Month: January 2018

Book Chat: Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson

An audio version of the blog post is available below:

[Please pardon the part in the audio recording where I claim Branson has no reason to feel confident. I should have said he had* little reason.]

This week, I listened to Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson on Audible, and I picked up some new ideas. The book is narrated and written by him, and at first I was a little put off by his accent—which is British—but then I got used to it.

I chose to spend my monthly Audible credit on this because I feel I always get the most perspective and the best lessons from reading biographies of people who have done remarkable things. And I think Richard Branson is one of those. Branson grew up middle to lower class and went on to build the Virgin empire that has brought his personal worth to an estimated $5 billion (though I don’t know how any of that is measured).

The audio book is a mere 5 hours, and since I listen at a speed of 1.25x it only took me about four. The retelling of Branson’s journey is about a mix of business, personal life and descriptions of the stunts Branson is known for. I personally wasn’t a big fan of these.

I was reading to learn from Branson more so than for entertainment and I felt the regular lengthy intervals about sea channel crossings and hot air balloon flights were there to create an artificial and also unnecessary sort of excitement. I felt Branson’s actual life was already interesting enough just by virtue of all he’s accomplished, starting with creating a small magazine geared towards students, then a health centre, a record label, an airline, communications companies, and more. But don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot in spite of the hot air balloons.

Two interesting things struck me while reading. The first is that Branson was very confident for absolutely no reason from the beginning. For example, in his youth, he was terrible at sports and all but a disaster academically, but he still had the audacity to write letters to the headmaster complaining about the lunch room at his school. Most people wouldn’t feel they have the right to do something so daring in his situation, even if they did want a better lunch room. In fact, I think myself and most people I meet use the existing evidence of their accomplishments to license themselves with confidence. Well, maybe this isn’t the best way because Branson’s spirit and passion led him and another student to start a small magazine named Student, all about students’ interests and issues. That was his first venture, and the rest as they say is history.

From there, Branson built a health centre where students could turn to be connected with doctors offering cheap care. While working on his by then up-and-running magazine, he saw an opportunity to connect students with certain health conditions with doctors charging less or nothing and ran with the idea.

Later, he started some record stores, knowing he could sell records for cheaper than the competitors and make a profit.

I am not writing all this to retell the book, but to demonstrate the essence of the second lesson I learned, which is that Branson was very, very good at identifying opportunities. This struck me because I see so many small-time entrepreneurs who have loads of skills sell something they think people should need or want, rather than truly offering an improvement on what their target market is already wanting or needing. That makes no sense, especially since these are smart people, but I’m inclined to think the reason this is somewhat rare is that this ability to step outside of yourself and notice the collective habits of streams of people is, broadly speaking, a type of listening that takes a lot of humility. Do I make sense? What I mean is, you just gotta stop thinking about yourself and see others and listen to others to be able to do that.

The idea of building a record store that sold cheaper records came from noticing that friends of his would spend three times the amount of money they’d ever consider spending on a meal on a record without ever thinking about it. Branson knew he’d have an advantage and a shot at business by providing the records for less.

Other than these two great qualities (confidence and great perception) Branson seemed remarkably normal. Aside from his pitiful academic and sports careers in his youth, he seems to have struggled quite a bit with relationships, both personal and business. In other words, he’s not good at everything he’s tried. This is both comforting and surprising. I haven’t personally had the opportunity to meet many people who’ve accomplished extraordinary feats, so each time I see stories of how truly average high achievers are (or at least, can be) in most aspects, it inspires me. But it’s also surprising because it goes against a narrative I’ve accepted, of people being either wholly  (or even mostly) remarkable or unremarkable. Good or bad. But even if it takes less mind-space to see the world this way, it’s limiting and the cost of that is higher than living with and accepting the uncertainty of not being able to “peg” people as one thing or another because I know one side of them.

And that’s it. I hope you enjoyed reading. I’m sharing my view partly because I think it’s different from much of what so many others shared on Goodreads. For example, I didn’t learn any specific business tricks or a how-to for running an existing business. Instead this book shifted my perspective on business in general (something I frankly have little experience with) and it inspired me. I learned that when it comes to starting a venture, listening a lot more closely and identifying ways to serve others is probably more fruitful than starting companies meant to furnish the owners (or, you) with better lifestyles. And I also learned that this right attitude will probably go a much longer way in keeping you trying when things aren’t perfect—and so ultimately with being successful.



Should You Start a Casual Blog?

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I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot! I assume every aspiring or sort of aspiring blogger does. When I first started this site in August 2016, my exclusive focus was on What I Eat In a Day posts. After obsessively photographing and posting everything I ate (and getting a respectable response for it) I had to step back. I was facing a minor career/life crisis but on top of that being so conscious of what I ate made me feel dangerously close to the girl I’d been years ago, aspiring to skip meals and whatnot. Of course I never did any of this but it’s to say that the “fun” part of what I was doing had disintegrated.

