How to Take Risks Safely | Stephanie H. Shih | Episode 590

Stephanie H. Shih | Episode 590

Stephanie H. Shih explores concepts of home—not just as a physical place, but also as cultural, generational, and emotional spaces we inhabit—through the lens of Asian-American identity. Eighteen pieces from her current body of work will be exhibited at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (Pomona, CA) in 2020. Stephanie lives in Brooklyn.


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Is it critical when you are taking risks to understand that regardless how many safeguards you have in place that failure is an option?

Oh definitely. It is always in the back of my head. Even now, every time there is some nice piece of press…I had a profile in the LA Times recently and I’m like, Well, that’s it. This is probably the last one. How many more times could they write about the groceries? I think that being aware of that possibility is really important as part of my strategy of how I move through my career.

Does taking the risky step require trusting that the muse just might be right?

Interesting question. I think definitely, yes. You have to believe in it to make it happen. If you don’t believe it is going to happen then I don’t think it will be possible to put in the amount of work that will be necessary. I think you have to have that driving force. People have asked me for a long time while I was doing this project and also working full time, Oh, you must want to go full time with your art.  I would always tell them, No, no, no, there is no way I could do that because I need my full time job to support me so that I can have the money to make my art.  Even though that was taking up all of my time, to have a full time job and do my art on the side, it just felt like the only way I could make it happen. It was only later when I saw that I had all this savings I thought, Okay,maybe if I try it and even if I fail it will be Okay because I have this padding and I can always go back into the work force. 

Does taking the risk require fully imagining the outcome, both the good and the bad?

I actually think that it is more clear to me the bad than the good. Where I am now in my career I could not have foreseen this even 7 months ago when I decided to go full time. For me being realistic often means not insetting too far ahead of yourself, not having dreams that are too big, and so I really take it one day at a time, but I am always aware that things could go south.

How important is it to be clear-headed when you are making the decision to take a risk?

Very important. I think that I was in a place in my career where I had been doing copy writing and creative direction for maybe 12 years at that point and I had a really good idea of what would happen if I stayed in the work force, not that that seemed bad to me. But it was good to know this was my expertise and if I need to I can come back to it. I felt very clear-headed when I made that jump.

So you are saying it is good to have a safety net when you are taking the risk?

Oh, definitely. I was raised by a lawyer and a finance professor. My mother, the finance professor, teaches a class on personal  finance. So my whole life it has been drilled into me that you have to have a financial safety net and you have to plan for the worst. My parents are very, very pragmatic and I really am grateful that they instilled that in me. I think that is the only way that I would have been able to get where I am, is to have made safe guards for myself each step of the way.

It sounds like you have to contemplate what you are risking and not do it blindly.

Yes. You have to get a lay of the land. How much money do you need to live? How much money do you need to do your art? How much money can you expect to be bringing in? And then set a deadline for yourself. Mine was six months. Mine was to the end of the year, Okay my goal was that I will break even. I don’t even need to make a profit I just need to not have lost any money within these six months. Since I had this savings, this padding, that was my goal. That is how I judged it.

How true is the idea that we have one shot in life, why not take a risk?

Before this experience, where I did take this risk and it has paid out so well, I think I was a little bit more risk adverse, even though I was a rock climber. I think that I played it kind of safe because I think that is how my parents raised me, but now that I have seen what taking a risk can bring, I do think that it is worth it.

Does taking the risks and going through the failures and successes does that make you more adaptable ? Does it make you a stronger person? 

Interesting question. I am not sure. I think that risk effects each person differently. I think there are definitely some people who, you know, if it is not in their personality to take risks or if it will make them feel a little too anxious to take big risks, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that person not taking risks. It really depends on who you are and what will be right for you. So I guess it is a little bit about knowing yourself.


I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by [Gharib, Malaka]

I Was Their American Dream 


Instagram: @stephaniehshih

How to Take Risks Safely | Stephanie H. Shih | Episode 590