Giving ourselves permission to do things on our own terms with Tiffany Trieu
Our first conversation with Tiffany Trieu, interviewed in February 2019.
A note from our host, Leslie Luo:
Welcome to west & ease where I host Conversations with humans where, alongside our guests, we explore themes such as the creative process and identity. I’m digging back into our archives to re-introduce this series via Substack.
So whether you’re a long-time fan or just stumbled here, I’m so glad you made it. It’s been a joy re-reading these Conversations as so much of what we discuss is still just as relevant.
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Without further ado, re-introducing our first-ever Conversation with Tiffany Trieu.
Our first conversation is with Tiffany, creator of tiffunee and creative coach of The Dinner Date Program. Since 2018, Tiffany has launched her creative career on her terms and has defined what that meant for herself through her work for herself and with others.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I am Tiffany, and I go under the name tiffunee for my shop, my coaching, and overall creative career. That’s because I want to emphasize this idea of fun and bring that into every single day and in all of my work as well. It made sense to go off of my own name but do a spin-off. I believe that the world would be a better place if everyone was in touch with who they were and did more of what they love.
I believe the world would be a better place if everyone was in touch with who they were and did more of what they love.
My shop is my creative outlet where I have full creative control of the art direction, photo shoots, and overall presentation of [my shop]. I do everything about food and play because when I ask myself what something that I’ll never get tired of for the rest of my life is, that would be food! I love watching food during my free time and learning about different cuisines, I can go on for days about this! (laughing) For the aspect of play, after graduating from college, I felt like I had to fit a certain identity and what it is to be an adult…I’m a big kid inside…and I’m using my shop as an outlet for it.
What would you say is the biggest inspiration for your shop? After I quit my full-time job and I had to create a community for myself again in the [San Francisco] Bay Area, I looked for people who were doing things that I admired. There’s a couple who runs a shop called “Open Daily”. They are focused on branding food pop-ups, as well as their products, that surround a supermarket theme. I personally really love themes.
For some of my first pieces, which were persimmons and bok choy earrings, that was me wanting to have more representation of my Asian American side. The shop is also my platform as well, to normalize the Asian American experience and what it’s like to be a child growing up here. Another person I want to give a shout-out to is Jon Lim, who also does Asian-American-inspired art.
Can you tell us a little more about the coaching side of you? The coaching side of me is sharing knowledge and helping people align with what is truly important to them as a person with the reality of what they do every single day. I help [people] get to know themselves again, so they know what’s important to themselves to realize their strengths and know where to incorporate that into their careers.
Who are the people you are coaching? They are going through similar experiences as me, where they have just started their own business, become independent, or are seeking validation from the general creative field. [These are people who] are realizing that no matter what, at the end of the day, they have to be the person who believes in what they are doing. So I’m typically working with people who are transitioning from their current job, or they have this idea, and they want it to come to fruition. I’m here to help them do that.
It seems pretty full circle from what you’re doing before, like transitioning into this role that you’re in now—being able to run your shop, do coaching, and be able to give back to folks who are in a similar situation as you. This allows you to learn together. Yes, definitely. I realize the balance between friends and clients is that friends, you can’t always be giving them resources. They’ll be like, “Tiffany, stop telling me what to do!”
But your clients are truly seeking your advice and want to learn from you, giving you a great outlet for you to share what you’ve learned as well. Yes, they are ready for the change and are into it.
Why is the work you do important to you? For the shop, it’s important for me because it’s so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. So having that space for me to just really say, “this is my ‘space’” is important to me. On top of that, the reason I do pop-ups is that, for a while, I thought about doing craft fairs and such, but I think it’s important to reclaim your physical space. That is, doing the pop-ups on your own and not depending on craft fairs and other people but making it for yourself.
When you say reclaiming physical space, do you mean doing it by yourself? No, no, it means that you aren’t waiting for someone else’s approval to do something. (laughing) But you definitely need a team to do it. And that goes for both the shop and pop-up too, where being able to own and have creative control over the work that you do? Yea!
What about coaching? Why is that important to you? Back in college at UC Davis, I would be surrounded by so many people but I think there’s still a gap in creative careers where we don’t value ourselves as creatives so it’s really hard to ask for not just money but the value that we are as designers and creatives. I’ve always wanted to help people find that confidence within themselves and then realizing that I can then turn this into a career. It’s about finding the starving artist mentality is a big part of coaching.