I didn’t want to leave completely so I’ve since tried a few different things with the blog. My last mission was to spread the word about veganism and ecological living. I’m not a perfectionist for either of these but I think if we all try a little harder it can make a difference in the world. And I’m enjoying that and will continue to blog about those things.

I absolutely recommend that you start a blog if you enjoy it. You don’t have to overshare or spend all of your time for it and I think if you take it for what it is, a hobby, you’ll find you can build web connections that feel authentic while also having fun.

If you’re starting a Casual lifestyle blog, you should realize the value in reading your blog for others is likely inspiration first and information a very distant second. That s because the information is easy to find and unless you are a definitive authority on your topic area (and can prove it) readers will want to go elsewhere.

Instead, the value of reading your blog is for them to see how a fellow “struggler” or layperson handles challenges and moves towards their goals. So personal experience is important and valuable in this context.

And my answer to the question: Absolutely! You should.


Why I am Considering Leaving Upwork Despite Sales

In the beginning Upwork sounded like freelancer heaven. I had been researching and considering a variety of platforms and Upwork just had the best interface and it seemed to have great postings as well.

So I signed up and began applying to jobs and asking for a fair wage. This was difficult because Upwork takes a 20% fee on the first $500 for each offer and most of what I would have been doing were small onetime sorts of projects.

I quickly figured that with no reviews on my profile I’d need to lower my rates. For my first two jobs, the rates I charged worked out to less than minimum wage.

The next three jobs were higher but still not what I’d consider “fair” given I had a clear advantage in industry experience and I was being paid more at my “real” job.

The rule of thumb is that freelancing pays higher than salaried gigs. After all, the employer is unencumbered by overhead costs like health care and retirement plans, technology upgrades and support, rent, staff parties, insurance, etc. But most posters on Upwork are unable to do this or simply unwilling.

So after five five-star reviews and great feedback, I’ve become disenchanted. I’m considering leaving Upwork.

In my opinion there are two main reasons the Upwork marketplace looks this way:

1. Upwork sells people looking for services the idea that they can have anything for little money. I have seen outright delusional requests from people willing to pay very, very little money. This is not really possible when you consider quality but in my opinion it’s not possible at all because a job done half-well is only technically done.

2. Upwork doesn’t require posters to pay to post jobs so anyone who’s dreaming up a project feel they can waste other people’s time by purporting to want to solicit services they do not actually intend on buying. An ungodly number of the jobs I applied to would receive lots of applications without even any interviews to follow (Upwork let’s you see these numbers). So it’s difficult to know who is serious about hiring and you may end up wasting your time applying to jobs.

3. This might solve the others, but the issue is that anyone can sign up for any skill–or they could at some point. Many skill pools are full of what you might consider impostors, which devalues the time and expertise of people who’ve put in the time to learn and practice.

Part of my experience could be that the market is already saturated. I signed up sometime early last year, but it’s possible all of the better clients already had their go-to freelancers by then. It’s also I think an issue of human nature. Putting inexperienced service seekers in a position where over 20 freelancers might be grovelling to work on their small project let’s them see the job competition first-hand, igniting that latent slave trader mentality I’m sure is present in even most of the best us. This leads them to an expectation of not having to pay the full price for what they’re getting.

It’s a bit of an ugly thing.

On the other hand, please consider if you personally might want to stick it out for the “long” haul. Eventually, you might have enough reviews on Upwork that you become considered an Upwork authority in your field. Of course you might have been quite good at your job to begin with, but like I said Upwork is filled with wonderfully delusional service seekers the Reddit community has amicably labelled “farmers.” (I don’t actually know the origin of that nickname.)

What bugged me about this experience was seeing just how many people WANT the services I and others with the same skill set as myself offer but are not willing to pay an hourly wage that would transform to a minimum wage yearly salary.

This was my 3 cents. Takeaway? Freelancers need to eat too.

Vega One: Vanilla Chai Flavour

Hey guys! This is an empties review for one of the vega one flavours i tried. It was surprisingly good/full-star reviews on the Vega site, but I didn’t like it!

I tried the Vega One Vanilla Chai flavour, and I have to say it’s my least favourite. If you don’t know about Vega One, it’s a vegan nutritional shake and protein powder by Canadian health food company Vega.

The powder comes in lots of different flavours and provides an extensive list of nutrients, powders (like spirulina and other greens), and 20 grams of vegan, soy-free protein. It’s (usually) amazing!

I love the vanilla and chocolate flavours. Those two work really well to elevate the flavour of simple smoothies and also work well on their own in blender bottles.

But the chai flavour had a strange sweet taste that wasn’t very good on its own and pretty horrible in smoothies. All of the original Vega ones are sweetened with stevia so that may have played a role.

It’s an accomplishment to write I’ve finally finished the bottle. I think the most versatile protein flavour from Vega is the vanilla. Bottles on sale for $33 on the Vega Canada site now with shipping free for orders over $100.