Emma: Courage to me means taking a leap of faith into the unknown, and knowing that something amazing is going to catch you. For example, I had my dream job working for Dazed and Confused in London. I quit because I wanted to move to California. Now here I am, 18 months later with an awesome job in LA, and another side job in San Francisco. It’s about taking that leap of faith.
Kimberly: In my opinion, courage is about the eco-system of truth. So—Trump is now president. When people ask me what I think about that, I’m like, when have you ever asked me about politics before? When have you ever showed up to march with me? So for me, courage can mean calling people out—letting them know that there is an understanding of care required if we’re going to have this dialogue.
Angela: For me, courage means seizing your opportunities and taking them as far as you possibly can. With Mission Chinese, I signed up not knowing why. I had never cooked Chinese food in my life. But it was an opportunity to explore my creativity at my own pace. As more opportunities came, I’d take each as far as I could, even if I didn’t know what I was doing. Knowing that you don’t need to know everything is a big part of what courage means to me. Everyone looks to me as for the answers at the restaurant, but most of the time I’m learning with them, learning from them. I think that quest for knowledge is really important. It’s humbling.
Emma: The earliest feeling I have of courage was around 10 or 11 years old, when I had to decide which high school I was going to. My older brothers had gone to the local high-brow, academic school, but I knew that wasn’t right for me. And I had no basis, really. But I think that was the start of tapping into my intuition, which is what guides your courage. The end result was that I had to go to that school, but I flunked and failed all of my exams. I left with no qualifications, I got bullied. I rejected the system. But I did stand up to my mom (who has since apologized!), and I learned to do that through trusting my intuition.
Angela: It’s weird how you can sense your gut at such a young age. I remember one night, when I was around 10 years old, I saw my brother’s car being broken into from my bedroom window. I ran outside to scare the burglar. My mom was really upset about me doing that, but I didn’t really care. It was also around that age that I started having visions for myself. I was really into the PBS cooking shows, because that’s what was available, pre-Food Network. I would have these intense visualization of me as an adult, zooming around in a city with somewhere to be. I had this innate feeling of what I was meant to be doing, almost like I didn’t have a choice in what I wanted to do, I was born with that ambition. But there were a lot of big choices I had to make in order to make it happen. I made a choice to move to New York City 10 years ago to cook and not go to culinary school. I had no money, I didn’t really have a way to pay for my rent, I had a broken collarbone, but I wanted to be here badly enough to figure it out.
Kimberly: I was daring as a kid—always about going a little bit further. And I am a person who is afraid everything. I’m afraid of cows, I’m afraid of fish, I’m afraid of the dark, all these things. But I’ve always walked directly into my fear. I took dark room photography because I wanted to get over my fear of dark (I haven’t gotten over my fear of deadlines.) I’ve always chased my fears so I can squash them. I don’t want anything to be bigger than me or my aspirations. When I think about courage, I think about it in as a form of self-care—it is a day to day wellness practice. I also think it’s something that I inherit from the people around me.
Emma: I think of courage like a muscle. Kimberly—you mentioned you were afraid of the dark. I’m really afraid of sharks, so I decided to try surfing. It’s about taking that risk and flexing that muscle. You have to learn how to use it to push past those voices in your head. I think that’s key—one of the things that holds you back, beyond anything else externally, is what is going on in your brain.
Kimberly: I think if you’re ambitious, then you can cultivate courage, deal with the fear, and make something really magic. I didn’t read until I was seven years old. I never thought I’d be able to write. I’ve been insecure about my writing forever, I’m insecure about my writing now. But I’ve said yes to so many assignments before I knew I could pull them off. You have to give yourself a chance. Decide: I’m going to say yes even if I don’t know that I can do it, and I’m going to do it in incremental steps. If you get to 35 percent you’ve have won—because you could have not tried at all. And if you fail, no-one else has to know. Who else is even paying attention? If there’s something that women face in particular, it’s this idea that there is a chorus of people who are looking at you and saying, ‘I know how many things you didn’t cross off of your to do list that you wrote in purple pen.’ Fuck that. You know what you can do. You know how much it hurts to do that thing. Say yes to what you want to do. Dive in. At least your feet will get wet. Maybe the water will be cold, but maybe you like cold water? You don’t know until you try.
Angela: If you have an idea, or if somebody is asking you to do something that is outside of your comfort zone, try to do it to your best ability. You’ll scramble, but you might figure it out and impress yourself.
Emma: And you learn so much from your mistakes. Years ago I was running a huge project in London with a big sponsor and 35 people working on it. It completely fell apart. And the mistake I made was not listening to myself or the people close to me—my two close friends who told me I needed to fire my client. Six weeks after the project failed, my dad died and I lost my house. But as I spiraled down and really went to the depths of despair, I learned, in that deepest part, so much wisdom. It’s hard to know that when you’re in it, but I’m a much stronger woman as a result. Stronger, more grounded, more calm.
