vol. 1 Whimsical

Credit: Ariel Norling

02 / 02

Ariel Norling:
"I don't want to ever box myself into being one thing"

Product Designer & Writer & Interior Designer

A chat about Zillow-surfing, weightlifting, nail art and being a ‘creative hobbyist’.


Mar 4, 2021 | As told to Cherie Yang

I came to know of Ariel because of her newsletter, I Know A Spot, which I found on (where else?) Twitter.

I Know A Spot spotlights architecturally interesting homes for sale, and has been featured on the NY Times; since we spoke in late 2020, Ariel has also appeared on the TODAY show.

Besides sharing dreamy real estate via Substack, Ariel is also an interior design student and runs an Instagram account, @midcenturyretreat, documenting her renovations for her ‘dream home that actually exists in the world’ (more on that below).

Ariel’s background in education and science framed our conversation, particularly in the way those disciplines have shaped how she now views design. Our chat reveals her highly academic nature, her relentless zeal for learning, and her feelings about (not) being boxed in.

When it comes to burnout, the topic of Ariel’s upcoming book, we chat about recalibration, guardrails and self-care.

I also couldn’t risk getting her opinion on Selling Sunset (‘love it’) and who her favourite character was. FYI, it’s Christine (she said it without missing a beat).

Find Ariel on Twitter, Instagram, Substack and her website. Also, check out @midcenturyretreat.

Listen to Ariel's episode on our Podcast here.

  • So for me, it became about creating a really rich inner life and figuring out how I could pursue all of my curiosities without necessarily having to choose something.
  • It wasn’t about going on some big adventure, but I wanted to experience something outside of the bubble that I grew up in.
  • I don't know that it was a moment that I decided against architecture, I think it was more of a moment of choosing something else.
  • All of this studying is me trying to figure out what the right scale was.
  • But I had this feeling at the end of the day that I was just pushing paper around. I was like, ‘I'm young, I'm creative, I want to do something creative with my life.’
  • It was my first taste of "adults don't really know everything." I had really great coaches and mentors at school. And so, in my mind, they very clearly knew everything.
  • That was both a very terrifying but also freeing moment, because I realized that these things are all kind of similar, right?
  • When I'm designing a product, the fun part is definitely picking out colors and doing the visual design.
  • Sometimes that means you can get boxed into just being a visual person. But sometimes it means that you're able to set your own path for what that means to be a designer.
  • Ariel's tweet

  • One is definitely the side that people think about. It feels like play, you're getting to rearrange things and it’s all visually-oriented.
  • I'm perfectly content to have that creative part be really small. But if it's driven by somebody else, and I don't get to have a real part in it, then I don't know how much creativity I feel like I really feel.
  • That’s my slot to do whatever I feel like my body needs to be ready for the day.
  • &: I know from your recent newsletter that you grew in San Antonio, Texas. What was it like growing up?

    AN:

    I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an architect. My mom was a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast, so a lot of our family vacations were going to visit his houses.

    But I started to slowly step away from that, because I was getting a lot of messaging about architecture not really being the right fit.

    I was also really passionate about interiors. Since I was little, I used to carry around a grade paper pack and an IKEA catalog and would cut out furniture and paste it into the little houses that I design..

    Growing up in Texas, there was a lot of specialization very early. We started training kids for football and cheerleading at a very young age, and I knew very early on that I didn't fit that specialization route.

    So for me, it became about creating a really rich inner life and figuring out how I could pursue all of my curiosities without necessarily having to choose something.

  • &: How did you end up in Syracuse for college?

    AN:

    When applying to college, the only criteria that I had was that it had to be at least a five-hour drive from San Antonio, and it had to have a good political science program and a good architecture program, because I still didn't know what I wanted to choose.

    Five hours, because I didn't want to be too close to home. A five-hour drive represented going to Dallas which is still in state, still within Texas.

    It wasn’t about going on some big adventure, but I wanted to experience something outside of the bubble that I grew up in.

    I got really lucky and Syracuse, at the time, was number one in policy studies and in architecture.

    I remember my high school teachers asking me which one I was going to. They assumed that I was going into architecture, but I ended up going to policy studies.

  • &: When was it that you decided you weren’t going to pursue architecture for college?

    AN:

    I don't know that it was a moment that I decided against architecture, I think it was more of a moment of choosing something else.

    I started exploring. I really loved English literature. I took as many English classes as I could in high school and even participated in book clubs and things outside of class.

    I had a teacher who encouraged me to enter into this independent research project. The path that I chose for that independent research project was about education policy, and I just loved it so much.