I’ve always wanted to help people find that confidence within themselves and then realizing that I can then turn this into a career.
What’s a common misconception about you, your work, or the industry you’re in? I’d say that a lot of people think that working for yourself means that you have a super open schedule and that you are just having fun all the time, but it does take a lot of reflection and self-confidence to stop and think, “Is what I’m doing aligning with my values?”
Also, vice versa, a lot of people that that “Oh, I can’t be a freelancer because I’m not disciplined enough,” but I don’t think I’m disciplined enough! (laughing) Freelancing is less about quitting your job, more about realizing that you have other options and giving permission to do things on your own terms.
Freelancing is less about quitting your job, more about realizing that you have other options and giving permission to do things on your own terms.
I also think there’s this idea that if you were to quit your job to do something else, that is should be successful right away. I caught myself being really hard on myself when I first started out. But I realized that even if I got a job at a company, you still are going through the stages of being a junior designer, mid-level…senior, etc… It’s important to remember to give yourself permission to grow into your role and have it change too. And that’s something you did for yourself, too, when you first started off? That is, giving yourself time and space to try things out to see what fits and what doesn’t while learning and growing? Yes, when I am coaching people, I think about “what is my style here?” and try out different things with different people. I also learned that when it comes to freelancing, there’s a lot of trusts too. Trust in yourself or? Trust in me and when it comes to clients hiring you, it comes down to the person. It’s the whole idea of in-person attraction marketing, which means that people don’t buy just the product but they trust you. It’s about shifting that mentality where “oh, I’m an hourly employee” to “what is the value that I add when I work with someone else?”
It’s important to remember to give yourself permission to grow into your role and have it change too.
What advice would you give to the past you who just started doing what you do today? Try things out, especially your own ideas. I know that people will be like “oh just try everything out!” However, there’s a difference between trying out the opportunities that people give to you and then creating the opportunities for yourself.
Before I used to say “yes” to random clients coming to me and I would be like “oh, I’m trying different things!” but it was different when I decided I wanted to do a pop-up which gave me the opportunity to say “yes” more to myself. So it’s about trying things out and saying “yes” more to the things that you want to do, not just being pulled everywhere that other people take you to. That’s similar to when you’re a freshman in college where everyone’s telling you “try all the classes!” Right, that’s really expensive, costly, and time-consuming! (laughing) Exactly!
This is advice for my past self but also for myself right now. When I was at the point where I paid off all my student debt, quit my job, and then I decided I was going to start freelancing, I was so afraid of putting more money towards myself, investing in myself again. I’m at this point where my business coach is encouraging me and saying “Tiffany, you should keep going and do this thing” and I’m saying “Oh, I don’t know ” again. However, I’m reminding myself to say “yes” to investing in myself. Knowing and having faith in myself that I would get that value back, money-wise, since I’ve done it before, means it’s never a bad thing to invest in yourself.
I love it, and advice that I should take as well! (laughing) Yes, it’s scary! But it’s so real and when you say it out loud, it’s like “oh sh*t, that’s true” and I should follow that. I often forget that it’s so easy to give out advice to other people and so easy to say out loud but I also have to apply that to myself too. Yes. All of this is like growing up in the traditional Asian American household too. Seeing how my parents, being immigrants, had to come here [to America] and sacrifice all of what they wanted to do. That sometimes, I say “oh, I have to do that too!” and thinking “investing in myself is selfish!” So actually, with my coaching, I really believe that the world would be a better place if people were to do what they want, including my parents too. Knowing that they had to sacrifice their dreams to build their lives for us, it reminds me, damn, I would like to make the most of my life.
Give us a list of the top 3 things you’d recommend.
Top 3 things I recommend based on personal experience of keeping myself sane (aka incorporating more fun and play in your life):
Dancing, so you don’t take yourself too seriously.
Sharing food with other people
Creative Pep Talk podcast, I think everyone could use a pep talk in their day.
Favorite song of the moment?
Honesty by Pink Sweat$ but I recommend watching the music video because the aesthetics are up there!
Enjoyed the conversation?
You can find Tiffany on Instagram and her website at www.itstiffanytrieu.com.
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