been all about getting back on track health wise. I’ve made huge improvements beyond even what I’ve done in past years. I’ve embraced the art of cooking healthy consistently and taken up hot yoga. I’m also getting back into lifting weights beyond my comfort zone; I haven’t done so in years…  This is all something I want to blog about more often, which is definitely off my beaten path of start-up marketing posts as of late! 

“Energy bites” are one of my all time favorite healthy snacks. I mentioned it in a blog post long ago when I didn’t like cooking (blasphemy!) This time, I wanted to share how I make it and all the ingredients I use.

energybites

Basically, you need to raid your local Bulk Barn. I only get ingredients that are raw, unsalted or unsweetened, including the peanut butter (which I add in when I don’t have enough almond butter). I also like to load up on the “healthy chunks” with raisins, pumpkin seeds, shredded coconuts, cacao nibs, sunflower seeds, ground flax seed or almond meal, and most importantly almond butter.  Missing from the picture above is the rolled oats (toast in oven at 350 degrees for 5 minutes or until golden brown), which is also a Bulk Barn buy. They didn’t make the picture because they were being toasted in the oven. Also missing is a pinch of sea salt and a tsp of almond or vanilla extract. I throw in all the ingredients using my eyes as a rough measurement of cups, half cups, and handfuls, mixing it all in as I go. It’s what cooking should be based on, no?

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Ensure the consistency is like cookie dough, the dry seed/nuts pieces shouldn’t overpower the wet ingredients. Once its all mixed, create balls, and place in the fridge. The longer you keep it in the fridge the better it tastes. In fact, place it in the freezer and indulge in a cookie nut snack instead of ice cream.

healthy chunks

My recipe is based on this Pinterest post.

What other ingredients would you recommend? 

Lessons Learned in 2013

I suppose its customary to have an end of year post going over highlights of the year and all the great things that happened. But, I am going to break tradition and talk about 3 important lessons I learned this year.

Being Consistent

About 4 months ago, I restarted my blog on a more consistent basis after years of one off monthly posts or plain dormancy. Writing and blogging has always been a hobby of mine and a source of happiness, and yet I let it slip so many times. This translates to many things in life. Consistency in working out, taking care of your health, social media efforts in growing your business, and the list goes on. I think what consistency boils down to is commitment and discipline. Both of which I resolve to make leaps and bounds of efforts towards in 2014 and of course, continue to write.

Don’t settle

Settling can be as simple as eating and paying for a bad meal, living in a place that is convenient but not ideal or waiting for the future to do certain things. What I realized is that you can’t wait for a better time, place or let things go because its the easier route. Everything should be optimized for the present moment (if possible) for the longer term benefit. When you settle based on short term benefits or because its the easier route, you sacrifice your well-being and sometimes end up in a comfort zone that doesn’t make you happy.  Again, I resolve to put a solid effort towards thinking about my decisions and ensuring I never settle.

How to Overcome Negativity

Everyone faces bouts of negativity, some more than others. What I find works to relieve it is to get away from the source of negativity or away from your present environment. Even if that means working out of a different location for the day, taking a day off to spend with family or going shopping. Doing activities that take your mind off will also bring prospective to your situation. Time heals all.

…and that’s all for 2013!

I’ll be taking 2 weeks off from blogging unless I get inspired and do some more touristy stuff. I’ll be back here on January 6th, 2014!

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My Lesson from Audit Your Closet

I’ve always been interested in fashion and technology. It was just one of those things I was drawn to, even when I didn’t completely understand how I could incorporate various technology. My initial idea was “audit your closet” a place where you could store and categorize your entire wardrobe in one spot. Then, an “e-stylist” would help you figure out how to combine different looks and tell you how to get the most out of your closet. I went as far as testing out the idea on a friend, where she photographed her clothes and I organized them for her into outfits. This was pre-iPhone, and apps so I quickly lost interest. I never stuck with the idea long enough to see how well it would’ve made a nifty app. Years later, I find my idea staring up at me and I feel a pang of regret. 

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It wasn’t that I didn’t pursue the idea that I am regretting (well, a little) since ideas are a dime a dozen and useless on their own. It’s more about the fact that I didn’t truly and consistently stick with that which I wanted to do more than anything else. Why did I not see the importance of sticking to it? Well, hindsight is always 20/20.

This is my general advice to those that have an idea or anything they want to pursue.