    I love the idea that there are people out there who were working on fixing problems to make education better for students. I saw that as a really practical way for me to be able to give people an experience that was better than what I had.

  • &: Since college, you’ve now done a Master's in Information Management and another one in Educational Tech and Applied Learning Science. Take me through that journey.

    AN:

    All of this studying is me trying to figure out what the right scale was.

    When I was an undergrad, I really loved education policy. One of the opportunities that I was given was to do a “study abroad” but in New York City, where we would be able to teach high school students about government and history, and would take classes at night in Education Policy.

    I was one of the four people selected to do that. I got this really hands-on teaching experience. I loved it, but it was also a super draining experience at the same time.

    I’d also interned on Capitol Hill in DC and I loved that experience. It was the most exciting time in politics because there was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and I was helping the environmental aide. The Texas governor was having a clash with Congress about how to spend federal education dollars. There were backroom meetings and it was all very exciting.

    But I had this feeling at the end of the day that I was just pushing paper around. I was like, ‘I'm young, I'm creative, I want to do something creative with my life.’

    And so for me, teaching was the other side of that. But I realized I wanted to be somewhere a little bit removed, but still operating in the same space.

    I ended up applying to a research and development program at Columbia University in their Teachers’ College. I came in as a research and development intern and I was doing writing and helping with contracts. I was PMing and designing my own projects. They turned to me and said, ”You're really good at this and you like this; you should consider doing this.”

    So that's how I transitioned. I looked at my life and where I was heading and said, technology seems to be the recipe.

  • &: How did you end up going from working in education, or very close to it, to then working in startups?

    AN:

    Part of it was starting my own startups. I took classes about startups and design because I really wanted to immerse myself in that. I was in New York, and I ended up meeting other people and meeting new founders. At the end, I figured that this is very clearly the thing that I want to be doing with my life.

  • &: What were the most surprising things to you when going from policy and education to startups?

    AN:

    It was my first taste of "adults don't really know everything." I had really great coaches and mentors at school. And so, in my mind, they very clearly knew everything.

    I thought that people who start their own companies must be really smart and talented.

    Then I realized that anybody with $200 can register an LLC and get started and have no idea what they're doing.

    That was both a very terrifying but also freeing moment, because I realized that these things are all kind of similar, right?

    It’s just adults who are trying to do their best at the end of the day, and nobody really has the answers. We had to keep that perspective of “these are all educated guesses, and we're just in it together trying to figure it out.”

  • &: With your background in education and science, how has that shaped the way you look at product design now?

    AN:

    I think I come at design with maybe a little bit more skepticism than people. My background in policy definitely taught me to think rigorously about what metrics are actually meaningful, and who stakeholders really are and what incentives they might have.

    When I'm designing a product, the fun part is definitely picking out colors and doing the visual design.

    But that's such a small sliver of what's going on in my brain. On the other side I'm constantly running through, "Who is this for?" and "What are we actually accomplishing?"

    I think it makes me a lot more product-oriented than a lot of designers, which I think people respond really well to. And it also makes me feel a lot more comfortable doing less.

  • &: You set up this answer by saying you approach things with more skepticism. How does that relate to your being product-oriented?

    AN:

    I think a lot of designers get boxed in as a person who makes things look nice, especially at larger organisations where people aren’t used to working with designers.

    Sometimes that means you can get boxed into just being a visual person. But sometimes it means that you're able to set your own path for what that means to be a designer.

    For me, I've had plenty of opportunities where I've come in and worked with a product manager to say, “Let's look more closely at this roadmap.” or “What is this project really trying to accomplish?” I can become a real asset and ally to product management, to the point where I'm now comfortable with working on small teams even without PMs because I can trust my own judgment.

  • &: Do you think those skills came about because of your policy background?

    AN:

    I think it's a little bit innate. I was the kid who was picked to do an independent research project: that says something right off the bat about who I was.

    But I do think that the policy space gave me the tools and the language to really clarify my thinking. Without that, maybe I would be a product-oriented designer, but I certainly wouldn't be as well-equipped as I am.

  • &: I saw one of your tweets recently, which said, "When was the last time you got to be creative at work?" I'm curious about the genesis of that tweet

    AN:

    I recently started working in a pre-launch startup with just two other people. I've only been there a couple of months but it's been really gratifying.

    I've been able to do a lot of things that I don't normally get to do. And I just had this moment when it was the most creative I've felt at work in a very long time.

