My parents are the only two people that I feel so personally damaging to my wellbeing that I've chosen to cut off ties with. It's not something I share often but I don't hide it or feel shameful either. Over the decades though, they became more human as I got older and found compassion for two very brilliant and capable people riddled with troubled values and emotional immaturity. But I can say I'm grateful for some of the things they did right.
They always made sure their two daughters, born in the 70s in patriarchal Korea, never felt that we were not good enough. If anything, I was explicitly told that I, a girl, can do better than any man, in school work, in owning a business and in leadership. They taught me taking a backseat was never an option. If there were a slight possibility that a teacher or an adult put a conflicting thought in our heads, they declared a battle and made them pay. These two people who brought me a lot of pain, sadness and agony, were undoubtedly also an army behind my back, unwaveringly, when it came to equality. Sis and I were the same people then as we are now. Seo was a class president for all of the years I can remember, and I read, wrote and mothered other kids. We never doubted we could do anything we set our minds to.
The first time Seo and I met my now-ex husband, he tried to give us direction to get out of the area we were in. He was immediately dismissed by both of us. Months later he said, "You and your sister cannot be told you can't do something. Your backs get straighter, you immediately stand up taller and broaden your shoulders as if you are ready to fight." I always tucked that observation away. In our 30s then, it was a compliment that we became those women with lifelong practice of not taking "no/not good enough" for an answer.
I've always had way more sensitive and introverted nature that proving to my parents I felt I was good enough came at a personal price. I really would have preferred not to stand up or fight, but I learned to put on the armor if I had to fight. In fifth grade they made me campaign for class presidency because a teacher told me I should give up my spot for someone else and now we had to prove a point. I hated every moment of it and didn't win, but my parents took a great pride in the fact we stood our ground. Every morning during the campaign, I wanted to hide. But I showed up instead.
Add the lifelong practice of putting up a good front when your family life is burdened with alcoholism, violence and emotional abuse, I became a pro fighter. You channel all the anger and frustration into something positive, showing up for people and yourself.
This morning I find myself in that familiar feeling of getting into a battle mode even when I'm scared, sad and don't want to. I am reading the posts of you my friends, especially those with children, especially daughters, and especially minority women as daughters, and I think of my parents. At 42 and childless, your kids are all my future too, and I'll get up today and every day and do what I know to be right, so they have one more able advocate for them.
That is a promise.
When I was gifted a second generation iPhone, almost ten years ago, it gave me two things: a camera that went with me everywhere and a tool to connect with people in the form of social media apps.
Give a food loving extrovert with marketing background such tools and you get a food blog, as a Facebook page. That's how2GutsyGirls started.
While I was blogging for fun, I spent a lot of my own money, time and resources to go to the restaurants to order all the right dishes, then take pictures and post about them. I did it out of passion, as many of you are doing now in managing your own social media channels. It was fun -- I loved the food, the photos, writing and ultimately, sharing. But it was expensive and sometimes I felt that I wasn't really connecting with people.
Since then I've transitioned to serving the other side professionally. I advise small businesses in marketing through Thrive RVA and spend a lot of time talking to them about how to build and leverage their social media presence so they can engage with their audience by telling authentic stories. We talk about the right platform for their product/service, who the right influencers for them are and how to reach out to them. Small businesses and start-ups need all the exposure and help they can get, but they seldom have the funds for advertising. So social media becomes more important until they grow, IF they get to grow.
In the last several months, I've met strangers who came up to me and said, "You are Sarah/Sarah Choi/ Sarahchoi.rocks, right? I follow you on Instagram." I love that so much. It's taken me years to build that and I love meeting the real people behind their Instagram presence. I wish I could sit down and have coffee with them, take pictures of lattes with them, go hit up taco joints with them.
