Volunteering Abroad: A Life Altering Decision


La Bib


 In October 2012, my husband and I made what will quite possibly be a life altering decision. We decided to volunteer abroad.

There were a whole host of reasons behind it, but one of them was that it was something we both wanted to do. We are at opposite ends of the spectrum in most things, but when it comes to travelling, we tend to find common ground.

After we made the decision to go, things moved pretty fast. We decided on South America and within weeks found the perfect place. We applied, and were accepted, and while we were on holiday in Tenerife in November, we booked our flight tickets for Ecuador.

It’s been a whirlwind.

I’m quitting my day job in February (YAY!). We are giving up our rented house, putting all of our stuff in storage, and flying to Ecuador on February 24th for three months.

We will be working with a fantastic NGO, Fundacion Arte Del Mundo, which promotes literacy and arts. In their own words, as per their website:

In a small country, in a small town near the middle of the world surrounded by volcanoes and a landscape of spectacular beauty, a small group of people are working to promote literacy and the arts. The foundation’s emphasis is on sharing the love of books and the arts with the children and adults of  Baños through utilizing the creativity and talents of volunteers from all over the world.

We will be working mostly with children between 6 to 11 years old, who have nowhere safe to go when the school’s finished and their parents are at work. They come to the foundation, affectionately known throughout the town as La Bib, and there they are encouraged to enjoy learning.

It’s a big decision for us, because we will be giving up a fairly secure life and regular income and go forth towards uncertain future.

I haven’t done anything so liberating in a long while.  

When my mind calms down for a few moments in-between worrying about just how much stuff needs to get done before we leave, I’m thrilled by the prospect of going. There is slight fear of course, since the future is full of unknown, but then I remember that future is always unknown. There are times when you just have to take a risk, and follow  your instinct. But despite the obvious uncertainty, I’m not actually scared, because I have absolute confidence that no matter what, I will manage.

My security net is not a particular job or a house or a bank account. My security net is me – and that’s a pretty good place to be. 

I’m not being totally altruistic here either. I want to contribute to the world in my own way, and I want to do my part in promoting literacy and arts too. But I also believe that when you help others, you inevitably end up helping yourself.

As Mahatma Gandhi said:

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

While I don’t need to find myself, I believe that being in the service of others gives you a new, different perspective. It makes you see the world with new eyes. It makes you notice things you may otherwise be oblivious to.

I’m really excited to do this to help others, but also for myself. I hope  that life won’t be exactly the same after this experience because something like this should result in growth and change. That was one of the reasons I refused to take a sabbatical from my job, and resigned instead. I don’t want to return to the same lifestyle, same routine, same people. That would defeat the object of this experience. No, the uncertainty is very much a part of this because unless you put yourself in a position where nothing is sure, you can’t open yourself up to as yet unknown opportunities or directions. 

I believe wholeheartedly that this will be an enriching life experience for both of us, and we are open to wherever it may lead.  



The Art of Letter Writing




Letter writing is referred to as a “lost art” these days. I wouldn’t say it’s “lost” but it’s certainly in the danger of being so.

Hand-written letters used to be a main form of communication, because there was no other way. Then the telegram came, and telephone and faxes, and Internet. The world changed. Everything was required to be instant – and in these times of rapid pace, the slow process of writing letters lost ground to instant messengers and emails.

However, despite the changes in society, the art of letter writing has managed to survive. There are people who love to write and receive letters, though admittedly, there are far more of the latter.

Letter writing has become a hobby rather than necessity, but it survives. In fact, we’ve harnessed modern technology to spread that art such as communities of people who want to be pen-pals. 

Just like hand-written journals, there is something so powerful about hand-written letters. They feel so much more personal than emails. The whole experience begins from the moment you receive an envelope. You see hand-writing which you may or may not recognize. Then there is a stamp, usually from another country. When I receive a letter, it brings out that old-fashioned feeling of something wonderful arriving by post. Then there is the whole aesthetic aspect. It becomes a keepsake something to treasure.

A letter goes beyond what it says. It contains the handwriting of a person who sent it, maybe smudged ink or a crossed-off sentence, broken off thoughts. It’s an experience, not merely a narrative.