    I was thinking back to it and I was trying to remember the last time that I felt like I was being creative. And it was probably a year? More? I was very curious if that was just an experience that I had had, or if other product designers really share that as well; and it seems like a lot of people do.

  • &: What does it mean to you to be creative?

    AN:

    I think there are two sides.

    One is definitely the side that people think about. It feels like play, you're getting to rearrange things and it’s all visually-oriented.

    There's also the other side, which can look like play to be fair, but I think the other side is problem solving. Being able to use that really rigorous and intellectual muscle to try to solve a problem together is a really great way to be creative as well.

  • &: You mentioned that you hadn’t been ‘creative’ in about a year. Was it something you only realized in retrospect, or were you aware of it during that time too?

    AN:

    I was aware of it, but I don't know if I would have called it ‘being creative’ at that time.

    I probably would have said something more along the lines of having agency, ownership or initiative.

    I'm perfectly content to have that creative part be really small. But if it's driven by somebody else, and I don't get to have a real part in it, then I don't know how much creativity I feel like I really feel.

    I think that being the person who arranges buttons is not a very creatively satisfying avenue for me.

  • &: What gets you into your creative problem solving mode?

    AN:

    I have—at least in quarantine—a couple of routines and spaces.

    One is my office space which we're in right now. I get down here, I set up my stuff, I light the candles. I often start my morning with a news podcast and then jump into music and take my time making coffee.

    As soon as I'm here at the computer—this is really embarrassing, but I really love holidays—I will switch to seasonal or holiday-themed lo-fi music when I really need to be in the zone.

  • &: So are you a “same time, same place, every day” type of person from Monday to Friday?

    AN:

    I'm not super rigid about it and I'd like to be a little bit more intuitive.

    But I have guidelines, so I'm always at my desk between 9:00 and 9:15 am. I try to wake up at 7:45 am every single morning.

    I have my routine about getting ready, taking my dog outside, and then I leave an hour to figure out what I want to do. If I'm really tired, I lay in bed and read news articles. If I have a little bit more energy, I might go for a walk on a treadmill and listen to a podcast. And if I'm feeling great, I'll go for a half-hour run and take a shower and get ready for work.

    That’s my slot to do whatever I feel like my body needs to be ready for the day.

Hustle & Burnout

How did the book come about?

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  • At some point, I realized that I can do it, but it was always very begrudgingly. And then after a certain point, I just couldn't bring myself to do it anymore.
  • I started researching burnout, and realized that there had been plenty of times in my life where I've been really burnt out and hadn't known how to read the signs or take care of myself.
  • And more than anything it's like a solidarity circle. She teaches you about publishing, but it's accountability and also moral support, and with people who are also going through the same struggle.
  • Because without any guardrails on that, I'd just feel that I should be writing and researching all the time. That guilt will really start to bring me down.
  • We're in a culture that likes to shame people for being burnt out.
  • There are these really beautiful moments where people realized they were not alone, and talking about it is one of the most cathartic experiences.
  • I love going down this little rabbit hole. I don't want to miss them. And so I basically just got 'peer pressured' into making a newsletter.
  • I Know A Spot

  • I just needed color and looking at color made me really happy.
  • I'm just so excited for it to be out there. I think it's been one of the few truly positive internet experiences that I've had. I’ve never had somebody write a mean comment about a house that I posted.
  • I've had a lot of debate about how much to include myself in the book, partly because it doesn't really have anything to do with me—I’m just the person who manifested this—but also partly because it's a really scary journey.
  • I would like to think that I have taste and I have a good instinct, but I would really like to have that backing to know why I like the things that I do, and have words for the things that I really need to master.
  • I'm learning how much that is and not to give it too much. I'm not impermeable; I do get distractions; I do multitask. I do all kinds of things in one day and the separation between them is not as solid as people would expect or want them to be.
  • Credit: @arielnorling

  • I think there's something really beautiful about how creative you can be on such a small canvas.
  • Weightlifting is about taking care of me, and also about getting uncomfortable and learning my limits.
  • But I think there's a difference between a dream home that I would build from scratch for myself, and a dream home that actually exists in the world.
  • And so if my will well is truly dry, I can always draw on them.
  • But I don't want to ever box myself into being one thing. Maybe that means doing something involved with interior design and product design in the future. Maybe it means switching careers way down the line. Maybe it just means I'm really good at helping my friends when they do renovations. I'm not saying no to anything.
  • I would describe myself as a person who is creative, thoughtful, and curious. Those are the only three descriptors that apply to me generally, and are the throughline for the various things that I’ve been interested in.
  • &: I love that you talked about what your body needs. You’ve got an upcoming book about burnout, so now’s a good time to talk about it.