In the sense of Malcolm Gladwelll's Outlier concept, I am a Connector. Connecting people gives me tremendous joy. Connecting WITH people gives me the energy to do everything I do, which right now, is a lot, even in my Type-A standard. There's a lot on my plate between a new job at COTU and opening of Origin Beer Lab. There are a handful of Thrive mentees I want to spend more time with, but haven't been able to. When life bombards me with work and robs me of opportunities to connect with people meaningfully, it drains me of energy which I absolutely need. So on my day off today, I'm going to counteract that by launching #igersrva community mail list:
I invite the power Instagram users and leisure Instagram users of Richmond to sign up on an email list managed by me. Let's own our community as #igersrva (Instagrammers of Richmond - already exisiting hashtag). It's free of charge to you, all you are agreeing to do is to be ok with receiving emails from me. Emails will have information on meaningful offers requesting your presence, nothing spammy or annoying. You can leave the community any time if you find it to be not worth your time.
2. Small Businesses:
I invite my small business owner friends - restaurateurs, shop owners, tech start ups, makers and service providers - to send me ideas and products they would like to showcase to our #igersrva community. Maybe you want to provide a fall menu preview, showcase new cocktail menu, launch that beta version of your app and see what the Ux is like or test samples of a new product. Whatever the offer is, it has to be free of charge to #igersrva or a very nominal charge that's optional. I can help you figure that portion out. Must comply with all rules and regulations such as ABC. This is also free of charge to you as well, that is, until we grow so much that I'd need Mailchimp money coming form somewhere. ;)
3. I, Sarah Choi, will be your connector in sending out the invites from the businesses to #igersrva and managing the backend of #igersrva community. Every community needs a mother hen and I'll make sure nothing spammy and offensive goes out to my community.
Get it? Are you in? Sign up below!
When sis said I should meet Kim Brundage, I browsed her website and thought, "Oh, a beautiful woman taking beautiful images of other women, got it." We exchanged some emails on the topic of e-newsletters, which was the project Kim was considering at the time. Even when the working relationship is project-based, such as e-newsletter campaign, meeting the client to learn about the business is an absolute must. So we set a coffee date. In the West End. At a Starbuck's. At 8 AM.
I spent 11 years in traditional and formal business environment till 2010. I wore the corporate uniform - full on business suits, dresses, hosiery and sensible business shoes. I had my signature Starbuck's formula. I played the office politics, climbed the ladder and strategized how I would succeed. I did well but I did not feel well. The field I was becoming an expert in on a national level, did not give me joy.
One day I made the transition. This side of the fence, the crazy, unpredictable and unstable life of an entrepreneur, is where I feel I belong. I've built and helped others build brands and businesses where my contribution was meaningful. I can't wait to do bigger and better things and know that I can.
But every so often, I still catch myself thinking, "Are you CRAZY? What are you doing? Get a JOB!"
I held onto all my corporate wardrobe until recently in case I ever needed to get a job-job again.
So the internal struggle is real.
I write about that because that internal struggle explains why driving on 64W at 7:30 AM, getting a spot at a Starbuck's in the middle of the West End business annex, surrounded by business people waiting for a beautiful photographer that takes beautiful head shots of business women made me uneasy.
I looked around and suddenly thought, "Why didn't I get up 15 minutes earlier to put face cream on my blotchy face? Am I wearing too casual of an outfit on purpose?"
Then in the next breath, I would tell myself, "EFF THAT, that's not important."
You know, the struggle.
It is real.
6/3/16 I drove on 64 at 8 AM and am sitting at the busiest Starbuck's with a drive through.
Six baristas behind the bar. Tinder dates and meetings on the floor. This is a whole different Richmond!
Seeing Is Believing
The first marketing agency I worked as a project manager, I learned rather quickly my drawing skills come handy when communicating with graphic and web designers and clients who are visual communicators.
Talking about a design project is tedious and there is a lot of grey area left to interpret subjectively.
Of all the marketing related projects I help manage, I find client-designer mismatch the hardest to navigate. Conceptualizing and giving feedback to design drafts in written format, as an email or text comment is often painfully inefficient to me. I'm quick to put a pencil to paper in an attempt to draw out what I'm trying to say, which I find designers are a lot more receptive to. Over the years, I've adopted a few helpful tools I use depending on the purpose. Here are some of those tools and how I used them.
Paper, Pencil and Flipagram
Talley's Meat and Three
When Shoryuken Ramen partners Jessica and Josh Bufford opened Talley's Meat and Three, they had to explain to me what "Meat & 3" meant: classic Southern style supper comprised of one meat/protein, three side dishes and bread.
