Like most twentysomething creatives, Samantha Oh has both a day job and a side hustle. But unlike most, she doesn't believe the two to be mutually exclusive. In fact, she believes her 9-to-5 gig as a credit consultant is often just as fulfilling as the work she does for the artists collective, Axel, which she helms in her off hours. For her, the two feed off of each other: Both are exercises in helping people pursue their greatest passion projects — it's just the angle of approach that's different.
That's why we partnered with Korean lifestyle brand CJ to learn all about how Oh juggles a day job and a creative side project, without sacrificing her lifestyle in the meanwhile. Below, she opens up about the ways her upbringing as a first-generation New Yorker helped shape who she is today, the effect her Korean parents had on her work ethic, and how she continues to make space in her life for her passion projects.
What made you want to start your own business?
“I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so it’s kind of in our blood. Before I was born, my dad worked for an electronics company selling consumer goods like televisions, headphones, cassette players — everything and anything electronic that could be sold wholesale — door to door. When he and my uncle realized they could profit more by selling their own products, my dad used his engineering background to create his own versions of most of the pieces he was selling.
“My brothers and I were born into a classic Korean immigrant family, and from an early age, our parents showed us that we needed to work very hard, but we didn’t need to have completely conventional jobs. Like me, my two brothers are also following their dreams. One plays indie rock music in Korea, and the other is a project manager at a consulting company, bringing startups to life.”
Can you tell us about Axel, your creative side hustle?
“I started Axel with my cousin Caitlin and our dear friend Walter because we were all looking for creative outlets, and we just vibed together. We had really awesome creative energy between us, and we thought it would be fun to work on projects as a team. We all have different skills as creatives, but when we come together, we’re able to bring more depth to our projects with our varied backgrounds and perspectives.
“That’s the beauty of working as a collective, and because of that, we’ve taken on so many different types of projects. Sometimes, that means creating a projection-mapping art installation for a major art fair, sometimes it entails taking over a 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Chicago just to throw a party, and sometimes it means designing a set for a music video. Each project looks different because we’re always pulling in new artists to collaborate. Our work and our mediums are always changing. And people seem to like working with us because we’re flexible in our approach; we’ll do anything and everything, as long as it interests us and challenges us to grow.”
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur and do your own thing?
“I majored in sociology and government in college and thought that I was going to get a PhD in sociology when I graduated — but it didn’t really work out that way. I love school and I love learning, but I also wanted to go into the family business. I created personalized headphones as my first job.”
“I did [the headphones business] for a few years, and during that time I became very interested in another family business: an accounting firm owned by my mother’s side of the family. People don’t always know where to go for help with their finances, but we all need support — especially those of us looking to pursue our own dreams or kickstart our own businesses. So I, personally, began to build out the credit consulting leg of the business. Now, I work with people all across America, helping young graduates with student loan debt or business owners find funding.”
Is your sociology background relevant to the work you do now?
“Credit consulting definitely utilizes my education. I studied race theory and identity politics, and now I get the opportunity to equip a lot of minority and female entrepreneurs with the tools they need to create their own businesses and earn financial independence. It’s a great way to work with other entrepreneurs like me, looking to turn projects into profitable businesses.”
How do you make time for Axel, after work?
“I go through different phases with what I want to prioritize. For a while, I was in a head space where I wanted to do one thing at a time, then I transitioned into trying to do way too many things at once.
“We talk a lot about self-care, like getting a facial, but for me, it’s about our spiritual health. I recently took a step back from trying to do so much at once, which felt like the right move for my spiritual health. I’m being very intentional with my time. I try and prioritize building my business rather than going out and networking to expand my business. Instead of trying to tackle every creative project that intrigues me, I try to focus on one or two at a time that I’m extremely interested in and passionate about.”
What do you do to unwind or for pleasure when you're not working?
“It’s always a battle trying to balance work with side projects, but I try to follow a schedule as much as I can so I don’t drive myself crazy. Mondays and Tuesdays I like to reserve for working on at-home projects, so I can leave the rest of the week open for going to events, meeting people, seeing things that inspire me, and socializing.
“When I’m home, though, I’m very intentional about finding ways to unplug and unwind. I cook a lot! I feel healthier, it’s budget friendly, and it’s also a great way to decompress after a long day of work. I grew up in a Korean household, so you can imagine I have plenty of familiar recipes that have been passed down to me. When I cook, I like to turn up some music — usually some vibey R&B — and start working with my hands in the kitchen.
“At the end of my night, I always follow a skin-care routine because it’s my way of making sure I’m being good to myself. I have sensitive skin, so I follow a very simplified Korean skin-care routine — a gentle exfoliator, fragrance-free products, lots of moisturizer! I also pop a face mask in the fridge for 15 minutes before I use it on days when I’m feeling super puffy. It’s the best remedy. It can often feel like these little things — face masks and Korean food — are the fuel that powers my job and my artists collective, both.”
How do you know which passion projects are worth your time and energy?
“In the past, my arts collective has mostly focused on building art installations and music video sets, but right now, I’m really excited about the script we’re working on. It’s a comedy miniseries, totally different than anything we’ve been involved in. While we work on it, we get to exercise and flex different creative muscles, especially since we all work in different professions and have different talents.”
“The series highlights the alternative jobs that Asian-American friends have in New York City. There are so many fun comedies angled at our generation, but we haven’t seen one that has a primarily Asian cast. We’re trying to make a pilot that isn’t stereotypical or formulaic, where the characters just happen to be Asian. One character is a bar owner who puts events together in the space, another works in entertainment by day but is a successful musician by night, another is a data scientist and fashion icon, one is a model minority and owns her own business, and another is a pre-med graduate pursuing a career in comedy. All these characters are based off of us in real life, and we’re having so much fun shaping our stories in these characters.”
What do you see yourself accomplishing in the next five years?
“I really hope my creative pursuits come to life, but I’m also happy to keep building what I’m building right now as a businesswoman for many years to come. My work as a credit consultant is definitely expanding, and I’m becoming more successful. I’m so passionate about it. The only way to change anything for people who are disenfranchised is to give them financial independence. I’ve seen that with my own family, that’s a part of my story. In five years, I know I’ll still be passionate about that.”
How do you maintain balance with all these projects you’re leading?
“It’s hard to do everything. I’m very involved with my church community, which might be unconventional for people in New York, but it gives me so much purpose and perspective and motivation to do everything else with passion and intention in my life.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
“My advice for people who want to do their own thing is to take advantage of all the resources out there — there are so many! My uncle is an entrepreneur and advised me to keep my day job until I know my passion project can become a full-time job. It’s sound advice. Sometimes it’s tempting to jump the gun and forget about rent and bills, but he says you have to be passionate enough about your personal projects to stay up late and figure out how it’s going to work before you can go fully in. Be as intentional as you can about finding information, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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