Irene Faye Duller
Photo credit: Michella Rivera-Gravage
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What does it mean to design your life? And what would yours look like if you chose to take that ownership?

After a many years hiatus, we’re reigniting the ART OF HUSTLE® podcast series. And bringing you all new findings, as always, directly from the field.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur these days? Or an artist? Or educator? Or all three at once for that matter!? (Not to mention parent, foodie, and traveler, among many other things.)

Enter Irene Faye Duller, here to flip the script. In this fun and somewhat circuitous conversation, we explore these topics and more.

Give a listen and enjoy!
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Audio Preview:


Anthem:Hi, everyone. This is Anthem Salgado, business coach, founder and principal of Art of Hustle. I want to welcome you to another episode inside of the Art of Hustle podcast series. I’m excited, because today we are going to be talking about, among many things, how to curate your life as you see fit, how to be the master of your own narrative, of your own destiny for that matter, how to practice more self-determination, how to be a more fully integrated artist, cultural worker, educator, and parent, among many other things. I’m excited to share this dialog that I’ve recorded with our most recent guest. I think you’re going to get a lot of insight from it.

Meanwhile, if after you listen to this episode you find some kind of inspiration, a coupe ah-ha’s, something that you feel like you’ve benefited from, I’d really appreciate the 5 star rating on iTunes, because it gets other listeners, it gives them an opportunity to find out about this podcast series. Also, it encourages me, as your provider, to continue making episodes for the podcast series. That’s pretty much it. I’d just be ever so grateful. Thank you so much, and without further delay, enjoy.

Anthem: Hi, everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Art of Hustle podcast series. We haven’t done this in many, many years, but we’re going to do one now, because there’s so much we’ve yet to cover. The conversations previously were so awesome and important, and I feel like the dialog on arts and entrepreneurship and personal sustainability, etc, has evolved so much with myself and with so many people that I know. Better now than ever to get this conversation back up and going, I have a very special guest today, a dear friend and also a profound contributor to the local San Francisco Bay Area arts cultural education scene. Let me give you some highlights. This is Irene Faye Duller.

Irene: Hello.

Anthem: Let’s see. Irene, please feel free to jump in and clarify any of these bullets as we’re going through, okay?

Irene: Please just pick one of those bullets at will.

Anthem: No, these are all great. I’ll share all of them, because it gives the totality, really, of everything that you do. I think it’s going to be a great entryway into one of the questions I’m going to ask you later on. Irene is a founding member of the San Francisco Bay’s Filipino American spoken word group 8th Wonder.

Irene: 8 dub.

Anthem: Founding member of Sisters of the Underground Hip Hop Collective, as well as founding member of … Would you consider Rhapsodistas … How would you categorize them?

Irene: Multimedia hip hop

Anthem: Multimedia hip hop performance group?

Irene: Yeah.

Anthem: Rhapsodistas, co-found-

Irene: In which you, for a short time, managed.

Anthem: True dat. A little fun history there.

Irene: We did what we had to do.

Anthem: That’s right. Okay. Explain this part, your master’s in arts, please.

Irene: Oh, I got my master’s of art degree at San Francisco State University. I focused on Filipino women artists, and specifically Filipina women artists in the time of war and what type of agency we were creating by creating art.

Anthem: Awesome. Thank you for clarifying that. You’re also functioning as adjunct faculty for critical cultural theory and production for Asian American, Filipino studies at University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University. Also, you are a professor in hip hop culture and performing arts and social justice department at the university of San Francisco. You’re the owner and principal of an otherwise company, which is a Pinay led communication design studio for social impact, awesome, former arts education program director at Brava for women in the arts. You are, did not know this, newest board member for Cool Arts, where you are also formerly employed, which is-

Irene: Where we met.

Anthem: Yeah, which is so cool that you get to return to it in this new capacity, and you are a featured performer and published poet with Galeria de le Raza’s Lunada series. Awesome. Welcome, Irene. How has life been?

Irene: Pretty good. Thanks for having me here, Anthem, and all of the Art of Hustle universe folks.

Anthem: Here’s the thing, right. I’m thinking about Art of Hustle. I’m thinking about where the conversation first started, all of which you were a witness to. Initially it was about supporting arts and non-profit workers, because you and I knew that field really well. We saw that there was a need. Then as things evolved on my side, I realized, “You know what? The thing that’s really missing is not just marketing, but it’s entrepreneurship overall.” I still think that’s true. Would you think that’s true?

Irene: Missing from where?

Anthem: Missing from arts and non-profit worker thinking and training.

