Hello! My name is Ioana – 20-year old student studying economics and accounting at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. When I’m not drinking coffee, reading, studying, or exploring the city, I dabble in creative projects like my blog and YouTube channel, Mistral Spirit.
My mission since 2009 (yes, I started a blog when I was 9 – I’ll explain shortly) has been to inspire others to live a motivated, organized, and healthy life. I develop practical strategies that incorporate planning, bullet journaling, and creativity – all while authentically sharing my own story in the process.
So, in the spirit of visual art, creative journaling, and nostalgic browsing of old photos while social distancing (we’ve all been there), I want to take you on a visual journey through my own story!
From a nine-year-old’s hobby blog to a digital business that got on TV at 19, eye-opening partnerships with brands like Crayola, Skillshare, Leuchtturm and Pearson Canada, and a physical planner notebook in the works, this blog has inevitably become the one common thread throughout my own coming-of-age story.
Let’s rewind the tape, shall we? We’ll keep this interesting.
I’ve always loved reading, writing, and drawing. If you were to suddenly drop me in a big city, I would instinctively gravitate towards the cutest independent café, sketchbook in one hand and pen in the other.
One of the earliest dreams I can remember having was to be an author and illustrator. Thanks to some really great teachers, I also loved school from a young age and always sought out some new challenge or adventure I could learn from.
As a result, when my dad first suggested that I make a website using a cool new thing called Wordpress, I was thrilled about the idea. At nine years old, I loved writing little stories and poems (some of them even got published in children’s anthologies), and putting them online was like playing pretend at already being an author. It also meant two things: that anyone could accidentally discover my writing like a treasure chest buried in the backyard, and that I could have a place to archive my own learning adventures to look back on as I got better.
This was my creative workspace at the time. Again, not much has changed since 2009.
As an intermission from the main storyline, I’d like to take the time for a comic aside. This wasn’t an ordinary desk. It was a cashier desk. Notice the stapler, the whiteout, the professional purple pen. Not visible in the photo is an upside-down lid of a shoebox, divided with cardboard and filled with coins to form a makeshift “cash register”.
I didn’t just like to learn and draw and write, but even at nine, I wanted to get OTHERS involved in it, too. And like every only child looking for a playmate to partake in their activities, it was often my parents that I turned to.
Behold, the home book sale. For the low price of two dollars, my parents could enjoy purchasing a book we already owned. What a steal! On the very right, you can see glimpses of the “home announcement board”.
My imagination ran wild with fun ways to add structure to the house (a house government) and organize my learning (sticky notes on the walls to categorize the books I wanted to read) and get my parents to read my short stories (say hello to an automatic email newsletter subscription mom and dad)! And, if there was something important to be discussed a loud and affirmative voice would blare through the house: “please come to the front desk, mom, to the front desk!”
It is no surprise, then, that by the time I started grade 9 in high school my planner (the free one that the school gave out to students) and I were best friends. The photo above is from September 2014, my first week in my grade 9 planner. At the time, I had the super-cool idea of using sticky notes as bookmarks and wrote down a weekly quote on each one. In fact, I had sticky notes plastered everywhere – even on the walls of my bedroom.
Now that I was in high school, it was time to fine-tune my learning strategies for the real-world. I was Growing Up, after all. The planner was my key to staying on top of those things, and to becoming a better version of myself.
Although I was very organized and loved art, it didn’t occur to me to combine those two elements.
Not even when I started my first Bullet Journal, although the system has now come to be synonymous with “aesthetically organized”.
One day, a close friend of mine came over for a group project and noted my obsessions with sticky notes, pens, lists, and notebooks. The next day in science class, he showed me the link to this new Kickstarter website for a system called a Bullet Journal. “You should start one!” he said, showing me his own small grid notebook peppered with scribbled notes and daily goals. Remembering my numerous failed attempts to keep a diary daily, I voiced my skepticism.
But I gave it a try because if I was honest the planner was a bit too restrictive and pre-formatted. Without any big ambitions, I began using my bullet journal to make lists of things I wanted to do someday. Notes from a science summer program I did because I thought I wanted to be an astrophysicist. Random doodles during the boring mandatory classes of grade 9. Latin words from when I took that online Introduction to Latin class. Planning out my NaNoWriMo novel.
And then, in 2017 while on an international month-long summer learning program in Scotland, a girl from Italy saw my bullet journal (now heavily more aesthetic after discovering Tumblr and getting more colorful with my spreads). She thought it was the coolest thing around, went right out to a craft store, bought her own dot-grid notebook, and entrusted it to me to design “just like mine”. It’s pictured in the photo above.
I came back home after that trip in August and realized that by this point, I’d really started to hone a note-taking strategy for learning well, bullet journal system for staying organized, and some creative ways to make school more fun. There had been so many who’d asked about all this during the summer program. The problem was that I’d only been able to share a little bit with them, and now they were scattered around the world – in Italy, Germany, Australia, and the US.
So, I decided to make a YouTube video flipping through my bullet journal and explaining exactly how I used all the spreads to stay organized, learn better, and set goals. That way, if anyone asked, I could probably just send them a link.
