How We Got Here — Charis Poon

Text by Charis Poon
Photos by Stanley Cheng

Text by Charis Poon
Photos by Stanley Cheng

Everyone’s journey is a unique inscription through time and isn’t a path that can be retraced or duplicated. How We Got Here is a series of concise recollections of personal journeys as told by talented creative individuals with different backgrounds, careers, and interests who share their struggles and motivations to explain how they reached this point in their lives.

This episode features none other than Charis Poon, who writes and designs, does creative strategy for Intertrend, and co-hosts Making It Up in addition to being, of course, a member of the MAEKAN team. She traces the origins of her current career and aspirations back to a strong childhood vision, but also explores the idea that our most readily apparent talents aren’t the whole story.

Charis Poon

— 29, Hong Kong —

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I’m five and on stage in front of my entire elementary school receiving an award for my drawing of a purple, blue, and pink magical flying cat. My name is misspelled on the certificate I receive — “Charles Poon” — I’m indignant but too shy to make a fuss and, anyway, I know I earned this.

Nine years old, I hand in an essay on “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up”. My answer: artist. I’ve included a handdrawn self-portrait of myself smiling and making art, to make it abundantly clear whereI see myself headed.

Senior year and I’m ripping open an acceptance letter from my dream school. Defying my mom’s concerns, I applied to just four art schools, so certain that I didn’t need to leave myself options. I get my pick.

With confidence I pursue visual expression as a career single-mindedly, seeing myself as being gifted in art and design, thankful to have parental support in transforming a childhood of loving to draw and paint into a paying job. I gravitate towards what I see myself as being good at, so when I recognize that my typography and layout skills seem better than my illustrations, I go into publication design. When I pick up coding and web design with relative ease compared to my peers, I switch gears. Then, after I get my first job as a web and graphic designer, I start paying closer attention to what other people see in me and it catches me by surprise.

Senior year and I’m ripping open an acceptance letter from my dream school. Defying my mom’s concerns, I applied to just four art schools, so certain that I didn’t need to leave myself options. I get my pick.

A year into my job, my boss promotes me to lead a small design team. Another year passes and my partner encourages me to try freelancing to pick up a larger variety of work. I’m making websites, same as before, but I’m also doing design consulting, branding and identity, events-related work. Some time later, Eugene Kan gives me the opportunity to co-host a podcast, conduct interviews, do editorial production, write and publish for MAEKAN, and I run with it.

By accepting different projects, increasingly unexpected opportunities come my way. In the three years since I starting shifting away from visual design, my partner, my closest friends, the only person who ever bought a piece of artwork from me, the people I’ve interviewed and writers I’ve edited have told me how well-suited I am to the work I’m doing now. The thing is, I didn’t know that I’d be good at research, interviews, writing, and speaking, and every time someone says so, it makes me wonder why I didn’t see that in myself.

Since I was five, I pictured myself as a visual artist getting awards on stages and I doggedly chased that image. I wasn’t wrong about having some talent and some taste, and I definitely put in the work. However, maybe who you can be isn’t always obvious to yourself. I didn’t shift gears for compliments, but because I was intrigued by the possibility of winding up somewhere I didn’t see myself going. Learning how my work as a writer, podcaster, interviewer and editor resonated with others helped me see a different kind of challenging and fulfilling future. Childhood me had a one-dimensional dream, and while striving for it got me a long ways, hitting refresh on that dream has allowed me to be a more complex person in possession of greater possibilities.

I wasn’t wrong about having some talent and some taste, and I definitely put in the work. However, maybe who you can be isn’t always obvious to yourself. I didn’t shift gears for compliments, but because I was intrigued by the possibility of winding up somewhere I didn’t see myself going.
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