  • Start a blog and write in it consistently. This is a good excuse to research and also to build an audience of interested readers. Don’t stop writing ever. This is my single biggest regret, why did I ever stop writing in this blog and this one on menswear?
  • Guest blog on other sites, I did this for a few months, but didn’t stick with it.
  • Attend events in the niche you’re interested in as well as keep up to date on trends and news.

If you continue these three things, then you’ll start meeting the right people and be given opportunities. You may even meet potential business partners or partnerships that make sense.

The key is consistency and not giving up ever. When you lose both of these things, you lose everything because starting from scratch when your competition has already spent time and effort doing what you want to do for years, puts you really behind. Even picking up from where you left off is a disadvantage, since it’s like you’re starting all over again.

I’ll leave you with this, don’t turn your back on something you want to do regardless of if you can’t do it full-time. You can always start small and build it up on the side. Even giving it an hour a week of attention is enough. Also, it’s okay to take a break from it and try other things, but never leave it for good for a stretch of time.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a passion project or subject that you love but haven’t pursued consistently or have left it completely?

Visa Hacking Your Way Across the US Border

I’m truly fortunate to have been able to travel extensively for work in the US and abroad. As a Canadian, you’d think it would be easy to go across borders freely with a simple smile and a thank you. No, dear readers – its not. Although, the US and Canada have an extensive border, its like going through a straight out interrogation every time (of course this makes sense post 9/11). The US does not want Canadians to work there. It’s not impossible though, you just need to jump through a bunch of hoops of fire. First, you need a US company to hire you because of your extraordinary and unique skills that they can’t find in the US. Then, the company has to fork out a hefty amount of cash and paperwork for your VISA to the government which then awaits approval. Finally, with VISA in hand and all your life’s possessions, you cross the border and hope that you don’t get a border protection guy/gal who is having a bad day and rejects the VISA. I had a friend who went through this process so I am all too familiar with the stress and frustration it caused her.

But, what if you’re an entrepreneur and your clients or potential clients exist in the US? Try explaining that to the Border Protection agent, you might as well say you’re carrying drugs.

Imagine trying to explain a South Asian dating site called TwoMangoes to a border protection agent.

Purpose of the trip? To do promotions as a club. (um, FML).

Then there were the t-shirts and gum packets to explain. You mean these were exported into Canada from the US and you’re bringing them back in to give out for free?! It was a disaster from beginning to end. However, after a year of this back and forth by plane, car and bus, I learned quite a lot. Here are some general pointers:

  • At the border, you need to be clear and confident about what you’re saying, while making direct eye contact. Do not hesitate or cower. If you do, you will be stopped and questioned even if you’re just going for a vacation. Then, it just becomes a waste of time at the border as you sit in a room full of foreigners to await further questioning.
  • It’s never advisable to lie. Especially if you’re carrying items that you are planning to leave in the States (in our case, t-shirts and gum). If you lie badly and they search your bags, then they will not let you pass.
  • If you’re going across the border and you tell them its for business reasons and you don’t have a VISA to support that, you will be stopped and questioned. This is not a bad thing. They just want to know everything about the nature of your business from A to Z including when you will return, what items you’re carrying, what you’re leaving in the States and even check your business website to verify. Apparently, you may have to pay a tax based on what you’re carrying. Other times, you may need letters of invitation. It’s all very convoluted and unclear.
  • The easiest way to go across the border is via bus. When you get to the border, everyone must exit with their luggage and go through customs. Since there are usually 60 people on the bus and there is a schedule, no one usually stays behind to get questioned or is stopped completely. It’s a rare occurrence as the agents are slightly more lenient. (What business person would take a bus anyway?) But, as an entrepreneur, the overnight bus is the most economical means of transportation). I have never had an issue going through customs on a bus probably because you usually hit the border in the middle of the night. (But I’m not saying it can’t happen).
  • As a Canadian, the longest you can stay in the US is 3 months with no VISA.
  • Besides carrying items, the other consideration is your return (ticket) or date. You must have one. If you don’t have one, this is another indication that you’re shady and shouldn’t be let into the country.

So these are all straight forward rules, but as entrepreneurs, you have to bend the rules a bit, let’s call it visa hacking. Please note: I have never done anything illegal. I also have never had any intent to sell anything in the States (like importing or working). I am talking only about that grey area; meetings, conferences, accelerator programs, events and promotions.