In a few months, my life changed. What originally was a blog I was nervous to share even with close friends suddenly became a YouTube channel with a video that was quickly climbing to 100,000 views. Today, it has 1.2 MILLION views, and the channel has grown to be watched by 46,000 people.
I had found a newfound purpose. All these strategies I was developing for myself were actually important to others. The things I was making MATTERED. People were reading, and watching, and discussing. My next videos shared my Mistral Method notetaking system, based on the Cornell method, my bullet, and color-coding system, and fun ideas like 16 Ways to Use a Notebook.
Before I knew it, companies were reaching out to me to run giveaways and send me products. At 12 years old, I’d once sent several emails requesting pen samples for reviewing on my “pen review blog”. They’d all gone unanswered and I’d given up any pretenses of being a crafting and art supplies blogger. Now, all those opportunities were opening up in front of me!
At the time, I had a part-time job at a math school and was tutoring students on the side. I took it really seriously and considered tutoring to be as much about teaching math as inspiring my students to enjoy it. I was already creating fun worksheets, games, and activities for my students, so I began posting these resources on my blog as well. Then, that transformed into creating free PDF printables for bullet journaling and note-taking. The ones below have each been downloaded over a thousand times – including a few times by me.
When my channel began generating income, I also realized from seeing others’ success stories that this could be a side-hustle and not just a hobby. I invested lots of time in perfecting my systems, learning more about video editing, and building a presence online.
And then, in 2018, I started university and suddenly my priorities shifted.
I didn’t have the time to make my bullet journal pretty, let alone my systems perfect. It was one of the most significant periods of growth I’ve ever experienced, and the only thing that mattered to me was absorbing as much as possible of it. At this point, writing and recording my experiences as accurately as possible was the primary focus of my blog.
My bullet journal became simple, straightforward, and functional.
As I adapted to living alone and being on campus, I slowly by surely began re-discovering that same passion for blogging and sharing what I was learning with the world. And that was how, while everything else seemed to be on a fast-forward track in my life, my bullet journaling took a step back to simplicity.
I became passionate about sharing how to find space to work on yourself amid the real-world chaos and shared minimal, practical spreads about my strategies for fitness, healthy eating, motivation, goal-setting, and productivity.
My focus was on motivating people to become the best version of themselves as possible while being honest about my own experiences.
Although I continued working with brands and creating content that I was proud of, it was secondary to the personal growth I was working on and lacking the consistency and energy it takes to skyrocket a digital presence.
In the summer of 2019, I accepted a job in my university town and lived truly alone for the first time. It was then that I received an email from Crayola. They wanted me to present live on breakfast television in Montreal.
As a business student, everything from receiving the brief, traveling for business, eating breakfast alone before walking to the studio, getting my hair-and-makeup done, and in-between was incredible. P.S. You can watch the segment here: https://mistralspirit.com/2019/08/21/video-mistral-spirit-on-tv-back-to-school-with-crayola/
Along with my experience being selected as one of 25 youth entrepreneurs across Canada for a four-day conference in Ottawa the previous year, this was the wake-up call that I needed to commit to taking this passion as far as it could go.
Incidentally, I had just finished the book “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig on that train ride to Montreal. The photo above is from a coffee shop right after finishing the 6 am TV segment. I sat down and copied out one of my favorite passages from the book.
It ends with, “In short, how would I live?”
I decided to invest in actual equipment and to step up my production. My room (left) and living room (right) in the student house I moved into (with my two awesome roommates) must be navigated carefully. On filming days, you’ll need to step over dozens of lighting cables and notebooks and avoid stepping on the lego-equivalent pens that litter the floor in the messy remnants of an attempt to create the perfect flatlay.
Aside from evidently redefining the notion of Instagram-modeling (hint: journaling with a cute pen in a cafe is the new bikini pic), I’m currently spending my summer creating a Mistral Spirit planner.
In the free time, I will have because my 2020 accounting internship is now remote, I’ll be doing some deep research to combine all the organization strategies I’ve developed with the core principles of well-being and journaling. My new mission is to create a customizable planner that will help others discover, manage, and maintain their personal lifestyle.
My double-life as a university student and business-owner is incredibly rewarding. While I just turned 20 a few months ago and am VERY much figuring things out as I go, I am empowered by the ability to inspire others and the incredible messages I receive every day from people trying bullet journaling, implementing a study system, or beginning to use Google calendar. And at my university, I’ve made friends with other students who recognized me on campus because they watched my videos when deciding on a university.
It’s a small world thanks to the internet, but it’s even smaller and even better when you authentically share your passions and attract a tribe because of it.
Now that the tape has run out – we’re ready to write a new one – I want to bring us full-circle to the mission I stand by every day. Since 2009 (now you know) has been to inspire others to live a motivated, organized and healthy life.
And I sincerely hope that my story inspires even a single page of your own.
Extra special thank you to The Washi Tape Shop for asking me to share my story with you, and for their beautiful washi tapes which I use all the time to make my simple university bullet journal that much prettier.
If you loved this post, please tell me and say hi! It’s my goal to ALWAYS reply. You can find me on Instagram @mistralspirit, on my: