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I Took A Break. It Was Nice.

Rest

6 Lessons I Learned Along The Way

  • Focusing on self-care is not a bad thing. As the writer, director, and actor in your life, you need to take good care of yourself to establish a good story.
  • Balance is key. You have other responsibilities too— tipping the scales to one direction will throw everything on the opposite end into disaster. Relationships, mental health, family, your wellbeing, etc. needs work as well. A balanced life leads to less problems.
  • Work isn’t everything. Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive. Learn to prioritize the important stuff, and delegate whatever you can.
  • Some things that might seem important in the moment may sometimes prove insignificant in the near future. Learn how to recognize those things and act accordingly.
  • Rest doesn’t just mean binging on Netflix and video games. It might mean working on a creative project, cooking for your loved ones, or spending time with your partner. The short-lived dopamine hit from technology cannot suffice the long-term sanity you need to experience to be productive.
  • As much as we aspire to become limitless in our work, being limitless does not mean to take on everything at the same time. Being limitless might also mean learning how to say ‘no’ in order to conserve time and energy— to let you focus on the real things you need to do to become limitless.

Just discovered micro.blog and wow it’s more efficient than running a Squarespace blog

“In the act of tearing something apart, you lose its meaning.” Currently reading: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell 📚

Blink

Be The Author Of Your Story

Write

No one else will write your story except you

“The hero always comes out on top.” Or at least, that’s how Filipino soap operas always structure their stories.

You’ll rarely find local TV shows or movies where the hero ends up failing, making them very predictable— “di ‘yan mamamatay, bida eh.” (He’s not going to die, he’s the main character.”)

That’s how Filipino storywriters told it for the longest time. It’s why our brains have been wired to always expect a positive outcome, despite the challenges our heroes face.

And yet, for some reason, it’s an entirely different scenario when we try looking at our own life stories.

Granted, writing fiction is a much easier task vs. planning out our lives and following everything to the dot— plans rarely work out exactly as we expect it.

But what if we could suspend reality for a moment and try to write out each and every chapter of our lives? What if we could lay out the dominoes that needed to fall into place, helping our first push trigger a chain of events? Think about it: your own personal story, deemed worthy to be turned into a book or a movie.

How would it look like?

Writing The Outline

When we were still kids, we’d always be asked with the golden question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Despite not knowing anything yet what life had in store for us, we’d always have an answer. An astronaut? A fireman? A doctor? (Mine was a secret agent.)

Some of us were lucky enough to pursue our childhood dreams. Templates of how we’d get there were readily available. (Do well in school, take 4 years of pre-med, and you’re well on your way to pursuing your career as a doctor.)

Entrepreneurs, content creators, and artists (among others), are part of a less fortunate group.

Writing the outline to get to where we want to be is a burden we have to carry, or else movement in our careers would be non-existent.

What’s worse is that pivots in what we wanted to do with our lives usually came in late— some learned their passions in college; others way past their prime; a few never figured out what they wanted to be.

It’s also during this time where our creativity gets sapped. Life happens— studies, work, family, kids. It’s here where we feel that it’s too late to even start, especially because of the countless responsibilities life has thrown at us.

But maybe, writing the outline isn’t as hard as you expect it to be.

Maybe it’s just a matter of going back to your naivety and asking yourself: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

How I Write My Story

When I was starting out Eight Media, I knew I wanted to become a CEO.

That idea in my head went with a lot of daydreaming; a lot of visions for myself on where I wanted to be years from now.

With just the knowledge of how to create websites, I already laid out in my head what it’d look like to build a digital marketing company.

Walking backwards, I knew that the goal was to step out to an office balcony with my co-founder, look back at our team through the glass doors, and think to ourselves, “we built this”.

We’d have an office cluttered with coffee cups and MacBooks, and dozens of clients under our wing.

Those clients would all come from snowballing referrals, because of how good we were able to build our services.

Those referrals, I believed, would stem from just our first client.

Without having any clients, partners, revenue, or team members, I told myself: “I’m CEO.”

No awesome startup story starts with hitting the ground running on day one and seeing hockey stick growth overnight, no. The best ones start with something like a ragged hippie teenage kick-out working in their garage, eventually innovating on computers, getting fired out of the company he started, and coming back in to come up with revolutionary devices like the iPhone.