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.

– Phyllis Theroux

In A Journal of Letters course offered through Kaizen Journaling Academy, we take it a step further. We use letters, not simply to communicate or express our love of hand-written things, but we use letters to explore areas of our lives and our psyche that we may not have glanced at before, or not glanced at carefully enough.

In A Journal of Letters, I teach you how you can use the art of letter writing, not simply to regularly exercise your creative muscles, but for increased self-awareness, to understand what goes on in your head and your heart, and to more appreciate the world around you.

A Journal of Letters course starts on February 1st. Register here

If you’ve taken this course before, you can participate again for free. I will send out a reminder to all the old participants, but if you definitely want to participate again, simply send an email to dolly [at] kaizenjournaling [dot] com, and I will make sure you get the course material. 



Write a letter to someone, and actually post it. 


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Ask the Readers: Who Are You?



The value of identity of  course is that so often with it comes purpose.

– Richard Grant


Do you know who you are?

Do you struggle sometimes, feeling at a loss, and ask yourself,
“Who Am I?” 

If you do, what is your biggest struggle or obstacle in finding yourself? 



Please leave your replies in the comments below. 


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Keeping A Writer’s Journal



A writer’s journal can be an essential tool for any writer, at any stage, writing in any genre.

The Journal

Depending on your lifestyle, it could either be a notebook, a binder, or a computer. Make it something that you can always keep with you.

I personally use a moleskine most of the time because I love the quality of their pages, sturdy covers, an elastic band around it to keep notes and things from falling out, and a back-pocket to keep more notes which I might have ended up scribbling somewhere else despite the best intentions to keep everything in one place.

Benefits of Keeping A Writer’s Journal

  1. Capture or explore ideas
  2. Jot down factual research
  3. Get to know your characters better
  4. Work out kinks in a plot line
  5. Scribble new ideas that you may or may not use for future works
  6. Notes about improving your writing craft
  7. Inspirational writing quotes
  8. Record of your growth as a writer
  9. Gain awareness of which writing techniques work for you and which don’t
  10. Find your voice
  11. Use it as your creative soundboard

How to Keep Your Writer’s Journal Organised

Basic organisation is necessary for a writer’s journal, otherwise it would be extremely time consuming and frustrating  to find specific bits of information, especially once you’ve filled up several journals.

If you are using a binder, you can simply have dividers, and label each section – plot ideas, future project ideas, character notes, editing tips, new techniques learned, etc. Have as many categories as you like. It has to work for you.

If you are using a computer, just keep separate files, use Excel where you can use different tabs, use One Note, or you can even use online/e-journaling tools. There are also programmes specifically designed for writers such a y-writer or liquid story binder.

I keep two pages free for an index at the front of my writing journal. I keep the index by story titles, or if there isn’t a title then by character names.

You could, in theory, keep separate journals for separate books or for different types of writing, but the objective here is flexibility. I don’t know about you, but my mind doesn’t always obey me when I want to think about a specific project only. My mind often bombards me with ideas for things that have nothing to do with what I’m working on at any given moment, so it’s far easier to keep writing in one journal, and index things.

To make things even easier, besides having an index, I also title each new section clearly, usually in large letters, so just by flipping through it, I know what I am looking at.


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What Should I Write in My Journal



What should I write in my journal?  

Generally, it’s a question asked by those who are new at journaling. But even regular journal keepers want to know what ELSE they can write in their journals. 

In this article, I’m going to mention just some of the things you could write in your journal. Possibilities are endless, but hopefully these ideas here will get your creative juices flowing.

