Keep Going with Ash Huang


Today’s episode features writer, artist, and designer Ash Huang. Her essays have appeared in FastCompany, Offscreen Mag, and Lean Out. Her novel, The Firesteel, won first place in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards. An early designer at Twitter and Pinterest, and currently at Adobe, Ash has also been her own boss over the years, giving her unique career insights to share.

Along with the ups and downs of her personal journey, Ash talks about the importance of knowing the rules (and how they’re subjective), the paradox of structure, and what it means to be free in your work. If you’re a multi-passionate creative, Ash offers encouraging wisdom on changing things up.

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Highlighted Excerpt:

Ash: I started to really panic and freak out during that time… I had to make a decision for myself and figure out what I really wanted to do.

Majo: I’m wondering what that breakdown felt like. I think some of our listeners might be close to that point, where they’re on a career path and they want to get off of it.

Ash: I wasn’t able to sleep, I would dread going into work every day... everything in my body was like, No. I got these full body rashes, I was ill all the time. I was sick every week with some new thing… it was just this onslaught of unwellness, which had never happened to me before in my life.

So I had to take a step back to see that this was not it. Like, this is now what you’re supposed to be doing.

Majo: This is the heroine’s journey right here. You’re born into this world, you get massive success as a good girl, you get recognized, you work at a top company with a great brand name... and then you get to this point.

Ash: Yeah, and one of the hardest things was, like if you went to a party and said, “Oh yeah, I used to work at Twitter and I used to work at Pinterest…” people reward you for that. You get a lot of reward for doing that type of thing and being a certain kind of person.

I remember when I first went independent, I would get this sick pleasure out of just saying, “Oh, I’m a designer,” and leave it at that. And I’d find my friends stepping in to say, “But she worked at all these companies… so don’t worry, she’s one of us.” And it was like, “No, don’t tell them! I want to see how they treat me without all that swag.”

Majo: Yeah, ugh. Because you’re still playing within the system... in order to rise to power, you know what I mean?

Ash: Yes, and it’s a really difficult thing because, for me, I’ve definitely had times where I felt very rebellious, like, Burn the system to the ground! But it exists. It’s like gravity, it’s air around us. And to pretend that it’s not there, or to fight without accounting for it, you just can’t win. It’s not that it’s right that it’s there, it’s not, but you have to be thinking about it. You have to know the rules.

Being freelance was really important to me because as an adult it was really the first time that I could examine my own rhythms and my own needs, without the context of someone telling me what to do. So it was kind of like the last link in my good girl chain where I could finally ask myself, Oh, when do I like to wake up? When do I like to get started with my work? These were never things I could think about before. You can’t really assess how you feel about those structures until you’re away from them.

Show Notes:

  • Ash growing up: A creative girl who talked to animals, dealing with feelings of “otherness”, and her desire for unique self-expression. [1:57]

  • On loving her college years, graduating at the height of the recession, and her struggle to find a job. [6:30]

  • Ash’s insights on following the rules, and her growing desire to be more free in her work. [11:22]

  • The ups and downs of getting started as a freelancer. [15:57]

  • On working at Twitter in its early days. [19:12]

  • Learning about product design at Pinterest, and the onslaught of illness that forced her to step back and reevaluate her path. [23:49]

  • Ash’s reflections on cultural rewards, fighting against the system, and figuring out her authentic process. [29:23]

  • “My first brush with real art…” On writing her novel, The Firesteel, and departing from the Good Girl archetype. [34:08]

  • On Ash’s transition from freelance to Adobe, and the unsexy sexiness of having structure. [40:29]

  • On being multi-passionate and changing a lot through her twenties, and Ash’s final words of wisdom. [45:15]

Subscribe and listen to the full episode here (you must subscribe to receive latest episode).


Check out Ash’s projects




by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs

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