It’s why I love starting my story with how I got kicked out twice from two different colleges (even though my parents don’t like it)— it gives me the feeling that I have a story similar to one of the people I look up to.

Realigning myself, it all had to start with that first client.

When I was searching for that client, I jumped straight into doing cold calls with no experience and just a sales pitch, not knowing if it’d end up working. All I knew was I had to make it work, just so it’d be a great continuation to my kick-out story.

It was always less about learning from big-time mentors on what they did, and more about thinking of crazy things to do and crawling my way towards achieving it, no matter what other people (or the odds) say— just because it could turn into an awesome story to tell.

This approach has also helped me explore opportunities that no other entrepreneur has tried out. It’s why I think Eight Media’s primed to tackle problems with out-of-the-box solutions.

The hardships that my team and I go through, although tear-your-hair-out-of-your-head stressful, is something we could always use when we get back up out of every dire situation (and we always do because we’re awesome that way).

I embrace the hardships because it’s a great story to tell to people. I know it’ll always tie up to our next chapter.

After twenty or so embarrassing cold calls, one company called back and became our first client.

Cluttered coffee cups and MacBooks came in our fourth year of operations.

The balcony scene is still a work in progress.

Writing Your First Chapter

Visualize where you want to be five years from now, then work your way backwards to get the milestones you need to hit. These milestones will mark as your story’s outline.

A good goal for a content creator could be having a million subscribers on YouTube.

  • This would mean having a team behind you to help out on your videos.
  • Having this heavy of a production might mean it’s because you’re putting out a video per week.
  • A video per week means you knowing the constant theme or genre for your content, all stemming from your audience telling you which videos resonate with them and which don’t.
  • Growing your audience starts with one fan.
  • Getting one fan starts with one video.

Remember that you are the author of your story— as you slowly believe that you are already the person you want to become, your mind starts to align your willpower.

Your willpower then aligns your body.

Your body aligns your actions.

Your actions then turns into results.

Question is, how will you write you story?

Innovation Through Naivety

A snippet from my book, ‘Love At First Sale’

To this day, being naive has been my guiding light towards creating new and exciting ways to run my business.

Business industry veterans have always been the go-to experts for entrepreneurs who wanted to start a successful startup; the hope is to learn what they did to reach their success, and replicate it as much as possible to achieve the same results.

Personally, I find that boring. I understand the value of learning from someone else to avoid their mistakes, definitely, but doing so limits your decisions. Learning and working on how things were done before corners you into a realm of what everyone knows is possible, blocking you out of ways to do things that have never been done or explored.

Take for example, Eight Media, my digital marketing agency. My agency has:

  • Never been marketed. We’ve never run advertisements to get clients online of offline.
  • Never had a real branding exercise— our logo for almost three years came from a free logo making site.
  • Never won awards.
  • Never had an office until our second year of operations.
  • Never had investors, or gotten a loan.
  • And never had sales agents to close leads.

And yet:

  • We’re currently being recommended left and right.
  • Our service beats out agencies that have been running for years (according to our clients, and some competitors themselves).
  • We’ve grown to a super fun team of 9 people full-time, plus 10+ part-time.
  • And we’re currently working with awesome brands locally in the Philippines and internationally.

When I started running my agency full-time with just two co-founders, I didn’t have the slightest idea on how to run a marketing agency. All I knew was there were a lot of agencies out there that had a sprinkling of intimidating acronyms in their list of services (PPC, SEO, SEM, etc.)

I honestly didn’t have a clue what each of them meant until we started getting clients. With most agencies just shoving services into clients faces to earn a sale, we instead came from the essence of naivety and created a “dating” process of getting to know the client’s problems first to understand which services they actually needed (and which services we had to learn).

This process of asking and learning lead to more bespoke engagements instead of one-size-fits-all packages, leading to better results and better client relationships. If we had copied what bigger agencies did and offered the same package to every client, then I don’t believe we’d be able to experience the same success as we have now.

If there’s one rule that I keep close to heart, it’s that there are no rules. Starting a business that you love doesn’t have strict step-by-step requirements that you should take in order to get it off the ground. In the same way, copying someone else’s journey step-by-step will only limit you into doing things that you know is possible.