    AN:

    I didn't know that I was going to be writing a book about burnout when I started though. I had signed up for a book writing class because an acquaintance of mine had started teaching book writing, and also because I'd been interested in book writing for a long time.

    When I had started that journey, I was interested in writing about design work generally. Either about how the different disciplines feed into themselves, or just more broadly on ethics. I knew that I wanted it to be a research-intensive book.

    At some point, I realized that I can do it, but it was always very begrudgingly. And then after a certain point, I just couldn't bring myself to do it anymore.

    I have a weekly coffee hangout with my friends where we catch up about life. A couple of weeks after I had this experience, one of my friends joked about hoping to be hit by a bus. We all laughed because we all understood exactly what he was saying there.

    I had this moment where I realized this is not healthy or okay. Yes, it is very trendy for millennials or Gen Z to talk about depression on Twitter. But there was something to look into there.

    I started researching burnout, and realized that there had been plenty of times in my life where I've been really burnt out and hadn't known how to read the signs or take care of myself.

    The other side of it was that for a while I'd been feeling really disgruntled with the San Francisco “design attitude.” It's such a mindset of “If you didn't make it, you didn't hustle hard enough.” It didn't sit well with me because I was seeing how that affected me and the people around me.

    So many times, there are just things that are outside of your control that can really bring you down. I was sharing more of these tidbits as I was researching with friends, and it was all information that they didn't know about.

    And so I felt like “this is it”: this has to be the book now.

  • &: How did you ensure that you wouldn't get burnt out writing a book about burnout?

    AN:

    In some regards, it’s like the cobbler's children having no shoes.

    This is definitely not one of those situations where I did all the research and I'm magically better now.

    However, I was really fortunate to take this book writing masterclass with a woman who is a designer, who's also written and published books.

    And more than anything it's like a solidarity circle. She teaches you about publishing, but it's accountability and also moral support, and with people who are also going through the same struggle.

    One of the first things that she said to me was, “It's very clear to me that writing this book is going to be a struggle, and the topic matter is really heavy. You've got a lot of other things on your plate. What are you doing to make sure that you don't get burnout?”

    I had never really taken a step back and thought about being really intentional about this.

    Now, I'm having designated days for when I do interviews, or when I do book content. Oftentimes, it is really heavy subject matter and so I cannot sit with that every single day. It gives me permission to not work on the book.

    Because without any guardrails on that, I'd just feel that I should be writing and researching all the time. That guilt will really start to bring me down.

    The other part of it is starting to have a ritual. I come to this place where the only things that I do are read and research and write. It’s my safe space where nobody's going to come and interrupt me. And as soon as I leave the spot, there's no pressure to continue to think or work on the book.

  • &: What’s been the most enjoyable part of that book writing process so far?

    AN:

    A couple of things.

    One has been interviewing people and having this shared experience.

    We're in a culture that likes to shame people for being burnt out.

    For me, but also for most of the people that I've interviewed, this is their first time ever sharing with someone the stories of their burnout.

    There are these really beautiful moments where people realized they were not alone, and talking about it is one of the most cathartic experiences.

    The other thing is the deep, rigorous research.

    I like that process of having something where I can just be really deep and thoughtful about something without a lot of time pressure, and spend a lot of time looking at things from different angles and putting together thoughts for myself.

    That’s the one part from the policy realm or school that I really miss. It's been nice to have a little bit more of that classic academic activity back in my life.

  • &: Tell me about your substack, I Know A Spot.

    AN:

    The newsletter actually didn't start from writing at all. Since I was in grad school about 8 years ago, I’ve been a religious Zillow surfer. Especially when I started house hunting, I spent all my time looking for houses that I thought were interesting.

    I started sharing some of the houses with my co-workers and they said, “Wow, you've got a really unique ability to find these interesting houses.” I was regularly sharing one-off houses that I found on Zillow and some of them would gain a decent amount of traction. Sometimes Zillow’s Twitter would find them and they’d get way more traction than my normal tweets.

    And one day, I happened to share two or three houses on the same day. A few of my friends wrote to me and said I should make a newsletter since hunting for houses is my favorite part of the day.

    I love going down this little rabbit hole. I don't want to miss them. And so I basically just got 'peer pressured' into making a newsletter.

  • &: Zillow-surfing started off as really just a fun thing. It’s evolved into a regular newsletter now. How much time do you spend writing each substack?