Using Paper app and Pencil stylus, I put together social media notes and suggested hashtag campaign #mymeatandthree to engage audience to share their unique dining experience. I wanted to write text and use drawings to show examples as I go. But I also searched and found inspiration reference photos on Instagram and screen captured them to share as well. Here is a page of my note:
Another strategy I proposed to showcase the concept of Meat & 3 was a stop motion video showing how different each meal combination could be, reinforcing #mymeatandthree idea. On a snow day in December hanging out with my neighbor Ariel eating tiny M&Ms, I made a Flipagram video to show Jessica how it would apply for Talley's Meat & 3.
Ariel is a product designer, so she helped a lot in troubleshooting and styling. A few things we learned in our first try:
1. Take all photos in Square photo layout (for Instagram) to avoid cropping.
2. Mark plate position so it doesn't jump from one shot to another.
3. Add more time for a shot (ending shot here) by using copies of the same photo.
Six months later, Talley's Meat & 3 video series came into fruition. Instead of hiring a photographer or videographer, Jessica designed her own special tripod for photo taking, edited and produced all of her videos herself. This was the aftermath of our photo shoot:
And here is one of the videos for Talley's Meat & 3! Keep following Talley's Instagram (@talleysrva) to see the rest of videos in the series or better yet, go and order your own #mymeatandthree plate!
Here is another example of Paper and Pencil just for fun! I made this to explain how a ramen bowl gets assembled to new servers at Shoryuken Ramen. To achieve this in any other way would have been step-by-step photos, then captioning them individually. Much faster, fluid and effective this way.
Next week, more design tools for non-designers and how I used it for LivingSwellRVA.com, more specifically, to capture my sister Seo's personality perfectly in the logo.
Questions? Comments? Let me know what else you would like to see by leaving comments below. Want to work with me to grow your business? Email me and let's have coffee.
Speaking to a friend last week about work, something came over me that was strangely not my usual self. Maybe the inspiration came from TedX RVA Open Mic event I had attended a few days earlier, but when my thoughts on Job and Work became clearer while conversing, it seemed like a good idea to share that in front of 100 strangers at the next event. I despise public speaking and have avoided it at all cost whenever possible, so this was most surprising to me. But when talking myself out of it with a hundred reasons all started sounding like chickening out, there was no other way but just do it.
So this is what I fit into 2 minutes last night and I am glad I did it.
JOB vs WORK
TedX RVA Open Mic 2016
I have been JOBLESS for six years.
but my life has never been wealthier, or fuller.
and I think it’s because I found WORK.
do you have a JOB?
or do you have WORK?
I know we often interchange these two words,
but do you feel differently about them?
I feel that I am ARTFULLY living, and ARTFULLY making a living.
I don’t have to be an artist - a writer, painter, dancer - for my JOB and WORK to be the same.
So I would like to ask you…
Do you have a JOB?
OR do you have WORK?
I was happy to share my thoughts on participating #creativesprint as a group for the ramen ninjas. Glad it got shared with others and hope it will prompt more teams to participate next time.
Restaurant work can be grueling but requires you to remain happy and hospitable with guests at all times. Being on VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) campus, a lot of my staff are students and young people. Bringing #CreativeSprint to work encouraged them to show off their talents, have conversations with each other and most of all, a little fun.
A lot of what we did was more silly than artistic, but we laughed a lot. It put everyone in a better mood. I believe that positivity translated to our service to guests and that's how I justified the time we spent.
Watching young people collaborate and listening to their conversations while they work was my favorite part. We spend a lot of time together, so those family dynamics played out and it was good to watch them build on their relationships.
The most challenging part of my job as a manager is people; I can control a lot of tangible elements of the business, but I cannot force people to like each other or work well together. Building a team is truly like building a family - it takes time and heart and it's not always easy when you work in a fast-paced, high pressure environment where everyone is on the go. #CreativeSprint provided an opportunity to take a break, consciously engage with people I work with and have fun together. And doing that actually made the rest of the job easier.
Co-owner, Shoryuken Ramen
It was her silver hair I noticed first.
