Life & Business

Life & Business: Keeping it Real by Sophia Chang

by Sabrina Smelko


Keeping it real; Using your unfair advantage; Staying true to yourself. These are all hallmarks of successful individuals, but what’s easily said is sometimes difficult to do. Having a unique voice, especially in the creative industry, goes a long way in a saturated market.

New York native Sophia Chang grew up embracing aspects of her personality and staying genuine to her true self, always, but it wasn’t until she grew up and started working as a freelance illustrator and designer that she slowly realized that her personality — and genuine self — was actually an asset not only to her business, but to her quality of life. Often, the answer to “how do I differentiate myself from the competition?” lies inside of you, and this was true for Sophia. Your experiences, beliefs, thoughts and personality should be used to your own advantage; they are something to be embraced, despite how hard it is to do so.

Just as the saying goes, “honesty is the best policy,” so, too, is being genuine to both yourself and those around you. Over the years, Sophia has realized that honesty has helped her, not hindered her, even though it was a long and hard road to arrive at that conclusion. Today, Sophia is sharing an inspiring personal essay on her own experience with “keeping it real,” and how “there is longevity in a genuine message.” –Sabrina

Portrait photo by Ja Tecson

“Keeping it real” has always come naturally to me in life, but if I’m being honest, I’ve been bad at it in recent years. Growing up, everyone told me that I had no filter — that I’m way too blunt. I was never afraid to voice my opinion, but I was often made to feel like I should keep certain things to myself.

I was raised in a culture where women are typically expected to be quiet, submissive, and passive. I grew up thinking it wasn’t okay to be “loud” or too outgoing, but in recent years, with the boom of social media platforms, I’ve been encouraged to be myself again, and “keep it real” with my friends, my clients, and my online audience. And to my surprise, my recent choice to be more authentic to my personality has contributed to many wins (and maybe some losses) in my career.

When you’re working in a creative-saturated market, it’s important to do a lot of self-reflection and self-assessment. It’s important to seek to discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Over the course of my illustration and design career, I’ve often analyzed myself and my work to see what sets me apart from my competitors, and at the end of the day, when you’re a self-employed creative, your true self is often the differentiating factor; your unfair advantage.

For anyone who’s self-employed or thinking about going freelance, remember: Keep it real; Take some time to look at yourself. What are your natural interests? What are your values? What are you passionate about? Take those subjects and turn them into your story — whether it’s through photography, writing, drawing, etc. It’s important to maintain a unique voice, and be honest, even if that means being vocal.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that a huge part of having an online presence is about your identity and how you tell your story, and that’s how I’ve received most of my followers. What story do you want to tell? With more and more value being put to your online presence, social media is a very powerful tool, but how can you continue to grow your audience and gain new followers or clients or peers while keeping the old? It boils down to this: there’s a lot of stuff going on out there. The speed at which we send and consume information on a daily basis can be astounding, and not always in a good way. (I honestly spent an hour scrolling through Soundcloud, Facebook, Newsfeed and Instagram before I really started to write all this.) We live in a loud society, and it’s easy to get drowned out by all that noise, but what helps differentiate you from the other voices is honesty and authenticity. I believe that because I’ve kept my online branding true to who I am and what I am, and it’s received many ears and eyes. There is longevity in a genuine message, and an honest message carries a long way.

If I had to give anyone advice on how to make it, it would be first and foremost to love who you are and to be confident in who you are. Embrace your flaws! We’re all a huge work-in-progress and we will constantly evolve and improve over our whole lifetime. As illustrator Shantell Martin once said, “You are you,” and there’s nothing more beautiful than you. Take some time to ask yourself the following questions: What are your interests? What are your values? What are you passionate about? Take those subjects and turn them into your own story. Maintain your voice, be vocal, and most importantly, be honest and keep it real. Be the beacon and the testimony; ripple across a generation.

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