Irene: Right. Yeah, I would agree with that. Just to kind of spin that tail a little bit further, we found ourselves in 2008, 2009 in our living rooms rotating as people in the world without a non-profit who is stable enough through that recession to keep us. I just felt like we were looking for liberty in some form. We were looking for stability. We were looking not to ask permission from other people. In that way, even if I didn’t know that I would be an entrepreneur, those conditions created two sitting here at the table.

Anthem: Yeah, totally. What has been your experience like exploring entrepreneurship, co-founding a lot of things, but especially in reference to-

Irene: Otherwise.

Anthem: Otherwise.

Irene: I guess in that origin story in the beginnings of even Otherwise and also the beginnings of Art of Hustle as everything was colliding, and I love telling the story to as many people as possible, because I feel like it’s a stirring in other people as well. I think a lot of people our age, and a lot of people of coming of age years, they’re looking for their mark on the world. They’re looking for what is the path, what is the pathway, what’s the trajectory professionally. Like I said earlier, I don’t think I planned to be an entrepreneur.
Now that I am one, I look back, and how may people really were entrepreneurial that didn’t identify or maybe they didn’t have their own job, per se, but maybe a side hustle or something like that, or maybe they solved problems entrepreneurially, but they never would have identified as an entrepreneur. I feel like as we were trying to create a business, Julie and I, my friend, homegirl, and business partner, we definitely knew we didn’t have business ownership jobs, but we knew we were entrepreneurial. I don’t know how that … That was the space. Those are the distinct spaces where we found ourselves. We don’t know how to run a business, but we definitely know we’re entrepreneurial.

Anthem: What are the attributes of being entrepreneurial? What are some synonyms that you could think of? How would you describe entrepreneurial?

Irene: I think it’s ingenuity, and I think it’s design thinking, systems thinking. I think it’s independent workmanship. I think it’s also being your own standard bearer. All those things that you didn’t rely on someone externally doing it for you, checking your work, giving you approval, you going somewhere else to solve a problem. It’s like this moment, these are the tools. What can I gather? What information can I also compile? Then how do I solve this problem? I feel like that, in essence, that type of knack is entrepreneurial.

Anthem: Those are all positive things, are they not?

Irene: Of course.

Anthem: Why would some people not identify or not want to identify as an entrepreneur, given that all those things are positive attributes, character attributes to have?

Irene: That’s an interesting question. Maybe it depends on the audience, and maybe depends on the time. I remember there was also a sliver of time where everyone said that they were entrepreneurs, too.

Anthem: But they weren’t?

Irene: Yeah, they weren’t. I would say they weren’t.

Anthem: What characterized them as an entrepreneur if they weren’t? Why would they identify as such if they weren’t?

Irene: Because in that sliver of time, if you weren’t an entrepreneur, it’s like you’re not in the in crowd. You weren’t in the crowd that was bootstrapping, for lack of a better word. You were in someone else’s program, you’re someone else’s time on someone else’s cubicle, I guess. I don’t know.

Anthem: Does age have something to do with it?

Irene: I haven’t thought about that.

Anthem: You’re mentioning time like there was an era, but I wonder if that era had something to do with rites of passage, [crosstalk 00:10:29] rites of passage?

Irene: Yeah, totally. I feel like this is so skewed to me, because I have weird distortion with age. What am I supposed to be at this age now? Everyone tries to impose that on you. Now that you have X amount of decades under your belt, you’re supposed to be here. You hear a lot of times among our peers, “This is supposed to be our prime.” I heard that last decade.

Anthem: It’s all prime.

Irene: I think that, if you’re talking about contemporaneous crowd, maybe there’s this pressure of being in our prime. If the room is filled with people who took it upon themselves to make something happen professionally, then other people may have felt left out. Maybe in that, I guess, moment, folks wanted to all be entrepreneurs on some level.

Anthem: That’s interesting.

Irene: Also, when entrepreneurs maybe gained a stigma, does it have to do with capitalism? Maybe people don’t want to be associated with being money hungry or being sales people.
Anthem: Yeah, which is silly. To me, it is, and mostly because to recognize that money is important is not necessarily money hungry, right?

Irene: Yeah, you’re right.

Anthem: To be a talented sales person means that you know how to advocate for something.

Irene: Yes, but you’re way experienced then in that knowing what money converts to, I think, than what other people might see it for face value. Also, you have to understand in my immediate experience, we’re coming from non-profit. It’s like the opposite end.

Anthem: Yeah, but that’s cultural.

Irene: Yeah, you’re right.

Anthem: That was one of my earliest arguments against certain mindsets in that field, that it’s a cultural thing, not necessarily fact.

Irene: That’s true.

Anthem: The fact that it’s cultural means it’s taught, which means it can be un-taught. I think that’s where I sort of started with all of this.

Irene: Right, and it’s institutional on that level with non-profits.

