I had the pleasure of interviewing Krista Suh, the twentysomething creator of the Pussyhat, which, in just two intense months, made history as an iconic symbol of the women’s movement, is recognized all over the globe, and has made waves in politics, activism, museums, street art, tech, traditional media, and more. She is a screenwriter-producer and an advocate for representation in Hollywood for women and Asian-Americans. She is an expert on creativity sharing her unique advice in her new book DIY Rules for a WTF World, on her website kristasuh.com and social media @kristasuh on Instagram and Twitter.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
Thank you for having me! I was very much the good Asian-American kid — straight As, a perfect SAT score, piano, black belt — you couldn’t get more cliché than that. However, I always had the urge to do something more creative. I held myself back until the very end of college when I just couldn’t take it anymore: I quit pre-med and promised myself a few years to give screenwriting a try. The writing and mental health tools I learned in those years were invaluable to becoming the activist-artist-writer that I am today. There’s something very uncomfortable about going against people’s expectations of you, but I found that I far preferred the discomfort of being a renegade than the discomfort of constricting myself to people’s expectations and rules. When the 2016 elections happened, I knew I wanted to do something with my creative and producing skills to help women have a voice — I wanted to show that women are not invisible and that we will not be ignored, and the Pussyhat was born.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think my creations stand out because they are born of passion, not fear. When an artist, founder, businessperson, any type of creator, is creating in a self-inflicted atmosphere of fear, the audience for the creation can feel the constriction. I think the Pussyhat stands out because it’s not trying to be something to please the patriarchy, it’s something that is trying to please the feminine in all of us and encourage us to come out and speak up. In my book DIY Rules for a WTF World, I talk about how it’s okay to people please, as long as you choose whom you are pleasing. The Pussyhat, DIY Rules and all my projects are infused with enthusiasm and ultimately choice — it’s up to you whether you want to participate or not. I’m just showing you a fun easy way to get over the initial threshold. The work is inherently empowering because it’s not an ad campaign saying, “If you don’t buy into this, you are a bad/unsexy/uncaring person.” Instead, it’s a fun welcoming portal and it’s a gentle invitation, “You can come in if you want.” In so much of our lives we feel like we “have to” do this and that, and everything in between. My projects remind people that you don’t “have” to do anything. It’s your choice. A women’s right to choose goes far beyond reproductive rights: it includes the day-to-day moments as we exist in a society — everything you do — from picking up your kid to brushing your teeth. These things are more empowering if you remind yourself it is a choice.
One of the best exercises in my book DIY Rules is a simple trick of replacing every “I have to” in your language to “I choose to.” When I told my friend Annie about this trick, she lit up, “I have to try that!” And then her face fell and she got really solemn, “NO! I choose to try that.” It’s amazing how often we chain ourselves to rules about what we “have” to do — it litters our language. And when you start realizing how much choice you have, you start living differently, by your own “DIY Rules,” and it’s way more fun.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I’m working on a special web project in an effort to quell violence against women, including emotional abuse, and I hope it reaches many women, particularly those violated by R. Kelly. I’m working on a podcast that is almost ready to go called “R + R: Rest and Revolution.” The idea is that you can go on a creative retreat in the woods while on your commute! I’m also aiming to make my website available in basically every language. My goal is to finish that before my summer birthday. I’m also working on movies, TV projects, and my second book. It’s a lot, but I’ve happily chosen it all and I wouldn’t even call it busy, just exciting!
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
So many books! But if I had to choose just one I’d have to go with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron because it was the first book that got me to consider allowing myself to try doing something creative. It’s also the first self-help book I ever read. I used to really look down on self-help books, thinking they were for weak people, and I couldn’t possibly embarrass myself by buying one. Now, not only am I unashamed of my vast collection of self-help books, I am a self-help author! In my chapter “Training Wheels” I encourage people not to discount training wheels and other tools for beginners just because they make you look babyish. Embrace your training wheels, whether it’s a self-help book, a life coach, or a beginner’s class because people who use training wheels and aren’t afraid of looking silly get the farthest the fastest.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Start saying “I choose to” instead of “I have to.”
2. Don’t be afraid of Training Wheels
3. Dream Big, Start Small — I always knew the Pussyhat would be big, but it would only happen if I broke it down to small actionable pieces to get started — like texting my friend Kat Coyle to help me with the knit pattern of the Pussyhat, like dusting off my old desktop to use Adobe InDesign that I had stored there to make the Pussyhat manifesto. These really mundane pieces are the workings of big magic.
4. Listen to your intuition — If you don’t know how to access your intuition, I recommend the Midas Touch exercise in my book DIY Rules in which for one day, you write down every single item you touch on a list and at the end of the day, explore how each item felt — literally felt. You don’t need to be a hippie psychic to do this exercise, you can simply explore how each item felt in your hand. If something felt out of whack, fix it. Our sense of touch is often ignored, and that leads us to making lives that look good but don’t feel good — a problem a lot of shiny Instagram people have! But if you reverse that and make your life feel good…then you don’t really care how good it looks to other people, and that is #WINNING. When you start getting good at this exercise, you’ll be able to apply it to your customers and audience too — you’ll intuitively understand how they might possibly feel in any given moment of the experience you are creating for them.
5. Get to know yourself, especially your feminine side, and if you are ashamed of it, explore why.
I used to be really ashamed of liking girly things — bubble baths, packing big suitcases for vacation, ball gowns — but when I started exploring why, I could suddenly see how held back I was in minute details of my life and that this was inhibiting me from performing at my best. The more I got to know myself and validate what I liked and didn’t like, the stronger I could be in the external world as a leader.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I want to meet someone 100x richer than me and just as mischievous! I think I am meant to meet a collaborator who is successful in their field but not totally fulfilled (like I once was as a pre-med stuck artist) and who wants to go whole hog and change the world through an art prank — something that rides the line between art and comedy. I call them Playful Lions. I think the most powerful people in the world aren’t the fearful ones with tight grips on their possessions — the powerful people are the ones so secure in their strength that they are playful.
Jean: This was really inspiring! Thank you so much for your time.
— Published on June 27, 2018
Originally published at medium.com