Hey y’all, today I’m sharing the next Real Life Girl Boss interview featuring Caroline Yi, a Photo Producer in New York City.
I’ve known Caroline for almost 10 years, but she has known my husband SINCE THEY WERE THREE YEARS OLD. Isn’t that insane? I’ve never known anyone that long aside from my immediate family. But yes, my husband met Caroline in 3-K (pre-pre kindergarten) in a small, south Texas border town, McAllen. They grew up together going to the same schools and fostering a (friendly) competition in classes. Caroline would often visit us in Austin, and we even spent Thanksgiving with her in New York a few years ago.
I have always been so fascinated by her life and career in NYC, that she was a natural choice to feature here. This girl gets stuff DONE.
So Caroline, your official title is Senior Manager of Creative Operations at Cole Haan. What made you want to do this?
I actually got to make up my own job! This is a combination of what I already know (Photo Production) and what I wanted to learn (Project Management), while also gaining truly valuable management/team building skills. I’m always trying to challenge myself – I love being busy, and I like being scared because it means I’m growing and learning. I don’t like being too comfortable in a job. I never want to be the smartest person in the room.
How did you get started in this career?
It started with a Craiglist ad from a photo agency looking for an intern. Being an NYU student/being in New York City was super helpful. I will always support internships! I feel so, so lucky that I was always working and that I met incredible colleagues along the way, who helped me network. I’m here now because I decided I was a Photo Producer, convinced everyone else I was a Photo Producer, and then proved myself.
Did you take any continued education or training to further your growth in photo production?
My background is purely from my magazine internships and just asking to be able to go on photo shoots to learn more! I don’t really think my NYU education was particularly helpful because I don’t think I took the right classes or was in the right college (I went to Steinhardt, not Tisch). I got as much as I could outside of school and managed to graduate a semester early, so I could just jump right in!
I know you’ve done a bunch of freelancing – how do you approach networking and building relationships?
I’ve freelanced every other job, and networking is SUCH a huge part of it. The photo industry/community is pretty tight, so a lot of work is found through word of mouth. I think being a good, hard-working person is crucial. Because as useful as this network is, if you are difficult – that will also get around.
What do you do during lulls between jobs?
I’ve been so fortunate that my “funemployment” periods are never too long! But they were stressful. When I was between gigs, I would network and apply to every job; applying to jobs would BE my full-time job. I also took advantage of lulls to try new things (like, I day-of coordinated a couple weddings and took a sneaker-making class) and to travel and adventure around the world (if I had saved up!). I always felt like every day outside of the office could be a new experience and that inspiration could come in unexpected forms.
Can you describe your typical working day?
Every day is totally different! If I’m in pre-production mode, I spend all day emailing, calling, negotiating, scheduling, and planning for shoots. It can range from buying palm leaves in the flower district for our shoot props to casting models. The shoots also range from traveling to being in a studio. Having different days and not sitting down for too long is one of my favorite parts of my job!
And your days off?
I love my friends, so I enjoy hanging out with them everywhere they are, and I love supporting them, which has led me to work on personal video projects, volunteering, participating in feminist brunches, cheering on the marathon, and joining a corn hole league…I rarely say no. 🙂 I love traveling as much as possible, especially if it’s spontaneous. I also like taking advantage of everything NYC has to offer, so I look for fun (free/cheap!) things to do that involve food, music, theatre, art, etc. I like balcony gardening, playing my ukulele, and binge watching TV. I’ve recently picked up kickboxing!
Any particular place you find inspiration?
Everywhere! It sounds cliché, but I’m inspired by songs, people-watching, Instagram, colors, and patterns. I mean, it doesn’t happen every day, but I feel it around me. And as much as my job is about interacting with people, I get really anxious about meeting new people. But it’s mostly the people I’m surrounded by who enlighten me about new ideas, art, etc.
Do you have a favorite job you’ve worked on?
Each of my workplaces has a favorite moment, but I think the specific shoot that is one standout was my first big Saks Fifth Ave shoot for Burberry. There was a torrential downpour until 11 PM that night, and our call time was midnight. I got so many calls asking me what to do, and it really tested how I handled stress. The rain ended up making the streets wet and set the mood so beautifully. That photographer is now one of my best friends because we both realized how much we loved working really hard! Hah!
What has been the most satisfying moment of your career thus far?
The given day. I feel so incredibly lucky and proud of myself for getting this far. Every moment – both good and bad – has led me to this point and taught me how to handle situations.
I love that. It’s so important to constantly work on staying present and appreciative of our circumstances. Do you have any daily practices that help keep you centered?
Every morning I stretch. A lot. I take a few big deep breaths before I brush my teeth. And any time during the day when I need to take a moment, I just look away from the screen and take a few big deep breaths. I always thought that sounded whack, but it works for me.
You are so passionate and motivated on your own, but is there anyone you look up to? Anyone who has inspired your drive?
My parents. My dad is probably the hardest working man in the world, and I’ve learned so much from his charisma and hard work ethic. He’s taught me countless valuable lessons – mostly from his actions. I’ll never be as cool, but he’s a good guy to look up to!
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out with this career? What has surprised you along the way?
Thanks to my mentors, I’ve learned a lot along the way (always carry a pen and notebook with you to a meeting, say yes to everything and then Google it later, ask for forgiveness and not permission, don’t cry in front of anyone), but I wish someone told me earlier just exactly how tough this industry is. No one is going to fully understand or thank me for my hard “behind the scenes” work; my role is entirely supportive, and I wear many hats, so I need to be able to enjoy what I do and find satisfaction within. I’m surprised that by gaining more and more experience – and working with great names – that I’m learning people are just people. I mean, I get star-struck and intimidated by brilliant talent (both in front of and behind the camera), but I also realize they’re human beings. It makes me believe that anything is possible for the right kind of person.
Where do you see yourself in the next year or further in your future? Any plans?
I have NO idea. As much of a planner as I am, my life is something I couldn’t have planned for. And it has magically worked out…or at least I’ve managed to see it as working out. Ever since college, I’ve told myself I was going to invent my job. So, it’s hard to say [what I’ll be doing] because it doesn’t exist yet. But I hope it’s awesome.
I’d also like to eventually invent something! I’ll probably still be in NYC though…10 years later, and I’m still here!
In another life, if you weren’t pursuing the career you have now, what else would you be doing?
Hmm! In another life, I’d be in a musical.
Time for rapid fire!
- Morning or night? Night.
- Favorite city you’ve visited? All of Iceland.
- Any hobbies or guilty pleasures? The Bachelor/Bachelorette.
- Favorite book? Movie? TV show?
- Book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass! 🙂
- Movie: Arrival (current)
- TV Show: Friends, or Master of None
- Song you’re obsessed with right now? Despacito
- Teenage celebrity crush? Current celebrity crush?
- Teenage: Leo DiCaprio
- Current: Joseph Gordon Levitt
- You can only eat one dessert the rest of your life – what is it? Tres Leches.
Well firstly, I had no idea your favorite books were the Alice series (are we best friends yet?), and secondly, thank you so much for sharing your story – I can just feel your passion and wholehearted love for what you do. Your creativity and drive have always inspired me, and I’m sure they’ll do the same for my readers. ❤
P.S. For more Real Life Girl Boss(es) – click here.