What about exploring the things that people deem impossible? “Impossible” ideas don’t have to be hard. When people think about innovation, they always think about the big leaps that change the world; from telephones to smartphones, to wired internet to wi-fi; impossible things become possible because of innovation.

But innovation carries a certain weight to its meaning, with people sometimes defining it as sometimes bordering into magic. Take the iPhone for example; twelve years ago, who in the world would think that a simple product could revolutionize the way we see communication? With the iPhone, Apple focused on one specific thing: how people interacted with smartphones. Phones at the time were chunky, hard to use, and was commonly used with a stylus for their touchscreen. Apple made a device that was sleek and sexy, had apps that felt natural to use (“You had me at scrolling.” - Apple Keynote, 2007), and was used with an input device that rivaled the stylus in every way: the human finger. Microsoft, Blackberry, and Nokia at the time laughed at the iPhone, believing that no other phone could stand their dominance in the smartphone market, let alone a phone that was used way differently than what everyone else was doing.

But through a simple device, industries were created; from social media, to mobile gaming, down to even online banking— all from Apple asking themselves absurd, “naive” questions such as how taking the keyboard away from current smartphones could work, how touch screens could work without a stylus, and how turning a business-centric mobile device could become more usable and entertaining for the common man. Of the three companies that hated on Apple, only Nokia remains standing in the smartphone race at only 1% market share (as of 2019). Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but they sure as hell innovated the hell out of it.

In reality, innovation is merely bridging the gap between the known and the unknown, with innovators at the center of finding things out on how things are currently understood, and how they could be pushed forward into new and exciting applications.

When people call me naive for jumping into things blind, I take it as a compliment— having the childlike experience of trying new things out, uncertain of the outcome, pushes you into a constant fail-then-learn cycle at how things work. Going in blind and failing helps you understand WHY things don’t work— but more excitingly, it also helps you understand HOW you could make it work.

When the majority of people flock to a certain belief, it’s a good sign to step back and understand why people do so. Innovation doesn’t have to be you creating the next iPhone-killer. Sometimes it’s just you finding the kid inside you and exploring how you could find new ways on how to approach established ideas.

I Wrote A Book During The Pandemic. Here’s What I Learned.

Write

Did it have to take a global pandemic for you to start something you’re passionate about?

Ever since I was 15 years old, I’ve always had this dream of becoming a famous author by the time I hit my 40s.

I was so passionate about reading business books like Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, thinking that someday I’d be as good as them to write about the things I’ve learned in my life as an entrepreneur.

In 2016, the year I graduated from college, I started a passion project called Eight A Week. In this email newsletter, I’d write about eight things that entrepreneurs needed to read about throughout the week, hoping they’d rely less on social media and more on my emails. From this project, it’d soon open up doors for me to start taking up clients to write for their blogs or email newsletters.

Fast forward to today, I’m now currently 26-years old; co-founder and CEO of Eight Media, a digital marketing agency based in Laguna.

What started as a passion project of writing solo for clients turned into this scruffy but talented team of nine, full-time creatives with a passion for helping out other entrepreneurs through everything digital or online. From just writing for blogs, we’ve started growing to handling everything from (ironically) social media to full-blown websites.

As time went on, I gradually edged myself out of doing hands-on writing work, and slowly transitioned into running sales and planning for our company’s long-term goals.

I took on less and less writing work, inching towards managerial work instead.

I slowly felt that I was inching away from the reason I started my startup: to “make stories sell” (one of our first taglines)— this coming from my love for writing and creating stories that connected with people.

It was a lesson for me in learning what the market wanted; building a writers-only company was not only hard to scale, it also meant jumping in to a highly competitive space filled with agencies and freelancers.

I felt that it was a good call to shy away from that— but I still had a hole in my creative side slowly growing inside me.

Enter 2020, when I enrolled into a 4-month life/career coaching program. As I told them about my future plans of becoming an author, one of the first questions they asked me was: “What’s stopping you from doing it today?”

What’s Stopping You From Doing It Today?

Indeed, my dreams of becoming a book author was thrown onto the back-burner because of many reasons I told myself.