Anthem: Heck yeah, it is. It’s an interesting conversation. Going back to the age thing real quick, a friend of mine told me this a while ago. I don’t know how exactly true it is, but I think it’s an interesting thing. If you’re not rebelling against the system in your 20s, you have no soul. If you haven’t joined the system by the time you’re 30, you have no intellect. He told me that ages ago, and it trips me up. I think it’s hilarious.

Irene: I think that’s so funny. That might have been all of our stories.

Anthem: I wonder if that’s true. Each thing is a rites of passage. You have to have a moment where you say, “Screw the man.” Then you have to have a moment where you say, “Okay, let me, instead of knocking down systems, maybe try to be a contributor or a builder of one, at least one in my own vision that I feel like can make a positive change in this world.”

Irene: Right. That’s key.

Anthem: All right. Let’s go back to your crazy biography. When I think about Art of Hustle, I think initially, again, it was all about marketing, for me, as a service provide. Then it turned into all about business coaching. I think if I had to go deeper, really follow the thought process, at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily about money, even though some of my marketing will say, “Hey, I’ll help you make more money.” That’s just the nature of business, I guess. I think at the end of the day really if I were to follow the thought process all the way through, at the end of it, it’s really about creating your life as you see fit.

Irene: Right, self-determination.

Anthem: Self-determination. To put it in artist terms, to curate your life as you see fit.

Irene: Yes.

Anthem: Give me a snapshot of a regular week in your life, just for fun so people can understand how you’ve curated your own life, because it’s an interesting, really a huge mix of things that you do with your time. So for example …

Irene: For example, I guess something that I guess everyone should know that’s outside of these bullets is that I’m a family person, too. In that, I’m a mom, and I take my daughter back and forth to school right here in San Francisco, Japantown. There’s that role that’s woven in and out of this matrix. If my life was a summer berry pie, it would be sliced in that I am at two universities. On Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, I’m at University of San Francisco. This semester I’m teaching hip hop culture. On Thursday evenings, I’m at San Francisco State. I’m teaching Asian American studies. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I am on the ground with Julie, and we are in a landless office, an office in the cloud, if you will, but we do meet IRL as many times as possible and with our clients, of course. We are looking to solve communications problems through creative design-led processes. Yeah, that’s-

Anthem: What do you do with your personal time, besides obviously the parenting bit, but you also travel quite a bit?

Irene: Oh yeah. Yeah, we travel, and that’s something that I think is number one when you think about being an entrepreneur. How do you use your entrepreneurial life to do more of the things that you want to fulfill in this lifetime? If my priorities is going to be travel, to leave X amount of weeks in one year, I think that I’ve created a way to do that with my work situation.

Anthem: Tell me if I’m crazy, right? If we said to another young adults, “Here’s an option for you. You’re going to be a parent. You’re also going to run a small business on your own with a couple friends. You’re going to teach at two higher education institutions, and you’re going to try to,”-

Irene: Travel as much-
Anthem: Travel and do all of that.” On the realm of possibility, do you think most people would think that was realistic?

Irene: You said that we were talking about a kid.

Anthem: Yeah, yeah.

Irene: No, I think …

Anthem: Yeah, a young adult, we’ll say. Yeah

Irene: Right, right, which I have as one of my children who’s graduating from college this may. Okay, totally skewed, if I was to tell my son you could be all those things, I would say that with enthusiasm, and he would believe it’s all possible because of what he’s grown up with. If I was in a room of my parents and their peers, they would probably all bark it down. Yeah, because it’s about cutting your teeth and being loyal and staying with one company and having good work ethic, which is what-

Anthem: It’s kind of old school.

Irene: It’s totally the narrative we were raised on.

Anthem: Yeah.

Irene: Yeah, so at some moment in time as entrepreneurs, I would assume, Anthem, did you feel like you were failing something or someone when we didn’t keep a 40 hour work week because it was so embedded, right, or did you always know? We’re artists here, too, so we’re already against the grain.

Anthem: Yeah, I think this is the craziest thing ever. I’ve only had one full-time job in my whole life.

Irene: That’s not crazy.

Anthem: In my whole life.

Irene: I already know that about you.

Anthem: No, because everything else has been cobbled together. Everything else has been on call and part-time gigs my whole life.

Irene: Until you started Art of Hustle, weren’t you like, “I have to at least score one more time?”

Anthem: Yeah.

Irene: Did you put that pressure on yourself like, “I need to at least hold a full-time job at least one more time, because I only had on full-time job in my life?”