Kimberly: One of my first jobs out of school was working at the Studio Museum in Harlem. I was the social media manager, I got to build a digital identity, it was a dream. And then the Whitney Biennial list came out and there were only nine black artists on it. And I went ham on twitter. I did an interview that I had no clearance for. I made a lot of rookie mistakes, which I didn’t realize were rookie mistakes. I also didn’t realize the visibility that I had, and I almost lost my job. It was a big wake up call. I think it’s important to remember there are so many levels to how dark shit can get. Forgetting to answer an email is not even close. It’s all relative, and you need to keep the scale in mind.
Angela: You have to build on your failures. I was part of a restaurant closure—our first tiny restaurant that seated 40. It was in the best interest of the business to close, but what we created there was really special to me. It was devastating to break all those relationships. But that palpable feeling of failure only grew my ambition. Now we have a 130 seat restaurant. Sometimes you have to give things up in order to gain something new.
Emma: When it comes to listening to other people’s opinions, I think you need to have a close knit circle. Like five or so people who you can talk to. And some things need to be worked out in therapy. Therapists and best friends are different.
Kimberly: My only goal since I started my career has been, ‘Say whatever you want about me, but don’t ever say that I am not a person of character.’ That’s actually what matters to me—that I’m a person of integrity and dignity. And if someone comes into contact with me and doesn’t know that, then I have failed. But the rest of it is really just incidentals. Not everyone has to like you. But your group of people, those are the people who will tell you the truth. And hopefully there is a therapist or an astrologist in the group. And the rest of it is just the peanut gallery, and they’re great.
Angela: If I become concerned about what other people think of me, I find solace in thinking: Does this represent me? Are the things that I’m doing a reflection of who I am? If you’re focused on your genuine self, it is fine to be whoever you are.
Kimberly: Whenever I feel insecure about something, it means I need help. Someone to either talk me into it or say, ‘Don’t do that. You don’t have time for that.’ I think that insecurity can be a really useful tool, beyond fear. Instead of fake it till you make it, I think it’s more about believing it until you make it. And then hopefully you’ll have a community of people who can help you actualize it. I do believe in a destiny. The visions that you have for yourself are real, and you have to listen to yourself. Manifesting is powerful. All of this hippy dippy stuff is new to me. I get really excited when I see crystals. My friend Jenna Wortham sent me crystals in the mail and I cried for an hour.
Angela: I find that when I take time to rest, hang out with friends, generally take care of myself—my work is a lot better and my life is fuller. When I surround myself with people who inspire me, that bleeds into my work being a lot more productive, and helps me come up with better solutions too. For example, I wanted to create a situation where I could decrease the wage gap in the restaurant industry. With time I was able to come up with different revenue streams in order for my cooks to earn more money and work less. It was an idealistic goal, and it took a year to figure out how to make that happen, but it came through. And it happened through rest and taking care of myself and talking to them.
Emma: I used to just be about ambition. When I started working with A.L.C., I negotiated a four day work week. Just because that’s not the norm, doesn’t mean that you can’t be the first person within your industry or your job or in your area to do this. Sometimes four days bleeds into five, but at least it doesn’t bleed into six or seven. In those moments that you turn off and even when you’re meditating, stuff is falling into place. I think those off times are equally as important as that time in front of the screen.
Kimberly: Some great advice that I have gotten: no-one wants the cheapest option. So when you’re in negotiation for any job, that’s really your time to fight. Set a precedent, set new rules. But also show up. Be the best at what you do. I’ve always been a person who comes into the institution that I work for and I’m an unorthodox hire. I’m a difficult person, full stop. But I know that I’m worth the difficulties. I know that even if I don’t do the exact thing you require me, I’ll give you something better. For me it’s really about coming in, ruffling feathers but also understanding that courage is about care. It is a thoughtfulness. I’m always a square peg in a circular hole. And I feel pretty good about that.
Angela: I think that once you have that entry point, you need to vocalize all of the things that you want to change. And that’s ultimately why they’ve given you the position—to change something. The way that I view success for myself is always changing—it’s internal. It’s following that internal map and knowing that your choices will dictate where you end up. I don’t know exactly where I’m heading, but I’m striving to do what I believe in.
Kimberly: Complaints vs Courage. Understand that you can be a catalyst. There is always potential for change and new understanding. For me, success is all about your own personal bests. Your personal bests are what carry you through to the next thing. You are all that you have.
Executive Chef, Mission Chinese Food
SVP of Marketing, A.L.C.