45 Things You Can Write In Your Journal

  1. Write about  your day. 
  2. Write about your feelings.
  3. Write about your family relationships
  4. Write about your romantic life
  5. Write about your dreams
  6. Write about your travel plans
  7. Write about your local area
  8. Write about the people you see day to day, including strangers
  9. Write about films and TV shows you love
  10. Write about concerts or plays you go to
  11. Write about festivals
  12. Make lists about your various favourite things
  13. Write about the food you eat
  14. Write about your fitness regime
  15. Write about your perfect house
  16. Write about your childhood memories
  17. Write about your school or college
  18. Write about your workplace
  19. Write about your goals and action plans
  20. Design your dream house in your journal
  21. Design your perfect outfits
  22. Write a story
  23. Find your muse
  24. Write about your finances
  25. Write about how you maintain your finances
  26. Write about time management
  27. Write about your biggest struggle
  28. Write about the people who stress you out the most
  29. Write about the people who make you feel at ease
  30. Write about the books you read
  31. Write about your happiest and saddest moments
  32. Write about your friends and importance of friendship
  33. Write about your insecurities
  34. Write about your self-development ventures
  35. Write about the topics you wish you knew more about
  36. Write about current news
  37. Write about new experiments, such as an attempt to develop new habits like becoming a vegetarian for 30 days
  38. Write essays
  39. Brainstorm assignments or stories or screenplays
  40. Write letters
  41. Get philosophical and attempt to answer question of Life
  42. Write about your religious or spiritual beliefs
  43. Write about your political beliefs
  44. Talk to your favourite fictional characters
  45. Write about your perfect day-out with family/friends



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Does Your Practical Life Take Over Your Creative Life?



Majority of us are forced to deal with practical matters of life – a day job, which has no room for creativity, family to look after, home to care for, errands to run, relationships and friendships to maintain.

You may have even more issues that seem to fill your days, and sometimes you barely know when one day ends and another begins.

Life feels like an endless parade of time that is outside your control.

At the end of the day when you sit down in front of the TV or drop on the bed, pursuing your creativity may be the last thing on your mind.

You put it off until tomorrow. Maybe the weekend. Until you go on holiday. Or until you retire.

Annie Dillard, a woman with extraordinary talent for words, said:

How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our life.

That means, this blurry succession of days where you are just busy but not exactly knowing what you are achieving from that busyness and unsatisfied, is how you are living your life.

It’s not a temporary thing. It’s your life.

By delaying or putting off tapping into your creativity, you are choosing to put off what may well make you feel more alive than anything you’ve done so far.

That doesn’t mean that you give up all your responsibilities, send the kids to foster care, and go off in a Himalayan valley to paint or write or dance. What that does mean is that you give your creativity the same importance as you give other things in your life.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”c90000″]How do you go about doing that?[/typography]


Regularly schedule time for creative pursuits. Take it seriously. It’s that simple. Someone said to me today, art is for people who don’t do real work. That’s the kind of response that makes me feel either despair at level of ignorance or makes me angry. I didn’t get into an argument except to say that if he thought so, he clearly hadn’t done any artistic work. Art demands more from us, because art comes from authenticity

You have to tap into who you are, and use that – your beliefs and values, your opinions, your fears and lay them bare to the world in what you create. The process could be fun and freeing, but only if you give it importance. 

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”c90000″]Why is it important?[/typography]


Your creativity captures the essence of who you are.

When you create something – anything – using a combination of your intelligence and passion, you make something that is uniquely yours and very personal.

Maybe it’s not the best piece of art ever created, but it’s the conduit through which you tap into what matters to you, into your passion, and your values.  

To neglect it is to neglect your self. 

Most of you – even those without any immense truama in their lives – have great many suppressed emotions and/or memories. You do that for different reasons, and how much depends on the personality. But your creative pursuits – whether it’s journaling, painting, dancing or anything else – it frees you.

There, you are not following any guideline. There, you are not doing what the boss told you to do. There, you are just picking up a pen or a brush or dancing shoes, and let the inner-self take over. You are taking the time to connect with your self. 

How could that not be a priority?

So make time for your creativity. Whether it is 10 minutes a day, or an hour every week, give it an important place in your schedule, and you will be giving importance to your inner-self – the one that may be not be visible all the time, but it is what makes you who you are, and has the power to turn you into who you want to be.


Set up regular time in your schedule for a creative pursuit. You can work on one project continuously, such as writing a book, or you can do something different each time, such as painting a picture, dancing, journaling, singing or anything else you can think of. Do whatever you like, and however you like it, but it must tap into your creativity and into your values and passion. It must fuel your fire.