Anthem: I wouldn’t say anything is impossible or beyond the realm of possibility. I think it’s definitely like under … I always say this. Under the right circumstances, I could do anything, right? That’s how I would respond to that, but I didn’t feel any pressure to do it or want to do it necessarily. I probably felt more pressure starting my business, because it was so foreign to my former field. Then all my old peers just looked at me like, “That’s kind of cool, but also kind of crazy some of the ideas you’re promoting,” you know what I mean? They’re so different than how we were raised in the arts field. Yeah.

Irene: I’ve seen, actually, just to go through the earlier days of Art of Hustle, I know, because we were working side by side, and we had seen non-profits internally and the internal lattice work that everyone had to wear so many hats. Everyone was their own Swiss Army knife. We were overworked. We were underpaid. There was little to no benefits. Most of us had no health insurance, no paid vacation hours. There was no stability. Every staff meeting was about how are we going to fill seats, because we can’t keep the doors open if we don’t.

Anthem: Right.

Irene: Yeah, so we had to learn a lot of things under the roofs of non-profits. I know that you entered Art of Hustle knowing that you had a knack in marketing and communications to audiences. You started there.

Anthem: Started there.

Irene: Yeah, and then you went into the business side, because you saw other artists who were like, “I need to professionalize.”

Anthem: Make money.

Irene: Yeah.

Anthem: Really, and I think what I realized is you can have amazing marketing skills, but if you don’t know how to translate that into a monetary exchange, then you will be very visible, but you’ll also be struggling financially. That’s where the business coaching thing came in is like okay, now that you know how to X, Y, and Z in your marketing, how can we turn that into something so that you can actually feed yourself?

Irene: Yeah, and I guess I like it a lot that you said make money simply, because I guess there’s folks like me that go around, and we use how to be sustainable. Yeah, I like how this topic of curating your lifestyle, because in order to curate your lifestyle, you have to have certain things in place.

Anthem: Like money.

Irene: Yeah.

Anthem: Exactly, exactly.

Irene: You want to be at a place where you’re choosing all of these positive things to fill your days with, not all of these deficit things you need to patch up or you need to climb out of.

Anthem: Exactly, and that’s a mindset, too, right?

Irene: Right. Yeah.

Anthem: It is an abundance mindset. What does life look like when you’re actually making things instead of having to fix everything? I think the reason why I asked you the question earlier, what would a young adult think or what would anyone think about the way you’ve curated your life, I think some people would think maybe they would judge it as you answered, but I think the other thing some people might think is I think they would think it was unrealistic. They would say, “Oh, yeah right. Who can do that?” I think what’s cool about the way you’re making your life is you’re modeling how it’s done. You know what I mean? It’s not like someone can pick up the Irene biography and just follow your exact steps, because every situation is unique, but you’re doing it. You are showing, “This is how I do it, this is how I live. This is not Instagram life. This is my legit life. I teach. I have a business. I raise kids. I’m a board member. I’m a …” You’re a contributor, and it’s totally possible.

Irene: Even if I had a recipe, how to cut your pie into 16 pieces and still be whole, I think what would be missing from there that I can’t teach, well I don’t know how to teach yet and you probably wouldn’t know how to teach, is how about the will? How about that mindset? Someone else in my shoes could have all these pieces and feel like, “I got to streamline. This is too much,” and not be happy or grateful for the ways you’ve created this life to be. I think that’s a big difference, because I try to talk to folks, not convince them, but I’m trying to tell my story how happy and positive and grateful I am for every situation that has brought me here. Some folks can’t even hear past, “Wait, you don’t get a paycheck every two weeks?” That’s stressful. I suppose it could be stressful. I’m not going to take that away from anyone that hears it and try to convince them that it’s not for the faint of heart.

Anthem: Yeah, yeah. What are those differences? Would you-

Irene: There’s a lot of risk involved. That’s probably in the first three chapters of anything entrepreneurial, how to look at risk.

Anthem: Yeah, how do you look at it? How do you look at it, and how do other people look at it?

Irene: Okay, let’s just-

Anthem: That would be interesting.

Irene: Right? The artist class, creative class, we love our risks. We create out of the space that’s not safe. That’s already one thing I think we have a leg up on. Oh yeah, that space that’s kind of undefined and dark and scary? I’m going in there.

Anthem: Creative people are fit for entrepreneurship.

Irene: Totally. Also, like middle children and people who, I guess, don’t like bosses, and just want a little bit more say in how they live. Yeah. I think that’d totally fit for it.

Anthem: Then why don’t people make that leap then if they look at it and they see that it’s attractive, they see that it’s possible, and then they just, for whatever reason or another, choose not to? Do you ever talk to those people? They talk about it.

Irene: Of course.

Anthem: They talk about it, and next year they’ll still be talking about it. Then you’ll still be advising them. Then their friends or maybe their colleagues or whatever, but they’ll still just never pull the trigger. What’s that about?