  • I had responsibilities as CEO of my company. Spending time on my book would take precious time away from growing my business.
  • I had responsibilities as the “dad” of the house. My dad works abroad, leaving me as the sole mechanic / driver / cook / bills payer / grocery runner for my mom and two sisters.
  • I had the responsibility of taking care of myself. I already spent almost every waking hour of my life on work— I had to take time to take care of myself. A couple hours of binging Netflix series or playing video games was all I had to keep me sane— taking time away from that would make me crazy.
  • I had the responsibility to juggle all these responsibilities at the same time. One misstep meant that I would either let my team or family down, or go insane trying to go superman-mode without rest.

As I listed down all these points, I eventually came to the realization that these were not reasons that stopped myself from writing; these were excuses I told myself that kept me safe from exploring what it’s like to actually write the book— and the fears that came along with it.

“Would people read it? Would people like it? Would people hate it? Bash it? Would other entrepreneurs trash it, call it false insights from a newbie entrepreneur?”

People? Others? Turns out, I was limiting what I could create because I put value more on what other people would think.

I was looking down on myself, thinking that what I could write would be insignificant to the rest of the world.

I was invalidating my experiences of starting, building, and growing, a seven-figure a year business. A business that was once just an idea in my head.

I was already thinking of how things could go wrong, even without having started anything yet.

It was when I had these realizations when my life coach gave me the best piece of advice to get my book off the ground.

”Forget other people. Write for yourself.”

I figured, “Screw it. Let’s write a book.”

And so I did.

Where To Start

Working with just a 4-month timeline, I had to make the most out of every second to ensure that I had a book that got my message across even in just a short amount of writing time.

So, like every responsible person does… I waited until I had like a month and a half left before finishing my book. Oops. But more on that in a bit.

SMART Goals

I had to have a semblance of progress throughout every week that passes. Not only because it was required for us to track that, but also because I needed to make sure that the mental conflict I had against writing my book was kept in check— seeing progress meant me slowly beating down my fears in publishing a book.

And so I started crafting a clear statement on what I wanted to achieve in a span of four months.

SMART Goals: ‘S’ stands for Specific, ‘M’ stands for Measurable, ‘A’ stands for Attainable, ‘R’ for Relevant, and ‘T’ for Time-Bound.

Specific: If I had just put in ‘I will write a book’ in my goal statement, I could’ve gone many routes to reach that goal— I could’ve written a comic book or even a cookbook. Instead, I needed to be as specific as possible at what I wanted to achieve: a book about my personal journey so far, culminating in a book launch.

Measurable: How long should the book be? Without this metric, just writing one chapter and calling it a book was enough for me to hit my goal. I wrote down an outline of the things I wanted to talk about in my book and set specific lengths as to how each part would take— Eight chapters was what I needed to get my point across.

Attainable: Overall, was my goal realistic enough to be achieved in a span of four-months? Targeting an encyclopedia’s worth of content was definitely out of the question— setting that up as my goal was just like setting myself up for failure.

Relevant: What was this goal for me? Why was I doing this? Without any exact emotional hold on me, I would just feel that this was more of compliance to our coaching program. But the fact that I was writing this ‘to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a best-selling author’ was enough push to get this off the ground. This certainly would not be the last book I write, and maybe not the one that puts my name on the map, but this certainly was a big step towards coming closer to that goal.

Time-Bound: Very self-explanatory. How long would this take? In my case, my book had to be done in at least four months, just in time before the last day of our coaching program.

With my SMART Goal statement set, it was then just a matter of working backwards to see how I could break it up into parts. Week one was dedicated to setting up the chapter outlines, week two was for writing chapter names, week three was for writing the introduction, etc.

Everything was already in place. All I had to do was start.

Writing Was The Easy Part. Starting Was The Hardest.

Writing the title of the book was easy. I already had one in mind ever since I started writing the outline.

Writing my ‘Table of Contents’ was easy. I already had an outline of what I wanted to write. Copy - Paste - DONE!

Introduction? Piece of cake. It was basically a direct copy from my inspirational seminar pieces when I talk about my journey as an entrepreneur, save for a few little tweaks to turn it into written format. That’s one chapter done!

Now came the start of writing the actual book. It was time to put my ideas to paper (screen, really) and start crafting something new from scratch! How exciting!

A week passes. Then two. Then three.