  • If you are not carrying business items, this is when its a bit easier to cross the border. The go-to advice is to say you’re visiting family. If you say you’re visiting friends and appear “shady” looking – they will dig deeper and ask how you met those friends. Unfortunately, saying you met them through twitter won’t fly #truestory. Again though, be clear about your return date. In some cases, its advisable to get a return flight even if you don’t intend to return on that date just to cover your basis. When I went to SF for 500 Startups, I bought a direct flight to SF with a return ticket 3 weeks later. I obviously didn’t take that flight. I stayed for my allotted 3 months, flew to NYC and took a bus to Toronto.
  • So you’re innocently carrying just your clothes, some cash and have a return date. More than 95% of the time, they will ask you your occupation. It’s standard, especially if you’re saying you’ll be in the US for more than 2 weeks. What job allows that much vacation? My response is that I am a freelance tax consultant (kind of true) or I say freelance social media/marketing consultant. The tax consultant works brilliantly right after April, since that’s when tax season is over. For all other times of the year, I just say marketing. You never want to say entrepreneur or self-employed – this leads to visions of you taking over jobs in the US and more probing into the nature of your business, regardless of if you say you’re “visiting family”.
  • So what do you do when you re-enter Canada after 3 months of being away? I didn’t lie about it, I said I was away for 3 months because there is a clear stamp in my passport of when I entered the US. When there is evidence, you should never lie, even if the agent will most likely not check. Upon hearing I was gone for 3 months, the agent understandably looked surprised for 2 normal reasons. One, I didn’t buy anything? No, I spent it on cabs and food. Two, what were you doing there for 3 months? Traveling the west coast, and finding myself/quarter life crisis. I used the latter one coming back from a 6 month stint in India, worked perfectly.
we made it through customs!
we made it through customs!

I’ve been in every situation imaginable or my colleagues have, so I am well versed in crossing the border and all that is has to offer. The trickiest border by far for me has been the US border for obvious reasons. All others are easy, although India makes a big fuss about staying even one day over your VISA time.

The best thing to do is be confident, have a clear story as in knowing the purpose of your visit, return date and occupation. Of course you could get a business VISA, but as an entrepreneur, I don’t have the time or money to do that. 😉

Have you encountered visa issues? Do you have any tips?

Women Wednesday | Laser Procedures I Swear by | Part I

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My last picture wearing eye glasses: pre-laser surgery

I wanted to share my experience with laser treatments because it has definitely changed my life. First, here’s my experience with laser eye surgery.

I had really bad eye sight all my life and didn’t get glasses till my last year in high school which made it worse. One of my eyes was near sighted while the other was far sighted. It was a disaster to see but like all things, you get used to it. That same year I got glasses, I also got contacts and I finally saw my reflection for the first time without squinting. I liked the way I looked a lot better without glasses, so I wore my contacts everyday and only wore my glasses when I was too tired. The glasses cost my mom’s insurance company $500 and I was off my mom’s insurance before I had thought to replace them, so I never did. I instead, wore the same glasses until I was 29 – yeah around 10 years. My daily disposable contacts costs me around $150 every 6 months, sometimes I would wear contacts for a few days just to get more wear out of them and prolong the time I would have to refill them. Yeah, I’m cheap. So that was $300 a year for about 10 years.

I had heard about laser eye surgery, but was frightened at the prospect of it, besides it was too expensive. When I was 24, I went in to get a consultation done at Lasik. This was prompted by a cousin who had recently got it done and had a friend who worked at the clinic. I went through the 6 hour initial consultation and was told that since the tissue on my left eye was too thin, I would need the more expensive procedure. Although one eye would be $1500, the other one would be $3000 and so the total came to a whopping $5000 for the procedure. I promptly cancelled my appointment thinking there was no way i was going to pay 5 grand, so it was another 5 years of hassle. Traveling with contacts is even worse, you have to make sure you have extra contacts, solution and your glasses to be able to go anywhere. I travel quite a lot and beside that I had my own place and my parent’s place so I would have to ensure that both places had ample supply of eye stuff. I once even left my only pair of eye glasses in Boston and they had to be mailed to me.

