We had the good fortune of connecting with Shinah Chang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shinah, what role has risk played in your life or career?
If my life was a roller-coaster in a thrill park, it would be named “RISK: The Ride” Seriously, my relationship with risk has been so up and down… It started with my parents immigrating to the U.S. from Korea not knowing anyone, not even speaking the language… which is a HUGE risk. But, because they struggled so hard to build a stable life, they wanted mine to be much more secure. So, my entire childhood was about avoiding risk and running headlong down the most stable path. I got straight A’s, did all the extracurricular activities I was supposed to do, went to Harvard University, then law school, and straight into a career in corporate securities law… all because I was so afraid of taking a risk. But when I finally looked at the narrow road I was on, and where it was headed, I knew it wasn’t the right path for me. So I did something pretty crazy and quit my career. With over $100K in law school debt and no plan in place. Then, I started a business based on calligraphy because I loved the craft. I had no idea how I was going to make any money… I just figured it out as I went along. All of that sounds pretty risky, but here’s the thing I’ve learned over the past five years: ALL OF LIFE IS A RISK. Safety is just an illusion. I thought I was safe and secure in my corporate law job – but my health was suffering; I was was turning into an angry, frustrated person; and I couldn’t even answer the question “What do I want to do with a free Saturday afternoon?” So, I was “safe” financially as a corporate lawyer, but my physical and spiritual well-being was at dire risk. And heck, when COVID hit, a lot of lawyers lost their jobs. So even the financial security was an illusion. Now that I’ve learned how to build a business, I have faith that I can always make a living. No matter what happens with calligraphy, or the world… I know how to create value and make people see that value and want to pay me for it. And, more importantly, I see the value in myself. So no matter what I risk in life, I will never lose my sense of self worth.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I do and teach modern calligraphy, but in a non-traditional, non-elitist way. A lot of people hear the word “calligraphy” and picture stuffy old white men hunched over a manuscript creating very formal, rigid, old-fashioned letters. But I call my company “Crooked Calligraphy” because I believe calligraphy is all about self-expression. I don’t have any formal art training or design background. When I discovered calligraphy, I was tired of doing what everyone else expected me to do. I was sick of living a life that was prestigious and secure on paper, but felt hollow and meaningless in my soul. So, I started writing curse words in calligraphy and I found that very therapeutic. And, it turns out, a lot of other people resonated with my message, too. Over the years, my main purpose has crystallized into this: Life is short, and too many people are afraid to go after what they want because they’re scared of failing. But, you have to be willing to embrace the messy beginning in order to get to the beautiful end result. Being willing to fail is actually the true key to success. So, I encourage my students to ditch perfection, practice their fundamentals but also make room for experimentation and play, and try not to compare their journeys to anyone else’s. The reason I’ve been able to build a successful business is because I’m teaching and selling MORE than just calligraphy. I’m offering a way to get back in touch with your inner, creative child, build confidence and self-worth and find true purpose and meaning in your life.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I think the soul of L.A. lives in its diversity and there’s no better way to access that than through FOOD. So I’d want to take my friend to Koreatown, to get the best cold buckwheat noodles in town. Then, to Gardena to an authentic Japanese restaurant that serves more than sushi and miso soup. To Boyle Heights to get deliciously fried shrimp tacos from a truck. To Garden Grove, for the best bahn mi and Vietnamese spring rolls. To Fairfax to experience an Ethiopian meal eaten with your hands… In between meals, I’d love to take my friend to The Last Bookstore and the Bradbury Building in downtown LA. And hiking along the bluffs and exploring the Sunken City in Rancho Palos Verdes. Renting a two-seater recumbent bicycle and riding the beach trail here in Long Beach. There’s so much to do in this sprawling mess of a city – and that’s why I love living here!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Montine Blank (TheMoreYou.com) – my life and business coach of over 8 years