Irene: This is something that I’ve been telling my students, and I think this is all relative to connecting all of those bullets that you read earlier. Sometimes there’s folks like us who have these bullets, and no one knows what the through line is. I could say very easily the through line is entrepreneurship. The through line is self-determination and living artful life and curating your life. There’s folks that … In my classrooms and outside of my classrooms, I’m repeating this very basic thing. We are the stories we tell ourselves. Given that, and maybe bringing the baby boomers back into the room, when do we stop hearing that? When do we stop hearing those expectations or those stories or those fingers waving in front of us? That’s when I was asking you, didn’t at some point, did you feel like you were failing something or someone when you decided not to have a 40 hour work week? Sometimes that voice is way too loud in the back of people’s brains, I think.

Anthem: You think people are living by other people’s expectations for too much of their life?

Irene: Just not living on their own expectations.

Anthem: Right. I think I want to follow that. I think people are, because a lot of people were never trained to write their own expectations, to really narrate it, to be their own scribes, when they go to do it, they walk into a blank page, and that frightens a lot of people. They’re like, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Then someone like you or me will be like, “You can do anything.”

Irene: Everything.

Anthem: Exactly.

Irene: Entrepreneurship, I’ll just bring it back, is not for everybody. I’ve had these conversations where I just have to embrace and celebrate what that other person at the table does, because there’s so much happiness to be found there, too.

Anthem: Right, but it’s not about ability.

Irene: Yeah, no.

Anthem: In that respect, entrepreneurship is for everybody, because everyone’s able, but it’s not for everybody in that way.

Irene: In that they could totally be content with whatever card was dealt or whatever card they chose, and they’re rooting down in it.

Anthem: Yeah.

Irene: Yeah. Sometimes, and I’m just saying that because sometimes I’m at the table like, “Oh my gosh, this is tight. I cracked this code. Come join me and these others that are happy in this lifestyle.” Even if they have this little shimmering of, “I have an idea. I have a passion,” or, “I always wanted to,” blank, which they’re connecting with you at the table. I empathized with this excitement. Sometimes I can’t put it on my shoulders to pull them in, not every single person in. Yeah, I think it’s totally fair as a baseline to say everyone can do it.

Anthem: Yeah.

Irene: Yeah.

Anthem: Everyone’s capable, but you have to jump. I think this is the way I look at it. You have to jump in first.

Irene: Yes.

Anthem: Then as your business coach, I could show you how to stay in. I can’t make you jump in.

Irene: Another analogy on jump that I feel like I’ve been repeating is that you hear, “What happens if I jump and there’s no net?” We don’t jump for the net.

Anthem: No one jumps for the net.

Irene: We jump for the jump, for that feeling of leaving and being suspended in somewhere new. That’s all the reason to do it, not, “How about if there’s no net or if the net is securely in place?”

Anthem: Right. I think it’s important to have a plan, but also know that nothing is going to go according to plan anyway. I guess it’s almost Buddhist, finding peace in the impermanent, to some degree. That maybe is what makes entrepreneurial thinking folks more agile.

Irene: Just to jive on the Buddhism, there’s two things that I think that I want to impart on, say, my son who’s in his 20s. In your 20s and your 30s, let’s look at those two decades. At some point, dedicate one of those decades to learning a craft and being disciplined at it. Choose to be disciplined at it. On the other decade, commit yourself to freedom. Let that be the place where you decide what’s next. I think the two together is going to be important, because I don’t want to raise a child, and I’m talking about children, because I feel like I have some liberties to say some sage advice to them, but I don’t want them to only be free and formless and wandering. I definitely want them to know how it’s like to be a craftsman, to be disciplined in a practice. I think it would benefit anybody to know the realms of both.

I bring it back to the Buddhism, because there’s that meditation, where you have to do the rigors, but then there’s also the place of nothing where you arrive, too, and that’s where you’re ultimately free. Anyways, might be slightly oblique to what we’re talking about business and entrepreneurship.

Anthem: Yeah, no. It totally makes sense. There’s a book I’ve been meaning to pick up. It’s on my list. One day I will, but it’s a whole book about how you find enlightenment through archery or something crazy like that. You find it through extreme rigor and discipline. You find freedom in something confining. That’s where it gets interesting is freedom is, in a weird way, in the confines, but some people are so wanting to do the freedom first that they don’t practice the discipline. Then they’re never free.

Irene: Yeah, totally.

Anthem: I’m just thinking about I’m going back to money, because it’s the topic that’s forever on the table. If you’re not disciplined with the money, then you’ll never have the freedom to use it the way you want to use it later on.