My coach follows up with me every day. “How’s the book coming along?”

I’d tell excuses about being busy, about how I would definitely catch up on my chapters over the weekend, not telling him that I’ve been putting it off because of how tense I get when I start opening up my writing app.

I’d stare at a blinking cursor on the screen, not knowing how to put my thoughts in order and start typing.

And when I do start typing, I’d immediately read through what I just wrote, figure it’s crap, and erase it to start from scratch.

Through sheer struggle, I was able to squeeze about half my book in a span of a month and a half.

I figured that I had a lot of time to get through this argument between my head and my fingers before the end of four months, and focusing on getting work and family responsibilities out of the way first was key to getting my mind in shape to finally start writing.

What happened next though was, in all accounts, the absolute definition and encapsulation of the acronym, ‘lol’.

The Pandemic Hits


Four chapters in, the world stood still as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Chaos was everywhere.

My responsibilities as CEO of my company, the ‘dad’ of the house, and the sole guardian of my sanity went into overdrive.

A lot of our clients were going on pause, and catching up with sales to pay salaries became my top priority. All this while working with my COO to shift operations to remote work, keep up team morale, and do whatever it takes to not let anyone go— layoffs were a strict no-no.

I was the only one in the house who went out for groceries, and lines in the supermarket were spent with me going on Zoom calls on the phone.

All this with me rolling around in bed at night, unable to sleep, not sure of what the future brings for me and my company.

But I still had to write my book. And going with how I used to work before the pandemic was not enough to push things forward.

It was then when I learned the key thing that helped me keep on with writing.

Motivation is a Myth. Just Get Things Done.

People always have this idea that creating something will come at the right moment— at the right time of day, with the right set of tools, the right type of mood, and the right setting for motivation.

For the past months that I’ve been writing, that’s always been how I envisioned it.

“I’ll write when I have the time.” “Maybe I should go to Tagaytay to set myself into the mood.” “This weekend, i’ll definitely have time to write.”

But putting off the work ‘later’ eventually spirals from hours into days. Then days into weeks. Weeks into months.

I was fortunate enough to have someone hold me accountable to a deadline— most people don’t. With just you setting up deadlines for yourself, it’s easy to keep putting off starting.

Most people have this mindset of ‘Have-Do-Be’:

  • When I HAVE the time / knowledge / right laptop or camera,
  • I’ll be able to DO the work,
  • and eventually BE the the writer / artist / content creator / entrepreneur that I want to become.

What worked for me was the opposite— the right way of doing things to get yourself started.

‘Be-Do-Have’:

  • BE the writer / artist / content creator / entrepreneur you want to be. Let it sink in, and believe that you’re already whoever you want to be.
  • Eventually, my belief of being, in my case, an author, helped me align towards what I needed to DO. That meant proper discipline in my writing schedule, like what great writers usually have.(cue: Non-Stop, from the Broadway hit, Hamilton)
  • And by doing the work, your end results speak for it. You finally HAVE what you’ve always wanted. Again, in my case, a finished book.

Thanks to my coach, that shift in mindset was what I needed to keep on pushing despite everything that was happening around me.

I started establishing a routine for my day— wake up at 7am, exercise, have breakfast, and write 1,000 words. By the time I finished, I was ready to jump into work and keep up with my responsibilities.

I also stopped filtering the words I typed— I used to edit as I write, usually turning into a cycle of writing a sentence, not being happy with it, and starting from scratch. It actually became more fun to write anything and everything that popped into my head, and just edit it at the end of the chapter. My thoughts became unshackled and I ended up with more content and realizations as I typed.

With every thousand words that I wrote, my mind became less and less tense. I was focusing on the work that needed to be done, I was putting in the words to complete my chapters, and I finally ended up with a finished book.

Eventually, I was already on the final step.

Conclusion

Was I ready to show the world what I made?

“Would people read it? Would people like it? Would people hate it? Bash it? Would other entrepreneurs trash it, call it false insights from a newbie entrepreneur?”

I had people help me with my book cover and the edits, and I even made a website to showcase the book.

After uploading the book, it was just a single button click away that stood between me and fulfilling my dreams of becoming an author.

My cursor hovered on the ‘Publish’ button.