In January 2012, I received an email from Lasik giving me a $200 discount off a procedure. Funny enough, that prompted me to make the call and book an appointment. Lasik is very thorough, the first consultation is 6 hours long, they literally check and analyze your eye at every angle. The day of the procedure is a similar process of more tests and prepping the eye. I’m not going to lie the actual procedure is traumatic, although it only takes less than 3 minutes. You’re led into a hallway with 8 other people and one by one a person goes in and comes out with their face covered and hurried into the recovery room. Finally my turn came and I was afraid. I cried uncontrollably as a nurse held my hand tight. There was a point where I couldn’t see and I freaked the hell out. But, the procedure was so fast that 30 seconds later my vision was back and it was more clear than it ever was before. I instinctively tried to rub my eyes but the doctor sternly told me not to, it was a fresh surgery, the flesh was still raw. Finally, I was given a series of drops to put in every hour for the next 8 hours plus a dosage of painkillers and a nifty pair of sunglasses.

My sister-in-law who was 8 months pregnant at the time (great timing on my part) along with my mom came to pick me up and took me home, where I enjoyed a few days of any meal I wanted (pancakes, sweet potato fries, and chocolate) along with a foggy drowsiness that kept me in a state of blurriness and dreams for 3 days. I was not allowed to look at screens or anything bright. I did have a follow up appointment the following day where the doctor assured me that everything looked great. Before I left the clinic, I put my 10 year old frames inside a giant glass vase which was already filled to the top with all the other glasses of other Lasik patients. Those glasses had served me well.

It’s almost 2 years later, and I have never looked back. My vision is 20/20 and I have never missed putting on contacts or glasses. I wake up and I can see and I can travel anywhere without having to worry about it. I had no side effects or worries about my eye sight. For the rest of my life, I won’t have to worry about my eyesight (until I’m super old), the one time payment was definitely worth the increase in quality of life and peace of mind.

Next week, I’ll talk about another laser treatment I swear by. Stay tuned.

Have you gotten laser eye surgery? Are you on the fence about it?

What Living in Canada Doesn’t Teach You

Disclaimer: There are brilliant Canadian entrepreneurs out there, not to mention talent, and this is definitely not a crack at them. This is all based on my own personal experience, and perhaps more of a crack at myself.

In all honesty, we are just not built to be entrepreneurs. We are super nice, pleasant and conservative people. We say thank you and sorry when its not even our fault. We stay neutral in most arguments and play it safe in our investments and life decisions. Of course, not everyone is like this, but the majority of people are. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am extremely lucky to be born and bred in Canada, a place that is like utopia compared to other parts of the world. A place that respects women and gives everyone equality and independence. its an amazing place to live and work. We get great educations and live great lives with our free health care and clean air.

But, we are not taught to be aggressive, and this may be to our own downfall.

Having lived in both the US and India, I can vouch for this. Compared to others, I came off as mousy and hesitant, when I should have been strong and convincing. But thankfully, this overall uncertainty in myself was beaten out of me with harsh yet needed criticism and lots of good peer influence. You can read all about my experience at 500 Start-ups.

Here’s an easy example that is a loose analogy. When it rains or is raining in Delhi, its twice as hard to get an auto rickshaw during rush hour. Mostly because they know they have the upper hand and pick and choose who they want to take. Now, do you think people are courteous and see that you’re waiting so let you have first dibs? Even worse, you’d think a guy would see a girl without an umbrella and offer to get an auto for her.. HA! No way! Its every man/woman for themselves, you have to hustle and just get there first. Often times, I have to chase auto’s down before others get to them. Not being aggressive will get you nowhere, and in this case, sopping wet.

I for one, was never taught to be this aggressive. But, it translates so easily into being an entrepreneur. You think that things are going to just come to you? No way, you have to chase them down and demand it.

Have you ever wondered why there are so few companies coming out of Canada that actually hit it big worldwide? It’s not because we aren’t super intelligent and talented, its mostly because of this nonchalant, laissez-faire attitude that stops us from going further. It’s simply a lack of aggressiveness. Do we think of the biggest idea after and go after it so that it hits every corner of the world? Do we risk everything? I’m not sure we do..

The only way I see to overcome this lack of aggressiveness is to live in other parts of the world – especially in the US. You’ll see a marked difference in the way people conduct business and their general belief system. When you get out of your comfort zone and a way from people who are similar to you, you really see yourself as how you truly are. It’s a valuable experience and I wholeheartedly recommend it regardless of if you’re an entrepreneur or not.

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Random passport stamps

What do you think about this? Do you agree?