Irene: Right, or how do you even sustain a feeling of freedom if you don’t know how to be disciplined within it?

Anthem: Yes.

Irene: Yeah, because I think eventually if you’re too free, then you’ll lose that somehow. I think to sustain freedom or a sense of just living completely free of vice and constraint, I think you also have to set up some disciplines, which sounds like it’s opposing.

Anthem: Restrictive, right? Yeah, no, I think about it with time, too. Some people don’t want to schedule things, because they’re like, “I don’t want to schedule things, because it feels oppressive.” Then because they never schedule anything, they’re always behind or off their mark. Now they don’t have any freedom, because now they’re subservient to how the environment affects them or, what’s the word, how the environment basically dictates their pace, because they’re not dictating their own pace. It’s like the time, the money, anything.

Irene: Yeah, yeah. When people who are not in our shoes and they’re curious about it, but they’re like, “Oh yeah, you have all that freedom in the week,” that’s interesting, right, because you’re like, “You’re not where I have to be. You don’t have to take the bus and then the train to my workplace and then sit in the same seat and have your meetings lined up for you on your calendar.” They look at us like we’re in this exotic place, or you have so many freedoms, right?

Anthem: Right.

Irene: Sure, I’m Instagramming once in a while about places I am that you’re not, like in the middle of the day, and it seems like that’s what I’m presenting. At the same time, in order for us to have gone here five years deep, my company otherwise is for us to have set up the work week on our terms.

Anthem: Yeah, a structure. Yes.

Irene: If I don’t want to work from 10 A.M. to 1 P.M, I’m surely making up those hours somewhere else. If it’s not on the weekend, it’s at night. It’s in the middle of the night or early in the morning. I still do a lot of work.

Anthem: Yeah.

Irene: Yeah.

Anthem: I think it’s funny when people say you have all that freedom. Yeah, you have the freedom to work all the time.

Irene: Right, and something that I’ve learned from, shout out, Wendy [McNun 00:34:48], when she left to pursue her art as an entrepreneur, because on that level it’s totally entrepreneurial to work on the thing that you love the most and leave the confines of a 40 hour work week. I checked in on her maybe within the first year that she left her job. I asked her, “How is it? Are your days just full of drawing?” She said, “I have never worked harder in my life, but I’ve never been happier.”

Anthem: Yeah. Amazing, right?

Irene: Yeah, and it’s exactly true. It’s exactly true. I never thought that I would choose to work the level that I do.

Anthem: Right, because you’re in the zone.

Irene: That’s curated, too. Everything that I’m doing is like I wake up in the morning right before dawn, and I write. I am so glad that I’m doing that.

Anthem: I was thinking about this concept of willpower and what’s the proper use of it. I think willpower is best used for chasing after something that you are passionate about that you love, that you feel like makes a contribution to the world. Then if all those things are in place emotionally, then you don’t actually have to practice will power to do work, right?

Irene: Right.

Anthem: Because then it’s the work that you love. You know what’s necessary, and even if it’s heavy lifting, it feels like fun. Like any exercise, if you think about soccer, if you just said to somebody, “Would you want to run up and down a field for hours on end?” I think most people would say no. But you throw a ball into the mix, and a bunch of other people, and now it’s fun. It becomes fun when you understand what you’re participating in. I think the framing is really important, too, to realize that fun, even though a lot of people might think of it as a lack of discipline, I think it’s also its own discipline, making sure that the fun is there.

Irene: I think Mary Poppins once said fun once begun is a job half done.

Anthem: Yes.

Irene: Yeah.

Anthem: Shout out, Mary Poppins.

Irene: Right? There should be the Dow of Mary.

Anthem: Yes. You should write it.

Irene: Another thing, by the way, one of the things that she says too is, “Let me be very clear, I don’t explain anything.” My daughter’s really into that movie right now.
Anthem: Oh man, that’s hilarious. That’s hilarious.
Irene: Yeah, but on the topic of not … Okay, willpower, and will, and framing, and having fun, I totally agree with that. Everything that I want to say I’m doing is work. Most of it takes care of me, the work, but there’s times where you’re not going to want to do it.

Anthem: Yeah, and then what do you do?

Irene: You work still. That’s the-

Anthem: Because you see the bigger picture, or what?

Irene: Yes, yes. That’s a slight segue, not because it’s fun all the time, but because it’s worth it, and because as an entrepreneur business owner, you know what it converts to. If it means that I’m going to leave for a month at the end of May because I’m going on vacation with my family, then I’m going to work hard right now. You keep that in front of you all the time. That’s different. It’s like I’m going to work hard. I’m going to work hard so that I can get that recognition from my boss. That’s not the narrative tropes that I’m running, because I’m the boss. You know what? I do give myself that recognition, and I have to work for it still. There’s just those motivations to work as well.