My finger on the trackpad began to feel numb. Was I ready?

I realized that those past four months were the most grueling moments of my life as a writer— but all that mattered was I finally wrote a book.

What was supposed to be my retirement plan came at the age of 26.

All that was left was to hit ‘Publish’.

Screw it. Let’s publish a book.

Click.

—-——

“Never have I expected that a book will understand the entirety of my thoughts as a young entrepreneur— Love At First Sale perfectly encapsulates the rollercoaster journey that entrepreneurs go through, but never really dare talk about. An easy read that’s concise, bold, and very brave!”

  • Ace Gapuz, CEO, Blogapalooza

Bite Back

We all have different definitions of winning in a pandemic.

Sending that email, leading that meeting, or writing that article could already be a win for you.

Getting out of bed could also be a good start.

This lockdown is unprecedented— redefining what a ‘win’ for you is, is entirely understandable.

But that doesn’t mean those standards are meant to be kept that way, especially when compared to your standards before the quarantine.

Who says you can’t close clients during a pandemic?

Who says your business can’t stay afloat?

Who says you can’t start something new?

The cards dealt to you might be different from mine, but the rules of what we can and can’t do are set entirely by you and you alone.

It might feel like all semblance of control is out the window.

But the moment you make the choice to take back control, the power to bite back at life becomes more apparent.

There are no rules telling you what you can and can’t do. You just have to find ways to make things happen.

No one’s here to judge you right now. Everyone’s dealing with this quarantine just like you.

Just take the first crazy step to make something happen.

Once you start, the next goal is to not stop.

Don’t let life chew you up.

Bite back.

There are no rules telling you what you can and can’t do. You just have to find ways to make things happen.

How To Be Productive in a Pandemic

Productivity

There are two trains of thought regarding productivity in a pandemic.

On one hand, you now have all the time in the world— it’s up to you to push yourself to make the most out of your current circumstances.

Today’s the perfect time to start writing on your blog or start your online business.

You’ve wanted to start one for the longest time, but finding time was always an issue. Now, you have no excuse.

On the other hand, survival comes first during a pandemic.

The constant anxiety of our “new normal” starts creeping up, and you’re afraid if you’ll ever be able to come back to the way things were.

Getting out of bed is already a win in your book.

Tending to your family’s needs is more than enough pressure, and taking on new responsibilities is out of the question.

Screw your dreams of starting a business. Making out of the lockdown in one piece is enough pressure as it is.

It’s essential to keep in mind that under no circumstances is there anyone telling you that you SHOULD be productive during a pandemic.

But it doesn’t mean that you CAN’T be productive today.

What if there was a middle ground to both these ideas?

What Do You Want To Do?

Right now, moving at your own pace is key to making it out of quarantine with your sanity intact.

It’s at this steady moment in time where you can dig deep in yourself and see where you want to be after the quarantine.

Do I really want to start a blog? Or do I want to start a business? Is there something else I’ve wanted to try out?

One good reason why you can’t manage to start work on something is that it doesn’t spark your passion.

If it were something you loved doing, then you’d be doing it in a heartbeat.

Are you just caving in to what everyone else is doing?

No Pressure

Maybe you do know what you want to do.

Maybe you are ready to start working on your book. Or start setting up your YouTube channel.

But taking the leap towards doing it gets drowned out by the pressure of starting.

And you have enough pressure as it is.

In the flurry of needing to get up from bed and powering through your day-to-day work, adding more responsibilities to be anxious about is a recipe for burnout.

And getting burned out in the middle of a pandemic is the last thing you need right now.

There’s no need to be pressured, though.

Your mind is your biggest enemy in these trying times, and starting something from scratch doesn’t have to be a giant leap.

Starting a blog doesn’t have to look like you coming up with a thousand-word article overnight. It might just look like you coming up with your first blog title today. Then your first sentence tomorrow. Then your first paragraph the day after. Then your first 300 words the day after that.

Starting a YouTube channel doesn’t have to look like you coming up with a video overnight. It might just look like you signing up for an account today. Then your first script tomorrow. Then your first shoot the day after. Then your first edit the day after that.

Your goals don’t have to happen overnight. Your goals just need to happen. You might not be able to do everything today, but you can always take one small step.

Gerald Castillo © 2021