As women, going gray is a daily test for self confidence and acceptance. At 41, I now see more of gray hairs every time I look in the mirror, and each one rattles me just a little bit, even though I know full well I shouldn’t. Each time is an opportunity to accept my age, life and mortality and carry on. So when I see younger women with all silver hair who proudly made the decision not to dye it away, I immediately credit them with a level of confidence I strive to have.
Rebecca rocking her gloriously silver hair in a short cut, was sitting at my restaurant. Is she yet 40? Maybe. Then when I heard her speak in a distinctively direct way I made my final assessment: If there were a war to fight, we’d win if we sent her into the battle. I don’t know what war I was thinking of, but probably any war, any battle that’s worth the fight.
Weeks later I had made a connection that she is @thepoetryofthings on Instagram I was beginning to pay attention to and a mutual friend thought we should meet. Days later, we ran into each other at VMFA, where a small talk about ramen life led to all-out business in no time.
Rebecca> Can I give you an unsolicited advice?
R> You and your servers shouldn’t interrupt guests by asking if they need anything so often. Needing the validation the guests are doing OK comes partly from your insecurities. Take the water pitcher, fill up their glasses without interrupting. They will tell you if they need you. If not, all things are good and you walk away.
WHAT? Did she just read into my mind, pointed out something I need to improve on, then suggested a solution? Yes, she did, without missing a beat, feeling uncomfortable or making me feel uncomfortable.
Those of you know me well enough know that I eat this shit up. I love NO BS women who are direct, know their stuff and get stuff done, but do so without losing warmth and elegance.
I went back to dinner service that night and tried this new trick. Worked like a charm! And I did feel more chill and confident.
So that’s how Rebecca got on the top of my Ramen With Strangers guest list. I could not wait to spend more time with her. When she showed up for a late lunch, I discovered the softer side of this Joan D’arc when we chatted about work, family, fighting cancer and true to form for two single women in 40s, dating.
our lunch menu:
House sodas with ginger beer and pear shrub
Karaage Buns of Steam
Veggie Hiyashi Chuka
Originally posted on Instagram: 2gutsygirls
I was telling my#ramenwithstrangers date yesterday that for many years I tried to reconcile my all-out intensity work mode and uber chill/whatever-goes attitude because you couldn't possibly be both.
Some love one aspect of me but not the other, and meeting the Chill Sarah first then discovering the Worker Sarah can sometimes be a jarring experience (queue the ex husband who met the post-Katrina girl happy to be hanging on the beach for days in his baggies and frayed tank, then slashed $70K from a data conversion contract on day 2 of a new job confidently declaring, "I don't need a consulting team.
I got this."). I wasn't happy until I accepted that I AM both, and everything in between.
So here is to doodling pink flowers (like this one), not cowering from tough conversations, crying to Chopin, telling people what to do, gushing over babies and furry creatures and standing with my back straight when someone tells me I cannot do or have something I want, until I prove them wrong. Or at least until I learn they are right, but only after I give it a shot anyway.
Here is to nurturing all small buds to become something beautiful.
More thoughts on my ramen date coming later this week.
I have been thinking about this for a whole week and in Sarah-time, that's a long time to consider if I'm going to do something. So I am going to just start and see what happens: I'm launching Ramen With Strangers.
Tomorrow, lunch service starts at Shoryuken Ramen. And that very realistically means I will be physically at the restaurant more than any place else, six days a week.
For those of you know me well enough, being in the community with lots of freedom to get involved in anything and everything is my lifeforce and as excited as I am about Shoryuken's potential, I am nervous of what this could mean for that area of my life, which I identify with deeply as my personal and professional value.
So, if I can't come to them, I will invite them to come to me.
I'm going to invite so many Richmonders that I'm yet to meet, or only know of superficially, or would like to get to know better, for ramen and a cocktail whenever they can join me at Shoryuken Ramen. I know I will thoroughly love the experience as it is the people I feel most passionately about and if it is of any interest to others, they can read about it on this page.
I have no idea what the frequency of posts will be, but I do have a long list of people I've been dying to meet. So follow me here. Or suggest people here. Or better yet, if you want to be my guest both to my restaurant and the blog, please message me. And if you think this may be fun, please share.
Off to send invites now, oh, and please come see me for lunch this week!
#moveDOconnect #ramenlife #ramenrva