Anthem: I like to think of it as the money you make is there so you can buy back your time.

Irene: Yeah, that’s cool.

Anthem: You’re spending time to do the work, but you could actually, in a weird way, kind of buy it back, a future block of time back with the money that you make. You know what I mean?

Irene: Yes. Okay, I see that.

Anthem: Yeah, sure, I’m going to lose a few hours here, but with that investment in time, now I’m able to take two weeks off. Somewhere in the future I’ll be able to do that.

Irene: Yeah, and you kind of get better at tweaking that. I’m going to put my back into it now. I’m going to chill out later, or I’m going to chill out now, break my neck later.

Anthem: It’s like rhythm, right? You have to follow the rhythm. There’s seasonal rhythms, daily rhythms, monthly rhythms, annual rhythms. You got to follow your rhythm for when to step on the gas and when to chill.

Irene: Right, yes.

Anthem: You can’t step on the gas all the time.

Irene: Yeah, you can’t. You shouldn’t.

Anthem: You can’t chill all the time.

Irene: You shouldn’t.

Anthem: No. Some people do too much of one or the other.

Irene: Oh yeah, for sure.

Anthem: You got to have that rhythm. Yeah, totally true. What would be some, speaking of kids, the young ones, or even the adult ones, the adults ones, the grown up ones-

Irene: The adult beginners.

Anthem: What are some … This is going to be super general. If there is somebody out there wondering about some of the things we talked about, so personal sustainability, financial sustainability, pursuing your creative pursuits, what sort of blanket advice would you give to some folks to basically either jump into the game or stay in the game if someone is feeling like they’re feeling the burn? There could be some burnout here, too. Not as much as, in my opinion, not as much as our former field, but it can exist here, too. How would you sort of help someone understand or guide themselves? I feel like self-coaching is so important. If someone had to-

Irene: Right, and this could be a conversation that really doesn’t end, because I think there’s so much here. If I was just to answer really quickly, I would encourage a level of mindfulness and presence, and not just in what they do, but how they choose what they do with their time. Then commitment, it’s hard to not tell a young person that they don’t have to be committed. I feel like that’s an important thing to learn. When you choose something, you commit.

Anthem: That’s right.

Irene: I think the most important thing is have a facility to choose well. Hone that. What does it do for you to be at that job, to be under those conditions? You’ve acknowledged that there’s toxicity there. Don’t test your capacity for the sake of your threshold. It doesn’t serve you anymore, then maybe you should check in with yourself. The next day that you go there despite it, you’ve chosen it. Every day we have these decisions to make. At the entry point especially, don’t just jump in. Just take a little bit of a beat and think, “Okay, if I do this, what do I get out of it?” We hear it all the time.

It’s a trope that we surely said in the ’90s over and over again that I think is still relevant today. You got to look out for you. You got to do you. You have to have an idea of where you want to be, a little bit ahead of where you’re at now. If it’s going to serve you to be at that place, and you’ve chosen to be committed, then be 100. Once your time is done there, because you set a goal and you’ve accomplished it, then move on, but take measured steps every step of the way. I think things come to us out of conditions that we don’t choose. Also, some things happen purely accidentally. For the most part, every decision that you have to make, I think it’s worth it to be critical.

Anthem: Right, and to be 100% if you’re going to choose something, know that I’m going to choose this. I’m not-

Irene: Yeah, not wishy-washy or ambivalent or aloof about it.

Anthem: Right, and not like I’m a victim about it either.

Irene: No way, no way.
Anthem: If you’re going to show up to something that you don’t like, at least say, “I’m choosing this for a very specific purpose for a very specific period of time.”

Irene: Yes, and know it. Right.

Anthem: Rather than say, “I’m here and I hate it.” No, be there.

Irene: Yes, which is so … Yeah.

Anthem: If you’re going to be there, be there, right?

Irene: Right. Then also, just know how to listen to you. Also, know how to listen period. I feel like it’s worth it to hear things, hear advice from other people, audit experiences other people have to share, read books about other people’s lives. Then also just know for yourself what you want. I think that’s hard for any young person, also professional adults.

Anthem: Yeah, yeah. No, totally. I think it goes back to this thing that you said earlier that I think might be a cool thing to circle back to. We are the stories that we tell ourselves. How do people begin to take ownership of the stories that they do they tell themselves? Most people are operating from other people’s expectations, maybe a former generation, maybe it’s a cultural thing, maybe it’s a field to study thing as it was with us. How do we, after a lifetime of youth and young adulthood basically following other narratives that have been laid out for us, do people start to finally say, “Okay, I’m going to write my own story, and I’m going to tell my own story.”