    AN:

    I spend about 8 hours a week surfing Zillow trying to get a list of houses. Each issue with the actual writing takes a couple of hours.

    I don't have a formal background in architecture. So this is my first time really trying to understand why certain things resonate with me and learning how to talk about them without using the same words over and over.

    So it takes a decent amount of my time but it's a thing that I really enjoy. I was probably going to be spending a couple hours on Zillow a week anyway, and 6 more was not going to be the end of the world.

    I think it's been a really interesting challenge to come up with a new topic every single week and to find houses that fit. Every new week I'm looking forward to the end of the week when I get to publish the next newsletter.

  • &: Your recent themes were for the Thanksgiving and holiday season. And during the election season, it was about Georgia and Canada. How do you come up with these themes?

    AN:

    It varies, and, in fact, I don't necessarily pick one theme for a particular week, unless I know that it's topically relevant.

    I generally have a few listings that I’ve found or people send to me. I get ideas turning about what kinds of themes I could incorporate them into.

    Sometimes, it's just about what my mood is then. What have I been really needing or wanting? In my second issue, I think I was feeling particularly burnt out, and so the topic was about colorful houses.

    I just needed color and looking at color made me really happy.

  • &: When you publish an issue each week, are you thinking about whether people are going to like it, or are you just happy to get it out?

    AN:

    It's a little bit of both.

    Because some weeks have spectacular houses, I feel a pressure to meet that quality bar. So I'm constantly scrutinizing houses to see if they really fit in the newsletter. But once I decide on something, I don't really second guess myself.

    I'm just so excited for it to be out there. I think it's been one of the few truly positive internet experiences that I've had. I’ve never had somebody write a mean comment about a house that I posted.

  • &: What about your book? Is there anything that scares you about publishing that?

    AN:

    All of the things.

    I don't particularly enjoy writing about myself. I struggled to write the “About Me” section for the book jacket. That was hard. Having to open myself up, and talking about some really intensely emotional experiences in my life, has been a real struggle.

    I've had a lot of debate about how much to include myself in the book, partly because it doesn't really have anything to do with me—I’m just the person who manifested this—but also partly because it's a really scary journey.

    And the other part is that: I enjoy science and I do know a bit about cognitive psychology, but this is a whole different field of psychology. I feel a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that I get the science right.

    I will say, though, that all these things are internal pressures. It's my internal quality bar

  • &: You’ve got your book, you’ve got your newsletter. What about your other side project studying interior design?

    AN:

    As you can probably tell, I like academic stuff. I've always been the kind of person who would go to classes.

    I’d initially chosen architecture, but switched to interior design for a couple of reasons.

    The biggest thing is that the newsletter creates a positive pressure to do something with architecture or real estate or interior design. In California, an associate degree in Interior Design puts you on a track to being a certified interior designer. That can be really cool and very helpful if I do decide to pursue that further.

    And the other thing is that the interior design course at my local community college has very specific classes on kitchen and bathroom design, and lighting. I felt like I'd be a lot better equipped to do my own renovations.

    I would like to think that I have taste and I have a good instinct, but I would really like to have that backing to know why I like the things that I do, and have words for the things that I really need to master.

  • &: How do you maintain that focus of sticking to that thing that you are currently working on?

    AN:

    Part of it is the pressure I put on myself. I want to make sure that I'm doing a good job: that means giving it as much attention as it's due.

    I'm learning how much that is and not to give it too much. I'm not impermeable; I do get distractions; I do multitask. I do all kinds of things in one day and the separation between them is not as solid as people would expect or want them to be.

    But I do think, for me, it's learning when to have that focus and when to have things fed into one to another.

    Sometimes that means being in a meeting and writing a note about houses to look at later, or jot down some papers that I need to research. And sometimes it means I take a break in the middle of the day to look at Zillow.

    At the end of day I'm going to put in as much effort as is needed, and also I'm making sure that I have that time to take care of myself.

  • &: What do you do for self-care?

    AN:

    I do a lot of random things, honestly. I try to get into art. I'm not as active in painting as I would like, but I’m also starting to get into other mediums.

    On weekends, I try not to do any work. I follow art prompt Instagrams and I try to practise doing art.

    During the week, I watch stationery or makeup YouTube videos - things that I'm interested in, but I can't put energy towards them. I like to passively consume them.

    Also, things like exercise or skincare, where it's all about being present and taking care of myself. And reading things that have nothing to do with work or the book.

  • &: You’d picked up painting in the last few years, and nail care, and weightlifting. Why all of these things in the last few years?