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What I read in 2012 & KJ Book Awards



I reached the end of 2012 with a total of 53 books finished, and 1 book abandoned (because it was crap)

Fiction = 28

Non-Fiction = 25

That’s almost 50-50 which I am pleased about. 




Children’s = 1

Crime = 6

Fantasy = 13

Inspirational = 1

Mainstream = 1

Literary = 1

Poetry = 1

Science Fiction = 3

YA = 1



Business = 7

Education = 1

Marketing = 3

Memoire = 5

Personal Development = 7

Philosophy = 1

Writing = 1


Here is my short list of BEST BOOKS out of all the ones I read. This is a totally biased list, based on my opinion alone. 


Bridge of Dreams – Anne Bishop

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho (This was my fourth or fifth re-read)

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian – Eoin Colfer

The Wandering Fire – Guy Gavriel Kay

Indulgence/Treachery/Kindred in Death – J. D. Robb (Three books in the same series) 


And the Best Book of the Year Award for Fiction goes to: 

Bridge of Dreams by Anne Bishop

Anne Bishop’s writing has enthralled me from the beginning. I tend to have more favourite books rather than favourite authors, but she is one of the few. I read all of her books. Bridge of Dreams, while a stand-alone, is really the third book set in the world of Ephemera. Bishop’s strength is her beautiful writing, and strength of capturing emotions. You can’t help but feel for her characters, as you feel deeper and deeper connection with the story. Bridge of Dreams captured me, took me on a journey, and made me experience the world and the characters as if I was there. That’s what the best stories do. 



Start with Why – Simon Sinek

Linchpin – Seth Godin

Purple Cow – Seth Godin

How to Win Friends & Influence People – Dale Carnegie

The Flinch – Julien Smith

Personal Development for Smart People – Steve Pavalina


And the Best Book of the Year Award for Fiction goes to:

Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavalina

As you can see from the short list, this book had a lot of mighty competition. I would recommend that you read all of those books if you haven’t already. But what sets Steve Pavalina’s book apart is the one thing I found lacking in all the other personal development books so far. His principle work for all areas of life, in a way that makes sense. So you can focus on your career and ambitions by using same principles that you can use for your family and relationships. It’s all around personal development method for your entire life, not just one part of it. 


That’s my 2012 reading statistics. One of the first things I did after midnight on 1st of January was to create a new tab for my 2013 reading list. I have been keeping this list since 27th of July, 2009, and it’s been invaluable. I only regret that I did not  start sooner. 

What about you? Do you keep a reading list or a reading journal? What do you record? 



If you have not yet kept a reading list, start one now. It will give you insights about your reading habits as well as your evolving interests. It will also show you gaps in the areas where you may need/want to read more. 


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Goodbye 2012! Hello 2013!


It’s only a little over an hour away from midnight, and from the New Year. I am in London at the moment, spending New Year’s Eve in the hotel room. I can see the London Eye from the window, and at midnight, will have a view of fireworks from the warm, comfort of the room rather than being out in the cold. 

I like beginning of a New Year. It’s tidy, clear line of an end and of beginning, though in reality, it’s just a continuum of life. 

My life took a quite a different turn in 2012, starting in February, when I started a project that would eventually lead me onto Kaizen Journaling, and my own business. It’s been an eventful year all around. I achieved more than I realised, and failed at a fair few things too. Travelled to three countries. And quite recently, made the most amazing decision to go volunteer in Ecuador with my husband in February 2013. (more about that later)

I could describe 2012 in three words: Year of Growth 

I really took control of where I wanted my life to go, and took steps to eliminate things that no longer worked for me. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve always believed in taking full responsibility for my life, and so it was up to me to decide how I wanted my life to be. 

As 2013 draws near, I’m more hopeful than ever. Future is uncertain, because there is no future. It’s only the Present that you have any control over. I have plans and goals that I am going to work towards, but I am also open to unexpected turnings and opportunities that life presents. 

I wish you to do the same. 

Thank you for being here during this year. Kaizen Journaling would not be what it is without you. I hope that this community of Kaizen Warriors grows even stronger in 2013, because the stronger we are as a unit, the stronger we would be as individuals. 

I wish all of you a very Happy New Year, and may you find the strength to make all your dreams come true! 



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