Irene: Right, or I’m going to question all the stories I’ve been mindlessly living through.

Anthem: Yeah, how do you do that? How would you advise for that, and what do you do?

Irene: This is the steps. This is the-

Anthem: Is this a classroom exercise that you do?

Irene: Yeah, this is just the place. It’s like the place of choosing mindfulness and self-awareness, and it’s work as well. Yeah, it’s definitely day one of any of my classes, and I bring it back to the Matrix. Do you want to take the red pill or the blue pill? Once you take the red pill, which is like critical thinking and seeing the world for what it is, pulling back all the layers is asking why. Why do I believe that? Everyone’s so ready to have an opinion. They say it on Twitter. They blast it on their social media. They’re so ready to throw out their opinion, but they’re not ready to unpack where that opinion came from. It’s either group think or group speak, or things that we were fed as we were kids, and we were obedient to, but we don’t challenge them.

If you’re ready to keep that opinion, you should challenge it. You should audit everything that you think you believe about yourself, and ask yourself where did that come from? If you believe that, “I don’t like to travel. I don’t like to swim,” where did that come from in the first place? Why do you need to enforce it as a story that keeps on repeating? Then also the way that you motivate yourself is another story. You can always add new stories. You’re right.

Anthem: How do we get into the adding process? I love the questioning process, because it’s like cleaning out a closet. You got to strip away the old stuff. Then how would you advise someone to start adding and saying, “Hm, I can be anything,” because it’s such leap between, “I have to follow the rules,” to, “I can be anything?” What do you think about that?

Irene: I guess I would have them start with the place that they think they’re the most scared of. Maybe in that clearing out the closet and labeling what they’re keeping, knowing that they could fill up that space with new things that they have not experienced yet. I think they’ll have to start exploring. It’s a commitment to explore what’s out there. Then when they do feel like they’re being pulled back out of fear or anxiety, to kind of check in at that moment and be like, “What is informing that fear?”

Anthem: Yeah. It just made me think of a story that Jack Canfield tells. It’s in his “Success Principles” book where he basically says, “Have a preference,” because it’s really common for folks who have followed a path to never have a preference. Maybe one of the earliest ways you could start to write your own story is just to have a preference. Then the next time someone says, “What do you want to eat?” Or, “Where do you want to go?” Or, “What movie do you want to see?” Instead of saying, “I don’t know, I don’t care. Whatever,” just pick something, because for so long we have never chosen anything. It’s been served to us as a pathway. Maybe the beginnings of it could be just start choosing, right?

Irene: Yeah, that’s true.

Anthem: Instead of saying, “I don’t know what I want to be,” you could say, “If you could be anything, what would it be?” and not feel pressured to come up with the perfect answer, like there’s not a perfect dinner or a perfect movie anyway. Just pick something. The act of choosing itself builds up that muscle.

Irene: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s right. Yeah, because I do hear a lot of folks who are like, “I don’t know, whatever.”

Anthem: That’s a habit, too, right?

Irene: Yeah, yeah.

Anthem: That’s part of the narrative also, in a weird way

Irene: Yes, it is.

Anthem: To question even the “I don’t know” becomes interesting.

Irene: Yeah, totally interesting.

Anthem: Okay, Irene, how do folks keep in touch with you? You have so many entities and existences. What might be a couple cool ways for folks to learn about the millions of things you’re working on?

Irene: I guess if they are visually driven, they can follow me on Instagram. That’s a handle @irie1ooh. That’s a handle that’s followed me since way back when. That’s I-R-I-E number 1 O-O-H. I guess there’s always email., .co as in company, so
Anthem: Very cool. What do you have in the works right now that maybe some folks might be interested in learning about? Anything upcoming projects wise?

Irene: Yeah, we’re doing a project in October. I can’t reveal too much, but it’s a creative project. That’s another chapter for a podcast is when you are so deep in the hustle, how do you find the time to do the things that make you artistic again? At the top of 2017, we decided we would come out with a creative project this year.

Anthem: Who’s we?

Irene: Julie and I.

Anthem: Okay.

Irene: Yeah, we own this business, and we work at giving non-profits what they need in brand communications by creative means. There’s a plan this year to serve ourselves, and we’re going to do it as part of Filipino American history month, and we’re going to partner with our favorite neighborhood Black Box Theater. We’re going to be calling upon some of our favorite artists, like you, to be involved to some degree.

Anthem: Very cool.

Irene: Look out for it at the end of October at [benilsef 00:50:17].

Anthem: 2017?

Irene: Yes.

Anthem: Awesome. Thank you Irene.

Irene: Thanks for having me.

Anthem: Super appreciate it.

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