Every other Wednesday, Wethos CEO Rachel Renock hosts an IG Live series highlighting the stories of creative entrepreneurs who took the leap toward working independently or starting their own project. For this episode, Rachel sat down with Jezz Chung, writer, performer, facilitator, and Creative Equity consultant. They discussed Jezz’s leap toward building her own pathway after a career in the ad agency.
Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity.
RR: Welcome, Jezz! So, You’ve made multiple pivots during your career in advertising. You carved out your own role as the first ever diversity and engagement lead for Anomaly, a major agency. But you’ve also now started your own business. So that’s really awesome. Going from intrapreneur, somebody internally doing entrepreneurial things to an entrepreneur. So we’re happy to have you. Why don’t you give everybody just a little bit of an overview of where you’ve been and where you’re going?
JC: In September of 2020 I resigned from the job that I had. And I guess the thing that’s been constant throughout my life is that I’ve always been reinventing myself and I’m realizing that everything that I consume and everyone that I engage with, everything that I do, changes me in some way. And that’s why I’m always evolving and I’m always evolving my practice. And the thread that’s kind of been constant through all that is that I’ve always been really committed to serving underserved communities, people who have been underserved, especially creators and creatives, as a creative myself, too. So I try out different bios every once in a while when I’m doing this.
RR: And what do you call yourself now? Are you a founder, CEO, or principal? What have you been going with these days?
JC: I think that’s the beauty of really just being alive. Now you can decide what you want to call yourself because think about all the titles at companies. Someone made those up to someone else who just typed on a computer, like “this is what a strategist is.” But nowadays, people are so multi hyphenated that there’s no one thing. So I kind of looked at the landscape and thought, there’s nothing out there that defines what I want to do and who I am. So I actually tried out a new bio the other day. I wrote in my journal, “Jezz Chang is a poet, philosopher and performer working with creative communities to facilitate cultural transformations.”
RR: Before you got to this point, tell us a little bit more about what it was like to make that transition at Anomaly into this role that you carved out for yourself and then logistically, how do you actually do that?
JC: When I started in advertising, I started as a strategist and then I went into account management and then I went into copywriting and then I moved to New York as a copywriter. So I started working at Anomaly as a copywriter. And my body started telling me. I had these psychosomatic symptoms, meaning my mind thought patterns were affecting how my body was reacting. SoI felt a lot of heaviness, a lot of fatigue and all the symptoms of burnout, just all of going into deep depressive episodes where I would just not get out of bed for hours every morning and just wake up and stare at the ceiling, like, what am I supposed to do with my life?
This is around the time when I first started learning about manifesting and it’s such a buzzword now. So to demystify manifesting, all it is, is if you want something, you believe that you can have it and you go for it. That’s really the simplicity of it. So I just wrote on a piece of paper my dream job. What does that look like? Well, what do I love to do? I love speaking. I love connecting with people. I love educating myself and then disseminating that information. I love building new pathways and pipelines. I love strategic thinking. I love creating. I love collaborating with creators. Well, there’s nothing that exists currently like that. And even when I looked at other diversity, equity, inclusion rules, they were so based on just policy or this or that. And I had so much admiration for the people around me that were doing that. But at the same time, I felt like, well, I don’t necessarily want to do what they’re doing. So I started just making a deck.
RR: Were there learnings that you took away from carving out a role in a big organization with probably a lot of hierarchy and a lot of different decision makers? Learnings you then applied to getting your own business off the ground and getting through the door in that way?
JC: I’m so grateful for my time in Anomaly and the people that I worked with there because they taught me so much. They taught me so much about what it means to be a leader. I learned a lot about how a good leader knows when to be a teacher and when to be a student, and how to fluctuate between the two. And I just learned about, you know, selling an idea. It’s so valuable. I also learned about the value of maintaining relationships but in a way that feels genuine. I don’t care how much money is on the table. If it doesn’t align with my values and if I’m not going to enjoy working with them, I don’t want to do it.
RR: I think that’s a message that’s said to a lot of people just starting out. “Just say yes to everything”. I think that works for some people. And for a long time, I did that, too. So speaking of your business, talk to me a little bit about the work that you’re currently doing. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
JC: When the pandemic hit, things went virtual. I actually really enjoyed being able to do workshops virtually because I’m a big introvert and I like being able to control the things in my environment. So it kind of helped me focus on, OK, what is what is needed right now. So I kind of laid out, you know, based on what I was seeing in the news, what I was hearing from people in the industry, the patterns I saw around me. And so, again, like the problem solution, I laid out the problems and then I started building workshops around that.
Even in this environment where we’re not going into the workplace every day, I’m looking at the different elements of equity. What makes up an equitable organization? How can we build strategy around a strategic vision around equity? So I’ve been doing that with different agencies and creative organizations. I just did a four part series with Ethel’s Club called Consciously Crafting a Liberated Lifestyle. So that was all around: How do we make sure that we can set up our lives so that we are living a life of emotional liberation, meaning we’re not just constantly, you know, chasing something or we’re not weighed down by something? How can we live a life that’s fully aligned with who we are? So that’s kind of what’s driving my north star. How can I help people feel less alone and more alive?
RR: It’s such important work to do. And I find this particularly true in the creative space where self-worth is such a rough sort of thing to deal with.
JC: So I think that there’s a lot to say about how we can use our imagination to build better futures and how can we really be driven by that feeling working towards a bigger, better, brighter future instead of just always reacting to things, too?
RR: I really love the way that you’ve sort of focused everything on the future. And how do we build the world that we want to be in right now? So we’re coming up on time here. But I want to squeeze one last question, and I’m sure there are a lot of people here who are thinking about taking the leap themselves. Any advice, anything surprising that you’ve learned in the last couple of months being on your own that you want people to take away?
JC: When I was first thinking about going off on my own, it felt like something so far away and it felt like something that was so unattainable for me. I think something that’s always helped me is that I’ve always invested in myself, meaning that I have always taken courses or there are never enough books that I can buy. So I think the advice that I would give or what I would say to anyone who’s watching this and wanting to take that leap is to get on yourself, invest in yourself and know that you are ready enough. You’re worthy enough, you’re deserving enough of it.
RR: I tend to center around sort of like these three questions of, you know, why this, why now, and why me?
JC: I love that. Why this? Why me? Why now?
RR: Well, sometimes the answer to that question is just, well, because someone has to do it. Awesome. Well Jezz it was so amazing to catch up with you. And I feel like we need to do an extended version of this, but you’re absolutely incredible. So thank you so much for all the advice, the time, the energy.
JC: Yes, thank you, Rachel.