Superpower on the Side features WeWork team members and how they spend their time when they’re not at work.
Janet Yang knew she wanted calligraphy-styled signs for her wedding in 2015. But the then-freelance New York City–based interior designer also knew she didn’t want to pay for those signs. So Yang, now a senior designer WeWork, decided to teach herself a modern version of the classic handwriting style.
“I learned by watching YouTube videos, going on Instagram, and practicing a lot,” Yang says. “It took a really long time to learn.” But she was determined—and with enough consistency and dedication, Yang created beautiful, professional-looking signage for her own wedding. So much so that requests started rolling in—from friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends.
Seeing the demand for her work, the artist set up shop on Etsy and started taking orders. One of her greatest hits was a personalized doormat. “These sold like wildfire,” Yang says, especially after an image she shared on Pinterest got some major traction.
In a way, Yang’s calligraphy career mirrored her own life. As a newlywed, she found herself working on many wedding-related projects. Then, as she settled into her home with her husband, she took on interior-related projects like the doormat. “Then I got pregnant, and the rugs started getting too heavy to carry,” she explains. So, as she prepared for her baby, she shifted from home decor projects to smaller, newborn-sized designs like onesies. She welcomed the change, as long as she could continue to practice calligraphy.
Her Etsy business not only challenged Yang creatively, it also taught her the power of saying no. “I learned to stick to my style, and when requests came in that didn’t fit in with it, I had to turn them down,” she says. “That’s the only way you’re going to build your brand.” Now, as a mother of a two-year-old, Yang says she really has to think about boundaries and how she spends her time—since every spare minute is extra precious. “I’m a ‘yes’ girl. I’ll try to do everything,” she says. “But once I had a kid, I had so little time, and I was so sleep deprived. I really had to think about how my time is valued, and how I value my work.”
In 2017, Yang joined WeWork as a full-time designer, and inevitably started spending less time on her side gig. But she says the lessons she learned from running her own business prove vital every day at work. “I know what it means to have a style and stick to it. I was so passionate about the kind of [calligraphy] work that reflected me, and I wanted to bring that with me to WeWork,” she says. Knowing her own style and being confident in her abilities and her taste has also empowered her on the job.
“I think owning my business has pushed me beyond design–it’s pushed me to think about who my client is,” Yang said, adding that the experience has impacted how she deals with clients like Facebook and Microsoft. Though Yang isn’t spending as much time on Etsy these days, she continues to turn to calligraphy as a way to relieve stress. “It’s really meditative,” she says of the art form. “When I come home from a stressful day, I sit down and pick up my calligraphy pen and let it pour out.”
Without the art form, Yang isn’t sure how she’d unwind. And she’s also unsure she’d be as good at her job. “If I didn’t take the time to focus on calligraphy, I don’t know how I would design today or if I would be successful at what I do,” says Yang. “It helped me set boundaries for myself and realize I can do hard things and learn as I go. I think that gives [me] a lot of confidence.”