    AN:

    It’s so easy to make your whole identity be one thing, especially for San Francisco and design. I always wanted to have something more than just my 9-to-5 job.

    I’d moved to SF, and I was feeling down about myself. I was out of shape, and I wasn't dressing the way that I like to dress in New York.

    I sat down and made a list of all the things that I've been curious about. These are the three that have stuck up.

    I love nail art.

    I think there's something really beautiful about how creative you can be on such a small canvas.

    It’s both very feminine and also has an edge at the same time when you do intense nail art, so I like that combination.

    Weightlifting is about taking care of me, and also about getting uncomfortable and learning my limits.

    I've learned a lot about what I actually need in the moment and whether to be safe and not push myself so I don't get hurt, or whether I have more energy to push further.

    That discipline and regimen of showing up, and figuring out what I actually need, has been one of the bigger things that changed my life.

  • &: How's the renovation project coming along?

    AN:

    It’s been about a year and a half. And most of it has been really small projects.

    I would describe the worst part as hurry up and wait. We have to make all of these decisions, then wait for somebody else to give you pricing or authorization. It’s like a mad rush, then there’s the feeling like you're not making any progress and then rushing and doing everything again.

  • &: Is this your dream home?

    AN:

    This is a big, scary question. I don't know if this is my dream home. I don't think it is.

    But I think there's a difference between a dream home that I would build from scratch for myself, and a dream home that actually exists in the world.

    But this is the dream home that is already here, or at least will be when we're done renovating it.

  • &: With renovation, with interior design, and with your newsletter, what do you do when you're feeling overwhelmed or if you're uninspired?

    AN:

    I get to that point because of oversaturation I have to consciously take a step back and spend some time thinking about what I'm really trying to achieve. And sometimes that also involves asking other people.

    I’m really lucky to have a partner who's very supportive of my various side projects and friends who also care a lot.

    And so if my will well is truly dry, I can always draw on them.

  • &: How do you recalibrate, or realise that you’re doing or thinking too much?

    AN:

    I think this is a process that naturally happens about every couple of weeks.

    I definitely have weeks where I’m flowing really naturally, and then in the next week, I struggle a little bit. And so I have to ask myself, “Where is this struggle coming from?”

    Is it that I'm uninspired? Is it that I'm tired? Is it that I'm spending too much time with this thing and I'm just overthinking?”

  • &: You seem to always be studying something. What are you exploring next?

    AN:

    I'm probably going to stick with something simpler like studio art. The beauty of all this is that at the end of the day it's just a piece of paper or certification, I don't have to use it if I don't want to.

    But I really like the idea of keeping as many doors as open as possible. I love product design, I have no desire to leave the industry, at least right now. And I'm really fortunate to work on a product that I'm really passionate about. I can't imagine working for any other company right now.

    All of the things about having an interior design certification are just like cool “nice to haves” that may come in handy when doing renovations.

    But I don't want to ever box myself into being one thing. Maybe that means doing something involved with interior design and product design in the future. Maybe it means switching careers way down the line. Maybe it just means I'm really good at helping my friends when they do renovations. I'm not saying no to anything.

    I also think it would be fun to start my own business. I don't have any ideas for it but I think there's certainly plenty of room in the real estate and interior design space for somebody with a different perspective to come in and do things differently.

  • &: My final question. You've mentioned a lot about not wanting to be boxed into a particular identity or your 9-to-5 job. How would you describe yourself now?

    AN:

    I’m still figuring it out. In America, there's a lot of pressure to go by what you do for a living.

    So I would say that I'm a designer and a writer and a creative hobbyist. I think it's definitely in flux.

    But more generally, I would describe myself as a person who is creative, thoughtful, and curious. Those are the only three descriptors that apply to me generally, and are the throughline for the various things that I’ve been interested in.

Off the Cuff

with Ariel Norling

Ampersand
  • Friends. That’s literally where I've met all of my friends and where I’ve got a lot of job opportunities.


  • Nice photos. It's a very different space for me, it's more about visual stimulation than anything.


  • Love it. It's a bunch of strong, independent women who have made a real living for themselves. It’s a fantasy life, but they're not fake people. This is their actual life, they do real business deals and I like seeing women who don't fit into the mold.


  • Catharsis. It’s a way for me to be in the moment. And also, I can have something that I've made and I’m really proud of.


  • My original creative outlet


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Laura Gao

I realized that authenticity is the best value to have if I wanted to stay happy in life. So that's the value that I bring now into my book and the rest of my life.

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